Santa Is Real
Ho Ho Ho!
To me, Christmas is a time for relaxing, so I’m going to be loosey-goosey with this and not worry about trying to “make it good”. There’s a bunch of things that I want to say, but they’re actually really well encapsulated in a couple of tweets, so let’s start by just posting them:
I’m almost kinda mad at how good the above meme is at distilling everything I was initially hoping to say in this essay. But maybe it’s still worth talking about it.
So, alright, let’s talk about this. The question is, “should you tell your kids ‘the truth’ about Santa?” And a common initial assumption is that, well, Santa Claus “isn’t real”, he’s a made-up fantasy, a fairy tale. Completely sensible assumption. As far as we know, there isn’t really some jolly old man dressed in red who goes around giving presents to children, aided by an elaborate surveillance operation that would be the envy of the NSA, somehow delivering presents at 25,000 households per second. You shouldn’t lie to children, so you shouldn’t tell them that Santa Claus is real when he’s not.
But, at the same time, it’s also maybe kind of cruel to disillusion children too early, depriving them of the joy of magical thinking, imagination and so on. Nobody likes the smart-ass kid going around disillusioning everyone else, ruining the magic for everyone. (I used to be this kid when I was a teenager, and I kinda regret it. Sorta. I did the best I could given my limited social understanding. So essays like this are how I try to be the big brother that I wish I had when I was a kid.)
So what do you do? There is an elegant answer to all of this, and I described it in the first tweet – we don’t have to lie to children, and we don’t have to be in a rush to disillusion them, either. We can initiate them into a higher level of understanding, that is compassionate, enriching, even profound. When a child asks “Is Santa real?”, the best thing you could say in response is not a dismissive “Yes" or “No”, but an inviting “What do you think?” – in a way that suggests you’re about to let them in on an important secret. Because you are. How you navigate that together is what ultimately matters more than what answer you give them.
In my first essay, We were voyagers, I talked about how Pericles and Abraham Lincoln were “giving out purpose and meaning like free candy”. They initiated their people – the people of Athens, the citizens of the USA – into a more meaningful way of being, with something compelling to live up to. This is what the Santa initiation is about, too. Yes, it’s made up, but all of human social reality is made up. Social fabric is woven together with fiction. We tell ourselves and each other stories about who we are, not just with our words but with our actions. If we are going to be telling stories, we might as well tell good ones.
In the opening paragraph of King Warrior Magician Lover (1990), authors Moore and Gillette talk about how, “A man who ‘cannot get it together’ has probably not had the opportunity to undergo ritual initiation into the deep structure of manhood.” This might not make a lot of sense without some additional context, but I believe that it’s a broadly correct assessment about one of the things that’s lacking in modern society. And we miss out on the opportunity to initiate them into the benevolent Santa conspiracy. It’s not about literal truths or falsehoods. It’s about sustaining nourishing contexts where people can behave in meaningful ways. We can do this right now! Maybe I’m posting this a little late for people who may have already disillusioned their nephews and nieces (oops), but again, this applies to all of social reality. It applies to weddings and birthdays and funerals, it applies to job anniversaries and milestones and transitions of every kind.
This is shaman’s work, which I will be talking about a lot more in the coming year. But it’s too important to be left entirely to professionals. We all do it, for ourselves and each other, all the time. Standup comedians exist, but that doesn’t mean you don’t tell jokes. Professional singers exist, that doesn’t mean you don’t sing Happy Birthday.
If we are going to be telling stories, we might as well tell good ones. Merry Christmas, everybody. ❤️
If you liked this post, I bet you’d like INTROSPECT, which is an ebook I wrote about figuring yourself out and becoming who you are. I also tweet a lot.
Humans of New York had the most beautiful thread on this ?phenomenon?
If you only read one see 13/15. But the whole thing is worth it. It's Santa, talking about the joy and struggle of...being Santa.
It's so cold here and this essay has warmed me up! "Sustaining nourishing contexts where people can behave in a meaningful way.." and "yes, it's made up, but all of human social reality is made up." how insightful.. thank you 🌺❤️