This post is pending a rewrite. I am older now, and have different thoughts on the matter, and am less bitter.
Most people are familiar with the story of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”. A young girl, Virgina, wrote The Sun asking the infamous question as to whether or not Santa Claus was real. The response was crafted by Francis Pharcellus Church in such a manner as to not be a lie, but at the same time fail to be completely honest. I find nothing wrong with Church’s response. It’s fine, but at the same time, I would have given a different response, I wouldn’t have responded at all, and I want to explain why.
I was first introduced to the concept of Santa Claus at a very young age. Indeed, Santa was my favorite person in the whole world, and I was a strong believer. I remember one time at the mall my dad handed me a pair of cowboy boots, and had me sit on Santa’s lap so I could ask him to get me those boots for Christmas. Much to my surprise, they were there on Christmas morning. Santa was a tradition that my family held. My mom told me there was a Santa, my dad seemed to concur. On Christmas morning we children received some presents from Santa and some from our parents, so my parents didn’t go completely without thanks. But, always, in my opinion the best presents were from Santa.
Santa let me down two times, and looking back on it, I now know why. There was one year where I really wanted this McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. It was a Daffy Duck figure that had a snap on Batman-esque uniform. McDonald’s had been running a Looney Tunes promotion, and there were various toys of various characters that could be dressed in superhero costumes. Bugs Bunny could be dressed up like Superman, Taz like the Flash, and so forth. Well I really wanted that Daffy Duck toy, but I never told my mom. I figured that Santa would bring it to me for Christmas. I even sacrilegiously prayed to Santa telling him that I wanted it for Christmas. I believed in Santa so strongly that I figured I didn’t need to write him, because he’d know by his magical powers what I wanted. Well, the toy didn’t come on Christmas morning. I was disappointed. I did end up finding the Daffy Duck toy on eBay, years later, and actually have the complete collection of the superheroes, no thanks to Santa.
The other time Santa let me down, was for a much more expensive gift. I really wanted this space shuttle Lego set. It was called “6339 Shuttle Launch Pad”, it include the full tower, shuttle, booster rockets, and fuel tank. I wanted it badly. As a kid I had collected pirate themed Lego sets, but this one seemed so much better, so much more fun. You see, I liked space, and I loved space shuttles. I imagined day after day that I was playing with this toy, I fantasized about counting down to liftoff, then raising the shuttle high into the air, detaching the boosters at the appropriate time, and finally disengaging the shuttle from the fuel tank as the shuttle went into orbit. I even told my mom I wanted this one, and again I prayed to Santa that he’d get it for me. Much to my dismay it never came, and the fantasy of playing with this set was never realized. Further, this is now such a rare toy I doubt I’ll ever obtain one. I still want it, though.
I mention these two stories about Santa letting me down, not because they made me stop believing in him, but because even though I was disappointed, I never stopped believing. After all, he still brought me other presents, and I was happy with them. I figured that Santa had too many other kids to worry about. I forgave him for not getting me what I truly wanted.
As I said, my belief in Santa was strong. I was the kid at school that defended the fact that Santa was real. I remember in fifth grade there was just me and one other kid, Jimmy Morgan, that went around defending the belief in Santa. I remember, when my family would drive around on Christmas Eve night to see the Christmas lights, I’d always look up into the sky to see if I could see Santa, and sometimes I convinced myself that I’d seen him. This because there were some lights up in the mountains, a string of them, and I figured it was exactly what Santa and his reindeer would look like from a distance. I thought it kind of strange that he wasn’t flying all over the place, that he always seemed to be in the same spot relative to the car I was in, but still, I was convinced. I even thought that by the time we got back from the drive, the presents would already be there.
I didn’t find out that Santa wasn’t real until sixth grade. I remember, someone was telling me that Santa wasn’t real, and as usual I was defending him, so I went to Jimmy Morgan, to stand as a second witness that Santa was real, and Jimmy denied Santa. He denied Santa! I figured he just denied him because he was embarrassed, but later I asked Jimmy about this in private, and Jimmy said, “No, I don’t believe in Santa.” I told him he could be honest with me, and that I wouldn’t judge him, because I really did believe in Santa. He said he was serious, he didn’t believe. I figured then, that I was the last true believer in Santa.
