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.