Perpetuating the Santa Claus Myth

I don’t understand the whole believing-in-Santa-Claus thing. Well, from a commercial point I do. Since Christmas has expanded way beyond a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, big business needs a secular figure to personalize the day and make it special enough that people will spend money they don’t have on gifts. But other than that, no — I don’t get it.

I especialstnickly don’t understand why parents perpetuate the myth that there really is a Santa Claus. Many adults remember how betrayed they felt when they realized there was no such person living at the North Pole and dispensing gifts from a reindeer-driven sleigh, so why would they teach their children the same lie? To make the wonder of the season more wondrous? But the season is already radiantly wonderful with lights and gifts and delicious once-a-year treats. And it’s especially aglow for Christians as they celebrate the birth of the Son of God, which, after all, is the whole reason for the feast day.

I loved Christmas as much as any child, and I never believed in Santa Claus as a living entity — my mother was too pragmatic for that. It seems to me that most kids I knew weren’t taught to believe in a cartoonish jolly old St. Nick. We knew the real story of St. Nicholas (or at least the real legend.) We knew he was a Greek bishop and that he supposedly had a habit of passing out gold coins. Because of this, we believed the spirit of Christmas was generosity. We gave what gifts we could. We knew who gave us each of the gifts we received, and if we forgot, our parents reminded us when it came time to write thank you notes. Those thank-you notes were part of the season. Though they seemed laborious at the time, penning those notes taught us that the gifts were not a right but a blessing. It seems that a belief in Santa Claus fosters greed — a belief that we deserve gifts as a reward for being good, which is so not the spirit of Christmas.

I once saw a soldier talk about this very thing. He said that he had been a soldier in Vietnam. Although it felt like a war, and people died like in a war, technically it wasn’t a war — they weren’t allowed to win, only to occupy. They’d battle their way to the top of a hill then, when they’d gained the territory, they’d retreat, only to take the hill once more, or another like it.

One day as they sat on a hill they had just taken, he asked his buddies about the most disillusioning moments in their lives. He expected a heavy discussion on the absurdities of the war, or the shock of getting drafted, or the monumental stupidity of the military, but they all said the most disillusioning moment in their lives was discovering that Santa Claus didn’t exist.

And yet, people are still teaching their children that Santa is real. It’s amazing to me that children ever trust their parents after that.

On the other hand, considering how often life disillusions us, perhaps being disillusioned over something as innocuous as the Santa Claus myth is a good thing.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.