Questioning Santa, the Elf on the Shelf and God

What if Santa is a woman?  What if the idiotic Elf on the Shelf is a girl named Julie instead of a boy named Jack?  What if Mary Magdalene was the 13th Apostle?  Sigh, I apologize for this last question, I really do, but I can’t help it: what if God is a Goddess?  Did I start asking these questions this morning?  No, of course not.  I raised my hand in Honors Comparative Religion and asked a few questions along these lines as a freshman English major and the professor told me I was in the wrong class, asking the wrong questions.  The philosophy and history professors all told me to take my sarcasm elsewhere, and so I did: I left school and tried to write the great American novel and fumbled around for a couple of years before I stumbled back to college and argued my way to a degree, Magna Cum Laude.  I didn’t stop asking questions but I long ago stopped expecting that someone would provide answers.

Do I believe in God?  Yes, and I question almost everything I have read about him in the Bible.  I don’t know if God is male; I don’t know if he brought the locusts and the plagues upon the evil nations; I don’t know if he built Eve out of Adam’s rib (damn, that movie, Adam’s Rib makes me angry even though I love Hepburn and Tracy).  I don’t understand why the Old Testament is so hateful; the New Testament; so full of love. I don’t think that everything inscribed in its pages really occurred because even if God exists and is infallible, he did not write the books and chapters in the Bible.  Men wrote it and I keep coming back to two things: humans are highly imperfect and often are incapable of perceiving and speaking what is real and true; and, only men, and never women, wrote the words in its pages.

As the mother of three children, I try not to question my belief in God in front of them.  When I married my Methodist husband, I agreed (since I was terminally confused about my faith) to follow his lead in all things religious, and this has worked out well enough since he suffers from indolence on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t.  I teach the children the fundamentals of both my shaky Christian faith and my reason-based philosophy and hope that they will have the critical thinking ability, as they age, to figure things out for themselves.  In some ways, I want them to find an unshakeable faith.  To be honest, as I have waded through major depressive episodes again and again, I often have fallen to my knees and begged God to pass me a lifeline.  Faith in God gives me hope.  And yet I hope that God understands why I have so many doubts.

How does this relate to Santa Claus and the elf on the shelf?  I hate the Santa Claus myth.  It truly offends me that we are expected to lie to our children.  My daughter wanted nothing to do with Santa or his minions, and so I was able to tell her that Santa was a happy myth, a game, like a Disney movie, that parents told their children.  My boys, on the other hand, didn’t listen to me when I tried to dispute Santa’s existence, so I have played along reluctantly and yet detested the mendacity I have acquiesced in espousing.

It does not, unfortunately, stop here.  It isn’t enough that we lie about Santa.  Now we are expected to lie about the Elf on the Shelf, and this has created an unexpected problem.  My daughter, who is 8-going-on-28, felt the sting of discrimination when my husband put “Jack” on the shelf this morning, and I in turn realized that I have become an instrument in injuring her sense of self as a girl.

As the children ate breakfast, the boys chattered about Jack. “C,mon, Mom,” my daughter said grumpily, “We need to rename the Elf on the shelf.”

“That’s not possible. His name is Jack,” I replied as the kids fought among themselves.

“Yeah, but we can rename him every year,” she persisted.

“But he’s already named. That’s preposterous.”

Maddie shouted over her brothers. “No, what’s preposterous is that the elves always have boys’ names!”

I sighed. She had a good point, and of course the in-laws gave us that stupid thing already named.  “Maybe,” I mused, “I should rename the elf Julie.”  Madeline snickered.  Jim burst into tears and I glared at him and exclaimed, “Aw, stop crying about the elf!”

If I do not discard Jack, I will buy a dress for him and give him a girl’s name.  It seems unseemly to rename God a Goddess.  Who am I to know or to question God’s sex or gender?  But I will not stop at declaring Mary Magdalene the 13th disciple (a notion based on serious and scholarly arguments).  And the freakin’ Santa myth is difficult to combat when the entire culture pressures both parents and children into believing it.  I will not, however, inculcate the myth of the Elf on the Shelf; which is to say, if he remains in our household, she will, from now on, wear a dress.


13 comments on “Questioning Santa, the Elf on the Shelf and God
  1. Sherby Moon says:

    Brilliant and so funny! You’re daughter is going to be president one day, you know? Keep questioning, El. I had the same questions until my search brought me to the miracle I needed for my peace of mind…and heart. The answers were buried under all the stuff I questioned, of course. I loved this piece. Thank you for sharing your wit and insight. ~ Moonpie

  2. julie says:

    You hold the same sentiments as I, dear friend, regarding religion…myths, etc. I was reading it & thought: “WOW, she & I have many, many similarities!” Kind of amazing. And of course the Elf should be named Julie; something tells me Julie would wear purple though, maybe with a touch of red…NO green! =)

  3. Like you, I have never understood the “lying to the kids” thing. It actually seems kind of cruel. And there is a lot of it. Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy. As Jews, we don’t do any of it. But we also made dang sure to make sure that out little Jewish son was NOT the one to tell the other kids the shizzy. He DID NOT need to be THAT kid. #Oy.

