A Life More Magical

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

The most magical Christmas I can remember happened when I was, maybe, 12 or 13.

It had certainly been many years since I had believed in Santa, and in all honesty I don’t actually remember ever sincerely believing in him at all. Maybe it was something to do with not having an open fireplace, or my parents being terrible liars, or perhaps my older brother had something to do with it. Or perhaps, as I am inclined to suspect, a child’s belief in Santa is less genuine than we adults care to imagine. A game of make-believe is practically second nature to a child, and if they get presents at the end, I’m sure they’ll happily play along with anything.

But in any case, presents still were the icing on the cake of Christmas. But this one particular year, something absolutely unprecedented happened – both my brother and I actually slept right through the night and were woken up by our shocked and bewildered parents on Christmas morning! For the first time we had not been motivated enough to arm ourselves with torches, books, puzzles and coffee (yes, coffee) in a bid to evade our wily sentinel parents and raid the Christmas tree for presents. One year we even oiled squeaky door hinges! There have been bank heists planned with less military precision.

This particular morning, however, the whole family sat in the living room together and shared presents. We didn’t greedily claim them like pirate bullion, but shared them, and took an active interest in what everyone had bought each other. We had bought and given these gift because we love each other, and had taken the time, effort and expense to do it. And I can distinctly remember thinking it was the best Christmas morning I’d ever had – Christmas without Santa really is somehow more magical.

I’m not saying I won’t tell stories of Father Christmas to my own children, should I have any. I probably will. But, crucially, I would also expect them to grow out of that belief in time. Learning to think, to reason, and to interact with others in an adult way is an essential part of growing up. Stories and make-believe games may help them to learn these lessons, or be a crutch until they have, but eventually these intellectual stabilizers need to come off.

It would be another ten (ish) years before I let go of my belief in God. And yet the feeling when I finally did so was hauntingly familiar. A world in which humans alone have been responsible for our greatest works of art, acts of altruism and acts of love really is, I believe, more magical than one in which these gifts are were dispensed from above like some temperamental cosmic cash machine.

Contrary to the belief of those who will, I am sure, find this incomprehensible, belief in God, like a belief in Santa, needs to be laid aside to truly appreciate the other people around us. He is simply a barrier to a life more magical.

And don’t even get me started on Rudolph!

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  • Eurekus

    Since I’ve become atheist I not only have a better Christmas but appreciate life and loved ones more than ever. Instead of preparing for some mythological afterlife my happiness is focused on my family and our future in the here and now.

    It’s funny, the real story of our existence is more awe inspiring than any religious fairytale. My life is brilliant as an atheist. My adoration is focused on this earth which gave us the breath of life, she’s the cradle of our species.

    Without changing the topic too much. I’m motivated just like Ritchie to push people out of theism. Why? Because our species needs to focus on reality, then as a united force we can all ensure our children’s and our grand children’s survival by preserving and escaping our earthly cradle.

  • Alex Siyer

    Life is far more than magical.
    It’s overwhelmingly complex, and is as full of beauty as is full of horrors.

    It’s a shame that people prefer to hide under a rock (which does not even exists), to witness the wonder that life really is. But we can not dismiss the fact that sometimes reality can be especially hard to digest.

    I saw a baby drowned in the mud,a family car crushed like a acordeaon with the family still inside it. A Christian father trying to explain to his son how God has no real control over nature. (I think he didn’t really know what he was saying). A young man (~25) drawing from his home the dead bodies of his mother and grandmother.

    But I also saw wonderful acts of heroism, love and compasion. True love is more evident in hard times. I saw that humas are incredibly strong and sturdy. I belive that human beings are the most powerful force that earth has ever produced.

  • Alex Siyer

    PD: I witnessed an 8.8 earthquake and the tsunami that come later. In the end it was an interesting experience, but I wouldn`t like to live it again.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I think Santa is a useful metaphor for a deity to give Children. He has all the narrative, mythology and cultural ubiquity of God. He has the reward and punishment privileges of God (although he’s nowhere near as sadistic)but the logical holes in his existence are obvious enough that by 7 years old my daughter was a firm asantaist. He could almost have been invented as a model for how to stop believing in God(s).

