On Santa Claus and Imagination

 

“Reason is the natural order of the truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.”

-C.S Lewis

I usually avoid controversial topics, but at my husband’s urging, I’ve worked up the courage to address here the topic of (gasp!) Santa Claus.

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 Ok, first things first. Some of the best advice I’ve heard from my sister-in-law’s mother is that you are parents of your particular children for a reason, ergo, most of the time, what you decide to do with them is going to be the right thing for them. Extra, extra, read all about it! Now we can all relax and stop judging each other.

So, this isn’t a post telling you what I think you should do. It's a post telling you what I think I will do. This is a post describing my own experiences and conclusions. I'm sharing here why my husband and I have so far decided that Santa will be part of Christmas with any future children we are blessed with. Because these are the things we talk about over Saturday breakfast. We don't think its a big deal either way. We're just very much children at heart.

I don’t have children yet, but I am hoping and praying that I will someday. And when I do, our Christmases, and indeed our lives, will be about the beauty of advent, the event of the coming of Jesus, the miracle that he was born as a baby on earth, to live as a man among us, experience what we experience, live the life we cannot live, and die the death we should have died, to offer redemption to mankind, to offer it to us. But Santa will be part of our Christmases too, and here’s why.

My husband likes to say I have a master’s degree in babies, or you know, child development/early childhood education/special education. There is a thing in Child Development literally called by some "Magical Thinking." Young children’s brains are still growing and developing. They are not yet mature enough to always sort fantasy from reality. For example, a child may believe they have special powers, or that monsters come out at night. And if your child is afraid of monsters coming to his or her room, you will better comfort them by telling them that you are there to protect them, than by trying to explain that monsters aren’t real. Young children are naturally inclined to believe in imaginary things, and it’s a beautiful and important part of childhood. Can a child have a wonderful and rich imagination without believing in Santa Claus? Yes, of course! Can believing in Santa Claus be part of a child’s wonderful and rich imagination? Yes, of course!

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” –Roald Dahl

My Nova Scotian grandpa loved to tell us tall tales involving talking animals, dwarfs, and fairies. These stories usually involved himself as a character and participant, and would go on and on. He would sometimes take me to the door that led to the unfinished part of his basement and we would have conversations with Mr. Wolf, who lived there.

My parents emphasized the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but Santa was also a part of it. We wrote him letters, left cookies and milk, and Santa wrote back to us. One year “Santa” accidentally dropped a present in our yard. There were sleigh tracks and boot prints leading to the door (we had no chimney), and a gift for my brother left in the snow. I was just little, and watched with wonder as my brother went out in his snow boots to retrieve it. Since we’ve grown up, my brother and I have gone over the details of that magical event to figure out how my dad achieved such a thing, because he still refuses to tell us anything, claiming that it wasn’t him! That’s my dad folks. I love him.

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Were my grandpa and my dad lying to us? No! Were they confusing our ability to understand what is real and what is false later in life? No! They were interacting and bonding with us in ways that were natural and right to them. They were enriching and inspiring our imaginations. They were making our childhoods and Christmases joyful and special. They were teaching us how to look for the wonder and magic around us. That’s what it all meant to me.

I still look for the magic around me. I’ve always been this way. When I was a young child, I believed in monsters, fairies, Borrowers in the walls, Santa Claus, and God. When I began to grow up and sort fantasy from reality, I wasn’t really disappointed that fairies and Santa weren’t real because I had grown out of it. And because I discovered that there are parts of these childhood beliefs that are in some ways real. In looking for magic and miracles, I discovered in God the author of the greatest story, the most valiant hero, the source of all magic, miracles, and beauty in the world. So, when I have children, we will imagine together, I will tell them tall tales of fairies and dwarves, talking animals and brave heroes. I will tell them of Santa and his secretive generosity. I will also tell them of the Source of all imagination. I will tell them that they are playing a real part in the greatest and truest story, and I hope they will believe with all their hearts.

“It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called on to believe what to many people is impossible. Instead of rejoicing in this glorious "impossible" which gives meaning and dignity to our lives, we try to domesticate God, to make his mighty actions comprehensible to our finite minds.”

Madeleine L'Engle

“I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.”

J.G. Ballard