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Happy Conscious Holidays! Upgrading Santa

by Kelly Brogan, MD

When I was a kid, my family really got into the theatrics of Christmas. My uncle or father would dress up as Santa Claus, complete with stuffed gut and husky voice, so that we kids could take a sneak peak at him while he unloaded our epic amounts of loot on Christmas Eve. I still remember the feeling of wanting to believe.

Unexamined holiday conventions

It’s funny how inured we become to habits, routines, and even traditions that feel anchored in something meaningful. How unexamined these behaviors can be for so long.

How we look to the construct of societal rhythms to keep us moving ever forward. Leave it to Alan Watts to parody the whole gimmick with a bird’s eye view of how we are missing the mark:

“If you want to find a true folk-religion in our culture, look at the rite of Santa Claus… When at last the Day comes the children are frantic. Hardly able to wait for breakfast, and not having slept most of the night, they tear those gold and silver parcels to shreds as if they contained nothing less than the Elixir of Life or the Philosopher’s Stone. By noon the living-room looks as if a waste-paper truck had crashed into a dime store, leaving a wreck of mangled cartons, excelsior, wrapping-paper, and writhing ribbons; neckties, up-ended dolls, half-assembled model railroads, spacesuits, plastic atom-bombs, and scattered chocolate bars; hundreds of tinker-toy pieces, crushed tree ornaments, miniature sports-cars, water-pistols, bottles of whiskey, and balloons. An hour later the children are blubbering or screaming, and have to be shooed out-of-doors while the mess is shoved together to make room for Christmas dinner. Thereafter, the Twelve Days of Christmas are spent with upset stomachs, colds, and influenza, and on the New Year’s Eve the adults get stoned to forget the whole thing.”

It took decades for me to question the validity of American holiday rituals. I suppose it’s a part of the process of slowly waking up and making more deliberate choices rather than floating through life in blind acceptance of that to which we are collectively encouraged to conform.

What’s up with Santa?

Now, the whole deal around Santa seems concerning at best and creepy at worst. I mean, let’s look at it together. I have two daughters. I’m supposed to convince them to appeal to an old man, a complete stranger, for material gifts bestowed after a wholesale judgment of their comportment that reduces them to a “good” or “bad” categorization. Seems to me, this holiday story grew out of decades of patriarchy laced with a touch of pedophilia. Not to mention the swirl of consumerism and attachment to the power of the material world that the entire ordeal promotes. Ever push your kids to sit on Santa’s lap despite their tears and protest?

No thanks.

It is essential for me to raise girls who think for themselves. Girls who become women attuned to their intuition and their inner compasses, not those who take “reality” at face value skipping from one promise to the next, muddling through the surface layer of life until death.

I have never been able to look my girls in the eyes and discuss the comings and goings of the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, or Santa. On Halloween, we throw out all of the candy that my kids collect, and we still manage to have a great time. I’m certainly into promoting that magical feeling. I support the deep value of ritual. And I love celebrations. Do we need to tell elaborate lies to create that experience for our children?

Getting back to basics with new rituals

Part of free thinking and awakened engagement involves connecting to whole of our experience. This involves an appreciation for our role in holobiont of the natural world – the cell that we are in the human that is the universe. It is essential to reconnect to spirit so that we are giving from that place. Here’s where we can begin to get back to basics.

The humble origins of Christmas are said to relate to a celebration of birth, rebirth, and light around the darkest day of the year, the winter solstice.

I’m light years from being a Martha Stewart. I’m not crafty, and I don’t consider myself particularly creative in the domestic arts, but I’m giving it a go and here’s what I’m cooking up for this year:

On the weekend before the solstice on December 22nd, we will decorate lanterns, something like this, perhaps even foraging for winter bits like twigs and pine needles to glue on the outside. Then on the actual day, we will spend the evening together by candlelight, cooking dinner, eating, and preparing for bed by that glow. We will do a candle ceremony that involves lighting a personal candle from a central flame to express gratitude for an experience from the past year and then we will use these prayer/wishing papers to and describe something that will be let go or released – a regret, a mistake, an experience that we’ve grown from.

My kids are already pretty pumped about it.

Staving off the extended family onslaught of stuff will be a secondary challenge, but I can choose to direct my energy and enthusiasm towards another focus. Here’s the thing, though: I know what has begun to feel hollow and phony about the great American holidays. I’m just not totally sure how to bring consciousness to these inevitable calendar demarcations. I’m pretty sure there are thousands of thinking mamas out there who’ve blazed this trail before me. We’d love to hear from you!

Have you developed any meaningful rituals that can replace or augment the Hallmark holidays?

We’re all ears (and listening with our hearts)!

kelly-cropKelly Brogan, MD is Medical Director of Fearless Parent and mom of two. She is board certified in Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine, and Integrative and Holistic Medicine. Holistic living, environmental medicine, and nutrition are the bedrock of her functional medicine practice. She serves as medical advisor to GreenMedInfo, Pathways to Family Wellness, and Fisher Wallace. Kelly holds degrees from MIT and Cornell Medical School.



  • evelyne

    Thanks God you wrote this article. I totally appriciate. the part “What’s up with Santa ?” At last some good sense to be shared with other women.

  • Karen

    I love this post and this query…would so like to hear more intelligent ideas about reweaving this powerful time of year! Hear, hear! to the grounding celebration of Solstice. For my spouse and 7year old son, Solstice is a helpful touchstone with its roots in “light”. There is light in everything, and we can find it if we practice looking. On Solstice (and regularly) we talk about the light that can be found in the darkest of times, places, things, and people. It’s there, and we can choose to be in relationship with that light as a daily practice. As a physical act we have made a spiral of pine boughs inside or outside, and walked them in the dark with a few candles lighting the spiral. So special! A reminder that the experience of life is not linear.
    As for Santa, whew that’s a tricky one. But through the help of a friend I have begun to find light there through the work of Carl Jung and the archetype of the Wise Old Man. I believe the gist centers around a celebration of one’s inner Bringer of Gifts who returns perennially to travels down the chimney of the soul reminding us of the gifts we have access to from birth to death. That’s my Santa go-to for now:)

    Thank you Dr. Kelly Brogan. I’m so glad you’re here!

  • Anonymous

    Why yes, my family does have a deeply meaningful ritual that focuses our consciousness on the real meaning of Christmas. When I was growing up, my family would sit down together and assemble our nativity scene as my dad read the passage recounting the events surrounding Jesus’ birth from the Bible. We took turns putting the figures into the scene as they occurred in the story. It really brought home the real reason we were celebrating, and reinforced the point of having a nativity scene. My parents never told us Santa Claus was real, by the way, so we never missed him. I have never felt that I was deprived by this. We still had a wonderful time celebrating the season together.

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