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Why I Believe in Santa Claus

This has been amended from I post I wrote on my personal blog last year, which I no longer update.

Today, my husband posted a “personalized” Santa Claus video on Facebook that we’d made and sent to our daughter.   One of his friends, a staunch atheist, made this comment on the thread: “I’m telling [my son] the truth about Santa, because I don’t want to tell him a lie, besides, if he starts believing cultural mythology, who knows what he might start believing.”

I told him that he’d missed the point.

He responded thus: “Katie, ‘you missed the point’ is an easy thing to say.  Please explain what the point is, then I’ll know.”

This was my reply:

For me, the point is living in a world where not everything is explained or cut-and-dried — a world of mystery and awe. Where there are grand, sweeping stories (the mythology you speak of) that inform our lives and give us a cultural language that allow us to belong to each other in a special and specific way.

I’m a professional writer and I used to be an actress. I am intimately acquainted with the power of story, especially shared story. Even if you don’t believe in Santa Claus, we all use grand narratives to make sense of this world. I’m not just talking about the WHAT. Logos — science, logic, reason — provides the WHAT. But it can never answer WHY. That’s what mythos — narrative, story, symbolism — is for. I believe that a balanced, peaceful life embraces both.

To me, there is profound truth in the story of Santa Claus, even if it’s not LITERALLY true: it is a story of love, of giving, of the preciousness of children and the innocence of youth. I don’t need it to be literally true to believe in it deeply. It is valuable and real to me just as it is. It points at a deeper truth, one that can’t be measured or observed with microscopes and lab equipment, but that resides at the center of the human experience. That’s the sort of thing you only get at through traditions and mythology like Santa Claus.

So, there you have it. Why I believe in Santa Claus and why we send our daughter little emails about it. One day, she’ll ask if Santa is real, and we’ll tell her about what I just told you: “He doesn’t actually live at the North Pole or fly around the world with magic reindeer — but he’s still very, very real, if you want him to be.”

Your mileage may vary, of course. I wish you a very happy, healthy, and wonderful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate with your family. :)

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4 Responses to “Why I Believe in Santa Claus”

  1. Rosebriars
    December 24, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    What a wonderful explanation. I have always contended that at the very core we all have the same unanswerable questions, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof: the very existence of this world is improbable and mind-blowing. Big Bang or Creationism: where did the stuff COME from? The truth is there are questions that humans in our current state WILL NOT be able to answer, things we are unable to explain. Mythos is the only way to attempt to wrap our heads around a universe that is so large it is impossible to understand, and warmly accepting it enriches our lives.

  2. Kullervo
    December 24, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Your husband’s friend certainly also believes all kinds of cultural mythology, sorry.

  3. Jon Y.
    December 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Excellent post. I know a number of very religious people who oppose Santa too. Like the atheist you mention, they feel it’s dishonest and could lead people from the truth. The main difference with the atheist is these religious persons feel Santa makes a mockery of, displaces, or casts doubt on, the reality of Christ who really did live in Nazereth and gave us the gift of eternal life. I must admit following with that line of thinking and not doing the Santa with my kids. Only recently have I realized the point you’ve expressed.

    Both stories of Christ and Santa are used in similar ways. While Christ has a far more meaningful and complete place in my heart, I cannot draw an objective distinction between them as true and untrue stories (the atheist’s point). The distinction I CAN draw is personal and subjective or spiritual (the religious point). When these stories inspire and are put to good use, regardless where we draw objective truth lines, we experience a reality that gives meaning and direction to life.

  4. Jared C
    January 1, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    My kids don’t think Santa Claus is real, but they really do believe that elves live in the house. Listening to them talk I start believing it as well. They also think their fluffy malitpoo is a sort of divine being. I don’t dissuade them.

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