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Psychology of Santa

December 24th, 2003 · 1 Comment

“Better watch out…” Abigail and Michaela sing, “…Mommy’s coming tonight!”
Yeah, the girls already figured out that Santa is a fantasy and have made their own lyrics to the music they keep hearing everywhere. When others, including even an enthusiastic receptionist at the doctor’s office the other day, ask the girls if they’re ready for Santa, they just look at these grownups funny, shaking their heads, as if wondering why they’re getting asked about someone who isn’t real.

Actually we never told them he was true. We’re not raising them with Santa Claus. My parents didn’t raise me with the big red guy either. I’ve always thought it was artificial to tell kids the myth about Santa. And I felt it distracted from the meaning of Christmas, the more important part that we wanted to focus on as a family in our faith.

I didn’t like the idea of lying to my kids: what would happen when they discovered the truth, that no one fits down the chimney at night (actually we don’t have a chimney!) Or that Mommy and Daddy were the ones eating the cookies and milk left out overnight… This article in the Seattle Times earlier this month on How to survive Santa season made me wonder:

Don’t worry about permanent psychological harm. Dealing with the loss of a fantasy character (it might be easier to start with the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy) helps children develop coping methods for more serious losses, Robinson said.

I have a hard time believing that coping with fantasy characters helps kids later cope with real grief: isn’t losing Santa a bit different from losing Grandpa?

But then, when reading some other articles in the paper this season, I began to see that Santa might have some value. When the Green River Killer was sentenced last week, the father of one victim told how his seasonal role helped him cope with the loss.
link : Robert Rule, with a snow-white beard and flowing white hair, spoke of forgiveness and told how his annual job as the Everett Mall Santa Claus helps him get by. Ridgway burst into tears, then quickly wiped them away.

Several days ago, reading this piece about a man who has dedicated his life to being Santa, even getting HOHOHO2 on his license plate (a red Cruiser) and doing a buisiness of on-line Santa cards ‘Santa’ simply suits him: Seattle man makes it livelihood and lifestyle

Sometimes, though, the weight of being Santa can be heavy. He never promises children that he’ll bring dad home from Iraq or make grandma well; some things are out of Santa’s control.

He felt especially helpless, unsure how to comfort, during an appearance the other day in Redmond. An upset 8-year-old girl, the owner of two cats, one very old, asked him, “Can you make my daddy not get rid of my cats?”

“I was taken aback,” he said. “I can’t even imagine a father so insensitive to a child.”

He also gets teary when he talks about kids in hospitals.

Once ill with a hemolytic anemia as a child, he knows about transfusions and being down for long stretches. As an adult, he knows, too, about cancer, having lost friends — one a fiancée — to the disease.

“That really affected him,” said his brother, John Baldwin of San Diego, who analyzes his brother thusly: “He always wanted to have children” and has transferred that love “into being the Northwest’s Santa Claus.”

And I started to think, maybe we are a culture with so much sorrow and stress, that what we need is an fat old guy in a red furry suit to help us cope. Maybe what we need is to sit on a lap and tell someone our secrets, whisper our desires and dreams to someone who will listen to us and laugh with us. Maybe what we need is some stability, even if it is silly – someone we can count on to care for us, to give our spirits a lift with red and white and a belly of jello, someone with a guaranteed smile for us. In this winter world, Santa Claus brings hope. It’s too bad he’s a fantasy. But I see too that he is becoming real as real people seek to have Santa’s heart, learning to give and listen and care. I can see a little how being Santa can bring hope and healing to your own heart too. And as Mommy, minus beard and suit, I’m looking forward to watching my girls open the surprises I have for them tomorrow..and I’ll try not to eat too many cookies tonight as I wrap 🙂

Tags: christmas

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dorsey // Feb 18, 2004 at 9:17 pm

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