Santa

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I think I cried harder the first time I lost faith in a magical man in the sky.

When Childhood Christmas would come I could barely sleep, listening for the sound of bells, the patter of hooves on a snowcapped roof. I would sit up, clad in my snuggly onsie, and wipe the frosty window with my fist. I would peer up into the cold, black sky to catch a glimpse of this strange and marvelous person who would go to such trouble to leave his magical home and come down into mine, to bless me with things I wanted.

I didn’t need proof of him.  I had known that he was real my entire life. He was watching me always, and he knew my heart was good. He promised me a reward for doing the right thing, and he always followed through. Not to mention that everyone else told me he was real. So why would I ever doubt him? I especially liked that he had an endless supply of wonderful things to give and was not limited by time, distance, or the laws of nature and science that I had just begun to learn about.

I was an older kid when I let him go. I didn’t want to relinquish that part of me that could believe in magic. I didn’t want to move fully, courageously into this somewhat drab and rigid thing called “reality,” where there were no exceptions or exclusions. Where things had to be demonstrable to be considered real, and were forced to abide by the laws of motion, the confines of time, or human limitation. At times I wished I could believe forever and, at others, that I had never believed at all.

Flash forward to motherhood and a Christmas conundrum. My daughter was never the child of fantasy that I had been. The only picture I have of her with Santa, I posted above. As you can see, she wasn’t very interested, haha! As she grew, she became a “hard-core scientist,” the kind that took apart barrettes, cabinets, clocks, and pillows to understand how each worked. She sought symmetry, balance, logical explanations. She traced the path of reflections from light in water and watched the motion of steam as it drifted from her soup spoon. Her magic was reality.

One December when she was six, she sat me down and matter-of-factly began, “Why don’t you just go ahead and tell me there’s no Santa? It’s much more disturbing to think that some strange guy is sneaking into our house at night than it is to think that Santa is you.” Not knowing how to respond, I asked her, “Why are you so sure there’s no Santa?” Her reply was, “If Santa were real, there would be no toy drives.”

And that was that. Testable real-world evidence did not line up with the obviously flawed Santa hypothesis, and she was on to the Mom theory. The wonderful thing was that she wanted reality. It consoled her to know what made a pillow puffy and why a clock ticked and that there was a rational explanation for her Christmas gifts. Removing the creepy, the unverifiable and the dubious only made Christmas more amazing. And I was relieved because I no longer had to sneak around.

I soon learned, though, that Santa had some conveniences. I was already feeling awkward about signing “Love, Mom,” only five gifts in. It sure seemed like I was getting a lot of credit for a lot of gifts to a little person who couldn’t buy me anything in return. And what if she didn’t like some of the clothes? She would certainly feel bad telling me, now that I couldn’t throw Santa under the bus, and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to exchange them for something she’d prefer. Because she was so caring, would understanding that I worked hard and spent a lot on a special gift remove some the joy she felt at receiving it?

Letting go of belief in magic isn’t easy. My daughter is not afraid of a fictitious stranger in her home anymore, but she also has to accept that gifts come from the hard work of people she loves. She isn’t afraid of God anymore either, the mysterious man in the sky who would watch her every move and write her name on a list, good or bad, with promises of gifts or threats of hell. But with that comes letting go of the easy answers. “We miss him, but your friend is with Jesus now.” “Don’t be afraid. Angels are watching over you.” “This is a tough time, but we have to trust that God has a plan.”

If we are intentional about working through those changes, truth pays off. Life is more valuable when it isn’t coated with fabricated details. We no longer need to imagine heaven in the clouds, to fully appreciate a stunning composite of sunlight, water, and air. We don’t need to harbor fantasies to find magic. There is love in the gifts we give one another. There is glory in nature, and amazement in science.

There is splendor and magnificence all around us.

 

 

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “Santa

  1. Sometimes I wonder if the Santa story is just conditioning for the Jesus story. And after the oldest finds out the truth, they then propagate the charade along to the younger kids. The Jesus/prayer/faith story is harder to get rid of though

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    1. Part of the reason it was so hard for me to let go of Santa was because I waited until I was a much older child to do so. Likewise, it becomes exponentially more difficult to let go of a belief, especially one that has given your life purpose, joy, and peace, the older you get. At some point, I wonder if it would even be worth waking up to reality, as the difficult elements of having to rethink so many life decisions, and address so many moments you may have missed or misunderstood, as well as facing new ideas about what lies ahead might outweigh the benefits of staying safe inside the bubble. Not sure, I just wonder.

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      1. For me I still find myself having to unthink a lot of my initial thoughts. It’s like it sticks in your DNA. I am very much an unbeliever but still catch myself in mormonthink from time to time. Ah if I could clean the slate!

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  2. “And that was that. Testable real-world evidence did not line up with the obviously flawed Santa hypothesis, and she was on to the Mom theory. The wonderful thing was that she wanted reality.”

    This is excellent. I hope you encouraged her to not stop with “Mom theory”. A little girl who wants reality needs grown-ups to help her think about stuff.

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  3. My parents never signed my gifts from Santa, so I never had to sit them down and ask them to quit lying to me… But, I can imagine it would be frustrating to think one person is responsible for your gift and then discover it’s actually someone else. Santa only exists if he wears a red suit and drives reindeer and, generally, looks exactly like I picture him. Other Present Givers don’t count.

    I’ve got a six year old this year, and she doesn’t get presents “from Santa” either. But maybe I’ll suggest to her that we should be grateful for presents that put themselves under the tree, and see if she’s a good enough philosopher to test that claim.

