(On Distinguishing Reality from Fantasy yet Still Maintaining the Excitement)
A coworker asked me if I encourage my kid to believe that Santa Claus is a real being. I said, no. I prefer to discourage children to believe that there is a real Santa Claus roaming around the world on his reindeer-powered sleigh during Christmas Eve to give gifts to (take note!) nice children. (So, sorry, you naughty ones!)
Separating Facts from Fiction
Even as a child, I have never believed (thanks to my father, who have taught me to be analytical at an early age) that there was an actual Santa Claus who had the magic to be able to be by the Christmas tree of every home during Christmas Eve (omnipresence); the ability to make sleds and reindeer fly (omnipotence); and the ability to see (omnipercipience) and to know (omniscience) if every child is being naughty or nice. Obviously, all these attributes were derived from the concept of the God according to Christianity and other related religions. I wouldn’t let my kid grow up believing something fictional to be real. This is not healthful for the mind. It weakens the child’s sense of perception. It retards the development of his ability to separate facts from fiction and fantasy from reality.
Santa Claus as a Symbol of Giving and Wishing
However, I will still introduce to my kid Santa Claus, Rudolph, Mr. Snowman, and other fantastic and mythical characters, not as real-life beings though but only as symbolic characters of Christmas. I will teach my kid to appreciate these characters as symbols of virtues: Santa Claus, as a symbol of giving and wishing; Rudolph, of hard work and learning to gain self-confidence; and Mr. Snowman, for resilience and positive thinking.
Oh, you would break the heart of your kid for telling him that Santa is not real, some would say.
Of course, not. More important is to make my kid develop early in life a sense of logic and analytical thinking and the ability to discern fact from fiction. He could still enjoy Christmas; he could still expect gifts from us; we could still go to malls and have his picture with the Santa character there taken. He could still tell to that Santa what he wishes (it’s just like sharing what the child wants to a respectable elderly). We could still have an image or a stuff toy of Santa displayed in the house…just like how he has pictures and toy figures of Star Wars characters, Transformers robots, Superman, Spider-Man, and other literary and movie characters. Even though my kid knows that Chewbacca, R2-D2, and Jar Jar Binks are just characters from Star Wars, he still gets excited to see them when he plays with his toys and watch the films. Every time he watches Optimus Prime, Shockwave, Bumblebee transform, he could still get charged up by this. These characters need not be real just to be able to elicit awe and excitement. What should count more are the positive aspects these characters represent. This is the same with the concept of Santa Claus, Rudolph, Mr. Snowman, and other characters of Christmas. They don’t need to be “real” in the eyes of the child to be able to excite him and make him wish for good things during Christmas time or any other time of the year.
As it is with many adults, I can still get scared by watching horror films without necessarily believing that werewolves, ghouls, or blood-sucking vampires exist in real life. I can still make Christmas wishes, not necessarily because I believe that all these will come true but simply because there’s no harm in wishing for something good and possible, but within the boundaries of logic and reason. I enjoy watching Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Clash of the Titans, and Star Wars, getting lost in the excitement of every interesting scene, despite the knowledge that these are only fantasy-fiction films, not true-to-life stories. Why? Because I am able to separate fact from fiction and reality from fantasy without eliminating the element of fun and imagination. And that’s how I wanted my kid to grow up—logical and analytical but still creative and imaginative.
The Last Leaf
In the greater scheme of things, people have the choice to regard Christmas as either a religious festivity or simply a cultural event that highlights the importance of giving, sharing, wishing for good things, and fostering compassion and camaraderie among fellow humans regardless of race and beliefs.