The Santa Particle

Inside, Santa's just a kid himself.
Inside, Santa’s just a kid himself.

If Santa is the answer, what is the question?

More to the point, how did this man in the red suit gain such stature in our collective consciousness? Oh sure, he’s a father figure, a giver, a jolly old soul and all that. But does that explain how Old Saint Nick became so entrenched in our cultural cosmos?

I sometimes wonder if the modern Santa fixation goes back to Pepsi and Coke, our rival libations, who both used Santa’s image and beloved persona to persuade millions of folks that drinking limitless soda was integral to holiday festivity. The Claus the refreshes.

Yet the way the notion of Santa and his whole North Pole crew has percolated through winter traditions suggests that the character resonates with people of all ages, not just children. If anything, I suspect most children start out with a healthy skepticism regarding this old guy and his bag of toys who sneaks into the house and eats your cookies while you’re sleeping. But well-meaning parents (self included) encourage small children to believe in all sorts of impossible ideas – mice that talk, pumpkins that transform into gilded chariots, fairies that live under mushrooms, etc.. I’m not saying those things might not be true in some way, somewhere, but I used to feel a tad irresponsible when I was trying to maintain the Santa charade. I mean, belief is powerful, but if you teach kids one thing and then a few years later say, ‘oh, yeah, about that? Just kidding’, you may inadvertently cast a shadow of doubt that lingers long.

Yet there’s no denying the appeal of the Santa concept. The notion of a selfless soul whose sole purpose is to bring joy to others is deeply attractive. If there isn’t a Santa Claus, why not? And if there is such a person, wouldn’t it be great if each of us shared some of that joy-bringing elfness?

This message powers many of the most enduring Christmas films. Not only the relentlessly aired “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” but some of the more recent yet equally effective holiday films such as “Scrooged” and “Elf.”

Children who learn early that giving is as much, if not more fun than receiving, can grow up with an appreciation for what it is not just to “see” Santa.  In time they may come to treasure the experience of “being” Santa.

And yes, Virginia, I do believe there’s a little particle of Santa in each of us, just waiting to accelerate.

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