Thursday, December 24, 2009

santa magic

A recent post by my friend Steven prompted me to write, a la the famous New York Sun editorial response to Virginia, that there is indeed a Santa Claus.

Steven opined that the world is magical enough in a child's eyes that they don't need fictions like Santa to interfere.

The whole world is magical to kids. They want to believe in Santa, Rudolph, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc. Kids don't live in a bubble. At five my daughter and her friends are already deeply discussing whether Santa, etc. exists. Some are trying to convince her otherwise, like kids tried back in 1897 to Virginia O'Hanlon. I'm in the he's real camp until she shows signs of not wanting to believe anymore. Kids can be cruel and just plain silly, but the "there is no Santa" schoolyard discussions seem to me less an attempt to blow a hole in the magic bubble, but an attempt to appear smarter, more knowledgeable of the oh-so-attractive grown-up world. Kids, if you only had the merest glimpse of the mundanity of many aspects of what it is to be "grown-up," you'd relax and settle back and bask in fantasies like Santa as long as possible.

I remember coming down on Christmas morning when I was about five and finding a deluxe crayon set in a long flat box with hundreds of crayons in it. It was amazing. The tag said "From Santa" - in my mom's handwriting. I showed it to her and she just smiled back at me. I remember feeling a moment of betrayal, but then it passed. Christmas was still wonderful, as were the crayons. And I wasn't going to blow it for my younger brother, who was glowing as he climbed into the red fire engine that Santa brought him.

Not sure when my brother figured it out. I do remember years later the two of us asking to sleep in the same room on Xmas Eve. My mom said sure. Our master plan was to stay up and either catch Santa (or most likely) my mom in the act of putting out the presents. We were going to bust the myth wide open. We had been searching the house all week for hidden presents and never found any. We fell asleep eventually of course, and the presents were magically there in the morning. Still not sure how mom pulled that one off. It has been suggested that the presents were in the trunk of the car all the time. Very likely. Or that my dad, a notorious Xmas Eve shopper, rolled in with most of the stuff much later that evening. But it's also fun to keep the magic my mom was trying to wield alive, too.

Santa was never used as a serious threat in our house to get good behavior. Folks are kidding themselves if they think that will work. Coal in the stocking? You better watch out—not.

Kids, when they're young, need to compare notes, "fit in" with each other and the world. They get the reality of the dangers of the real world thrown at them constantly through all the rules they have to absorb to learn how to move safely through it. Santa and the few other child fantasy figures are there to add a little extra magic.

And maybe adults perpetuate such stories because they wish they still had some fun things like Rudolph to believe in.

p.s. I'm happy to report that one of my favorite writers, Alexander McCall Smith, also believes in perpetuating myths, as he so wonderfully wrote in the December 13 Parade magazine:
There is a moment in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan when the audience is invited to revive the dying fairy Tinkerbell and told, “If you believe in fairies, clap your hands.” And every time, the theater breaks into sustained applause. That is not to suggest there are theaters full of seriously deluded people. What it does tell us is that there are times when we need to pretend to believe in things we know not to be true. We know that the world is a place of suffering and hardship, and we know, too, that justice and kindness and love and such things will not always prevail against these hard realities. Myths help us to get by. The day they all die and we tell our children exactly how things are, the world will be a poorer, less enchanted place. So don’t be ashamed to clap your hands at Peter Pan or act as if Santa exists. He stands for kindness and generosity, and those things are alive and will continue to be alive—as long as we believe in them.
Merry Christmas!


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