Cruising through the malls and supermarkets after mid-November many of us will rediscover ourselves or our childhood.
Suddenly there will be kids invading the shops, running and gamboling about, giggling and shouting. We get the impression that both parents and children are smiling more than they would at other times of the year.
More than their kids those parents are happy that exams are over, while their progenies, exploring their environment a month later, would be enthralled and amazed by the flashy, colourful decorations and lights on some synthetic fir trees studded with white cotton wool, while the background vibrates with the ever wonderful, nostalgic Christmas carols of “Jingle bells, jingle bells…”, Tino Rossi’s “Petit Papa Noel” or Andre Rieu’s “Silent Night”. After window shopping, good mood and eating go hand in hand, so food courts would be doing brisk business with parents and children celebrating the occasion to be together. Outside of these supermarkets both television and radios will be reinforcing that Christmas motif to perpetuate the legend further.
Physically we adults grow older everyday; so too our thinking and behavior, but our memories, the permanent record of our previous years, will continue to titillate us forever. Santa Claus does give us adults sufficient excuse to lower our guard and pride; we capitalize on the occasion to immerse ourselves into the fairy world of children once again with impunity. By encouraging our children to believe in Father Christmas we play on three fronts: we relive what our parents themselves had felt when they had pampered us on that third week of each December of our childhood, we relive those past memories, and we are galvanized by the joy of our own children exhibiting so much glee and unalloyed happiness when they discover their Christmas gifts on the 25th morning. We go through the gamut of emotions and souvenirs for some days, contemplating life with different eyes and nonchalance. Topped by the bonhomie’s atmosphere of end-of-year vacation, we feel special during one week or two. For some hours children and adults find themselves in the same boat – it is a psychological hype; the atmosphere and mood are wonderful. Especially if, by magic, the year has a 13th month.
The big yarn
However, we adults know that the children have been told a great yarn about Santa Claus; they would expect him on the 25th December, always wondering how he would navigate in the night sky, squeezing into every nook and corner of all houses to bestow his kindness and gratefulness to those who have been kind all the year round; and those who have been naughty may expect some retribution. But Santa Claus is lenient and all forgiving.
When do those kids become wised up to that Santa Claus hoax is difficult to say; may be it depends on their intelligence, their environment and the amount of information they could garner. The question that some psychiatrists are asking is whether parents’ lie is damaging to their children’s psyche? Does it erode the children’s faith in their elders later in life? Will Christian children have a more complicated adult experience than their non-Christian friends who also believe in Santa Claus? And are non-Christian children who do not celebrate Christmas better off psychologically? Unless we can compare and contrast the behaviour of those different groups of children – and follow them into adulthood – it may be difficult to come to a conclusion.
There are so many factors contributing to an individual’s character that it may not be easy to point our finger at Santa Claus. In fact some of us may reason differently; looking at the world we may wonder why do those who believed in Father Christmas are the ones who seem to have come up with more original ideas and gone to invent the press, telephone, television, aircraft, the computer and internet. Could they have been inspired by that fairy tale after all, and which has kept their mind fertile and full of ideas into childhood and adulthood? Is it pure coincidence that so many innovations took place in countries which encouraged that Santa Claus legend? Is it possible that more children have been inspired positively than those few friends who have had their faith and volatile dreams dashed? It’s anyone’s guess.
Yes, we have lied to our children during the last month of each year, but we did it in good faith, never with malicious afterthought. So many times our children would have asked us embarrassing questions – on sex, for example – and we would call up all our diplomatic skills to explain, by symbolic language or half truths, to avoid confusing them or their tender, immature mind by graphic explanations. Later as they go through the basics of biology in their first years at school, we continue their education to explain the hard facts of life. In the process we have bent the truth to some degree… Could this play heavily against our children later in life, or would they later smile at the ploy played on them by their parents and give it a miss?
Decades ago, during the Cold War, some columnist asked why the USA and the USSR emerged as two superpowers. The tentative theory then was that was probably due to the fact that children in those two countries were trained to sleep in separate bedrooms from their parents from a very young age — as if that would encourage the emergence of some super kids and adults. In other countries children sleep with their parents until they are well above five to six years. Could these latter become more sentimental, more homely, family centered, religious types who would not dream of empire building, while their American counterparts, helped by their fertile, Santa Claus biased mind think differently ?
Even modern adults have a problem to distinguish between right and wrong, so how could people of yonder days inculcate such a notion in children, except if they played the game of higher or lesser reward by Santa Claus for those children who behaved well or not? Was such game a total waste? Nowadays some psychologists would concur and reply in the affirmative, but decades ago there were no alternatives to playing those games. That could remind us of our own harsh adult world; long ago there were no atheists to criticize the religious people; but nowadays scientists and atheists are really baffled and perplexed that some people are still persevering in believing in God, whom they say is just a hallucination, a human invention and story. Are we not aware that all religions had had their original history doctored, doped and glamorized so as to present a more palatable decent version to future generations? So that we, adults, could swallow it sink and all? To many modern thinkers it has been a big lie. Is it possible that all the tales about Gods are just as hollow as Santa Claus himself? Could this teaching – at this very moment – be more detrimental to our adult life than those innocent Christmas tales of yonder years?
Pain and hunger keep our feet to the ground; otherwise we are always spinning all sorts of abstract thinking to brighten our life. We write about Harry Potter, about Dr No, and Star Trek. We adults keep dreaming of a future with more happiness and comfort, and even of an afterlife, of immortality, of cryopreservation and interstellar travel. Could Father Christmas have been the instigator of such dreams?
Think of those billions of people who fall in love and get married, and sincerely believe that it will last till death part them. Most of them find later that it has been a grand illusion, and spend the rest of their life trying to unravel that enigma in vain. Meanwhile our parents, in their sincere endeavour to brighten our future and heighten our sense of well-being, have painted life as a bed of roses. They have conveniently forgotten to tell us about the thorns below. Somehow or other our environment and psychology have conspired to add a bit of spice to our life.
This Father Christmas tale is perhaps part of that grand conspiracy.
If we take 100 adults and ask them which would they have preferred: a life with or without romantic love, a childhood with or without the Santa Claus fable – what would they reply? We know the answer.
All of us need our share of dreaming.
Merry Chrismas to everyone.