Thursday, December 23, 2004

Santa's Hidden Clause

I've wondered off and on whether this is a tradition I will want to pass on to my children (when I have them) or not. It seems almost impossible to fight the tide on this one. You certainly don't want the child running around chastising all the other children because he knows it's all a farce, and you don't want the child to feel deprived of the holiday wonderment that most of us enjoyed as children. I do wonder though, since it certainly doesn't teach them reality; what it does teach is disillusionment, that parents and neighbors and adults in general lie, and that anything you wish can be yours. I suppose at least the story says he only rewards good children, so that it's sort of earned, except that then children from less affluent families are left to wonder if they were not as good as Johnny Silverspoon who got the newest coolest toy, when all they got was a modest collection of decent toys, or less.

"Carl Anderson, a psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote his dissertation about the effects of Santa on children. He's read widely and deeply on the subject of Santa, whom he calls a hopeful and comforting figure that historically provides solace during times of war and economic hardship. "You go back far enough," Anderson says, "that's the whole origin of the custom. Whenever there's a need for hope, there's more turning to Santa, more energy given to it."

But is that a good thing, to give so irrational a hope? Shouldn't children be taught to deal with life as it is, by the means available in the real world, rather than leaving them wishing on stars and mailing letters to the North Pole? Is that a possible reason that so many of us have no idea how to cope with the hardships that life brings? We are taught from our earliest memory that someone else will make it all better, and worse, someone imaginary! I don't want to be a bah-humbugger, but really, isn't this sort of a shift of parental responsibility? And what of the men who play Santa in the malls this time of year, they get stuck trying to answer for and uphold the lie face to face with the earnest children so desperate to understand.

"Being a Santa today can be a drain: children wanting parents home from war or gadgets beyond Claus' ken. Then there are the (law)suits."

"I had a little girl on my knee," Nevada [a professional Santa] recalls, "and she said she wanted 'a happy home' for Christmas. I looked up at the mom, and mom had bruises on her face. Now, what can I do? I can't phone the cops. I can't tell the child, 'Don't worry — Santa will send some hit men over and they'll take care of the old man.' I called Mom over, and she sat on my right knee, and mom and daughter faced each other and we had a little visit. What I could do was give that mom and daughter three or four minutes of peace."

"Maybe all this added pressure isn't the reason a Santa in Atlanta earlier this month knocked a woman cold with a 2-by-4. Maybe it's not why 30 Santas got into a drunken street brawl two weeks ago at a charity fundraiser in Wales. (Five Santas were arrested.) But it's undoubtedly why so many professional Santas sound edgy, spent, as if they might come down with the flu before they come down the chimney."

"That doesn't even count the Internet, where a booming Santa industry is taking shape. Alan Kerr, founder of, says his website has received millions of e-mails in its seven years of existence — 500,000 this season alone. Many e-mails, he says, contain requests even more wrenching than those made in malls, as children turn to Santa for help not only with parents in the military, but parents who are sick, parents who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, parents who are abusive. So Kerr has teamed with child psychologists and police to develop special software that identifies those "in dire circumstances," whom he then directs to the proper social agency. "
"When I started years ago, the only thing you really asked was — Have you been good? We didn't get into discussions."-From: Ho! Ho! Is More Like Uh-Oh

Then when you learn there is no such thing as Santa, it's like you are supposed to understand automatically the whole package deal, that wishing doesn't fix anything, that presents cost money, and money takes work, and that real life problems need real life solutions.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should do away with the whole thing. I think it's a nice traditional story. I just wonder if we should pretend it's real.

Well, I'm sure I'll go back and forth on the issue, and I have quite a few more years to decide, for now I'll just go enjoy the holidays. I'm leaving Florida to go somewhere cold where it will really feel more Christmas-like. I hope everyone enjoys their holiday!


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