As I get older, I become more inclined to believe in Santa, even as my son, who has just turned eight, begins to show the first signs of doubt in the fat man’s existence.
This will probably be the last year that we will be putting flour footprints under tree and the last year that we will see the abandoned glee that comes with Christmas morning. Christmas does not have the importance in Taiwan that it does for the western world so this year we will have to celebrate the feast on December 24th, because December 25th is a workday and a day off school means that my son has double homework the day after, which is enough to take the shine off any holiday.
I have been thinking recently about the origins of Christmas and what it gives adults. The best way to discover the effect of something is to discover the effect of its absence and so I accidentally find myself in the ideal environment to assess the benefits of Christmas because Christmas has little or no effect here.
The Christians hijacked the pagan feast that celebrated the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen. Nobody knows the exact birth date of Jesus but early recruitment campaigns for Christianity among the pagans ran into a significant problem because they had nothing to replace the abandoned romps with which the pagans marked the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice and the arrival of the fertile abundance of spring soon after the vernal equinox. The spring romp became Easter and the new life theme of the resurrection tale was nicely symbolised by pagan eggs. The solstice celebration became Christmas and mangers with snow beneath the old pagan lighted tree lent a Christian presence to the pagan symbol.
The Christmas nativity story provided a spectacularly apt means of symbolising the cusp of new life that is the midwinter solstice. The old customs of bringing nature into the home in the form of a tree and the use of lights to signify the beginning of the end of winter darkness were deemed to be harmless and were carried over unchanged. The romps remained and the stories that could be told as families huddled at firesides were even better.
Then, in 1931, from the depths of the American depression, Coca Cola gave us our modern image of Santa Claus as a fat man with a sack that was brimming with good cheer, sugary water and, more importantly, merchandise that symbolised the aspirations of a desperate nation that was mired in unmitigated penury. Santa represented ambition. A job meant money and money meant things that made life easier and along came this benevolent vision of a Santa who was fat, bearded and expensively swaddled in fur on a cold winter night: the very embodiment of the country’s wish for itself. The birth rate began to climb again and people began to drag themselves out of the doldrums of despair and put things back together because the future seemed brighter than the past.
If you look at the world, you’ll see that the effect of this comforting image is greater than you might think. In the nations whose children believe in Santa, the populations are rising and sustainable. In developed eastern Asia, where Santa and Christmas and the beginning of the end of darkness are not celebrated, life continues in the same rut and the populations are shrinking to the point where most societies will be under severe to critical financial stress within the next decade.
Making babies is the last truly free method of making adults happy and children are a source of happiness and fulfilment for their entire lives, so why are there significantly fewer Asian babies and fewer personal nativity tales? The reason is simply that there is no feeling that the future for children is better than the past so parents who decide to procreate usually stop after one child because money is the best way avoid misery and spreading money too thinly between many children gives significantly less bang per buck. Many Asian parents see no difference between their own unfulfilling childhoods and the options that are available to children in their societies, so they seem to have summarily decided not to inflict a similar pain on the next generation by not producing it.
Contrast this with the stable growth of European populations and the unprecedented migration of humanity who have followed a hypothetical star from Eastern to Western Europe in the past decade.
Belief in Santa is belief in yourself, in a brighter future for your society and in a world in which your values, whether materialistic or spiritual, have a chance of thriving.
Now where did I put the eight-year-old that I was forty-six years ago? I think that I’ll ask my son. He is the only one who knows where everything is in this house.