On our recent visit to see Santa, we asked six-and-a-half year old Bess what she was going to ask him to bring for Christmas. She had already sent her list, but we wondered if there was anything in particular she wanted to mention.
“I’m going to ask for something, but it’s a secret,” she told us.
She, you see, is testing us. Or testing Santa. She is conducting her own little experiment as to the existence of the jolly man in red.
It was inevitable, of course. As children age, they begin to question. As they go to school with classmates who have older brothers and sisters, they hear rumors that it’s all a big hoax.
So what’s the big deal, really? I mean, there is no actual flesh-and-bone person who is Santa Claus and lives at the North Pole and rides in a sleigh full of toys pulled by magic reindeer and comes down the chimney to deliver said toys and scarf down a snack of milk and cookies before moving on to the next house, and the next, all around the world. She will know this soon – maybe not this year, maybe not even next year, but her Christmases of belief are numbered. Would it really make a difference if she learned the truth now?
I know that the idea of telling children the Santa myth is controversial in some circles. There are those that view this cultural tradition as a bald-faced lie told to children, and who would say that this is disrespectful of the children, and that they will never forgive us when they learn the truth – namely, that we have been brazenly and willfully misleading them. There are those that see him as a symbol of out-of-control commercialism.
I see it differently. I think that there is enchantment and wonder in the idea of Santa. Just as I view garden fairies as the personification of nature that give my children a concrete and developmentally appropriate way to understand the cycles and processes of biology, ecology and even chemistry, I view Santa in similar terms. He is a person who embodies and manifests qualities such as generosity, forgiveness and love, things that are too big and complex to be understood in the abstract (even by many adults). I think that there is value in giving our children a little magic, a little faith, a little hope in their lives. So, in our family at least, long live Santa!
BTW, when we went up for our family photo, Santa was kind enough to share with us that Bess had asked for a rainbow yo-yo so that we could keep the magic alive for a bit longer. (The logistics involved in actually procuring such a yo-yo is a topic for another post!)