  • Valhar2000

    I did believe Santa was real, although I suspect that it was mostly due to the fact that I trusted my parents. I had never seen any evidence of his existence, but they told me he was real, so that was that. Eventually I began to see evidence of his non-existence, and then I asked my parents, and they told me the truth.

    Finding out didn’t bother me all that much. In fact, I think I actually felt good about it, as though I had been allowed into an exclusive club.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I think you’re right about child’s belief not being as genuine as we think. I can recall the moment I “stopped believing.” I was in the schoolyard and a classmate taunted something like “You still believe in Santa Claus!” Being much more concerned with what others tought in those days, I replied “No, of course not.” Nothing traumatic about it, since I doubt I ever truly believed.

    According to some parenting courses I’ve taken, children under the age of eight can’t distinguish reality and make-believe. They think big bird is real, for example. In watching my children and remembering my childhood, I know that this is ridiculous. Children get caught up in make-believe more, that’s all. It’s we adults who can’t always distinguish when a child is pretending and when he’s talking about something that really happened.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    BTW: My daughter was born on December 25, 2008. Most magical Christmas!

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    …my parents made sooty tracks across the living room floor, left notes in unfamiliar scrawl, and put chewed-up carrots on the rooftops. When we moved to the midwest, they faked sleigh tracks and hoof prints in the snow. I didn’t stand a chance.

    So yeah, a carefully-orchestrated charade kept me believing in Santa for years, really and truly. But it was fun, and when I found out that my parents did it all for me (well, and my little brother), I was super-impressed by the lengths they went to. I remember my father patiently explaining all the different tricks they pulled for the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the man with the bag… actually, that may have been my first real lesson in skepticism, now that I think about it.

    Before I remembered that “torch” is the across-the-pond term for what I call a “flashlight”, I had thought you were talking about camping out with a stick on fire. And that’s way cooler than just about anything I ever did as a kid – at least, inside.

  • Ritchie

    D – Lol. Who’s the man with the bag, though? Sounds more than a little ominous…

  • Ritchie

    Hang on, I hope you mean Santa. If not there may be more skeletons in your family closet than you realise…?

  • Zietlos

    Everyone knows the man with the bag-day! The man with the bag comes by and gives you a bag! It’s fun for the whole family! His wife, Bag-Lady, then comes around and asks for money to keep this holiday a sacred event each year. Oh, we had some good man-with-the-bag-day parties when I was a kid. Ah, memories. :p

    I think the difference between real and make-believe was put best by the 8ish year old kid playing Starcraft in “Bowling for Columbine” (paraphrasing from memory): “Of course I know the difference between real and make-believe. You don’t?” Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They also tend to have a lot more fun than we do. We should have some make-believe fun more often. Anyone up for a game of D&D?

    Funny thing, I’m barely an adult, and my younger brother and myself were Santa for our family, all older than us, one year because the others get so stressed over everything. A few deaths in the family, some inheritance squabbles, some others getting sick and some bad days at work made the whole family depressed, didn’t even put up a tree, so I went with my little brother at 2 am (on Xmas eve), making sure everyone else was already asleep, and silently put up, decorated, and put lights on the tree, total silence (very surreal to decorate a tree in total silence, not even letting branches rustle much), wrapped some meagre presents we hid from our family for them, and got out the stockings (NOTHING was put up, it was a dead Xmas, everyone else was real depressed) and filled them with bright candies and chocolates. All from our savings, neither of us had a job, so it was kinda paltry… But when the others woke up on Xmas day to actually have a decorated tree, presents, an Xmas just like we used to when we were kids, they were so happy, it really made the work and sleep deprivation worth it. It was really enjoyable to bring a bit of happiness to people.

    There’s my Xmas story for you all. :) Cut it short for you too. :)

  • Ritchie

    Zietlos -

    I love that story! Got a bit chocked, to be honest…

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    A very nice story; thank you for sharing it.