Posted by: Phil Anderson | December 24, 2012

No Virginia, Santa Claus is just a story

I love stories, and Christmas inspires lots of stories. There are Christmas specials, Christmas movies, and even Christmas songs like Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer that tell a story.

Of course the most important Christmas story is about the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Angels made miraculous, terrifying appearances and brought disturbing news. A young, pregnant girl and her fiancé, alone and unwelcome in the unfamiliar town of Bethlehem, were forced to lay the newborn baby in a feeding trough. Wise men followed a star from the east and bore valuable gifts. And the infant himself was destined to die for the salvation of mankind. It’s not any less dramatic because it’s true.

Another dramatic Christmas story, this one not true, is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A lonely, money-grubbing miser, uncaring and unloved, was visited by the ghost of his equally miserly partner. He was reminded of his promising youth and his descent into greed, revealing the joy he sacrificed for his present misery. He saw the festive joy in his nephew’s celebration, and the constancy in the family of his underpaid employee, not constrained by poverty but sustained by love. And when the future was revealed, his own unlamented passing and the untimely death of brave Tiny Tim, his life was changed for the better.

A third Christmas story, and probably the most popular of all, is the story of Santa Claus in all its forms and permutations. One of my favorites is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum. A jolly old saint, the friend of children, travels the world in a single night delivering gifts to all. He travels in a sleigh pulled by eight (or nine) flying reindeer. His home is at the north pole where he employs elves to manufacture toys. But is this story true, or just a fairy tale?

One hundred fifteen years ago, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun to ask the question, and children still ask today if Santa Claus is real. Are we doing them any favors by allowing them to believe that a fantasy is true?

In  my own family, when I was young, we hung stockings for Santa to fill and set out cookies and milk for him to eat. But my brothers and I all knew it wasn’t real; it was a pretending game we played at Christmas. We got to join in with the fun and fantasy without the questions and confusion. And we avoided the devastation of inevitably discovering the truth, and the ensuing doubt about whether anything our parents ever told us was true.

As a child did you believe in Santa Claus? What happened when you discovered the truth? If you have children of your own, what do you encourage them to believe? What’s your Christmas story?

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