    Great post.

    • Thanks Renee! The lying to kids thing, grr. It strikes me as a very poor way to teach our children such concepts as honor, character and integrity; moreover, it deprives our offspring of one of the most important things we can teach them: the ability to reason and formulate opinions based on a rational analysis of what they observe. If we keep planting phony constructs in their heads, how will they learn to trust the observations they make concerning the real world? Oy.

  4. tara says:

    I don’t go into any of that. I told my son, when he started talking about santa, that santa is a myth based on a real person in some village a long time ago that gave gifts or coal to the little boys and girls. That no one, besides me and only up to his 18th birthday, had a right to judge his actions right or wrong, or to punish him according to what they may or may not percieve his behaviour “deserves”. He hasn’t started in about religion yet, and I don’t believe he will as I come from a non-religious family. If he does, we’ll discuss what he wants to believe in, research religions, and allow him to pick the one that fits his belief structures the best. As for the elf on a shelf? Since we don’t believe in santa, we don’t have elves. Problem solved 🙂

  5. relynndare says:

    My 7 year old informed me tonight that a kid at school told her Santa wasn’t real. I simply told her “Santa is magic. Some people don’t believe in magic.” She told me she believed in magic and Santa is real to her. She doesn’t realize she gets it, but she gets it. IMO. Sure, her father and I are “Santa” in the house, but you know what, we make Santa real for a 7 year old that believes in magic. And her 33 year old mommy still believes in Santa… because my husband makes Santa real for me. Santa isn’t a person. Santa is magic, and fun, and something beyond the boring norm.

    • Relynn: thanks hun–great comment. My daughter, the future president as a friend calls her, smiled at me this afternoon and said, “I know you and Dad are Santa but I don’t want to tell my brothers and ruin the fun for them.” I adore her for that. And my friend, absolutely go on believing in magic and fun and something beyond the boring norm. That’s all good. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  6. ehmcke says:

    “The Elf on the Shelf?” What manner of ridiculousness is that? I see in your photo it says “A Christmas Tradition” but I’ve never heard of it. I’ll be back after a chat with google.

    Okay, here I am … so kind of like a nanny-cam for Santa? Well, isn’t that super creepy!?! After reading the rules of this clever marketing trick my suggestion for Jack would be that he hides in the freezer and falls behind some frozen peas never to be seen again! A Christmas miracle!

    As for boy-genius and the whole God, religion and spirituality thing, he already has his own questions: who made God?, why can’t God and scientists cure dying?, are Ares and Poseidon real?, is the bible a “fiction book?” …. and this all before he was even 7 years old!

    Personally, I think he’s too smart not to know all about Santa, especially since we have Christmas traditions that include Santa, das Christkind, Nikolaus, Adventskalender, presents on Christmas eve AND Christmas day, and so on and so on.

    I believe you were right on to question all that stuff from the get-go and if religion, history and philosophy classes aren’t the right places to pose those questions, then something must be off-kilter somewhere … !!

    That’s the whole tricky thing about faith, isn’t it? You’ve got to HAVE faith in order to be able to KEEP faith but you’ve got to close your eyes and take that LEAP of faith in order to get it in the first place.

    peace out, V

  7. Hello Mrs. El! Wow…you posed so many questions over so many subjects here! I’ll just comment on one so that you don’t have to read a book from me. I have always thought that Mary Magdalene was the 13th apostle. Unfortunately, the versions of the Bible we use today are based on the King James translation. During this time in history, women were less than second class citizens, and to keep them in their place, I believe men translated the Bible to fit their own agendas. I don’t know what was distorted in that translation, but I believe that anything regarding intimacy, sexuality, women, and a huge number of other things were bent and/or changed to fit the ideals of the time. The vast majority of original Christian documents are stored in the Vatican, unavailable to the public eye, modern translators, or anyone who could challenge the King James version, or any other doctrine of the Catholic faith. I pray that someday we are allowed to view these documents, correctly translated by top scholars, and provided with a new Bible that is untainted by current cultural norms. The written Bible will never be completely untainted because the original documents were written by men, but it would still be very interesting and educational to see what has been changed over time. I subscribe to the ideologies of the Christian faith, which are very similar to any religious faith. Morality, values, and brotherly love are fairly universal themes. I hope that if I am allowed to pass through the “pearly gates”, God will forgive me for ignoring the details and understand that I have chosen to ignore the details because they are outdated, written by men, and tainted by man’s perspective.

    • Amen, amen amen Summer! I have read books concerning Mary Magdalene (indeed, named my daughter Madeline) and I fully agree that she was the 13th Apostle. I also agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote above. Thank you for articulating that so well!

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