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Just a simple country boy

No, Virginia … (it’s wrong to lie to children)

There is more to regret than the “Reindeer Food” falsehood.

Leading my sons George and Jack to believe in Santa Claus when their skepticism dawned and they asked, “Daddy, is there really a Santa Claus?” was wrong.

As Greta Christina suggests in her rewrite of Francis Church’s answer to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, I owed them the truth at every step:

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. But Santa Claus does not exist. He is a story made up by your parents. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.

Telling them the truth would not have been cruel. It would have detracted nothing from my love for them and it would have given them a clearer view of the world they live in. As Greta Christina writes, their hearts would still have been glad :

No Santa Claus! That’s right. He doesn’t live, and he never did. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will still not exist — and no amount of fatuous, manipulative bloviating will make him real. And the heart of childhood is still made glad: by fancy, by poetry, by romance, by beauty and joy, by truth and knowledge, by love and generosity and devotion, and by the boundless magnificence of the universe.

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Filed under: Religion

Reindeer feeding ritual revisited

George and Jack on a Christmas Day decades ago in Fayetteville, N.C.

I not only helped inflict the myth of Santa Claus on my sons George and Jack, I made feeding his eight tiny reindeer a Christmas Eve ritual.

My Aunt Betsy Frink Adams gave us spiced “Reindeer Food” one Christmas (Or was it a gift from my first cousin, Betsy Holden?). The boys and I put out a tidy pile of sweet oat hay, which had been stockpiled to keep our pet chickens warm, and sprinkled it with the special “Reindeer Food.”

After the boys were sound asleep, I’d gather up all but a few wisps of the hay and use a three-pronged cultivating rake to make reindeer hoof marks over the feeding spot and across part of the lawn, inevitably leaving behind traces of Aunt Betsy’s mix.

The next morning, the boys’ grandmother’s big Bouvier des Flandres would show persuasive interest in the reindeer tracks (because they were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg from the “Reindeer Food”).

The existence of Santa’s tiny reindeer thus affirmed by the ecstatic dog, both boys would settle into another few days of blissfully believing in a Jolly Old Elf who brought them gifts.

It only worked for a year, or maybe two, my sons eventually told me. They were angry at the time. I think they had begun to understand that they had been made a show of for the watching adults.

Fun though it was, and entirely well-intended, it was still exploitative lying, like the commonplace and commercially convenient newspaper pretense that there is a Santa Claus. But worse. Because I was setting a parental example of socially convenient lying. for fun.

I was showing my love for them, but fun though it was, what I did was a mistake. There are equally satisfying theatrics that are honest and that do not encourage retreat to unrealistic fantasy worlds.

We might have had as much fun, and had it honestly, by defiantly studying the astronomy and implications of the Solstice. That tradition would not have ended with childhood’s credulity but would instead have fostered realistic discussions of why the 25th is Christmas Day.

Filed under: Religion, , , , , , ,

Religious wars

Robert S. Becker’s agnostic view:

Jesus’ birthday was strafed by a failed suicide bomber along with predictable fatalities in Afghanistan. Reading Sarah Vowell on our Puritan forefathers only confirmed our own beginnings, depicting how the first Europeans, as if freed from Old World decadence, embraced two menacing fantasies. The first asserted instant American exceptionalism and the second, even more troubling, that God’s inevitably on our side. Not much has changed, per Sarah Palin and Tea Partiers. Consider Arthur Schopenhauer’s grimmer judgment: “The fruits of Christianity were religious wars, butcheries, crusades, inquisitions, extermination of the natives of America and the introduction of African slaves in their place.”

Filed under: Religion

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