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Christmas Eve and the Outing of Santa Claus Print E-mail
By Mary Eberstadt   
Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Enough already about the war against Christmas. What about the war against Santa Claus? From the chic precincts of the Internet to the tony classrooms where progressive thought also rules, the ruthless conviction spreads from one enlightened adult to another: Santa has got to go. Never mind that most children like him just as he is. The jolly old enabler is living a lie. He needs intervention.

In part, of course, such nobly felt truth-telling is more fallout from a confessional age that believes in little else. Whatever adults do, many today seem to think, is fine if the more important criterion is met: i.e., that they are “honest” with the children about it. It’s what you might call the junior version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Don’t ask whether something is wrong in itself. Do tell all about it, especially to the kids. This climate is one reason why the jolly old elf is on the chopping block.

In larger part, however, the “Down with Santa” movement is a stalking horse for unbelief – and for good reason. St. Nick, many of his detractors suspect, is really just a starter kit for God. In this, they are right. The human longing behind children’s eyes every Christmas Eve is indeed the selfsame one that helps sustain religious belief. For most children, that anticipation – not the material payoff – is the most powerful emotion of the season.

After all, who remembers Christmas day as clearly as the excruciatingly long, exciting minutes the night before? Not the children in our house, or yours. Every year on this night, they and millions more demonstrate something that secular people either ignore or deny: we humans are obviously built from the ground up for anticipation, for longing that outstrips our needs, for belief in things we cannot see.

That is why Christmas Eve lives so sharply in our memories. Christmas mornings are by comparison an indistinct blur, at least the early morning gifting part. But Christmas Eve is something else again. In my memory, those nights burn through time like the peepholes I would melt with my fingers into the frosty pane on such nights, waiting and watching in the dark like everyone else for something momentous about to come.

This capacity from childhood on for boundless anticipation is surely one of the oddest things not only about children, but about humanity. This is a fact that evolutionary biology even at its most contortionist cannot begin to explain. What possible Darwinian good can come of this inborn deep yearning, this certainty that something huge lies ahead? How can so many possibly think this way when there’s nothing to it?

In his bold new book, Life After Death: The Evidence, my friend Dinesh D’Souza meditates beautifully on this point among others. Both this book and its predecessor, What’s So Great About Christianity, show that D’Souza has become one of the sharpest and liveliest Christian apologists writing today. And though he appeals to all readers, his great gift for clear prose make D’Souza’s books a natural choice for one group of readers in particular: young adults, especially college students. I personally have given his books as gifts to several such enthusiasts over the years – and will again this Christmas.

Life after Death addresses inter alia this point about the enduring hunger in us for great things to come: “The universality of belief in an afterlife is astonishing, because life after death is not one of those empirically obvious beliefs that one would expect every society from the dawn of mankind to share. No one is surprised at the universal belief in mountains or rainstorms or animals. . . .But it is an entirely different matter when all cultures in history right down to the present jointly proclaim a proposition that seems impossible to confirm through experience. This is a striking convergence of views that demands explanation.”

Indeed it does, but don’t expect the God-bashers to offer one. They insist that this promise of eternity is just an imagined consolation prize – the ultimate wish fulfillment, as Freud and others have said. But one hardly needs heavy artillery to see how easily this notion shreds under scrutiny. This religion of ours was made up to be comforting? Have these people even read the Testaments, Old or New, or contemplated the Judeo-Christian God? If such is the stuff of mere wish fulfillment, we should follow the lead of clever children and ask for more wishes.

Which brings us to the third force propelling that related matter of Santa-bashing. At a time when many people want to claim the right to act as children, the prerogatives of real children to do so is strangely shaky – as in the semi-sadistic “I’m telling you the truth about this Christmas nonsense for your own good.”

There may be good reasons for believers to jettison the old gent in the red suit. Some believers, notably some evangelicals, complain that he distracts too much from the main event. And even those of us partial to Santa seem to struggle every year to remember that Christmas is not about him.

But waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve shows, year in and year out, that belief in something larger than ourselves – something unknown yet worth waiting for as we wait for nothing else – comes as naturally as breathing, even to the smallest human beings. Every year, thanks to Santa, we mothers and fathers glimpse in those bright longing eyes something of the promise of eternity, the certainty that there is more to this world than is dreamt of in our secular philosophy. If that is not a little Christmas miracle all its own, I don’t know what is.

 

Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution, contributing editor to First Things, and a monthly columnist for thecatholicthing.org. She is author most recently of The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death and Atheism
, which is forthcoming from Ignatius Press.

© 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (7)Add Comment
0
That Night Divine
written by Willie, December 24, 2009
I don't know what it is either. From my youth I have always experienced a palpable anticipation of something happening on this holy night. As I enjoy my sumptuous dinner of linguine with clams, followed by various delights from the sea, I am amazed how much the world seems to slow down. It seems like a brief insight into eternity much like those moments after receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Well I guess it is because I'm a Christian, but I wonder how many non-believers will wonder tonight.
0
Never liked Santa
written by Joseph, December 24, 2009
From the time I was a little boy and sat on Santa's lap in Macy's Department Store in NYC, I never cared for the jolly ol' guy. Maybe it was his whiskey breath, tobacco stained suit and cant-wait-to-get-rid-of-all-these-bratty-kids attitude, but to this day he gives me the creeps.
Plus, I never once got what I asked for -- Peace on Earth.
0
...
written by Matt, December 24, 2009
Wow! Thank you for such a great article, especially on Christmas Eve. As a parent with three children 5 years old and younger, there is certainly a tinge of the guilt you mention at "celebrating" Santa Claus. But the context in which you show this tradition to be is itself magical. I've never personally seen the connection between belief in Santa and Catholic faith, but you've certainly opened my eyes to it. What a beautiful way to develop our Children's celebration of Christmas into faith!
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...
written by Michael Hebert, December 24, 2009
Most Santa-bashers worry about the betrayal kids will feel when they learn the "truth." When I learned the truth, there was no betrayal. I was mildly disappointed, but then that yielded to an amazement that my parents had given me all those gifts for all those years and taken no credit whatsoever. Kids aren't as dumb as atheists think they are. They know real truth is not Santa himself, but the selfless love he represents. Long live Santa.
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Was I Wrong?
written by Edward Maillet, December 28, 2009
We are now grandparents in our 80's. On Christmas eve at bedtime, when our five children (one now a priest) were litlle , I would read them the St. Luke's accont of the Nativity with Christmas hymns playing in the background. We did have fun with the expectation of Santa Claus bringing gifts but I always tried to make it into a tongue in cheek joke. Was I wrong in being concerned that the Truth of Christmas must not be allowed to be confused with the albeit very pleasant Santa Claus myth?
0
...
written by Ray Hunkins, December 28, 2009
I am looking for a comment which was posted within the last few days. Only five comments appear currently. When I checked, there were six or seven comments posted. How do I access the rest of the comments?
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always knew he was real!
written by debby, December 28, 2009
i grew up an unbeliveing-in-Santa Baptist. it was lonely & not right. i always knew something was missing. i couldn't go for that guy whose lap Joseph sat on-nope. he wasnt it. but surely, truth was somewhere.
then i became a Catholic. my first Advent i walked into the rectory to deliver my cookies & saw him! i mean the real Santa!
He was kneeling at the manger w/his hat off, worshipping the King.
then everything was right.
now a smaller kneeling Santa sits under our tree & we believe!

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