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Archive for December 21st, 2010

I wrote earlier today on the magic of belief in Santa Claus, the gift to the imagination that shiny bit of tinsel can hang on children before they reach the age when flying reindeer and fat men squeezing their bulk down chimneys to leave bikes and dolls no longer makes any sense and they face the realization that Mom and Dad are bigger benefactors than they’d figured.

We consider the progression to be in the natural order of things; hopeful frivolity gives way to information, knowledge, to familiarization with the way things really are. Also learned in time is a sense of history that serves to put traditions in context, to illuminate how one thing led to another to another and eventually to St. Nicholas morphing into Santa Claus.

Okay … so my eight-year-old is on the verge of twigging to the Santa gag, and even though I’m hoping he gets this one more year of the fantasy the writing is on the wall. He’s a smart, curious kid who loves to learn and wants to know stuff, and in the long run all that is a good thing.

I can’t help, however, but be amazed at the huge number of people who never get further than the fairy tales.

Those in this article for example:

A new Gallup poll, released Dec. 17, reveals that 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.

Yeah … I could have gone with the whole Holy Night tale, but although it is almost Christmas other angles came across my reindeer radar today, and the idea that only 16% of Americans buy the idea of evolution without divine guidance feels to me like a call for intervention.

Don’t get me wrong — I like Christmas music as much as the next indoctrinated American-raised harker of Harold the singing angel, and the idea of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men (and women and children) is worth propagating. It does rather piss me off when the concept is hijacked once a year by peeps whose agenda is suspect and divisive.

When high on said agenda is keeping people stupid … well … even more reason to bah and humbug, and trotting out Eden as fact while science is swept up with the torn wrapping paper is doing exactly that.

The poll also revealed that beliefs in creationism and evolution are strongly related to levels of education attained. When results are narrowed to those with college degrees, only 37 percent of respondents maintain beliefs in creationism. Meanwhile, the belief in evolution without the aid of God rises to 21 percent.

Those numbers are still appalling, but do give some hope that education has some force against ignorance.

Lest anyone think I’m picking on Christians to put the Christ in Christmas, another story in today’s news made the same point, but in a bit more gruesome a manner. Titled “Koran Written In Saddam Hussein’s Blood Poses Problem For Iraqi Leaders”, it could be considered another candle on the holly branch …

The unique Koran’s creation took over two years:

It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight – locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

Slate notes that Saddam was never one for subtlety, and that this undertaking would serve propaganda purposes for when the dictator need to be seen as pious; he “decided to show the world that he was willing to literally sacrifice his blood for the sake of his religion.”

His blood. Nice. What a sacrifice, heh?

And to think Santa would have just left a lump of coal in his stocking and called it a day while assuming he’d made the point that genocide goes on the naughty list. Of course, if Santa was the issue, Saddam would have grown out if it by the time he was 10 or 12 … or 30.

So, why is it okay … normal, reasonable … to mature beyond the dude-in-red flying down from the North Pole, but Adam and Eve and Mohammed once ingested are to last a lifetime? Why is A Visit from St. Nicholas considered light verse, but the second chapter of Luke gospel? (Okay, bad choice of words, but you get my drift.)

But really, does this …

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

… make any less sense than this …

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were
sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

… ?

Sure, the first quote rhymes and only has a couple of songs to go with, but more importantly it wasn’t shouted from pulpits in our direction, and I can’t help thinking that’s one big diff. That and the fact that Santa has little political clout and other than marketing not much economical sway, either.

As I said in my earlier post, I don’t see Santa as a dangerous illusion fostered by parents, but a bit of magic meant to stir imagination. The other stuff could be the same, but folks don’t seem to outgrow that shit.

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As part of my ongoing effort to create a warm fuzz around the Christmas holiday for my little kids, we sat together on my bed last night and watched “Miracle on 34th Street” on my Mac.

I knew this was a bit risky since Sam is now eight and beginning to question the whole Santa thing, but ended up figuring Natalie Wood’s conversion might be just what it takes to put off the doubts for one more year.

I was unprepared for how vehement his questions would be, how demanding he was to know how it would all turn out long before the film was anywhere near over, but given the fact that he’s been dealing with the inconsistencies of other 8-year-olds at school for the past weeks, it makes sense the boy wants answers. I, however, am not giving any.

Although I am not unlike the mother in the movie in much of my thinking that one major function of childhood is to learn life lessons that will be useful in the decades that follow, I don’t see the belief in Santa as a dangerous delusion. Like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, the jolly fellow is a little bit of magic, and we need magic. Magic is imagination, and although kids certainly benefit from the accumulation of practical skills, without imagination they are handicapped for life.

The day comes, though, when mental conjurings of reindeer on the roof … and that bowl-full-of-jelly thing that took my mind in strange directions as a kid … give over, often in some sort of epiphany prompted by discoveries made in the back of closets. The accompanying Hm … may be followed by feelings of distrust over being mislead, but most kids are smart enough to realize that being a nasty little git about that with Mom is an even worse idea this time of the year than it had been when Santa was assumed to be the provider of loot.

It’s a sadder day for Mom, though. For us it’s one of those watershed moments when our child takes a step away from childhood that forces us to wrestle with the fact that kids grow up way too fast.

What’s important to remember is that the step away is also a step toward, and even if we’d like to keep our kids little for as long as possible, they actually want to grow up. Since that’s the natural order of things, there’s no sense in trying to stop any flooding from any watershed.

So, from one Christmas to the next, all can change, and the child whose eyes shone with the wonder of Santa’s visit begin to glow with the avarice of gifts … and with an understanding of the joy of giving.

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