This article originally appeared on TheHumanist.com.
The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate relationships with loved ones. Most of us want to share warm feelings with others, and Christmas gives us a good excuse to do it. The myth of Santa Claus makes kids giddy at the idea of being rewarded for a year’s good behavior in the form of gifts — some more exorbitant than others.
Questions of social inequality and injustice arise, however, when kids are told a story about a mythical gift giver — one who oddly gives gifts that correspond with social income disparities in disadvantaged households. If children are to trust that Christmas gifts are delivered by Santa based solely on moral virtue, what do they think when they see the disparity between gifts given to well-off children versus those received by the less fortunate?
With little consideration given to this question, many parents can spend exorbitant amounts of money on their child’s Christmas experience. When Johnny comes to class the next week, what will he think of his generous sneakers from Santa when Sam has the newest iPhone X at the age of ten? Was Sam morally a better boy over the year than Johnny?
That is a tough pill to swallow at any age, but especially under the guise of a story about a benevolent bestower who judges you only based on your good or naughty acts. We all learn in due time that life is unfair, but this is not the lesson of Santa Claus. Santa doesn’t have a “budget” in any of the traditional songs and stories we tell to children. As children grow up, they will become more aware of economic disparities, but this particular scenario is problematic because it associates goodness with wealth. Parents cannot discuss their limited gift-giving means when no one acknowledges who’s really responsible for the gifting.
As David Kyle Johnson explores in his book, The Myth That Stole Christmas, Charles Dickens wrote Ebenezer Scrooge as a character who came from poverty and is taught by the Ghost of Christmas Past that he must not lose sight of the suffering of his fellow man. He will be destined for a life of misery unless he works to better the lives of those less fortunate.
Johnson writes, “Yet Scrooge does not learn to give gifts to his family, he learns that Christmas is a time for spending with one’s family, as he comes to accept his nephew’s invitation to Christmas dinner. But he does not give them gifts. Instead, Scrooge learns to give gifts to the poor.”
I am not suggesting we do away with gift-giving at the holidays. However, this year perhaps we can consider being more mindful of our gifting and instill new family traditions of volunteering at toy drives and other charitable events. Let’s thoughtfully educate our children on the economic injustice in our society and the impact each of us can make. Let’s all try harder to consider the feelings of others and what we can do to become more aware of our privilege this holiday season.