Santa Claus: or, There and Back Again

Before I became a parent, I was sure of one thing:  No elaborate lies about this guy named Santa Claus.  I generally “believed” myself as a child, but I don’t remember my parents telling me he was real.  I had presents under the tree “from Santa” and enjoyed all of the traditions and stories about the North Pole, reindeer, etc.; but Christmas was about spiritual matters and the other stuff was just fairy tale fun.

This Christmas my daughter is 2 1/2 years old.  She is prime time for the jolly old elf, and I saw on her face something I never expected.  A few times when I started to explain that it is all just tradition and a fun story, she gave me a look that I can only describe as please don’t take this away from me.  In that instant I realized this period of magical thinking is truly brief, and while I had no interest in some elaborate ruse for myself, she was interested.

Conundrum.

I have known too many people who complain bitterly about being tricked about Santa Claus.  They use words like tricked, lied to, fooled,  and deceived.  They say things like, “I realized I could never trust my parents again.”  That, my friends, is serious business.  I don’t think there is any sure way to know if one’s child will end up feeling this way if you lead them along the merry path.  All I knew, or thought I knew, was that I was not about to risk it.  I mean for heaven’s sake, I need my credibility there for things like sex, God, and paper or plastic.  I can’t be burning it up over some fool elf.

But like I said………there was that face.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t real, and I found myself enjoying the game in spite of myself.  The look on her face when she saw Santa soliciting donations for a children’s charity in town was incredible.  She was just speechless in his presence, but couldn’t stop talking about him at home.  She talked about the elves, the workshops, the North Pole, the flying reindeer, all of it.  Where it started to change was when she processed the stories about “keeping a list.”

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Santa Claus without getting into the lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.  The worst are picture books that show him keeping lists of names of “the good little girls and boys.”  My child’s face would cloud over and she looked very unhappy.  Truly, she should have nothing to worry about.  She’s a well-behaved kid.  But I knew she definitely did not like this part of the story.

One evening as she was falling asleep I heard her say, “Santa will be upset with me.  Santa is going to be upset.”  I assured her Santa was just fine with her, that he didn’t get upset with anyone, that it was all good.  But the next episode sealed the deal for me.  As we were talking about Santa in general and the fact that Christmas is coming, she cut her eyes away from me and said flatly, “I don’t love him.”

My girl is one of the most loving children I’ve ever known.  This was a red alert that the big man had to be kicked to the curb.  After talking it over with her father, I told my daughter, “You know, Santa Claus is just a character in a story that people like to tell this time of year.  It’s for fun.  It’s all about magic, and giving, and imagination.”  She looked at me with wide eyes.  I went for it.  “He’s not real.  He’s made up.  Momma and Daddy are real.  We love you.  You never have to worry about Santa, he’s just pretend and for fun.  If it’s not fun, we can just not talk about him.”

That child’s face lit up like a you know what.  She smiled a beautiful smile and hugged me with all her might.

What can I say?  If it works, it works.  If it doesn’t, it’s truly no loss.  Yesterday we lost a fat guy in a suit we were going to lose eventually anyway, and we kept a tighter grip on unconditional love.  That is for real.

Image credit: Norman Rockwell

The Slow Walk to Truth

Niels Bohr

Physicist Niels Bohr said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

I’ve also heard this translated as the difference between trivial and profound truths.

So often we are pushed to choose sides around issues that don’t really lend themselves to black and white “sided” decisions. When profound issues are reduced to the dynamics of trivial issues, we lose out as individuals and as a community of human beings when we accept the pressure to name one thing completely right and the other completely wrong. There are elements of rightness and wrongness in all the decisions we make about profound issues, though you might never know it the way our culture demands allegiance to extreme ideas.

Opportunities to see the subtleties in a quest for truth are everywhere.  I recently read an article examining the ethical issues and evidence surrounding public campaigns to promote specific health behaviors in the Journal of Health Policy, Politics and Law that has a great line in it:

“It is all too true that the American public does not understand the concept of risk. They also do not understand the nature of science. Science does not answer questions, in the simple sense of the phrase – it refines them incrementally in its approach toward understanding natural processes.”

I love the idea of the refined, incremental approach to understanding something. It seems so important to internalize the idea that we are always in the process of understanding life’s most significant issues, and that complete understanding is an unrealistic goal. This illustrates the relationship of faith and science and their overlapping dimensions, not their stark opposition in every case. I can switch a word or two and get another sentence that works for me:

“Faith does not answer questions, it refines them incrementally in its approach toward understanding spiritual processes.”

It seems to me Bohr’s principle of profound truths applies. It is not faith or science, it is elements of each that illustrate the best, most comprehensive version of understanding our world.

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Photo credit: Atomic Archive

Bohr developed the theory that explains the structure and action of complex atoms. During World War II, Bohr fled his native Denmark to escape the Nazis. He travelled to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to advise the scientists developing the first atomic bomb. He returned to Copenhagen after the war and later promoted the peaceful use of atomic energy.  Today’s post revisits some Esse Diem ideas from April 2009.