Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

It is that time of year again. I'm reposting something I repost almost every Christmas. Merry Christmas, see you next year!

Charles Dickens said that "in a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected."

With this in mind, I want to make a claim.

I still believe in Santa Claus.

Ok, I see that there is a murmuring of disbelief. Let me talk to myself for a minute. Allow me to compose my thoughts. Ok. I am composed.

Every year kids become disillusioned about Santa Claus. This year [2006 when this was initially written], for example, we have a story of a pastor telling children that Santa Claus was not real, and that he could not save them from Hell. Bad form all around.

But, let's take a step back and look at this. What does it mean to say Santa is not real? More importantly, what do I mean when I say I still believe in him?

If you search through my archived blogs, you'll find writings by Tolkien, Lewis and a few others on the importance of myth. One quote I particularly like:

"At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of 'commenting on life,' can add to it."

~C.S. Lewis, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said,"
Of Other Worlds, 1966

That is the nature of why I say I still believe in Santa Claus. Because of what I called, and probably stole the turn of phrase from elsewhere, the power and inherent truth of fairy tales. Santa Claus is a fairy tale -- so is Star Wars. We have regular people [children] interacting with supernatural forces [let's say, flying reindeer]. It fits the criteria, it is definitionally, a fairy story [or fairy tale].

So, what is the truth of this fairy story? What is the truth behind who Santa Claus is? Let us ignore what he has become -- a Christmas commercial campaign for capitalists. Let us focus, instead, Santa Claus and "generalize while remaining concrete." I do not want to focus on why this belief is good for children, or why abstract thought makes children smarter.

Instead, I want to generalize that and focus on my concrete assertion: I believe in Santa Claus.

What, does it mean, to believe in Santa Claus? For the child, it means the belief that chimneys will be climbed, cookies consumed, and gifts left by a jolly fat man in a red suit with a white beard. As the child gets older, if he is not disabused of the notion, he will begin to understand more about this jolly fat man.

As the child grows, his understanding grows. Particularly, his understanding of what this Catholic Saint turned Coca-Cola mascot means. But, what he means beyond the mere confines of either of those constraints. The child will be old enough that he will be able to start giving gifts as well, as opposed to before where mom and dad gave gifts and the child sloppily wrote their name on it, or built something from macaroni noodles. The child will experience what it is like to be Santa.

The child will understand why Santa is a jolly man [and probably, if they're American children, why he is a fat man]. Joking aside, the child will also begin to understand that fat people, not the obesely so, but the jollily so, are a staple in fiction. They will begin to realize that Santa, while he may not literally be real [read the essay on why "if there was a Santa, there isn't one now"], that he exists in a very real, yet very abstract way.

What Santa teaches is something that is taught concurrently with other moral and ethical lessons. But, Santa Claus is the personification of giving. He makes it so that children can see a man who has dedicated his life, however ethereal it might be, to the joy of others and the preservation of something that is dear to people. He becomes a hallmark for family and friends; he inspires the child to want to be like him [though, hopefully not as fat].

Look at what Santa has become, from the Chronicles of Narnia version to the version in the modern day Christmas movie. He is something of a hero, or protector there-of. He is a symbol of hope, charity, and good-will to men. This, too, is a part of what Santa Claus is. Santa Claus is not merely a toy-maker with an enslaved elven population. He is someone who creates happiness and hope.

So, Santa Claus may not fly. He may not reverse burglarize my house. But, there is a facet of Santa Claus, a facet so powerful and so very, very true -- that even children can latch onto and learn from him. It is this part, the mythological part that is, as G.K. Chesterton puts it: "that one idea runs from one end of them [fairy tales] to the other--the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales."

This is the part of Santa Claus I believe in. Perhaps that part is able to be surgically removed from the eggnog guzzling philanthropist. In fact, we probably could do so. But, perhaps some of the power, some of the charm -- some of the truth imparted by those things -- would be lessened. I would not want that. That is part of the beauty of Santa.

That is why, despite the incredulous looks I will receive, I must put forward that I believe in Santa Claus. And, I will go undoubtedly even, perhaps, engage in informing children that he is indeed real. Because, there is a part -- the most important part, in fact -- of him that is.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.



For the unbelievers.

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