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David Fitzsimmons | Arizona Star

Separating Christmas fact and fantasy

Santa flies counter to parental lessons

The reign of Santa Claus has nearly ended in our home. Our 9-year-old daughter told my wife and me earlier this year that she had figured out the truth. And my 7-year-old son has clearly grown skeptical. I’m fairly certain this will be his last go-round.

But as we put this childhood ritual behind us, I am relieved. If I had it to do over again, I would leave Kris Kringle out of our holidays altogether – at least when it comes to depicting him to our kids as a real person.

No, I am not an anti-Clausite or a foot soldier in a war on Christmas. I respect the role of the man in the red suit in our holidays, in their mythology and commercialism. I still watch “Miracle on 34th Street” and smile.

But the magical down-the-chimney-with-presents guy? I’m not sure about him anymore.

We parents often tell ourselves that we keep Mr. Claus alive for our children. But in truth, we do it for ourselves, for the fun we get in watching them believe. But I’ve come to think that there are reasons to send jolly Saint Nick back to the North Pole for good.

First, Santa leads to unfortunate parental contradictions. Children fear that there are monsters in their closets and goblins under their beds. As parents, our job is to explain to them that those things aren’t there. We teach them to understand and to reason.

And yet, with Santa Claus we carve out an exception large enough to fly a sleigh through. We tell our kids to turn off logic and embrace magic. They just have to believe. But why?

Think for a moment about other lessons you teach your children. Planes fly because of aerodynamics and thrust. Kids shouldn’t put their heads in the railing because they could get stuck. And yet, here we are talking about a guy who pilots a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer around the world in one night, going up and down people’s chimneys. How? Well, he’s magic. He’s reality’s exception. America doesn’t need any more people who deny reality – at any age.

Second, Santa raises all sorts of questions about justice. For children, Saint Nick comes off as the ultimate judge and jury. And yet, Santa doesn’t dole out the justice all that well. No one gets an actual lump of coal. He always seems to conclude that everyone has been pretty nice – and that the wealthy kids deserve a little more. How is it they have always been better?

Yes, at some point kids have to learn that life isn’t always fair, but the whole point of Santa is that he is above all that. What kind of world is it where this wonderful, all-knowing grandfather figure gives the school bully a PlayStation and the poor kid not much at all?

And that brings us to the third and most important reason I’m over Santa. We simply don’t need him. The real world is an incredible place all by itself. Santa Claus and magic cheapen it. This is something we grasp when children ask us questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “What’s it like on the other side of the world?” The answers are amazing, thought-provoking and illuminating.

I know the arguments for Santa: Childhood is the only time you can believe in someone like Santa Claus. The world can be such an awful place, so why puncture the innocence of our children?

There is without question much sadness and tragedy in the world. But all those things will be there with or without Santa Claus. The wonderful innocence of childhood will still be there, too. It’s not a seasonal event.

The thing is, despite all the talk of the magic of Christmas and the wide-eyed wonder of children on Dec. 25, the real point for most kids is what’s in the boxes, not who brought them. So why pretend that they came from a magic old man who lives at the North Pole? Why not say instead, “They came from the people who love you most”?

Dante Chinni is a journalist and the director of the Patchwork Nation project at the Jefferson Institute. He wrote this for the Washington Post.

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