I don’t remember exactly when it was I stopped believing in Santa. When I look back at my early years, my fondest memories of Christmas weren’t actually at all related to that jolly old man with a borderline obsessive compulsive fondness for the colour red. Sure, I left him cookies and milk on Christmas eve, and carrots for the reindeer, though I remember doing so mainly out of genuine fear that the entire gang might collapse of exhaustion before they made it to the houses of the children who needed them most. When I looked around my classroom in kindergarten I understood there were children less fortunate than I, and I suppose it was my hope that a plate of carbs and glass of calcium would provide Mr Claus with the extra energy needed to ensure he did the rounds thoroughly before dawn.
I think doubts about Santa’s place in the world first crept to mind when I started paying attention to World Vision ads on television. Though I was too young to understand why, I was filled with sorrow upon viewing these sad faces living so very far away, as if instinctively knowing that Santa simply wasn’t a part of those children’s lives. This realisation arrived at around the same point I began to question religion. The idea of God and Santa suddenly became intertwined with concepts of fate, cruelty and life in a third world country. Had I been familiar with the word ‘paradox’ when I was five years old, I would have surely used it to explain my thoughts on God. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that God could supposedly do anything, yet I received presents on Christmas morning while the African children starved. I’d try to rationalise how this situation could have possibly come about, usually via stream-of-consciousness internal rants like “If God created everything and everyone, then that means he created Santa. And it also means he created those people on tv living in Africa. And if Santa gives presents to all the good kids, but the World Vision kids don’t get presents, then that must mean everyone in Africa is bad. But why would God create a country with nothing but naughty kids?” While I recognised that I was young and should trust in the beliefs of those much older and wiser, it simply didn’t make any sense to me.
I am technically Catholic, and while I would now refer to myself as an atheist, I have to say I gave Catholicism a good go. I attended scripture throughout the entire length of primary school, yet with each subsequent class, logic seemed to slip further from my tender grasp. I think the end point arrived when I realised how many opposing views on the idea of God or a higher power existed throughout different parts of the world. The big question on my 10 year old mind was “How can everyone be right? Either someone is right, or everyone is wrong”. Of course, as with almost all religions, Catholicism is based on principles of humane compassion, and what I did take away from those scripture lessons were key messages surrounding the importance of investing time and energy toward the attainment and continual demonstration of the virtues of kindness, charity, patience, temperance and humility; messages that I fear are sadly lost in translation for a small percentage of those who call themselves religious.
Looking back at my younger self and his views on the world, it reminds me of the remarkable capacity young people have toward seeing life through rational eyes. Call it the “1 + 1 = 2″ method of thinking. Their main paths of thought seem to be driven by (a) logic, and (b) fairness. It takes one look at a child’s drawing of the world – almost invariably containing multiracial crayon stick figures holding hands – to realise how pure and simple life should be. For fear of sounding like I’m typing up a communist manifesto, I’ll steer clear of suggesting we hand over all governmental duties to a group of 5 year olds who would in all likelihood propose a classless society in which everyone is equal. What I suggest instead is that for just one week a year, over the Christmas period, we conduct ourselves using this simple, virtuous and fair method of thought. That is to say, be kind to each other, be charitable, be generous and be humble. I see this occurring in dribs and drabs as we approach the festive season, as the feelers of the world begin collecting canned food, toys and clothes for the underprivileged, though it is also this time of the year that highlights the extravagance of spending.
Now, before you start to worry that I’m one of those radical hippies who suggest completely doing away with consumerism or commercialism, I assure you I’m not. We work hard for our money, and should be able to spend it how we like. In fact I suppose a somewhat stable economy requires us to do just that. I do however think our children would be just as thankful to receive three Playstation games instead of four on Christmas morning, or the bike that cost $50 less than the one sitting beside it on the shelf. Naturally, we want to give our children as much as we can afford in an effort to keep them happy, but as I said earlier, very few of my vivid memories of Christmas revolved around how many gifts Santa had left me under the tree. Though I have vague memories of opening presents, the images I remember more clearly are those of Christmas lunch, specifically the look of relaxation and true happiness on the faces of those around me. I remember thinking to myself that if Santa brought nothing else from that moment on, I would be content in the knowledge that I would see those same faces each and every year. If I’d also been able to confidently say everyone sitting around that table at Christmas lunch had wrapped up a toy and sent it to Africa, well that would have been the best present of all.
If you’re reading this and thinking “My kid wouldn’t react that way at all if I gave some of their presents to charity”, then perhaps we’ve got a bigger problem in this world than I initially thought. There are suggestions that the charitable urges of older generations have been diluted with every subsequent generation, and I’d like to think that this trend is reversible. It relies on each and every one of us making a conscious decision to embrace the virtues I mentioned earlier, and share them with those younger than ourselves. Not everyone can afford to be generous with their money, of that reality I am aware, but it is not just money that is needed. Time itself can be a valuable commodity to give up when it comes to volunteering. I have no doubt that most young people these days, religious or not, see Christmas as a time for giving; Let’s spend a little time studying the true meaning of that word.