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I love the holidays, and I always have. I grew up somewhere between the top of the lower class and the bottom of the middle class, so for me the solstice never had much of a materialistic orientation. In my life, the holidays have always been about the things we all say they’re about: Sharing. Warmth. Love.
I have to admit, though, that despite my upbringing there comes at least one occasion every holiday season upon which I feel powerfully compelled to slap someone. This occasion is invariably when some bonehead informs me that they neglected to tell their children about Santa because they “didn’t want to lie to”, or “thought it was important to be honest with” their children.
A laudable goal. I am a fan of honesty. In fact, I am excruciatingly honest myself. I say this not to extol some virtue, but simply as a datum, like the color of my eyes or the length of my hair. It’s just the way I was raised, and I have very little control over it. For the most part it’s a good thing, but it has been known to land me in trouble. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t really want honest answers to their questions. Seemingly innocent questions, too, like: “Does this dress make me look fat?”, or “Did I make a fool of myself at the party last night?”
But there’s honesty, and then there’s honesty. And when people tell me they deny the existence of Santa Claus in order to be ‘honest’ with their children, I know they are lying to me (and not just for the obvious reason). I also know they are lying to their children. I know this because their children are happy. And if their parents really tried to be honest with them, this wouldn’t be the case. Those children who are playing so happily on the swing set probably didn’t have their parents carefully explain to them that most humans are bad people, that evil invariably triumphs over good, and that – in the Grand Scheme of Things – all humans lead brief, pointless lives in this vale of tears before going on to become worm food. Brutal honesty has no place in parenting, and most parents thankfully steer clear of it. So why single out Santa? Let’s face it – you’re not achieving some kind of moral superiority by denying the existence of Santa Claus. You’re just being a dick. And a dishonest dick, at that.
I have, on occasion, been asked whether or not I believe in Santa Claus. The absurdity of this question baffles me. Of course I believe in Santa. I also believe in broccoli, and grout. You’d be amazed at the number of things I believe in just because they exist.
Although I suppose ‘belief’ isn’t quite the correct word. I don’t actually believe in grout – I’m simply aware of its existence. In much the same way, I don’t ‘believe’ in Santa, as such. Neither do I ‘believe’ in trees or cars or shoes or rocks or hats or pianos or bubble gum or roller skates or blue jeans or cake or grills or chairs or any of the countless things that straightforwardly are. Santa Claus simply is, and no one’s belief or lack thereof has any effect on this state of affairs. Luckily, our opinions about Santa are largely immaterial to him. The only people whose opinions really do matter to Santa are children, and they are all quite aware of him (and think rather highly of him), regardless of whatever nonsense they hear from their parents.
Truth is, it’s not the thought of lying that bothers these misguided parents so much, but rather the thought of Santa Claus himself. Why? No one quite knows the reason. It could be their heads aren’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that their shoes are too tight. It could be their hearts aren’t a large enough size. Or maybe they’re confusing Santa with some other bearded guy.
But the most likely reason of all is that one year during their childhood they really, really wanted the Captain Plastic Adventure Playset and Santa failed to deliver. This disappointment led to a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Santa, which in turn was probably fueled by a purposeful misrepresentation of Santa by their own parents (not to criticize anyone. Parenting is hard enough. If parents want to assess responsibility to Santa for their inability or unwillingness to secure a specific gift, who’s to blame them?).
I think a big part of the problem is that there is so much mythology surrounding Santa many people get confused and think that Santa himself is mythological. Nothing could be further from the truth, but on some level the confusion is understandable. Some of the myths surrounding Santa are pretty far-fetched. There are people who actually believe Santa is a Christian (please don’t bring up the ‘birthday’ thing. We all know the chance of December 25th actually being the day on which Christ was born is 1 in 365. It’s the solstice that’s meaningful to Santa).
And the misconceptions don’t end there. Children are actually taught to send ‘wish lists’ to Santa, as if he was some sort of mail-order business. The poor kids are being told that their relationship with Santa is one of supply and demand. They’re being taught that Christmas is about greed, jealousy and gluttony. They’re being deceived into thinking that the gifts are a measure of Santa’s love, when in fact they are a token of it.
You see, that is what Santa does: he loves. He’s not about gifts. He’s not about trees or wreaths or toys or mistletoe or milk and cookies or sleighs or carols or silver bells or any of that stuff. What he is about is love. The best kind of love – the unselfish, unconditional kind. The kind of love that is blind to behavior, be it naughty or nice (let’s be clear about this: Santa does not care whether anybody cleans their room). The kind of love that is big enough and pure enough and… elemental enough to travel the entire world in one night to deliver gifts to children of all sorts.
And each child receives precisely one present. Because one is all it takes. Because the gift lies not in the object, but in what the object represents:
Santa’s pure, unconditional love.
Happy Christmas to all.