First, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. It’s been quite the first year for Philosophy Matters, and today I’m thankful for the wonderful co-authors who contribute to this blog, the new friends we’ve made along the way, and the interesting discussion that we’ve been able to have! I’m also excited about what’s in store as we continue to grow next year.
Recently, I was having a discussion with both LKAwesome and my parents about whether or not it made sense to essentially lie to children about the existence of Santa Claus for years on end. I’m interested in exploring that thought a good deal more, but first…
The History of Santa Claus
I thought we could begin the discussion of Santa Claus with a little history – where did this concept of Santa come from exactly? Saint Nick, of course, but who’s that? Author of The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus explains:
Nicholas had been aware of a certain citizen of Patara – in Lycia, modern-day Turkey– who had once been an important and wealthy man of the city but who had fallen on hard times and into extreme poverty. The man grew so desperate that he lacked the very essentials of life.
The poor man reasoned that it was impossible to marry off his three beautiful daughters because they lacked dowries for proper marriages to respectable noblemen. He feared they would each in turn be forced into prostitution to support themselves.
Nicholas heard this heartbreaking news and resolved to do something about it. He bagged a sum of gold and in the dead of night, tossed it through the man’s window. The money was used as a dowry for the first daughter.
Sometime later, Nicholas made a second nighttime visit so that the second daughter might marry. Later tradition reported that, finding the windows closed, he dropped the bag of gold down the chimney, where it landed into one of the girl’s stockings that was hanging to dry.
When Nicholas returned to deliver anonymously the third bag of gold for the last daughter, the curious father was ready. When he heard a bag hit the floor, the father leapt to his feet and raced outside, where he caught the mysterious benefactor.
Nicholas revealed his identity to the father but made him swear never to tell anyone what he’d done. He did not want praise or recognition for his generosity. – Adam C. English
And from there, it’s actually not that big of a leap to the modern Santa who comes down the chimney to bring gifts for all! Of course, we don’t share this historical story of Saint Nick with our children – instead we share one imbued with magical sleighs, reindeer, elves, and more. And I wondered why…
The Case for Santa Claus
I asked some of the other authors to share their thoughts about the Santa issue:
b0t had a somewhat neutral stance:
I would say telling children about Santa Claus is neutral. It can be negative if Santa Claus is used as a way to try to control children’s behavior by saying Santa Claus is watching and you better straighten up; however, it can be a positive in that it allows a child to develop their imagination. Further, it could be seen as a way for a child to develop critical thinking skills and perhaps the first time that a child has to have a paradigm shift in thinking about how something has happened. It could be a way for children to learn to question their first principles and continue to seek to more fully understand the world around them. In order to minimize any violations of trust, I think that when a child asks his parents about Santa Claus, the child deserves an honest response.
LKAwesome shared her thoughts on why one should encourage their children to believe in Santa Claus:
To me there is nothing wrong with supporting a seemingly magical idea (Santa Claus) for children – after all Santa is part of American’s collective history! I think the magic associated with a man and his wife living at the North pole with flying reindeer and elves encourages children to be creative. As they get older they learn to resolve the difference between fairytale and real-life; they also learn to think critically and not believe every thing that is told to them. Mostly, it allows for some fun during a brief moment in their lives when they are open to believing in such magical experiences.Consider the case for Santa. Please!
The Magic of Childhood
First, I think I should preface this by saying that I’m no Grinch! I enjoy Christmas season a great deal, from the lights and relaxation, to the thoughtful gifts and time with family. And I most definitely understand and remember the “magic” and wonder of childhood – and actually I believe that doing philosophy keeps us closer to that wonder!
The first problem I have is with the notion of character building and imagination. If these things are truly built up by the idea of Santa, and important, it would mean we should lie to our children about everything, or at least a great deal more. Why stop at the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy. Let’s throw in the man in the moon who cries to make it rain while we’re at it! Etc. But that seems a little silly.
Another thing that gives me pause with this line of argument is the suggestion that everything special about life is somehow gone after childhood. No one explicitly makes this argument, but I feel it in the background. Something like, “Let the children have their fun and enjoy life before they have to grow up and face it as an adult.” To me, that sounds like a cry coming from adults who never properly learned or have forgotten how wonderful real life can be.
Now, certainly I think adulthood comes with additional challenges and struggles. However, I believe a better strategy would be, rather than only dwelling in fantasy as a child, to learn how to capture that rapture, so to speak, in a realistic way that we can bring with us into adulthood. If it’s not based only on magic, and instead something more real, it would be something we can actually carry with us!
A Magic Outlook
The bigger problem is that I’m not convinced we ever completely grow out of this fantasy. I know that sounds strange at face value, but hear me out.
What initially got me thinking about this topic was running across several instances of people – adults – writing and talking about how they still believe in Santa. I’m confident that the vast majority of them weren’t speaking literally, though, there was one that seemed to be. Those who weren’t speaking literally though, usually go on to explain themselves by trying to describe some type of magic that they believe (hope) still exists – and they feel more connected to it during Christmas. This is always pretty vague, but it often sounds to me much like someone trying to explain that things happen for a reason, or to take a coincidence as a cosmic sign. While a fat man dressed up in a suit may not exist, some cosmic good will, they believe, exists and makes things better.
In that sense, I would say it’s not a brief moment in time that most people are open to believing in magic. It seems to me that this magical belief in Santa Claus is just transfered to something a little less concrete, along with all of the childhood happiness that surrounded this idea of Santa.
You may be asking – Is there really anything wrong with that?
Think about it – this magic creeps in everywhere: believing that the way or even whether or not we watch a sports game can have an effect on the outcome, or the many superstitions that we grow up with, like opening an umbrella inside will bring bad lack. Under normal circumstances, none of these are exactly terrible, or debilitating, although in some cases they can turn into that. But even without the extremes, I’ve observed friends in my life who are guided by these magics and superstitions, and I can literally observe the stress that it brings into their lives.
Aren’t we all stressed enough? Why encourage this to continue by getting our kids to believe in magic?