MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN, DR. ADOLPH BERLE, FLORENCE MORSE KINGSLEY, ABBIE F. BROWN, ELISE WILLIAMSON, ELLIS PARKER BUTLER, WINIFRED SACKVILLE STONER.
From The Mother's Magazine Vol. VIII No. 12 (December, 1913)
Who was the poet who declared that the world might take from him all that he possessed if only it left him his illusions? Well, it doesn't really matter who he was. That isn't the point anyway. What we want to know is if illusions are good things to retain. We are supposed to live in a very practical, very materialistic age, with only a few illusions left, anyway, and most of those are too frightened to do more than show their heads around the corner. There's Santa Claus, for instance — red, round and jolly — beloved of childhood as almoner of Christmas happiness and joys. Shall we keep him, or shall we pitch him heartlessly under the advancing wheels of the Juggernaut of facts? Shall we still read to our children “The Night Before Christmas,” with its delicious little jiggery thrills as Prancer and Dancer, and Vixen and Blitzen — the reindeer straight from the North Pole — dash madly over the housetops guided by Santa with his fat pack, or shall we set ourselves in all seriousness to the task of dispelling Christmas myths and fancies from our children's minds? “The world do move,” and willy-nilly we move with it. Shall Santa Claus be banished or no? Let us see what a few delightful lovers of Santa say!
I believed in Santa Claus, when I was a child, in a curious way. I knew perfectly well that my parents gave me the Christmas presents, but, at the same time, I believed in Santa Claus, reindeer and all. It seems to me that most reasonably intelligent children must be able to grasp symbolism at an early age and derive real enjoyment from it, with no injury to their morals. I think children are not given enough credit for common sense. I remember listening with the greatest delight to my mother's stories of Santa Claus driving madly over the roofs en route for our particular chimney, and I really do not think I was much harmed. I rather think Santa Claus stands at the back of my mind during the holidays now. I think that myths are good for children and adults — a sort of mental candy which sweetens the world — and yet I do not think that sensible children really believe them to be precisely true. They emblazon the truth, make it more decorative and pleasing. I can see less harm in Santa Claus than in a surplus of presents. I can judge only from personal experience. I am sure Santa Claus did not injure me, and I am glad I did not miss him.
Let the children enjoy their Santa Claus while they can. There is no one who can quite take his place — not even the kindest of fathers and mothers. Christmas is a season of mystery and wonder, as well as of love and good will. The Santa Claus myth is a homely, familiar personification of the spirit of generosity. Whether they fully “believe in” him or not, the children love the idea of Santa Claus, not only through his hearty goodness, but through the secrecy of his doings. Mystery is a part of the heritage of childhood — the garment of imagination. There is little danger that an early belief in Santa Claus, or in fairies — his more poetic kin — will hurt a child's sense of truth. There is much more danger that, in forcing upon him, untimely, what we elders believe to be truth, we shall hurt the beginnings of his little imagination. Imagination is what the modern child sorely needs, lest when he is a man, he lack the grace that will save him from mere materialism.
He is not at all likely to take Santa Claus too seriously, or live in his fairy world too long. There are too many unbelievers among his own contemporaries eager to dispel his illusion. I believe that the wise grown-ups should not hasten to forestall these denials, but should rather foster this, and all other beautiful legends and fancies which open to a child another world beside this; not a world of make-believe such as he himself creates in his play — but a world of mystery and poetry — of “perhapses” — which is, after all, the very best that we in our wisdom can conceive.
I say, by all means, let the children have their Santa Claus.
By all means let there be a Santa Claus. Let no mistaken reformer presume to pluck a single joy out of the world — especially out of the Child's World! Let us rather plant more — and always more.
What if the jolly, red-faced figure be a myth? Has not the world always clung to its joyous myths? And, after all, what better name could we grown-ups invent for the universal spirit of good will and generosity than Santa Claus?
As a child I adored Santa Claus. And I can recall no serious shock to my faith in the subsequent disillusionment.
In this age of intense realism in our fine, scornful tearing down of old beliefs and customs, let us not forget the effect upon the child mind of such spiritual upheaval.
Bare truth is, to a child's unfolding nature, as impossible of acceptance as is a solid food to the infant. Illusion is a child's natural right. If he is denied illusion, he will create his own. Is it not better, then, that his childish fancies be controlled; that those be suggested to him that carry within them the germ of a deep moral truth.
To the normal child, Santa Claus is tangible. The very intensity of the child's faith makes him a reality. Yet even when the illusion is destroyed, the impression left upon the child's mind is entirely spiritual — it is an impression of truth. For Santa Claus is a personification of Love — an intermediary, as it were, between the incomprehensible God-love and the human love with which he is familiar. Santa Claus Impersonates Unselfish Service. In his toyshop he labors for the children, to make gifts that shall bring them happiness, demanding nothing in return.
