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Unearthing the truth behind Santa

Posted on 28 December 2017 by admin

His real magical gift is not in what he puts under the tree for us, but what he teaches us we can do for each other, and with each other, when we decide that making each other happy is our goal, Edward Keenan writes.

Every year around this time, my kids bring me reports from the schoolyard of conspiracy theories. Whispers about a certain jolly bearded man. There are doubts about his existence, expressed knowingly by people convinced of their own smarts.

Santa Claus Truthers.

Christmas morning, they suggest, is an inside job.

Nothing new there. Conspiracy theories of all kinds have a long tradition. John F. Kennedy’s assassination. 9/11. Barack Obama’s birthplace. Always there is the certainty that a small, brave group of clear-sighted outsiders have managed to assemble the real facts from a series of apparent inconsistencies in the official explanation. Always a smug, self-righteous confidence from those willing to question the story everyone seems to want you to believe.

Trutherism isn’t even new when it comes to Santa, of course. Rumours questioning the veracity of his story have circulated at least since Virginia O’Hanlon wrote her letter to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897 seeking clarification. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” the editor famously responded. “A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

But even that did not put the doubts to rest. They persist.

I admit, as a journalist I admire the skeptics’ devotion to pursuing facts. Who can help but raise an eyebrow when considering mystifying accounts of flying reindeer, arctic workshops staffed entirely with elves, and a single-day’s circumnavigation of the globe stopping at every single house along the way? Santa’s is a story that seemingly defies rational explanation. It is magic, is the conventional explanation.

Yet the Truthers’ explanation also seems to stagger belief in its scale and scope. When confronted with a conspiracy theory, the first question to ask is always, how many people would need to be in on this and keep it a secret?

In the case of Santa, we’d appear to be talking about a top-secret global, generations-spanning plot carried out by billions of people. And this thing seems to go all the way to the top, encompassing not just parents but also teachers, Canada Post, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and all kinds of other public and private international institutions, including the United Nations.

All of this effort and co-ordination, and the cloak-and-dagger enterprise it entails, and to what purpose? To give gifts and spread joy. And to keep it all secret to avoid taking credit.

As explanations go, does that sound more or less magical to you than a jolly old man in a sleigh?

For those trying to nail down the facts, that question may not make things any clearer. As I’ve gotten older, and I hope somewhat wiser, the factual assertions about how Santa Claus does what he is said to do have not become easier for me to explain. But I have come to understand that the important truth of the story of Santa’s life and work is not found in grasping the mechanical details, but in being inspired by his example. He is an illustration, and an embodiment, of a spirit of joyful giving we might all want to believe continues to exist in the world.

Though we’d all maybe hope to see it more at all times of year, it’s something often called the “Christmas Spirit.” Almost all of our traditional Christmas stories revolve around this concept of giving.

The religious holiday of Christmas is based on the story of the birth of a child who was sent into the world as a gift from its creator, a child who grew up to spread the message “love one another,” and to ultimately sacrifice his own life to save those who would remember him and follow his example. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the story of how Scrooge learns that his own salvation from misery lies in becoming generous and kind to those around him, and joining their celebrations rather than scorning them. Even the Grinch saw his heart grow three sizes when he realized people were not celebrating the loot they would haul in, but the joy they could give to each other.

It may take some of us a while to understand it fully, but this is the truth about Santa, too. His real magical gift is not in what he puts under the tree for us, but what he teaches us we can do for each other, and with each other, when we decide that making each other happy is our goal.

And that remains true whether you believe the official stories, or the conspiracy theories, or something else, or nothing at all.

The older I get, the less skeptical I am about that truth about Santa. His greatest gift, for those who want to receive it, is an opportunity to participate in the spirit of the season by embracing the joy that comes from giving to one another, to make the world a happier place. To pass that spirit of kindness and generosity on to others. To see something magical in the world because you help to create it.

Santa’s gifts are something you experience more than something you can explain. Is his story hard to believe? In a way. But it’s a story that, if you let it, can continue to make “glad the heart of childhood.” And adulthood, too.

Still, and always. Believe it or not.

 

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