Updated: Dec 28, 2020
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.”
― Corinthians 13:11
“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”
― Jane Austen
I love Christmas.
It is a longstanding and beautiful tradition steeped in rich cultural significance, spiritual aspiration, and deep symbolic meaning.
It is a very special time of year for millions of people around the world.
But something about grown adults knowingly deceiving their kids regarding a white-bearded fat man in a red suit coming down the chimney to leave presents never sat well with me.
This probably has a bit to do with the fact that something inside of me died the day I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real.
Maybe you had a similar experience…
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It felt like drowning.
I stood there blinking rapidly at my parents, mildly hyperventilating as the ground gave way beneath me and the flood of Chaos rushed into my young psyche.
I remember thinking, “If my parents and the whole world have been lying to me about this all of my life, WHAT ELSE ARE THEY LYING TO ME ABOUT???
I went full Truman Show:
“Am I really your son?
Are you really my parents?
How do I know?
Yeah well you said the same thing about Santa.
If Santa isn’t real, maybe God isn’t real.
Maybe it’s actually perfectly alright to eat my dessert first and steal money from Mom’s purse, cause no one actually sees me while I’m sleeping or knows when I’m awake- and there is certainly no one making a god-damn list and checking it at all, let alone twice...!”
As I grew up, my burgeoning cynicism found fertile ground as I discovered just how many OTHER things I had come to believe were also total lies.
Adolescence confirmed my worst suspicions as I came online to the all-too-human imperfections of my parents, and the blatant failings of my society and the religious traditions I inherited.
I mean, are we actually celebrating a holiday from a religious tradition that is literally drenched in bloodshed, Inquisition, Crusade, slavery, genocide and pederasty enacted by the Christian Church and its loyal denizens, all committed in Christ’s name, the guy who’s birthday is somehow connected to Santa Claus?
And yet, despite the obvious hypocrisy and my anger surrounding our “how-is-this-actually-ok?” society-wide collusion around lying to children...
(...not to mention the shameless commercialization, blow-my-brains-out pop carols blasting since the day before Thanksgiving, and the cheap, garish decorations that would make the Griswolds’s balk with jealousy…)
...Christmas has still managed to remain sacred to me.
I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time.
How could I both love a thing and despise it at the same time?
It felt like an abusive relationship:
I love the romance of the season, the lights and excitement, the traditions, hunting for the perfect gift for my loved ones and family….
but despise the deception, hypocrisy, emotional pain, and the family arguments bubbling towards familicide...
(...not to mention the un-Christ-like behavior of purported Christians the other 364 days of the year….)
As I got older, I found myself drawn to history, mythology, comparative religion, and Men’s Work. I believe part of my initial attraction to these disciplines came from a piece of me looking to heal the psychological wound I’d suffered at the hands of parents and my culture.
Part of me wanted “Santa” back.
Through my studies I discovered the “why” behind the holiday’s enrolling and powerful effect:
Christmas is sacred to so many of us because it is Christianity’s last great Ritual-- a final vestige from the olden days of the Western Canon, when Solstices and celebrations to match every season were plenty and powerful the world over.
By definition, a ritual is “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.”
Ritual participation binds us together.
It gives meaning to our lives.
That is its function, its purpose, and its outcome-
and we are subject to its power whether we are aware of it or not.
Rituals give us something to look forward to and something to aspire to.
They connect us to something greater than ourselves.
They prepare us to receive the numinous, and unite us with the transcendent.
They gift us with the embodied experience of “God”.
And so it’s no coincidence that guiding Men and boys through life-changing ritual experiences is the career path that has unfolded for me as an adult from the origins of my childhood wound…
Unfortunately, ritual is largely absent from the majority of modern western culture, aside from weddings, bar-mitzvahs, and the Super Bowl.
But we still have Christmas.
Though the majority of the ritualized traditions embedded in this most Christian of holidays are in fact “pagan” and pre-Christian in origin:
The Yule log.
Even the St. Nicholas legend we use to deceive our children.
And let’s not forget the notion of the dying and resurrecting God that is actually quite the ubiquitous trope in the religions systems of the ancient world… Marduk, Apollo, Tammuz, Osiris, and of course, Jesus of Nazareth, all died, all brought back to life.
Wait, you thought Jesus was the first?
Get in line, J.C...
The early Christians were brilliant in proselytization and appropriation alike, masterfully interweaving church tradition into the pre-existing pagan customs of the native populations they were converting, all which gave birth to the modern holiday- the sacred and profane, pagan and Christian woven ritualistically together through the centuries, traditions and individual lives of so many different peoples.
I had always wondered how Santa got hooked up with Jesus’ birthday. But when you combine Winter Solstice celebrations, pagan rituals, and the religious supremacy of Christianity born of intense proselytization over the course of several millennia, it all starts to line up.
Ritual is powerful. Profound. Uplifting.
But can we not have powerful ritual celebrations that don’t involve lying to our kids?
Enter Christmas Day, 2020, 5:28am, MST.
On two hours sleep, I sat watching my girlfriend's niece and nephew, ages 2 and 4, play full on in the ritual game of Christmas and Santa.
That’s when it hit me.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, our society has produced a ritual, (albeit largely unconsciously) that actually toughens and prepares children for the disappointments and sad realities of the real world outside the protective dome of childhood.
We build Santa up for them from the beginning of their lives.
We carry it out for years on end.
Play into it full out.
And then, years later, generally around the time their developing intellects are first beginning to detect the logical impossibilities of one fat dude on a sleigh delivering presents to every single child on earth in a single night...
...we kill him.
We kill Santa Claus.
Right in front of our kids.
Not to fuck them up,
But to make them strong.
And the ones who kill Santa are our models for God and adulthood-- Mother and Father rendering the wound that breaks the spell of childhood.
I don’t know that most parents understand the significance of the moment, or that they are playing along consciously wit