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Personal Growth

What Does the Truth About Santa Mean to the Developing Child?

The revelation that Santa Claus is more an idea than a man can be a major turning point in a child's life. Is he a "training-wheels Jesus" or a way to introduce children to cynical disillusionment?

Rich Cohen, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, had an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal all about the jolly big guy in red. Cohen calls Santa Claus a sort of “training-wheel Jesus,” which, as an image both apt and delightful, sounds pretty on point. Santa serves to instill lessons to children on a much less godly level. Where the deity approaches your naughty behavior with threats of eternal damnation, good ol’ St. Nick might just leave coal in your stocking. This is the gist of Cohen’s piece:

“[Santa presents] aspects of faith in a manner that kids can handle.”

It’s an interesting take. Does this mean that learning the truth about Santa is the turning point in a kid’s life when it’s time to upgrade to the heavy religious icons? It’s probably not as simple as that. First, Santa is much more a secular symbol than a religious one. If Christianity’s Christmas is about Jesus, America’s Christmas is about Santa Claus. I think there’s a clear delineation between the two concepts and that Santa is, for the moment, winning by a wide margin. Second, as Cohen notes, the lessons instilled through Santa can be drowned out by the disappointment that he’s much more idea than man:

“Then, at some point—maybe you’re 7, maybe 10—you discover the truth: There is no Santa. It’s just a story, a polite word for a lie. Worse still: Everyone knew, even your mom. The adults have been involved in a vast, “Matrix”-like conspiracy… You’re beset by doubt: If Santa is just a story, does that mean everything is just a story? For some, it’s a moment as painful as the more profound moment that might come later, when your inner Nietzsche emerges from the hills to announce, God is dead.”

Silliness aside, there is this idea that learning the truth about Santa is many children’s first experience with revelatory grief and disillusionment — their first real Truman Show moment. It’s also their first step toward the development of an experience-based cynicism. First, you learn he’s not real. Then you realize you live in a country where democracy is an idea rather than a practice. Finally you come to terms with the fact that you’re going to die. And then you die.

Take a look at Cohen’s full piece (linked below) and let us know what you think.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

Photo credit: Lucky Business / Shutterstock


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