Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Whoa, Oh, Oh, It's Magic, You Know

I posted a bit ago about being surprised that so many parents are somewhat depressed when their children stop believing in Santa. They say that their children 'need that magic.' It's a phrase I hear often but never quite understood. I've been thinking about it recently and wonder if I have part of the answer.

When these parents use magic, they seem to mean innocence. Innocence from suffering, innocence from limitations, freedom from the restrictions of reality. I think this 'magic' may be tied into a parental sadness that their children are eventually going to have to become adults, with all that entails. Such as recognizing that they may not be able to fly, or that wishes cannot come true just because you want them. For parents who believe that humans are flawed or unworthy in some way, whether due to religion--where we are constantly battling our 'base' desires--or even environmentalism, where every human is a blight on the Earth and we are then sinful in a secular way for destroying the 'intrinsic' value of the natural world, it means their children are going to have to come to grips with being a negative thing or at least always having to battle being bad in some way.

I think this is also parent's recognizing that their children will not believe something just because someone else says it's true (they themselves are looking for physical proof) or that they have discovered that the fiction that they did believe was made up. That goes right to the idea of an unwavering acceptance of a God or any other mystical force (can anyone say 'The Secret' or New Age beliefs). If one begins to think of Santa as a bit of a testing ground for faith, belief not just above what you know, but despite it, of course the discovery that Santa is not real would be a sad time in the life of those parents.

On a positive note about 'magic', everyone wants their children to feel powerful and capable. Some people think that can only be accomplished through magic. I disagree. I empower my children by helping them recognize their own powers--of reason and being able to do things with it. That is why the discovery that there was no Santa was a great game in our family and greeted with joy--it was like a mystery that Hanover could solve and feel accomplished in the doing of it.

Given my positive view of mankind, no wonder I don't feel my kids need any kind of magical thought. What do we have to escape from? That people can't fly on their own? We made airplanes so now we can. That people can't appear instantly in a place? That would be great. Perhaps they can study science and be the first to do it. That people can't travel through time? Well, we can't, but isn't it wonderful to imagine what it would be like?

Mankind is wonderful! We have a government of hundreds of millions of people where we discuss problems and use reason to convince others of our points, instead of violence. That is a fabulous creation of mankind, even if I don't agree with some of the laws passed. We have developed methods of farming that allows for so much food to be produced that some people think we produce too much. Humans have discovered a way to allow millions of people to live on a small island! They discovered a way to build skyscrapers and actually did it. We have walked on the moon. We have explored the outer reaches of our solar system. We have ideas that explain huge swaths of physical phenomenon. We can have fertile golf courses in the middle of a desert--uninhabitable land until we developed it. We don't just survive, we thrive.

I know that there are going to be people saying, 'yeah, but we killed people in the past and still have wars,' or 'what about slavery,' or 'we're exploiting the earth,' or 'insert generic complaint here.' Especially silly are those who think humans are so powerful we could make the planet uninhabitable and yet, if we're so damned powerful, how come we couldn't come up with a technological solution? I say that those people have a very limited view. That there are bad things does not make humankind bad. We've come a long way, baby.


Amy said...

Well said! I love that the discovery about Santa was a joyous occasion for your family. We also talk about Santa to our 2 year old, and we figure that she'll realize that he is made up just like she'll realize that Elmo is not a living creature at some point. We'd never try to convice her that he is real, but we don't tell her "there is no Santa." We just tell the story like we'd tell any other made-up story. When she asks, we'll tell her the truth, of course. I'm not sure how little kids learn to separate pretend from real - it's an interesting subject.

I also love what you said about mankind being great. Nice thoughts to usher in the new year. Thanks!

christinemm said...

Hi Kim,
I like reading your thoughts and appreciate your candor.

I had a lot of fun memories of Christmas with Santa Claus. Since I was raised in an Athiest home the holiday was not about the birth of Jesus Christ in my family. Only recently did I find out my paternal grandmother was behind the Santa thing and my Bah-Humbug father wanted no part of giving me and my brother a normal Christmas. He said he would not have had a tree or given any gifts if it was left all up to him. I have memories of him complaining of the tree, the cost of the tree (we got a horrid tree from a neighbor each year for a whopping $5-10) which was definately within our family's budget.

I wanted to re-create that good part of Santa and Christmas fun with my kids.

