On the HORROR and WISDOM of LYING to CHILDREN - "The RITUAL of CHRISTMAS"
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 with an understanding of the subtext and symbolism of the event...
But they do it anyway -
Not to fuck them up,
But to make them strong.
Our society has lost most of its rituals.
Adolescent rites of passage perhaps being the most crucial.
Traditionally, these rituals were performed to help young people acclimate to the intense pressures and legitimate dangers of the real world.
By empowering them to step bravely and voluntarily into adulthood, they intentionally slough off childish things by enduring the same prescribed ordeals that every adult in the community, family, or tribe had themselves survived.
Such rituals create healthy psychological space for the child to make the transition into adulthood through their own agency and the discovery of their own power and potential.
The Death of Santa Claus is just such a ritual.
And what I didn’t know at age 10 when I suffered the death of my red robed, white-bearded jolly God, was that I was being taught something incredibly important by my parents, and my society.
What I didn’t know was that I was participating in a ritual- a necessary death.
It felt like Santa was dying, but in reality, it was a part of me that was dying.
In that moment, Santa Claus taught me about truth, trust, betrayal, death, and later, redemption.
Sound like someone else we know?
In so many ways, Santa is the set-up; a children’s story foreshadowing what’s to come as we grow up- just like the symbology of another character connected to this holiday whose life is marked by truth, trust, betrayal, death, and redemption- or rather, resurrection.
Santa is God for children.
A God designed specifically and beautifully to graduate young psyches from a state of innocent vulnerability into a state of necessary awareness.
Because the real world is full of lies, hypocrisy, malevolence, danger, disappointment, sorrow and it all ends in death.
So we need our Gods to die or at least show us how to die so that they can prepare us for the same inevitably- first psychologically, and eventually, literally.
“In Truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” says Nietzsche.
Yeah pretty much.
Most Christians are full of shit.
And lots of people say one thing and then do another.
“God is Dead” also announced the same guy.
Yeah pretty much.
Literal interpretations of religious translations don’t stand up to the rigors of common sense and the laws of physics.
“There is no Santa Claus.” - announced our Parents.
Yeah pretty much.
Your parents lied to you about Santa and about so many other things during the tumultuous journey of putting their lives on hold to attempt to raise you with some degree of love and care. Many fail. Some minorly. Some terribly. They are in fact human- not Gods, after all.
Your parents said it. Pilate said it. Nietzsche said it.
And while it is true, at least in some ways, that all 3 of them ARE actually dead, it is also true, at least in some ways, that they are all 3 also still alive.
At least in essence.
And certainly in the power their rituals can hold, whether they themselves are physically real, or ever even existed in the first place.
“Thus men forgot that all deities reside in the human Breast,” --William Blake
We have so many names for God...
A kind old God-man who’s devoted his entire life to the purpose of bringing children joy.
A kind old God-man who sneaks into your house in the middle of the night and takes nothing, but leaves everything.
If that’s not a God worthy of believing in, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not a ritual worth taking part in, I don’t know what is.
Whether you take the stories literally or figuratively is up to you.
Whether you believe in God, Jesus, Santa Claus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is up to you.
But there is something truly profoundly special about the power of belief.
As a child, Santa was my God.
Because I believed him to be true and acted on that belief.
I tried to follow the commandments of my God- to do good things, and be a good boy.
But good boys get eaten by dragons if they don’t eventually grow up.
They get eaten if they don’t come to know trust, betrayal, death, redemption… and resurrection.
This is why we lie to our children.
And this is why I, in my own way, will lie to mine.
Not to fuck him up,
But to make him strong.
And thank you.
You did not die in vain.