Logically there was no way that one many could deliver all those presents in one night, and I understood that, but I figured he had the help of God to deliver the presents, which explains why I thought praying would somehow get me the presents I wanted.
Well, that same year, in the parking lot of K-Mart, after my family had done some Christmas shopping, I was talking about Santa. My mom asked, very concerned, if I really believed in Santa, or if I was just joking around. I said I was serious. She responded telling me that there was no Santa. I was shocked. I felt like the biggest idiot. I sat in silence on the car ride home, with a crooked smile on my face. I wasn’t silent because my dreams were shattered, but because I didn’t know how I could face anyone when I believed in such a ridiculous thing at such an age. I was eleven, and I believed in Santa. My mom told me on that ride home, that she thought I had been joking around for the past few years whenever I said I believed in Santa.
I still feel stupid that I believed in Santa that late in life. I mean, I can sort of laugh at it now, but I still take the topic of a belief in Santa very seriously. I feel that it was very unhealthy for me to hold those beliefs at that age, and while I don’t think any serious harm was done to my psyche, I can’t get over the fact that I had behaved so illogically. I had defended a belief that wasn’t real, and not only that, it was ridiculous. My parents lied to me. Teachers at school weren’t honest with me. I mention teachers, because while they never taught that Santa was real, we did celebrate Christmas at school, and one year we even learned about the various beliefs in Santa figures in other nations of the world. So while they never said Santa was real, all the discussion confirmed my beliefs. I don’t think Christmas should be discussed at school at all, and certainly not the character of Santa Claus. With that said, school should be let out during Christmas, because, let’s face it, most American’s celebrate Christmas, and we need some time off.
My kids will not be taught to believe in Santa. They will not sit on Santa’s lap and ask for presents. They will know exactly who is giving them presents on Christmas day. They will, however, be taught about the legend of Santa. Certainly I want them to watch, and enjoy, the same Christmas movies that I enjoy, but they will always know that it is a myth, a story, and that there is no actual man named Santa Claus.
I’m not going to tell my kids to tell their friends that there is no Santa, but I hope that they will start doing this on their own. I want them to do this, because I felt like a fool because I was the one defending Santa. Like I said, I’m not going to tell them to go out of their way to do this, but I hope they can bring some light to a foolish world.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t teach your kids to believe in anything. If you have religious beliefs that you want to teach your children, that is fine, as long as you believe in what you are teaching them. But to teach them something that you, yourself, know is not true, well, that is a lie. I feel very strongly that children should not be lied to in this regard. I think it is okay to lie to children about some things, but for something as silly as Santa Claus, that children will take very seriously, I feel it is wrong. I know some parents use Santa Claus to manipulate their children into behaving, but there are better ways to do this without lying.
As for Mr. Church’s response to Virginia’s inquiry, I have to say this. I know plenty of people that see Santa as an allegory for the spirit of Christmas, or, in other words, the spirit of giving, and they say that Santa is real, in your heart. To that, I say that the spirit of giving is real, and it is in your heart, but it shouldn’t be associated with an actual belief in some magical, jolly man, that wears a red suit. I don’t go around telling children that there is no Santa, I’m not a Scrooge in that regard, I’m not a Scrooge at all when it comes to Christmas. The spirit of giving is something that can be expressed through action, and that is how I believe the spirit of Christmas should be introduced to children.
One year, my mom had gotten our family a snow-blower for easy snow removal, and we all thought it was pretty fun to clear out the driveway. One time she had me go, clandestinely, to a recently-divorced neighbor’s house with the snow-blower and clean out her driveway. I didn’t want to go. I was afraid of getting caught, but we went anyway. That was the meaning of Christmas, and not all this Santa Claus stuff.
Whether there ever was an actual Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, or something similar, that is irrelevant. The simple fact is that there is no Santa Claus. There never was a magical man that delivered presents using flying reindeer. He doesn’t exist. He’s not real. The stories are fun, the movies are entertaining, but children should know that they are just that, stories, fiction, something to be enjoyed, but not taken seriously. I love the Christmas season, and while I may have loved it because of Santa when I was a foolish child, my reason’s are different now, and I’m glad those reasons have changed.