The child who has believed in Santa Claus, later, more easily perceives the profound truth that love is the giving of one's self in service, and so he can more naturally accept the existence of God, the spirit of ideal, perfect love.
The possibility that the Santa Claus myth can do any substantial harm, if indeed, it does any harm at all to children seems to me absurd. Children take readily to all kinds of myths, and if these are not supplied they will invent some of their own. Every normal child repeats the childhood of the race by incentives and imaginings which can be found written in larger letters in the literature of the race in its early stages.
The only reason why this Santa Claus question has arisen at all is because it has been connected with some material promise to the child, whose cupidity or anxiety about something which it desires, has been aroused in such a way that the Santa Claus idea is obscured by the selfishness of the child as to getting what it desires, or by exciting hopes which cannot possibly be fulfilled. It is not the Santa Claus myth which does the harm. It is the unnatural and stupid additions which are made to it which link it to absolute lies, which ought not to be told in any case. The Santa Claus idea is naturally fitted to give a picturesque and fascinating touch to the gift-giving season; and, when left simply to itself without all the queer and grotesque additions which people fasten to it will, in my judgment, do no harm whatever.
Under such circumstances it gradually takes its place in the child's understanding and develops naturally into the next thing. So it has been in my own life, and so it has been in my own family. Handled rightly, it may be made the medium for teaching a beautiful lesson of responsibility, filial love and duty.
I hope Santa Claus will stay!
Last Christmas Eve at about half-past eleven o'clock, our three children were in bed and asleep; my wife, my father and myself were in our living room putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree, when Santa Claus arrived. I do not deny that I had expected his arrival. My eldest daughter had written him a letter, and had placed it in the dining-room fireplace, and had received a kindly answer, signed “Santa Claus.” In addition to this, we knew there were some presents, much-desired, lacking. No one but Santa Claus could, at that late hour, provide them, and I had a full and abiding faith that they would be provided. So I knew Santa Claus would come.
But I knew it more certainly than this would justify. For weeks before that evening I had felt the thrill of his coming. His presence on earth electrified the air. Little cries of expectant joy, little laughs of gentle, glad assurance, made me sure Santa Claus was not dead. And he was not. Before the clock struck twelve, the generous-hearted old fellow came and filled the babies' stockings and hung candy-canes on the tree, and left the much-desired presents.
So other folks may sterilize Christmas, and scatter Death-to-Santa-Claus on their hearths, and be scientific and modernized to beat the band; but he will always find a welcoming fireplace in our house, with a bite of food, and someone to shake his plump hand, and say: “Welcome, old Santa Claus; we don't care what the prigs and snobs say, you are alive and deathless, you fine old spirit of impersonal giving and joyous loving-kindness!”
How I have been misrepresented! Ben Johnson described me as an old man attired in round hose, long stockings, a close doublet, a high-crowned hat, little ruffs, white shoes and with scarf and garters tied around my chest.
In Norway and Sweden I am represented as an ugly, mischievous gnome; and your poet, Clement Clarke Moore, has painted me a fat, red-nosed, topery-looking individual with a big stomach and unsanitary beard and whiskers. I am always described as carrying a huge pack on my back containing gifts for all good children dwelling on Mother Earth.
Now you are a sensible little girl, and I am sure you have often doubted some of the stories you have heard about me. Do you honestly believe that a big Santa, weighing probably two hundred pounds, and carrying a huge sack on his back, could squeeze down a modern chimney? Impossible, child, impossible!
I, the true Christmas spirit, travel over land and sea, from home to home, and heart to heart; but so free am I, and quick in action, that I do not even need bat or butterfly wings such as most fairies use to carry them through the air.
With my own native power I can go anywhere and squeeze into all sorts of places, even into the withered hearts of crusty old misers. It is usually easy for me to find an entrance into most children's hearts and into the large, warm souls of many men and women. But oh, what a task confronts me when I want to enter the hardened hearts of money-worshiping men, the pride-puffed hearts of thoughtless women, and the stunted hearts of selfish children!
This very evening I was barred out of a rich little girl's heart when I tried to enter. I brought a poor, hungry girl close to the richly dressed child, who was buying all sorts of useless gifts for wealthy friends. Then I tried to enter the rich girl's heart so as to persuade her to spend some of her money on the poor child, who needed food and clothes, rather than on rich people who would return gift for gift. But the little Crœsus would have none of me, and spent all her money for gifts that would bring the tiny recipients little joy.
Do you see this small but well-filled bag marked “Love,” which I carry with me? It is filled with the richest gift that can be given mortals. I do not carry dolls and rocking-horses in my sack; but I scatter germs of “Love” wherever I go, and these germs blossom into gifts. The Christmas gift which does not contain love germs, is no Christmas gift at all.
Shall we banish Santa Claus?