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  4. I think that’s wise, Mrs. MC Mommy. I believe that it’s wonderful to allow children to question everything, exposing them to different belief systems while not censoring them from scientific truth, and encouraging a healthy relationship with reality and with the unknown. Only when we admit that we don’t have all the answers can we build a humble and honest relationship with those we love and with the members of our human family. I understand the purpose of your comment, and I respect your commitment to your beliefs. I opt not to argue with you or your dad, in the spirit of caring. I hope your Christmas season is filled with joy, and thanks for commenting!

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    1. I don’t see why we’d need to “argue” about anything. All that would be necessary would be to present me with some scientific truth and allow me to question everything–including your very nice-sounding beliefs.

      It’s a shame that my kids will grow up in a world where members of their human family talk a lot about “questioning everything,” but then shut down those who actually do… But, *shrugs* it won’t ruin my Christmas. I have much for which to be grateful to the Universe! 🙂

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      1. I’m sorry if you thought I was shutting you down. I’m not sure what the question was?? You made a comment and I agreed with you. Please feel free to comment anytime. I would never intend to shut someone down. I said that I wasn’t going to argue with you, because you feel very strongly about Christianity. I have heard from Christian friends that they wish me to be respectful of their beliefs when I directly engage with them during the Christmas season. I’m sorry if you took my answer to be one of disrespect. It was meant to be quite the opposite.

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      2. I’m happy to clarify: I also value questioning things. (My six year old is quite “argumentative,” which often just means she’s trying to understand things better… I love that!)

        Christians who have asked you not to argue with them are NOT open to questioning. That’s a shame. And it’s even more a shame when “arguing” is seen as a negative.

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  5. I think your daughter’s off to a good start. The tougher thing to learn after this is how to avoid the siren song of the easy answers. Human learning is heavily biased towards them, in spite of information to the contrary. It’s how people remained convinced invisible forces must have been responsible for plagues for thousands of years.

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    1. I agree, Sirius Bizinus. It is, in fact, not the invisible forces themselves, but belief in them that brings (both metaphoric and physical) plagues to Earth. In the Middle Ages, for example, superstition encouraged the killing of cats, which directly led to the Black Death, spread by the overpopulation of rats that ensued.
      https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/02/06/in-the-middle-ages-devil-fearing-christians-killed-cats-which-carried-the-unintended-consequence-of-increasing-the-rat-population-and-the-spread-of-the-black-death/

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  6. I absolutely LOVE this observation on the part of your daughter: “If Santa were real, there would be no toy drives.”

    What a magnificent demonstration of logical thinking … and at such a young age! You’ve got winner there, Danica. 🙂

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    1. Thank you! It is an interesting year for us as we carve out some new traditions. We have opted to celebrate our own derivative of Solstice with a scientific twist. We’ll study ancient magical and astronomical beliefs and learn how they have inspired modern-day religion. (We decided that would be a healthy approach to coexisting with Christian icons over this month.) We’ll light candles instead of a Yule log and write our reflections on the year gone and hopes for the year to come in a gorgeous celestial chart journal that I acquired at our local observatory. We will bring out the journal year after year and reflect on the time we’ve spent together, which of our wishes have come true over the years, and what unexpected moments surprised us along the way. My daughter (now 8) and I have decided that it will be a wonderful way to celebrate the magic of the season, rooted in the realities of history, nature, and science. 🙂 If you enjoyed the nostalgia in this post, you might enjoy my post Autumn. https://loveoverreligion.com/2017/10/21/autumn/ Sometimes I get lost in reverie.

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  7. Another fantastic post and your conclusion…my thoughts exactly.
    I also started to implement the ‘things’ in my life, which I do love. So, still decorating in the holiday spirit, without a living tree and also celebrating Solstice (especially celebrating the fact the days will get lighter, longer, again).

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  8. Kids! You gotta love ’em, right?

    We grew up with a (very) loose Santa-centered Christmas. In truth, I have no firm recollection of when I dropped the belief as a kid. It was obviously painless and passed without much comment.

    I don’t remember my wife or I ever actually encouraging belief in Santa, either, though the Red and White Robed jolly fat man from the Coca Cola company must have featured at some period in time.
    Hell, there was no way I could have afforded those presents, and the mince pies and glass of sherry was always gone on the morning of the 25th, so someone must have had them, right!

    We still put up a tree. And why not? Who doesn’t like twinkly lights?
    Although I think I’ll draw the line at making a Nativity Scene this year, and as I am now a vegetarian it might seem a bit off putting to slaughter a goat or lamb on the lawn.

    Happy Saturnalia.

    😉

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      1. It’s sweet that the Branyans are so concerned for your soul that they still take the time to pay you a visit, just to check you haven’t burst in to flame. They are showing genuine Family-Style Concern, y’all. Bless their cotton-pickin’ Christmas stockings.
        Torquemada would be proud of them.
        🙂

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  9. Oh yes … I’ve lived the belief-nonbelief cycle of Santa. Then again, what goes around comes around. I was probably in my mid-30s when I was struck by the thought of Santa as the spirit of goodness … a goodness that crosses all boundaries of cultures and religions. The spirit of goodness that is for Christmas, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Humanists, and more. Now at almost 65, I still believe in that spirit that binds humanity.

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    1. What a lovely thought! I also believe it is love and the spirit of giving that binds us together during celebrations. I find myself wishing that the season would become less focused on a specific religion, and would instead take on this inclusive idea of love and giving that you have expressed here. I believe one of the keys will be expanding our education regarding the origins of our religious celebrations, as well as learning and teaching others about the similiarites across religions and within all humans. Thanks for the comment!

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