I was once very young and vulnerable. Grown-ups, and especially my parents, were the sole source of my information about the world and my protection in it.
When I started to get language I was told about this wonderful magical person: a man-god who would need to know all about my behaviour and even my thoughts. But if I did the right things I would be rewarded with untold gifts which would delight me and bring me great joy at some time in the near future.
All the people in my little world spoke very highly of this supernatural being and there was never any question of his reality. I would see images of this beguiling man-god all around the place and was encouraged to do unusual practices like posting a letter up the chimney and leaving out food and drink so if he visited he would feel comfortable.
There were rituals that needed to be performed like singing certain songs, eating certain foods and exchanging printed images that often portrayed the man-god himself.
I was told by my parents that they had special contact with this Santa Clause and could tell him what I wanted and also what I deserved. Naturally this earned my respect.
The promise of the special day – coming soon! – was wonderful. I can recall clearly the feeling of magic in the air as I eagerly anticipated this man-god doing the impossible and bestowing great favours on me.
One Christmas Eve I convinced myself that I heard his sleigh bells in the air outside my bedroom window. I watched the skies in case I caught a momentary glimpse of the man-god in flight. I never saw him in that mode but it was lovely to think about what might be happening elsewhere and what he might be doing. Each year, I dutifully wrote a thank-you letter.
A few years on, some of my friends became dissenters. They questioned Santa’s very existence and started to cast doubt. But I wanted the magic, the expansive feelings of joy that this special anticipation created within me. So I resisted, but I also checked with my parents who gave further support to their former statements.
Finally, and inevitably, and with reluctance, my questioning and burgeoning doubts persuaded them to reveal the truth. They explained that it was nice for children to feel the magic of Santa but most importantly, now I knew the real truth, I should not give away the secret to those coming up through the ranks below me because it would spoil it for them and I would be a bad person if I did this.
I had lost something I treasured; the feelings of awe and wonderment generated by the Santa story and all it entailed. Christmas was reduced to just real life and the magical feelings were no longer in me. I was left with a Santa-shaped hole in my being and the world seemed so much more drab than before.
When I was a young adult, rendered vulnerable by my anxieties, I came across a group of lovely proper grown-ups who told me about this man-god called Ron. They all had wonderful stories to tell about what he had done for them, what he could do for me, and the amazing gifts I could be given in the near future. Not only that, but he had written books about it, actual books that people bought, so no magic was involved.
They had pictures of this beguiling man-god around the place too, and everyone there agreed on his power, his amazing past and remarkable capabilities.
There were simple rituals to perform, like staring at another person until you felt a real sense of euphoria, which I eventually did. This was proof to me that Ron’s gifts were real and I started to feel that old wondrous joyful love of life and the magic was restored again. I couldn’t wait for more gifts like that, and I said so when I wrote my thank you letter, displayed on view for all to see.
I convinced myself that I could recall past lives (like being a jewellery maker in Victorian England), just like Ron said I would. I convinced myself I could detect discarnate spirits and control people and events at a distance. The gifts truly were being delivered and there would be even greater gifts in the near future.
Then I heard and read some dissent but I chose to ignore this, because no way did I want to give up the great feelings and the gifts which were still to be delivered. But those seeds of doubt were sown and I eventually started to look more closely at Ron, his words, his followers’ behaviour, and his man-god status.
After much anguish and inner turmoil I concluded that I had been tricked yet again, that Ron was just a Santa – but without the beard. I couldn’t go on pretending to myself, and my friends, that all was well and – right on cue – the joyful expansive feelings left me and suddenly the world was reduced to drabness and my anxieties returned.
I was told I would be a bad person if I spread the word that Ron was not “real” so I held on to many of Ron’s promises as being possible, for many years, not wishing to fully and completely accept that the kind of gifts he promised me didn’t and couldn’t exist, and might not even be desirable .
So, what am I saying here? That we shouldn’t do Santa Claus for kids because it’s a deceit?
NO! We should fill their boots with the myth and magic. Maybe go over the top and ‘find’ his wallet stuffed with various foreign currencies. Eat his snacks, leave reindeer footprints in the snow or look for their turds on the garage roof. You get the idea.
The most important thing we can do for our children, when they are told the truth, is to use this as an example for the future; of how we are all gullible and can easily be influenced adversely, by groups of people with apparent authority and those out to trap us, intentionally or not. The promise of great gifts is irresistible when reinforced by others, in a closed environment, where all agree that the gifts are real and their provider is a wonderful man-god. [or even a woman-god – ed.]
We should return often to the lesson to inoculate our children, as far as is possible, that feeling really good is nice but it can also be the bait in a trap. Especially if there are rituals involved. The euphoria doesn’t last long. Stop and think it through.
I’ve used Scientology as my personal example but there are so many institutions and cults out there just waiting for intelligent people who are at a vulnerable point in their lives. Could just as easily be the Moonies, Aum Shinrikyo, Children of God or even a timeshare (sorry, ‘Holiday Ownership’).
The real ‘magic’ is life itself and all the wonders it brings. And science is the antidote to drabness.
Inspired by Jon Atack’s Opening Minds
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about childhood beliefs that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!