The older I get, the more I want to believe in Santa Clause. I find myself fascinated by the magic and charm of the old North Pole legend. Long removed from my childhood wonderment, the idea of a chubby man in a red suit popping presents down my chimney has since evolved into a respect for tradition and storytelling. I think it’s healthy to believe in at least one fantastic element in your life.
Obviously Santa is not real. He’s a marketing campaign gone viral. He’s a holiday season goldmine for children’s movies. He’s a figment of our imagination impersonated by actors in shopping malls.
And many will say he’s a symbol of capitalism. He’s racist and classist. He’s a lazy bastard who uses slave labor to create cheap toys. Not to mention, he’s a crafty criminal who breaks into our houses. Who knows what untold abuse those reindeer go through.
Yet we still leave out the cookies.
For those who follow along with the Santa Clause tradition, I commend you. Not only does Santa make a good tool for behavior modification around the holiday season, but it gives children a taste of real-world fantasy. While they’ve certainly read and seen their fair share of magic and wizardry, they rarely get to actually live it. Santa brings mystery into their lives. For a few years, they believe in the possibility of a fairytale.
Eventually that wears off and the wrapping paper repeats and the kid recognizes Mom’s handwriting in Santa’s signature. Then children often rebel against the idea, revealing the truth to their younger siblings and friends. We all act out against those who betrayed us.
It wasn’t until I’d long abandoned the idea of Santa that I recognized the other value of old Saint Nick. It was the story of him that I liked. It was the idea that such a tradition could be born, akin to the old tales of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, and that they could acquire a life of their own and truly thrive. These are stories that somehow feel engrained in the soil of the country, that grow with each new generation, giving grandiose, yet simplified explanations of traditions and history.
Santa served as a neutral character in comparison to the religious weight of the holiday, a figment of cultural imagination that we could all believe in without going to church. He didn’t preach or spread gospel around. He just wanted people to be merry. He wanted people to share with each other. He wanted families to come together. He wanted children to write wish lists and learn that being good was usually all it took to make wishes come true. It wasn’t about devotion, it was about believing in the dream.
Santa is a part of our cultural history now. He is a holiday creation, the bringer of gifts. He might’ve gone through a few revisions, but the story remains the same. As I get older, I remind myself to keep the tradition alive. I remind myself to believe.