In 2005 the Stabroek News published in its Christmas Day edition an article which for me was good and refreshing reading: ‘Does Santa really exist?’ which was written in 1897 by Francis P Church, editor of the New York Sun. It was a reply to an eight-year-old girl who wrote asking, “Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa?” Editor, since reading that story, no Christmas has since passed without me reflecting on that reply. Like almost every child I grew up looking out for Santa Claus whenever the season came around, yet for some reason I never craved him, for even though I knew him to be that strange benefactor who comes at this season giving out toys and making us children happy, somehow in the inner recesses of my mind I was never convinced that he was the one who made it possible. As a boy I had gotten quite a few toys without the help of Santa, and quickly became aware of how the game was played, but still he continued to generate much excitement come Christmas. Later, like many other ‘conscious ones’ I stopped subscribing to this Santa figure.
I had relegated him to the category of a farce, a fraud on a mission to dupe children. But there is always a certain kind of feeling that Christmas brings along; there are things that begin to consume children that we, for all our worth cannot quite comprehend or explain. And so the Francis P Church reply has caused me to look over this Santa scenario differently, causing me to ponder upon these words he wrote: “All the minds, whether they be men’s or children’s are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and ‘knowledge,’and in trying to figure out the meaning of what he expressed.”
I came to see the whole question of Santa from a totally different angle, so I no longer spend time splitting hairs trying to unravel how scheming Santa is with his bag of tricks, no Sir! But rather I recognise that this is a season for caring and sharing, for love and happiness, for spreading joy, and it is on that plinth that we all should be standing in our endeavour to reach each other as we approach the festive season, with the watchword being love, love, love. The American singer George Benson sings: “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”, but for believers that cannot be the “greatest love”, though it is healthy and wonderful to love yourself. The greatest love would be looking out for your fellow men, letting your light shine for others in Christ-like manner. This is why I think, Editor, that the people responsible for identifying and giving out National Awards should broaden their perspective to include those who unselfishly risked their lives for their fellow men, like the Rasta man who without thinking plunged into a cesspool to save that little girl, an act that defied all reason; like Christopher Stephens too, who without thinking went down into that manhole to rescue two workers who were trapped by toxic gas. Remember his words, “Ah can’t lef dem down deh”, and in trying to save them he lost his life. What greater love can one show? These are the immeasurable acts that awards can scarcely match.
Editor, we need to seek out the real people who willingly gave of themselves in various ways to bring joy and purpose to the lives of many who were in disarray, had lost hope, or were perched on the brink of disaster, but through them had their souls restored. And it is within this kind of background I have come to place Santa Claus and how he should be viewed. There are many who still say that having Santa is just faking children, but I’ve grown to accept that in a particular situation, nothing may be wrong with a fooling in good faith if it is done to enliven the spirits, stir happiness, light up the hearts of children to make them see the need to believe in the virtue of giving/sharing, and believe in something beyond themselves ‒ maybe even fairies.
But what’s the big deal anyway? It breaks no bone if the trick is played, and it is also a treat that is gratifying and stimulating for the child. The mind of a child does not become corrupted or damaged by drifting on the fantasy that there is someone somewhere who miraculously skips across from country to country at this festive season loaded with all kinds of things to make you happy, even the goodies and special meal on Christmas Day.
Remember how delighted the little boy who Santa forgot was the next morning when he awoke and saw his drum set? Good! Why do I get so sentimental when writing these things?
These exciting expectations I think, can only damage a child if the season comes and goes leaving him/her devoid of hyped-up wishes/dreams. This is why we who are privileged should open our hearts and exercise more generosity and love, becoming Santa ourselves. We must understand that the underprivileged child has no interest in the debate on whether Santa exists or his origin, but rather what is real and adds value, meaning and some joy.
So all the erudite wrangling over how Santa came to be fits nowhere in the child’s mind, whose only craving is to have, receive and belong, and if we brighten their world they will love us more. If only for the season we can join Santa in some ‘fooling’; it will not hurt and though to them we will be real, we still will not convince them that there is no Santa. So let us cut across the irrelevance and balderdash and try to put a smile on every child’s face ‒ “The world looks better from behind a smile.”
I couldn’t agree more with Francis Church when he stated: “Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We would have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight, the external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” So true, so true.