An Atheist Who Loves Santa Clause
We were just leaving a mutual friend's house when my friend Eli laughed out loud. "You don't celebrate Christmas, Marilyn. Why this thing for Santa Claus?"
I love Santa Claus, I insisted. "How can you be so silly, Eli. Santa Claus doesn't have anything to do with Christmas-in the religious sense."
But... Eli waved a hand at me to stop, but I just kept talking as I settled myself into the passenger seat of his car and fastened my seat belt. "Oh I know there's something about Santa being connected to a real historical person that some Christians call a saint. Never mind all that. It's just a story. Lighten up. I like what Santa Claus stands for. His image is fun-and loving, and generous."
I could see the puzzled look on Eli's face as he turned the key in the ignition. I don't think he knew what to say next.
I sighed. "Yes, I do. I love Santa. 'The Night Before Christmas' is a story I loved telling my children. And I really played up the Brownies thing.
I thought that as an atheist, you valued truth, and truth telling, Marilyn. How could you have lied to your children like that?
Kids love fantasy, and they love solving puzzles. I will always remember the day my oldest daughter figured out the Santa myth. This came of course after she had asked a million questions. You know the usual. How come there are so many of them? What does he do when the family doesn't have a fireplace? Does he drink milk and eat cookies at every house? She was so proud of herself. She had a twinkle in her eye as she smiled shyly and said, the Easter Bunny too?
Eli slammed the brakes and looked at me. No, you didn't. The Easter Bunny too?
Yup, the Easter Bunny too. You see, Eli, children are expected to out grow their belief in Santa and the Easter Bunny. They are encouraged to use their developing skills of critical thinking to figure it out. And, when they do, they can have a feeling of pride in their accomplishment.
You've got a point there, Marilyn, but what about the Jesus story?
The problem with the Jesus story is that we're expected to continue to believe in the myth as though it was truth itself. We are expected to accept without question, to stay children throughout our adult lives. Christians even call themselves children of God.
Eli pulled into my driveway. What do you celebrate on December 25th, Marilyn?
I laughed and said, my birthday. I was born on December 25th.
Eli turned off the ignition. "Shall I see you to your door?"
"No, thank you. Bob's turned the light on. Thanks for the ride and the interesting conversation."
When I got to my front door I turned back and said, "Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night."
Eli called back, "Happy Birthday, Marilyn."
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