A recent blog post on Dale McGowan's Parenting Beyond Belief (highly recommended) talks about kids' belief in Santa Claus as a dry run for their belief in Jesus. The experience of realizing that Santa Claus doesn't literally exist has many parallels to the experience of realizing that God and/or religion also aren't all they're cracked up to be. In fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of a way in which they're significantly different.
- Everything seems to work by faith and magic despite logic and evidence.
- Parents teach their children and hope they continue to believe as long as possible.
- If you're good, you get good gifts. If you're bad, you don't.
- He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake.
- Jesus will return to earth, and Santa Claus is coming to town.
- We all gather regularly to sing songs in praise of both.
I guess the extremity and duration of the "eternal" good gifts and bad gifts might count as a difference. But the main significant difference seems to be that a whole lot of adults continue to believe in Jesus. Here's where I insert a link to another very enjoyable blog post I read a few years ago: What It Feels Like to Be an Atheist. I think about this article all the time, because I think Santa Claus is nearly a perfect metaphor.
So tonight, Christmas Eve, I got my kids hyped up for Santa Claus to come. We tracked him on the NORAD Santa Tracker. We talked about what presents Santa might bring, and whether they've been good kids this year. We put out cookies and carrots in anticipation of his arrival. My seven-year old daughter wrote him a beautiful note, which I will probably keep forever.
But Santa won't read the note. Santa won't eat the cookies. We will have to eat the cookies ourselves, and sprinkle a few crumbs on the counter as "evidence" of Santa's visit. We will act surprised when we discover what presents Santa brought. We will speculate about how he gets in and out of the house, how he can know when everyone is asleep, and what exactly you have to do to avoid getting a lump of coal. We will do this every year, until eventually the children will figure out that Santa Claus is not really coming to our house. In fact, despite our innocent hopes and dreams, he was never there at all.