This is a stray post leftover from my recent reading of Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner. There is one line in that book that niggled at me as I read it which I have not yet discussed. In the context of discussing Barrie’s Peter Pan — you know the story, I am sure; just think of the Disney version — and particularly of the death of Tinkerbell when the audience is urged to clap to save the fairy’s life, Warner says that:
“This emotional blackmail — with its shameless pulling of the heartstrings — remains fractured by the irony that however loud we clap to show our faith, Barrie isn’t sincere and neither are we, and if the children with us are convinced they’re the dupes of a need that adults feel which children meet.” (Kindle Loc. 471)
What does this have to do with Santa? Just this: that stories of Santa Claus are another way we dupe children. And not only do we tell them these tales when they are too young to know better, when they reach an age where they are able to reason about the issue and they begin to question us, too often we deliberately lie to them again. We do not praise them for their logical deductions, but we insist in the face of mounting evidence that, yes, there really is a little round man in red who travels the world and gives them presents. Of course, not all parents tell their kids about Santa (though I would venture to say most in the US do) and even fewer insist on the lie when their kids begin to question, but still a considerable number do and the lie is accepted and promoted by the culture at large. Why? Why not just lie to our kids but then persist in the lie when they have found us out?
Warner’s quote above makes me think that it is a lot more about the adults’ needs than about the children. We want them to believe for as long as they can — believe in something, anything good — because we have such a lack of faith ourselves and because we feel this lack.