Santa Claus guilt. I never thought I’d have it. Santa is fun and we believe that fantasy is good for children and, Lord knows, everyone lies to their kids at some point, even if they don’t think they’re doing it. I have guilt because the following is Peanut’s belief system, and the responsibility for it rests on my wife and me.
“Marina and I were at school today.” Marina is her best friend at school. They talk a lot. “Marina and I were at school today and we were talking about what happens when you die –“
“You were talking about when you die?”
“Yeah, and we think that when you die that’s it. You’re just dead and there is just nothing.”
“What? You guys were talking about death and you think when you die there’s nothing?”
“Yup, that’s what I think. I think you die and then *shrug*, that’s it.”
This is pretty much verbatim the conversation I had with the Peanut as we took advantage of a particularly sun-splashed afternoon to make a stop at the playground on the way home from school. Certain and unfazed by the absolute end, the Peanut hangs lightly by her legs from the monkey bars.
At first, I allowed myself to wonder whose ideas these were. Is my little fairy princess the existential boogeyman of kindergarten room 8 or was it her friend Marina?
That question was answered for me a few days later when she told me that in school that day during recess she had been spreading her secular gospel of the damned throughout her class. She had told Alexis and Velma about the end of existence. The lack of eternity. And, she said, “We all agreed.”
And, lo, the Peanut spoke from the monkey bars on high and proclaimed that death is final, and saw that it was good. And the people followed.
Meanwhile, the existence of Santa has been confirmed.
“Sometimes Marina and I talk about the Grinch and we wonder if he’s real.”
I shrug. “Oh yeah?”
She grins. “Yeah. Nobody knows. But Santa is real, though.”
So there you have it. The afterlife is a dream, but Santa is definitely coming and, in the Peanut’s head, he’s probably part fairy.
And I feel guilty about this in part, at least, because I’m an atheist. Let me qualify that a little. I’m not anti-God or even anti-religion. How can I be? I’m an atheist. I can’t be anti-something I don’t believe in. I mean I could, but what’s the point? Religion isn’t evil and it isn’t divine, it’s human.
And that belief, along with our willingness to talk about God in an objective way, to sing prayers during Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah, to answer “we don’t know, nobody really does,” when the kids ask what happens when you die, to believe in Santa and fairies right along with them, says to me that we leave room for faith, we don’t deny them it. Nor would we. If they do end up atheists (Deniers of Gawd!), I’d rather it was something they came to themselves rather than for the reason most people have a given religion … because their parents do.
Yet, there it is. Faith Denied.
So it really feels like lying when I play up Santa Claus. Really, really. Who am I to derail my tiny philosopher from her search for truth with my silly mythical bullshit?
I’m her dad, that’s who. And I guess if I’ve thus far failed her in terms of allowing her the room to experience religious faith, the least I can do is give her the space and encouragement to believe in a magical fat guy with genius Elven slaves and a sleigh that travels at near light speed solely through the power of reindeer farts.
And also, fairies are real. And the Glass Ceiling isn’t.
A version of this first appeared on Musings from The Big Pink.
Santa Claus death photo: flickr.com/Steve Jurvetson