Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Well, Virginia, that’s an excellent question

Newseum.org - Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Apparently it’s fairly well-entrenched in North American culture, but I was only recently made aware of this letter. Plenty of people seem to love it, but not me. The original Santa Claus lie pisses me off enough, but to tell an 8-year-old child who wants to know the truth that it’s wrong to be curious or skeptical, that without magic and ‘childlike faith’ there could be no good in the world…that sickens me to the core. It’s not just the reinforcement of the Santa lie; it’s the undermining of all the intellectual traits we should be fostering in children that makes this kind of patronisation despicable. This is without even mentioning the fact that it trivialises the work of the human beings that actually do spread joy at Christmas time.

So, with that in mind, I decided to write an alternate response. I think the link makes it all pretty clear, but make sure you read it first, because the structure and the turns of phrase I’ve used won’t make sense otherwise.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?



Your little friends are right, VIRGINIA: there is no Santa Claus. I don’t know if they figured it out for themselves or if their parents told them, but your response was a good one – you weren’t sure, so you tried to find out more from a source you trusted. I wouldn’t go so far as your Papa did, though; just because the Sun says it doesn’t make it so. And now that you know that Santa isn’t real, you know that just because all the adults say it doesn’t make it so, either. If something’s true, it will stand up to whatever you can throw at it – so make sure you keep asking questions and figuring things out for yourself.

Thankfully, we don’t need a Santa, VIRGINIA. All those presents you’ve gotten, all the happy times you’ve had at Christmas, all the love and generosity and goodwill you see; all of that does exist. And we should be thankful for all the people who are good and kind and giving, because this greatness of human spirit is life’s highest beauty and joy. This greatness can and does exist without magical beings, and that makes it even greater.

Now that you don’t believe in Santa, maybe you should inspect some of the other things you might believe in, VIRGINIA. Like fairies, or magic, or the Easter Bunny, or God. You don’t need me to tell you if they exist or not – you can find out for yourself. You could stay awake and try to catch Santa coming down the chimney, and you would find that it is your parents who lovingly place the gifts under the tree; beware of people who make claims without proof and then try to stop you testing their theories. You could show your evidence to those who made the claims; beware of people who change their definitions to escape your proof. To those who say that Santa exists, but as a generosity inside all of us at Christmas time, ask them why they claimed he was a real man in a red suit up until now.

You can tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, and you can apply this inquisitive spirit to everything you do. And even if the answers are difficult to find and seem to be behind an impenetrable veil, the combined strength of all the strongest minds that are still to come can tear it apart if they try hard enough – just look at all the amazing things we know now, compared to just a century ago! You have this power within you – the power to think, to reason, to experiment.

You have been lied to, VIRGINIA. Sadly, you will continue to be lied to for the rest of your life. But as long as you can think for yourself, it doesn’t matter. Nobody can take this power from you, or from any of the brilliant, unique human beings yet to come – not a thousand years from now, not ten times ten thousand years, not ever.

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