I also saw so much negativity with my father's extreme tight-wad-edness as I was a teen and an adult. I hated the strong anti-Christmas mentality he has. I just don't get the mean spiritedness surrounding it.

I think too since almost the whole country who celebrates Christmas goes along with the Santa thing and it is a 'figure' in celebrating Christmas (on decorations etc. used by people without children or with grown children) that it is fun to go along with and join in with for the short years that my children are young and believe.

I don't think kids "need magic" of Santa or any other kind (fairies) but it is fun and games. Perhaps the good part of it is that it allows we ADULTS to pretend and play a bit in the land of make believe. Yes, maybe that's it. Through 'doing Santa' with our kids we are being a bit like kids ourselves and reliving our own childhood memories? Could that be why my DH and I disagreed about whether the Santa gifts should be wrapped or unwrapped (they were not wrapped in his house but wrapped in mine). This was a big discussion, LOL.

I do feel that as a child 'comes of age' in the adolescent years when they developmentally begin to grasp that the world is complex and gray, that people are not all-evil or all-good, that people are complex, that actions have consequences and that there are usually no simple answers, that good intentions don't always bring about intended consequences, etc---that the magic belief thing is fading away then too---so the naivitee of childhood begins to fade, with that, the belief in magic, in the Tooth Fairy and such things.

I don't over-analyze it, we just have fun with Santa.

Another topic for thought is the strong objection some religious people have (differing religions) about magic in children's literature, being anti-Harry Potter and such. This is not just some evangelical Christians but also some Catholics.

Another thing to ponder is whether magic is real, meaning the pagan witchcraft, Wicca, is it real or not? Some Catholic parents I know don't allow any magic play or Harry Potter reading as it is magic but say magic is real, witchcraft is real. I question the reality of witchcraft and the effectiveness of spells so don't mind my kids pretend playing they are Harry Potter.

What do you think about that whole business of magic in kids books and not letting kids read of magic?

Brad Williams said...

I've wondered about what people mean when they say children need "magic" too. I think you are onto it. There's some sort of hatred of life-as-it-really-is fueling the desire for innocence and "magic."

catherine said...

We skipped the whole Santa thing, in that we explained to our kids that what people talk about is a story (like the Jesus story). People look at us with horror when we tell them that the kids know where their presents come from. We've also used it as a vehicle to teach them to be respectful of what other people think, while learning how to tell if something is true or not.

objectivistDad said...

Kim, Great post.

Like you, I think there is a right way and a wrong way to do the Santa thing.

I also agree that the fun is for the kid to discover the truth: it's a mystery that can even play out over a couple of years.

I also agree that any parent who uses it as a benevolent-universe crutch is making a mistake.

My comments grew so large, I decided to make a post of my own. So, check it out.

Kim said...


I hope you will forgive me for making an observation of a personal nature. Based on your comment in that post and a previous comment, it seems your father did not place enough importance on the emotional aspects when it comes to determining his values. It seems fun was not much of a priority, nor the general emotional tenor of the family. I do not think this is a particularly isolated case. Many of the men I know (OK, just my father and my husband) have varying degrees of ignoring the emotional well-being of the family, though perhaps not as extreme as your experience. I am not surprised that you would associated his atheism with his negative views. I am writing a new post to address some of the other issues!

Kim said...

Also, in my opinion, Christmas is about a bit of frivolity. Why would an atheist celebrat Christmas? For me, I celebrate that my husband and I have enough extra, after supporting the basics of life, to indulge in some recreational spending just to celebrate our kids and friends.

Kim said...

Here is another take on Christmas from a perspective like mine. It can also help explain how or why an atheist would still celebrate!

Anders Branderud said...

Hello! I found your post on google.

You wrote: “That goes right to the idea of an unwavering acceptance of a God or any other mystical force (can anyone say 'The Secret' or New Age beliefs).”

I recommend the proof for an intelligent Creator in the left menu in .
It is not a “mystical force”.

All the best, Anders Branderud

Kim said...

Hello Anders,

I did visit your post. Unfortunately your 'proof' relies on a conclusion (the universe had a beginning) that has no evidence and that is itself based on a premise (the universe had to 'start' sometime) that makes no sense.

It is admirable that you are trying to use reason to integrate your religion with a reason-based world-view. It cannot work and I hope you don't waste too much of your life trying to combine the two before moving on one way or the other. