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It’s seems like the trend du jour is to buck tradition. In a way, it makes sense. Some of the things our parents and grandparents did are just so outdated now. Whiskey on the gums is no longer an accepted solution for infant teething (though a splash of it in hot cocoa might make my holidays merrier). Opposers of Mr. Claus claim it’s better raise our kids in the real world, and I completely understand.
But why stop there? Hey, you know what? Elves didn’t make those toys—kids your age made them abroad under terrible work conditions. Great. Now everyone feels awful. I mean, we adults should feel bad about that fact. I do, yet, like many others, I still own an iPhone. We may not be in the best position to judge children’s make-believe so harshly.
I’m also not convinced exposing young children to the “real world” is necessarily better for them than believing a magical story. If anything, children grow up too fast. What makes kids different from adults is that, for them, anything is possible. The world itself is magic. My daughter can barely contain her excitement when she sees a plane. It’s understandable. Look, a giant metal tube is flying in the sky like a bird! Adults become blind to the wonder of even the real world; kids can’t help but notice it.
Some psychologists say a belief in Santa is good for children. Dr. Matthew Lorber, child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, says, “Imagination is an integral part of growing up and helps the brain to be creative.” The belief in Santa is certainly not harmful, says Stephanie Wagner, a clinical psychologist at the NYU Child Study Center in New York. Santa Claus is a myth, one grounded in the real story of St. Nicholas, known for his gifts to the poor. Are these old myths still relevant in contemporary life? They reflect human themes, mysteries and meaning, according to Joseph Campbell, renowned mythologist and writer. The story of Santa may help parents communicate something universal, say, the spirit of giving.
I think this points to a bigger issue: if we collectively believe in something that makes us happier and harms no one, does truth or falsity even matter?
As a parent, I want to preserve not only the magic of the season—Santa, a snowy workshop, flying reindeer—but magical thinking in general. I want to nourish my daughter’s imagination. I would like her to grow up with the benefit of wonder. I agree it’s important to instill in our children a sense of meaning beyond the material, and Santa isn’t what makes the holiday special. Ideally, our kids would also learn that Christmas is a time to reflect, spread goodwill and come together. Santa can exist alongside our family’s other traditions. At our home, he makes the day just a little brighter.
We’ve seen “Miracle on 34th Street.” If you recall, children’s belief in Santa (through their letters) played an integral part in proving Santa was who he claimed to be. I think this points to a bigger issue: If we collectively believe in something that makes us happier and harms no one, does truth or falsity even matter? Santa, as the embodiment of the Christmas spirit, is powerful, whether or not he actually exists.