Bishop Edward Braxton’s special message about Santa Claus to students at Bellville, Illinois’ Queen of Peace School left many in tears, and parents are not happy about it.
“When I found out about this, when my mother was picking them up from school, I called to give her fair warning,” parent Ray Schott told the Belleville News-Democrat. “My concern is not just about one school, my concern is about the entire diocese. (Braxton) needs to learn to talk to certain levels of children; what he said is unacceptable. We are owed an apology.”
Braxton visited the school last Tuesday to talk with fifth- and sixth-grade students about how the “good works of St. Nicholas was gradually changed into the story of Santa Claus,” Jonathan Birdsong, the superintendent for the Belleville Diocese said.
But parents contend news quickly spread to younger students that Santa Claus isn’t real, and they flooded social media and contacted the news site the next day to vent their frustrations.
“They hop in the car with (younger siblings) and say ‘Bishop said there’s no Santa Claus’,” parent Boyd Ahlers said. “What’s that do to the kids 5, 6, 7 years old? All the kids are talking about it … it just waterfalls.”
“It’s my job to tell (my son about Santa), not his,” Schott told the Chicago Tribune, adding his son had tears in his eyes after learning the truth. Schott said he’s now working to keep his kindergarten daughter from finding out.
“These kids are exposed so much, so early. (Santa) is the last pure thing in a child’s life,” he said. “It hurts. He had no right to do any of that.”
Some parents with children at Queen of Peace also took issue with the bishop’s talk about Halloween, and why it’s wrong to mock the dead.
Birdsong, meanwhile, is defending the bishop’s comments as “a complete misunderstanding.”
“I was quite surprised to learn that somehow some individuals incorrectly thought the bishop was going around the school telling little children that there is no Santa Claus. This is simply not true!” Birdsong wrote in a prepared statement.
“I was personally present in the classroom and I know exactly what the Bishop said and the context in which it was said,” he wrote. “He was speaking to fifth- and sixth-graders, who already knew the true story of St. Nicholas.”
Regardless, some parents at other diocese schools now plan to keep their children home during Braxton’s scheduled talks in the future.
“We’re at the point that we don’t want our child to go to Mass the day he’s scheduled to speak (at St. Teresa),” said Jared Viviano, who portrays Santa in the city’s annual Santa Parade. “If he’s going to go and tell Santa isn’t real she’s not going to school that day.”
Viviano said he’d rather his daughter reflect on St. Nicholas of Turkey, who spread his wealth to the less fortunate.
“My message from Santa Claus is totally different than the fictional storybook character,” he told the Tribune. “My message to the kids is, ‘You don’t have to be rich to be kind to other people. And (don’t) need to have a red suit to be Santa Claus. All year long, have a good heart and help people.”