Dante Chinni is a journalist and the director of the Patchwork Nation project at the Jefferson Institute. He is a co-author of “Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the ‘Real’ America.”
The reign of Santa Claus has nearly ended in our home. Our 9-year-old daughter told my wife and me earlier this year that she had figured out the truth about Saint Nick. And my 7-year-old son has clearly grown skeptical; the logistics just don’t make sense to him. I’m fairly certain this will be his last go-round.
But as we put this childhood ritual behind us, I do not find myself misty-eyed or wistful. In fact, I am relieved. As I have flipped through the regular parade of holiday specials over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that if I had it to do over again, I would leave Kris Kringle out of our holidays altogether — at least when it comes to depicting him to our kids as a real person.
No, I am not an anti-Clausite or a foot soldier in a war on Christmas. I do not want all traces of Santa expunged from society. I respect the role of the man in the red suit in our holidays, in their mythology and commercialism — from “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” to Macy’s painful “Believe” campaign. I still watch “Miracle on 34th Street” and smile, though mostly to see William Frawley’s slick political consultant telling Gene Lockhart’s judge that he must rule in favor of Santa Claus if he wants to be reelected.
But Santa, the magical down-the-chimney-with-presents guy? I’m not sure about him anymore.
We parents often tell ourselves that we keep Mr. Claus alive for our children, because of all the fun they get out of believing in him. But in truth, we do it for ourselves, for the fun we get in watching them believe. And yes, it is highly adorable — “Look! He ate the cookies!” — but I’ve come to think that there are reasons to send jolly Saint Nick back to the North Pole for good.
First, Santa leads to unfortunate parental contradictions. Children do not fully understand reality. They fear that there are monsters in their closets and goblins under their beds. As parents, our job is to explain to them that those things aren’t there. When you turn off the light, it’s the same bedroom — just darker. We teach them to understand and to reason.
And yet, with Santa Claus we carve out an exception large enough to fly a sleigh through. We tell our kids to turn off logic and embrace magic. They just have to believe. But why? Why is some of what they believe silly and unfounded — such as ghosts — while Santa is noble and true?
Think for a moment about other lessons you teach your children. Planes fly because of aerodynamics and thrust. Kids shouldn’t put their heads in the railing because they could get stuck. And yet, here we are talking about a guy who pilots a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer around the world in one night, going up and down people’s chimneys. How? Well, he’s magic. He’s reality’s exception. America doesn’t need any more people who deny reality — at any age.
Second, Santa raises all sorts of questions about justice. For children, Saint Nick comes off as the ultimate judge and jury. Here’s a guy with this massive list of all their annual good deeds and transgressions. He knows all — even sees them when they’re sleeping!