Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santa Claus, Faith and Fascism

By the time I had reached grade two I had already decided that I didn't believe in Santa Claus. My ethnic immigrant parents didn't really know anything about Santa and my three older sisters made it clear by their words and deeds that it was just a fairy tale which was not to be taken seriously. On the last day of school before the holidays someone put up their hand in class and asked if there really was a Santa Claus. My grade two teacher laughed with incredulity and said "Of course dear. Santa Claus has been working hard all year and he'll be delivering your gifts on Christmas Eve".

This took me by surprise so I entered the fray and asked a series of questions "but how could he have the time to make the gifts for every boy and girl on the planet? Reindeer can't fly, can they? What about this chimney thing? I live in an apartment building, we don't have a chimney." The teacher proceeded to give a strained explanation for each of my objections while some of the more smarmy kids gave me the stink-eye, laughed at me and questioned my intelligence. Apparently this immortal being could work magically fast, had magical reindeer and seemed to be some kind of shape-shifting creature that could fit not only through chimneys but also through apartment ventilation systems or even door cracks if you didn't have a working HVAC system in your shack.

I loved and trusted my teacher and couldn't imagine that she would deceive me so I began to question my skepticism, especially when she said that it would only work if I truly and honestly believed in him. So as I walked home I tried to truly and honestly believe in Santa Claus. When I got home I told my family about what I had learned and my sisters laughed at me and my parents didn't show much support but I resisted the efforts of these unbelievers who were testing my faith. I insisted on leaving out cookies and milk for Santa. My mother reluctantly agreed to humour me but refused to remove the covering over the heating vent citing that if he was so magically gifted he could figure out a way around it. As the evening drew to a close I was doing all kinds of mental contortions to make myself truly and honestly believe in him. One part of me had serious doubts but the other side tried to douse them because I wanted it so much to be true. I really wanted to get those Rock'em Sock'em Robots and there was no way I was going to find them in my living room the next day unless I could somehow manage to truly believe.

I fell asleep squinting with the intensity of belief, struggling to throw aside any aberrant thoughts of doubt. In the morning I awoke and rushed out to our living room only to find that the cookies and milk were still where I left them and no presents were anywhere to be found. At first I was crushed by my inability to truly and honestly believe in him but soon decided that I had been duped. I don't think I have ever felt so foolish in my entire life and I immediately began to question the motives of my beloved teacher. If she lied about this, she might been lying about everything she's been teaching us. How could I ever trust her again?

I don't have children of my own but I was once a child. I would strongly suggest that if you do have children to not to extend the deception and let them know that there is a rational order to the Universe and that such magical powers are not possible. I'm not suggesting that you crush a child who willingly believes in Santa Claus but if they already have doubts then for the sake of their intellectual and emotional growth please don't try and convince them with faulty logic and science. What purpose does it serve? Children rely on us to tell them the truth. All you're doing is training them to force themselves to believe what is reasonably unbelievable. All that will do is create a generation of people who are perfectly suited to be swayed by political and religious extremists because forcing one's self to believe something just because you'd like it to be true is exactly how these groups operate, propagate and survive.


Cathy said...

As a teacher, I can understand that your grade two teacher had the best intentions when she was convincing you that there is a Santa Claus. Since I do teach for the Catholic Board I don’t find that I run into this problem very often. If I were working in the Public Board I would definitely have to respect the different beliefs and cultural traditions of all my students and maybe I wouldn’t even mention Santa.

I do teach my students about Santa but really about the man who inspired him, St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is best remembered today as a lover of children. While he lived, he gave the little ones he met small gifts-- some candy, a toy. His kindness, which always managed to surprise them, touched their hearts, and they learned from this holy man what a beautiful thing giving is. His selflessness is really a story worth teaching to children who are used to receiving more than giving.

JakeJakob said...

As long as it's kept to the allegorical and metaphorical these types of stories are valuable to our culture.

Just like religion, we run into trouble when they are taken literally.

unslaked said...

You make me laugh:

"so I began to question my skepticism."

You know you're a TRUE skeptic when...

You know... I feel this way above love, sometimes. Wanting to believe in it - with a momentary suspension of my native empiricism - but, not quite being able to quell the doubt.

Excellent post, btw. Much to chew on here...

JakeJakob said...

It's hard for fish to see the water. Love is all around you. As Madge used to say "you're soaking in it".