I’ve been thinking about this a lot with the holidays coming ever nearer, and my nine-year-old son looks forward to the annual visit from Santa Claus. Obviously, one of these days we’re going to have The Talk with him about who’s really leaving his presents under the tree, but I don’t think it’s going to include saying that Santa isn’t real, because we’ve made him real.
I don’t mean “we” as in just my wife and I, but our collective humanity that turns stories into mythology, what those characters and figures come to represent for us, and what they come to mean to us.
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you probably know who Santa Claus is in one form or another. You’ve seen the commercialized version of him or the more traditional cultural representations of him. You know the names of at least a few of his reindeer, and if none of them you definitely know Rudolph. You’ve overheard the countless songs about him this time of year. You’ve probably seen at least one movie about him, or featuring him.
Santa Claus may not be a real person living at the North Pole, but he’s real in our collective storytelling. We all know who he is, what he does, and what he represents. He’s no less real than other characters who live in our collective mythology, whether they’re classical figures like Hercules or Robin Hood, or modern figures like Superman or Spider-Man, and so on.
(I’m aware that South Park did a whole three-part storyline about this concept many years ago, and the idea obviously resonates with me.)
So when we have The Talk with my son in a few years about Santa Claus, we’re going to tell him that it was really us leaving the gifts under the tree, but not that Santa isn’t real. He’s very real as a character in our collective imagination that represents generosity and the ideals of the season.
Santa Claus is synonymous with many of our childhoods and the actual magic those years held, and that wonder is as real as any physical person.