OK. So, you may be wondering where I plan on going with this post (me too, by the way). How will the topic of Santa get woven into the thread of mindfulness? Well, honestly, I’m not really sure yet. But I thought I’d just start typing and see what happens.
The other day I was reading our local news online and came across a story about the Parade of Lights, which happened here in town a couple of weeks ago and involved family friendly activities throughout the day, pictures with Santa, and a parade and tree lighting downtown in the evening. The article mentioned how one of the daytime activities was for kids to write letters to Santa, hosted by a local downtown business. It stated how last year the business collected around 300 letters before Christmas and then wrote back to each kid in response using a set template with certain areas left blank so they could be filled in with a personal touch and be individualized.
There was part of me that was proud of the local business for spending so much of their time and energy devoted to our community’s kiddos. However, there was also part of me that was sitting there reading the article shaking my head back and forth in disgust at the deeply penetrating and pervasive lie that sweeps our nation this time every year about the existence of Santa. In being a weekly blogger I’m often thinking of what to make my next blog post about and tuning into things with the mindset of how to tie it into the art of mindful living and write about it later on. As soon as I read the article mentioning the letters to Santa I thought, “How can I turn my frustration about this whole societal Santa ordeal into a blog post?” While I’ve mostly grown out of my ranting states of self-righteous infused monologues that prevailed when I was in my twenties I’m still holding onto this one rather tightly. When I think about or read about the certain Christmas related fantastical myths of Santa Claus or flying reindeer or elves at the North Pole I feel this sense of anger well up within me. But rather than going off on some long diatribe about the perpetuation of these myths and how I think it’s wrong to lie to our children about Santa I think instead I’ll keep with the nature of this blog and delve more deeply into my reaction.
Every feeling has a root cause that fuels it. Feelings don’t just happen for no reason. They may appear at seemingly odd times unexpectedly but they don’t just arise suddenly and without cause. So where do my feelings of anger, about pretending Santa Clause is real, stem from? Why do I have such a strong reaction? I mean, is it really that big of a deal if kids are made to believe in Santa for a few years? Why am I so up in arms about it on behalf of kids I don’t know? I mean it’s one thing to know that I’m not comfortable lying to my own stepson about it (which when he was young I didn’t) but why do I care so much about what other parents are telling their own kids? These are good questions to ask myself and ponder, even if it winds up that I don’t come to some sort of final conclusion.
One of my first memories of Santa was when I was told by a schoolmate on the playground that he wasn’t real. I remember being really upset about this new information and went home to my mom quite angry to give her the what for. I was in first or second grade. And while I’m unclear about what happened next I think she was able to convince me that Santa was indeed real and managed to dispel the alleged misinformation I had been told on the playground, as I have a vivid memory of receiving a phone call from Santa a year or two later and being super excited about it.
In hopes to infuse the element of understanding into my reactionary tendency of anger, thereby potentially serving to transform it, I took to reading a few articles on the continuation of the Santa myth, both for and against it. The pro-Santa myth people seemed to all agree that fostering the imagination of children was beneficial and that there was no need to take this magical time of year away from our children. The con-Santa myth side talked about the psychological ramifications of lying to our children and how being dishonest is not doing our children any favors. Personally I feel the Christmas myths have more to do with revitalizing the imagination and child-like spirit in adults. There’s an ability to live vicariously through our little ones around this time of year, allowing the adults who continue the myths to become young again. I mean really, I don’t think kids would be at all deprived of their capacity to fantasize and delve into their imaginations should the myth of Santa be taken away. Kids are forever pretending to be princesses and ninjas and fly to outer space all while eating pretend food they’ve whipped up on an island of magical creatures. Trust me, I work with kids, and there’s no shortage of imaginative play in their tender little lives.
In looking deeply I see that it’s not Santa himself that brings up anger for me – he’s fictitious for Pete’s sake. It’s what he represents: blind and rampant consumerism. My anger spurred on by the holiday and the myths generated is due to the waste, the crippling dept that can accumulate all in the name of gift giving, the consumeristic tendencies to buy items made by poorly treated workers overseas that cause harm to the environment…and did I mention the waste? Santa is a nice, happy, warm, cleverly devised image that sets the stage, and tows the line, for an American lifetime of always wanting more.
But anger isn’t a root feeling. It’s an indication that something else is going on and is usually a response to deeper feelings of fear or sorrow. My anger in this case is covering up feelings of sadness. Sadness for our troubled collective states of ignorance and dismissive behavior. Sadness that so many of us celebrate Christmas not for the religious aspects that were intended but to buy a bunch of crap the folks we’re giving it to probably don’t really need, or even want. Sadness that the spirit of generosity has become not what we offer through our hearts by way of our presence and ability to skillfully connect but through box stores and online shopping by way of our credit cards. Sadness that these holiday patterns, magical myths, and the never ending search for happiness through material goods will most likely continue to be deeply embedded in our culture and passed on to future generations for a long, long time.
In this light I see my anger not as some immobile obstacle but as a doorway to further understanding and compassion. Santa isn’t just the epitome of greed and selfishness – he’s also the image of confusion and disconnection. The image of Santa is the reflection of our collective selves lost in the throws of not knowing how to be truly happy in the here and now. He isn’t something separate or dissimilar. He’s us. We’re him. We’re one in the same.