You stop believing in Santa. Then what?
Shirley Temple said, “I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Another child performer, Donald Trump, who probably thought Christmas was a daily occurrence, certainly lost some faith in Santa during the national tree lighting he officiated that was attended, mostly, by empty chairs.
Other kids in America undoubtedly questioned Santa’s existence in droves when the Great Christmas Tree Shortage of 2017 forced them to make do with old stockings covered in glitter-glue that once spelled out their names. And if they were lucky enough to score a tree this year, they were probably disappointed by the Great Christmas Tree Bug Epidemic of 2017. They experienced doubt in all things Christmas while they sprayed Raid on winged angels, candy canes and Aunt Clara’s knitted troll doll ornaments.
For any child, finding out there’s no Santa Claus triggers three stages of grief. First: Shame. The older kids have been laughing behind my back. Second: Disbelief. How could every authority figure in my life be perpetuating a conspiracy like this? Mom and dad, the post office and NORAD? You don’t make this kind of stuff up! Third: Satisfaction. I knew something smelled fishy. I was just about to solve it.
Though psychologists have mixed opinions about the pros and cons of lying to children about Santa, it seems self-evident that after the initial shock the grief syndrome continues through adulthood – with a few grown-up twists.
First, adults suffer a different kind of Christmas Shame. Many notice things in stores throughout the year that scream a friend’s name, but by Christmas they have no idea what it was. Suddenly, as the clock ticks away, something impractical like a vintage Dixie Cup dispenser – or anything in eBay’s “buy it now” category – seems serendipitously perfect (until it gets unwrapped). Other gown-up Christmas shame can be that people just don’t do what Santa would do. Black Friday fights at Walmart, for example, or the Senate voting, weeks before Christmas, to make poor people pay for wealthy people’s yachts and then die from preexisting conditions.
And there’s a grown-up kind of Christmas Disbelief: How can crime rates possibly go up on Christmas while we’re all trying really hard to be nice? How can the first Monday in January be known among attorneys as “Divorce Day” when Christmas time is when we try really hard to get along? How can a study say that Christmas day is the deadliest day of the year when it takes 24 hours to charge up the kids’ new Quadcopter HD 5G Wi-Fi Camera Thruster Pack iPhone Compatible Smart Drone? Shouldn’t tomorrow be a lot more dangerous?
The big problem is Christmas Satisfaction. Adults don’t get any. Maybe because we gave up on one important part of the Santa myth: Wishes. Wishes that we’d get Tickle Me Elmo, that Aunt Clara would give up knitting and that Mr. Bean won’t release a movie that our friends want to see on Christmas Eve.
So, let’s figure out some grown-up wishes.
With a tumultuous year ahead, we might wish that all Christians notice the generosity of Muslims and Buddhists and the contributions of immigrants to our nation. That if we don’t want more refugees, we have to stop creating them. Let’s wish to get out of the tangled web of Twitter diplomacy before the world blows up. That instead of trying to bring slave-wage jobs back from China, we find funding for education right here so that hospitals and Google don’t have to import labor. We can wish that America stops addressing the gun problem with thoughts and prayers and gives policy and change a chance. Or that we stop breaking promises to Native Americans. And let’s wish that we don’t leave our children, the ones we lied to in the first place, in a world where the air is unbreathable, the land is under water and there’s only one or two bug-infested Christmas trees left.
Now sit down and write a letter with the grown-up wishes you want Santa to bring the world for Christmas. And this year, address it to the part of you that’s still a little kid who was just about to solve something that smelled fishy.