LINDSEY FRANCES PELLINO
A few years ago, I remember listening to a radio show that asked a roundtable of people about whether or not they plan on telling their kids about Santa. It was either on the BBC or NPR (I can’t find it online, let me know if you do). As someone who will be keeping her womb intentionally as barren as the arctic tundra, it’s not a question I’ll have to grapple with. Though if by some “miracle” of “”””””””virgin”””””””” birth and I was stuck squirting out a kid, I certainly wouldn’t lie about reality to such a degree. You have to wonder what effects a global cultural lie would have on generation after generation. It’s so widespread, so ingrained in our patterns, that there’d be no real way to scientifically trace its impact throughout our lives.
Of course it’s important for children to engage in make believe. That was the best part of being a kid – for me, it was pretending to be a witch in my backyard, making “potions” out of dirt, moss, and hose water. Mashing up mystery berries between two stones to make special magic poultices. Even going so far as to enter into a madness that only little girls can, telling each other stories of how we could make objects move with our mind. (It’s easy to see how the Salem witch trials came about.) But the difference between that, and this, is that we created the myth and we knew, deep down, if someone had asked us that if we really believed that this mushed berry paste could somehow make me fly, I’d say of course not. Instead, for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and The Easter Bunny, we were told by our parents and other trusted adults that they were real. We didn’t make it up ourselves and play it like a game. Our mothers and fathers told us, straight up, that magic was real. That a man could travel to every household in one night and gave us presents. What reason did we have to not believe our parents? There seemed to be no reason to lie about it. Even now, I don’t really understand the purpose. It gives our families joy to see their kids so exuberant with wonder in their eyes. But is it worth the cost of taking it away as they older?
Despite the fact that I’m writing a roughly thousand word essay on the topic, I wasn’t completely devastated when I realized the truth at the ripe age of ten or eleven. It was after seeing the Santa Claus 2 in theaters with my sister and grandpa. Something about the whole premise seemed ridiculous in that moment that I knew there was no way it could be true. My sister took it a lot harder when she found out a few years later. My mom, bless her, went to my nana’s to wrap Santa’s presents. One of our cousins happened to be at the house at the time, and told my sister she was going to get a certain Bratz playset from our mom. Trouble is, it was actually from Santa, so there’s that Christmas ruined!
I guess the point I’m trying to make is – can we really understand the ramifications of such a strong about-face about the rules of reality? For millions of kids in the western world, we think the world operates on a certain set of principles, which includes magic, wonder, whimsy. And then, whether we figure it out on our own or it gets taken away from us, our entire world order changes. We realize magic isn’t allowed, isn’t real. And to be fair most people I know didn’t have a total meltdown of their identity or belief system, a la Nightfall by Isaac Asimov. But I just can’t help but think there MUST be some psychological ramification deep down in the sticky floor of our subconscious, some lurking Jungian consequence scrabbling around in the back of our brains. That the constructors of our reality, our parents, are capable of lying about the fundamental truths about reality. That a truly universal morality system and its 24/7 upkeep (naughty or nice) isn’t real – naughty people get presents all the time, and nice people end up with coal/famine/mass shootings/etc. Maybe deep down, the streak of jaded ennui that many generations experience as they age is in some small part bolstered by this deception.
Why do we perpetuate it, then? I know my sister in all her aching maternal instinct plans on telling her kids that yes, there is a Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, flying reindeer, and maybe even a ghastly elf on the shelf. Watching. Always watching. Is it like frat boy hazing – having to put the freshmen through the deadly binge drinking trials and tribulations simply because we ourselves had to? Or is it more that we so desperately miss that magic, that spark of whimsy and beauty, that we will knowingly lie for generations to come in order to witness that magic again? We can tell ourselves it’s all worth it, because even though they will be crestfallen in the future, right now in the present we can see a five year old scream with delight because Santa Claus loves her and knows exactly what she wanted. It’s all worth it because we get to see from an outside perspective just how gleeful we used to be – Christmas mornings for new parents must feel like looking both in a mirror and down the tunnel of a time machine. However dull it echoes back to them, however dampened by age, they might get one quick thrill of hope.
I guess it doesn’t really matter, either way. Climate change is rapidly shifting the world order. The North Pole will probably be like a water park in a hundred years, and we’ll have depleted our oil reserves so all of the plastic, shiny toys you buy your kids that they stop playing with after three months will have to be, I don’t know, just like wooden blocks? But will there be trees so spare? And with the increasing gap between the classes, capitalism will make the working class’s Christmases even more Dickensian and sparse. But lo, does that mean we’ll finally realize that the Christmas spirit was inside us, all along? No, that tickle is our hearts is probably just an upper respiratory infection, due to record amounts of air pollution.
Lindsey Frances Pellino is a poet, animal rescue manager, and hospice worker living in the not rich part of Connecticut. Her first collection of poetry HYSTERICAL SISTERS, published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press on Valentine’s Day, is about fictional and real life women and sisters. You can find her on Instagram at @gay4moleman1992