Warning: Bah humbug Christmas post coming up.
I have a vivid childhood Christmas Eve memory of lying awake in bed, much later than I should have been, staring out of the window up into the star filled sky, with the hope of catching a glimpse of Father Christmas speeding through the sky in his sleigh.
However, instead of feeling all warm and nostalgic about this, I simply think how ridiculous it was.
The magic of Christmas?
I now wish I had been looking up at the darkened sky wondering about all the planets, stars, galaxies, and all the things we have yet to discover. I could have been contemplating our place in the universe. I could have been thinking about how amazing it is we send vessels into space to explore the heavens, and have manned space stations orbiting the Earth.
In recent years in the UK, we have been lucky to have the International Space Station (ISS) visible around Christmas time as it circles our planet. It’s even occurred on Christmas eve. When this happened a couple of years ago, we went outside to watch it and told our daughter it was Santa on his sleigh. As this bright light streaked across the sky in its low orbit – higher & faster than a plane, nearer than a star or planet, brighter than them all – it made for a very convincing one.
But I am now pretty ashamed that I did this. How I dismissed this wonderful feat of human engineering and exploration – for the sake of perpetuating the great Santa Claus lie.
Christmas fact vs. fiction
We are (I hope) teaching our kids that it’s wrong to lie – yet that is what we are doing every Christmas by reinforcing the Father Christmas myth. What are we teaching them about telling the truth by perpetuating this lie in their childhood?
While, as an atheist, I also wince at the nativity story being part of my daughter’s December schooling. Yes, I do believe there was a man called Jesus who did good things. No, I do not believe he was the son of God. But I do accept it is a powerful story which our children should appreciate, as it is central to western art, culture, and civilisation.
Another Christmas icon who was has a basis in reality is the original Santa, Saint Nicholas. He was a 4th Century Turkish bishop, and apparently he was famed for his kindness to children and generosity to the poor. He now has little relation to the jolly supernatural Father Christmas, who’s modern look owes more to Coca-Cola ad campaigns than Saint Nicholas.
Post-childhood, Christmas has never been about Santa (or Jesus) to me. It’s about coming together as friends and family, when the nights are darkest. To give thanks to those around us, reflect on the past year, and celebrate the new one as the days get lighter, and we can look ahead to the magical rebirth of life in Spring.
The Christmas lie: Telling kids the truth about Santa?
However, I’m not planning on bursting my daughter’s Santa Claus bubble. She has already picked up from too many places that Santa is a real phenomena. But I won’t lie to her about it any more either.
My daughter often ask me about mythical creatures. Recently, it was about dragons. I don’t believe dragons are real. But I can’t prove it, and more than that I’d love to imagine they exist – or at least existed – because I think they’re cool. So when my daughter asks me “Are there dragons in this world?”, I answer, “Well, I’ve never seen one.”
I’ve never seen Santa deliver presents on Christmas eve. And I know I never will. But I can’t prove that he doesn’t. So when quizzed about Santa, I talk only about what I know. That if he does deliver presents to every child on Christmas Eve, he would have to be pretty magical.
But I will not let the Santa lie overwrite the truth of human kindness, fellowship, & achievement, and celebrating the magic of nature.
The ISS is due to make another pass this coming week. While I may tell my daughter that some believe it’s Santa’s sleigh, I’ll tell her I believe it’s a space station, created by people, to undertake scientific research, the exploration of space, and help us understand our place in the universe.
That, to me, is magical.
Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley.