More On Santa (I Will Murder The Fat Bastard With My Bare Hands)

More On Santa (I Will Murder The Fat Bastard With My Bare Hands) December 11, 2014

Imagine trying to strike up a conversation with someone at a social function and saying some platitude like, “Nice weather we’re having,” and then having the person angrily jab their finger in your chest and exclaim “GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!!” and walk off in a huff.

That would be bizarre, wouldn’t it? The reason would not be because the person said anything incorrect, it would be because it is totally unrelated to the matter at hand.

Similarly my diatribes against Santa are most often meant with the objection that children need “imagination” and “whimsy” and what-have-you. Well, sure. And George Washington was, in fact, the first President of the United States. But that is totally irrelevant.

Do you know how children exercise imagination and whimsy? Through works of fiction.

The reason why The Lord of the Rings and Narnia and The Beauty and the Beast and the Arthurian tales and all the rest enchant children because they know they are fiction. That is why and how they have the freedom to invent variations on the stories, to put themselves in the story, to imagine them. I have seen children play at lots of things; I have never seen them play at being Santa. Pretend play is play. The kids know that it’s not true, and that is why it is magical. (Even pretending that they’re not pretending is part of the fun of pretending!)

A story is not the same thing as a lie, and it is those who would confuse the two who befoul the nobility of stories.

(Not that any of it matters, of course, because even if none of this were true (though it is) lying is still wrong.)

You can tell that you’re right and you should pursue a line of argument with renewed vigor when people respond with panicked ad hominems, mischaracterizations and appeals to pure sentimentality. Thus my beloved friend Michael Brendan Dougherty, who knows so much better, calls people like me “Puritanical”, a “killjoy,” “humorless” and “literalist”.

This is the perplexing and absurd dichotomy, that you either have the Santa lie or a joyless Christmas. If only there were some other joyful stories and traditions than Santa that Christians might reach for around Christmastime! Care to think of any?

Since these discussions are inevitably and tediously peppered by first-person anecdotes, let me tell you what my wife and I do for Advent: put Christmas music on all the time; put up a Nativity scene; put up an Advent calendar with chocolate for our daughter; tell Christmas stories; tell stories about how Santa is made up bullshit; did I mention we have Christmas music on all the time?

My wife being Swiss-French, I have learned to appreciate the wonderful Germanic Christmastime traditions her family observes: beautiful Christmas markets, with their lights and goodies and singers and (especially) mulled wine, and even St Nick instead of Santa Claus (again, it is not stories I object to, it is lies). The family makes traditional Mannala, little man-shaped brioches which are then dunked in hot chocolate before eating, along with oranges and (for the men) more mulled wine (did I mention I like the mulled wine, Puritan killjoy that I am?).

Of course this is before you even get to the joy of the family gathering, and of gift-giving, and this is before you even get to the true joy of Christmas, which is–you know, by the way–the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the creator God who became man so that we may be saved from sin and to redeem His Good Creation. 

The idea that refusing to lie to children is tantamount to disenchantment and that the only way to re-enchantment is to essentially make shit up is the biggest concession imaginable to the atheist worldview. The world as it exists is already a permanent theophany, an endless symphony of glory to the infinite beauty that is the Creator God; the stories we have as stories already offer us infinite universes of beauty and wonder and imagination; the reason why you should believe things, and tell other people to believe things, is not because it procures a warm fuzzy feeling to believe them (fearful it is to fall in the hands of the Living God!), but because they are true.

Merry Christmas! Stay thirsty, my friends–and Kill Santa.


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  • Nick Cotta

    I think this is where you go wrong, “This is the perplexing and absurd dichotomy, that you either have the Santa lie or a joyless Christmas.”

    I don’t think people who argue for Santa Claus in the style of MBD take issue with position “The Santa myth is unnecessary”, but more of the position that, “Telling kids myths that they will believe are real is a form of lying.”

    Telling children a myth (knowing they will not recognize the apparent falsities) is not a lie because children inherently don’t understand the difference between reality and unreality the way adults see it. They believe in reality in a fundamentally different way and the “antis” are okay with stoking that instinct to form a reasoned belief and believe it with ardor because this is exactly what we call faith later on (you could argue this is training for that). Insisting that myths are falsehoods plays in to the dichotomy that a materialist would want you to have: there is real and there is unreal and any deviation from this dichotomy is a lie. The reality of a faithful person is that there is the world and there is heaven and the sacramental disturbs our notions about which is which.

    This debate reminds me of the sub-episode of radio lab ( in which children don’t know how to contextualize Furby as they depart from childhood and enter in to adulthood. I think their childlike self gets at a much deeper truth than the somewhat forced realism of adulthood (in which they understand Furby is not alive). I used to think along the same lines as you, (and even recently told my 5 year old about Santa not being real) but I have seriously begun to question it thinking that the MBD’s of the world might be right…

  • Tom

    “I Will Murder the Fat Bastard With My Bare Hands”: Great essay title, or greatest essay title?

  • Jim Russell

    Except that the Church doesn’t teach that telling kids the Santa myth counts as lying….

    • Gabriel Blanchard

      Well, telling them the story, if told *as* a story, needn’t be lying. On the other hand, deliberately deceiving children does presumably count as lying — the fact that you’re deceiving them about Santa surely doesn’t enter into it. And what better way to establish that *mom and dad are not to be trusted when they tell you something beautiful and supernatural*, than by telling them a made-up story on the grounds that Christmas would somehow be less fun without it?

  • Dan13

    Is Santa Claus a major cultural figure in France?

    My family “baptized” Santa, so to speak, by interpreting him as a representation of St. Nicholas: so I’ve always seen Santa as a Christian figure. I do see your point, however, and if/when I have children I’ll probably avoid the Santa myth.

  • David Naas

    If you meet the Santa on the road, kill him?

  • BTP

    I feel like this question can only be decided on the field of honor, the forces led by PEG gainst the forces of Santa. But which Santa? Fat, Protestent, Coca-Cola Santa?

    Or Saint Nicholas who, having relocated to the far reaches of Norway in the fifth century and devoting himself these long years to making toys for good children all over the world through the agency of a Finnish tribe of short and pointy-eared men, has paid no attention whatever to the foolishness of American marketing executives; but he takes a very dim view of those who discount his afterlife’s efforts. And the man who punched Arius in his gol-dang mouth at Nicaea is not happy. Not. Happy. At. All.

  • Anna

    We don’t do Santa really, but my kids pick up on it from everywhere – I don’t ban the reading of Clement Moore or Jan Brett, nor rant at innocent grocery store clerks asking the kids what Santa will bring them (though nothing under our tree is from Santa). So it seems to stay pretend, though for young kids the line between real and pretend is fuzzy at best. If they ask straight out, I tell them it’s pretend, but I don’t make a big deal of pointing out that the American Santa is totally made up any more than I insist on pointing out to my 5 y-o that his “Dinosaurland” is made up. I think the problem comes in when parents build up Santa as real for their kids, and often go to great lengths to prove Santa’s existence when their kids start asking questions. Then it crosses the line to lying and does give grounds for distrust.

  • I’ve been torn on whether to tell my five year old son Santa is not real. He seems to enjoy it so I’ve not. You’re right though, and I’ve had the same thought. Telling lies only makes them cynical when they learn the truth.

  • One other thing. You reminded me of a poem by Howard Nemorov, titled “Santa Claus” where he portrays Santa as a confidence man. You’ll like it. Here: