Is Santa Claus real?
Jana and I have two sons of the age where this is getting to be pressing question. (Actually, I think our oldest knows what's up and just isn't saying anything. I think he's protecting us.) Some kids in their class believe, others don't. So the question gets floated a home a lot: "Dad, is Santa Claus real?"
This question tears Jana up. She really gets tied up in knots about it. She doesn't want to disillusion the boys but she also doesn't want to be found deceiving them (even in a good cause).
Me? I say lie to the kids. I'm a huge believer in lying. You can't get through the day without lying. It's a social necessity. So count me as a fan of lying. Here's a snippet of an article of mine now in press:
It goes without saying that Christians are deeply committed to truth. Dishonesty and lies are sinful and immoral. But this stance is problematic given the fact that everyday conversation is awash in deception and deceit. We lie frequently in everyday conversation. In one of the best empirical studies on lying it was observed that we lie in 1 out of every 4 conversations (DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein, 1996). Given the sheer number of conversations we have during the day the number of lies we tell on a weekly basis is staggering.
This might seem to be a simple observation about human sinfulness but a closer inspection complicates that assessment. Specifically, many of the lies we tell are altruistic in intent. For example, we might offer compliments we don’t truly believe in order to protect or enhance a friend’s self-concept.
Generally speaking we don’t mind dishonesty of this sort. We realize that a certain degree of deceitfulness is necessary in everyday conversation in order to keep our casual encounters free of ego-threat, shaming, and the loss of face. Were we to be totally “honest” with each other casual and passing conversation would become unremittingly brutal and obscene. Politeness is inherently dishonest, but it is also socially necessary.
Thus, there is a complex tension between protecting each other and being authentic and truthful with each other. As they say, the truth hurts. Consequently, we are very careful when disclosing the truth, working out within our hearts a calculus of costs and benefits. At times it is just not worth shaming you to tell you the truth. The matter is too trivial and the cost, psychologically and interpersonally, too great.
In short, it appears that not only do we lie a great deal in life such dishonesty is necessary and required. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted (1955/1995, p. 361):
It is only the cynic who claims “to speak the truth” at all times and in all places to all men in the same way, but who, in fact, displays nothing but a lifeless image of the truth. He dons the halo of the fanatical devotee of truth who can make no allowance for human weakness; but, in fact, he is destroying the living truth between men. He wounds shame, desecrates mystery, breaks confidence, betrays the community in which he lives, and laughs arrogantly at the devastation he has wrought at the human weakness which “cannot bear the truth.” He says truth is destructive and demands its victims, and he feels like a god above these feeble creatures and does not know that he is serving Satan.To reach a kind of compromise between the two of us, Jana and I have decided to not answer the question if Santa is real. We basically say, "If you believe in Santa, you get presents from Santa. If you don't, you don't." Of course, the boys will still get presents from their parents either way. But if you want presents from Santa you have to "believe" in Santa.
Now this "belief" is going to look different for my two boys. For the youngest the belief is going to take an ontological turn. That Santa exists. For my oldest the "belief" is starting to look like pretending, being in on the joke so to speak. But my ultimate hope is that this sense of pretending changes into one of participation and praxis. Santa isn't about ontology. It's about giving gifts and not taking credit for them. Learning the joy of finding the perfect gift for a loved one and watching them open it. To see the joy and surprise and tears when they open it. It's about learning to become Santa.
Epistemologically, then, I think Santa Claus is real. But real in the pragmatic sense, as a practice, rather than as an ontological category. Santa is a way of giving rather than a jolly old elf. Santa is participation in the Spirit of Christmas.
So in that sense, Santa is very real indeed.