If I had to choose one question that signifies the transition between childhood and adulthood better than anything else, I would probably select this one: Is Santa Claus real?
It may sound silly, but there is something very deep and significant here. Childhood is the time when we readily believe in miracles because miracles are still part of our lives, part of our worldview. We do not see anything drastically unrealistic about a red-clad bearded man climbing down a chimney to give us presents. After all, adults have told us that it is what happens, and the adults are supposed to be trusted, aren’t they? So why shouldn’t we trust them on this particular subject?
When I was a kid, Santa Claus was just one of the things the adults told me about – not much different from any other thing I heard from them and had to accept at face value.
The moment a child starts feeling that there is something amiss with this situation is the moment after which he or she can no longer be called a child in the true meaning of the word – for he or she has lost the ability to unconditionally believe in miracles. We all gradually accumulate common sense and worldly experience as we go along, and the moment we start asking ourselves this question is the moment when we achieve a certain point in our ability to perceive and judge the world around us.
So, is Santa Claus real? It depends on who you ask and what you mean by ‘real’. If you mean an actual person, a single individual who goes around on Christmas leaving presents in stockings dangling before the fireplace – then, of course, there is nothing of the kind.
But as a concept, Santa Claus is very much real. Until a certain age, children do believe in him (unless their parents actively discourage them from ‘that nonsense’) and he actually has impact on their lives. They get presents thinking that they come from Santa Claus, they write letters to him; in other words, they live as if he, for all practical purposes, was real.
After all, there are numerous other things that only exist as concepts and not as parts of objective reality, but they still have great influence on our lives. Has anybody ever seen justice, love, trust or honesty? Yet people generally tend to believe that these things do exist, and this belief affects our lives. Belief in Santa Claus, no matter how silly it may sound, is not very much different – if children are capable of believing in something, even though adults consider it to be ridiculous, and this belief changes the way they behave, this something can be called real.
Should children be led to believe in Santa Claus? A lot is said on the subject, with some thinking that it clouds their judgment and hinders their development, undermines their trust towards the grown-ups (if they can lie about one thing, why cannot they lie about everything else?) and implants psychological bombs that may go off decades later. Others suppose that belief in Santa Claus is natural and indispensable part of childhood, and it would be simply cruel to deprive children of it.
As for me, I don’t think there is something inherently harmful about it; what is bad about the way children perceive Santa Claus today is the erosion of meaning. Santa Claus used to be a power aimed at making children strive to become better – today he is more like a walking present dispenser, devoid of any additional overtones.