Robyn brought up a topic on her blog on when she stopped believing in Santa. This was prompted by her reading about the dumbass Vicar in the UK who couldn’t keep his big mouth shut, much to the dismay of children and parents alike. Robyn then asked when and how her readers came to abandon their belief in Santa and reading about some of the other folk’s experiences got me to thinking back myself.
My experience with learning the truth wasn’t as traumatic as what a lot of people seem to go through. I can’t say for certain what age I was at when I finally broke down and asked my mother point blank if Santa were real while we were driving to some location or event that has long since faded from my mind. The moment of truth, however, is etched fairly clearly in my mind. I had been having doubts about his existence for the prior two years, but had opted to rely on Pascal’s Wager as I didn’t want to risk pissing Santa off if he did exist and take the chance that he might decide not to give me any more Christmas presents. I had been told all my life that he did exist, that he loved all little children and that, if you were good, his generosity could be overwhelming. Not unlike what I had been told about God**. Besides, come Christmas morning all the proof I needed for Santa’s existence was laid out before me in brightly wrapper paper. All of that struggling to try and be good and behave myself actually did pay off in the end.
So it wasn’t without much trepidation that I broached the subject with my mother. Her first response was a simple question: Did I really want to know the real truth? I remember my heart leaping up into my throat as I pondered the gravity of the situation. The sort of half-terror/half-exhilaration you might get from standing in front of a closed door in a spooky house with the unknown laying in wait on the other side, a mere turn of a doorknob away. If I was brave enough to reach for it. I’m sure it wasn’t that long before I said yes, but it felt like an eternity.
No, my mother said, Santa isn’t real. I expected these words to hit me like a ton of bricks, but instead I just had this sense of having known the truth all along. I can’t say that I had built up anything close to a logical argument about why Santa couldn’t have existed, but the truth did leave me with a sudden clarity about the world.
It also brought up the next set of logical questions: If Santa doesn’t exist then parents are telling their kids a lie, but lying is supposed to be bad, so why do parents tell their kids that Santa exists? I don’t fully recall the answer my mother gave me, but the gist of it was that Santa was another way that parents could express their love for their children. I remember the explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time, but I had learned the truth and was content enough with that. The fact that I had a younger sister ensured that I’d still be getting gifts from Santa for a few more years at least and I promised not to spoil the fun for my sister.
However, I was fascinated by the idea that so many people would go through so much trouble to perpetuate this myth about Santa each and every year. Especially with all the hassle and stress the holidays always seemed to bring to my parents. I studied as much history on Santa as I could find and learned as much as I could about the various legends that have come together over time to create the modern image of Santa that we know today. I found that Santa represents the best aspects of humanity that most of us would like to see more of in ourselves. I came to the conclusion that the myth continues as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids. For a short time each year we all get to pretend we’re this wonderful person who has boundless generosity and good will for everyone. For awhile the greater majority of people try a little harder to live up to the ideal that is Santa Claus. And on Christmas morning when you see the excitement and joy that all of that effort to maintain the myth brings forth, well I can’t speak for anyone else, but it certainly does make it all worthwhile for me. In fact, I’d say that I still profess a belief in the ideal of Santa Claus. A belief in the potential of every person to become a better person and touch the lives of those around them in a positive way.
Of course Santa exists because we all hold a part of him within us and at least once every year we reach deep down inside and let him out into a world that is improved by his presence.
**Learning the truth about Santa did play a part in my eventual loss of religious faith, but that’s a story for another time.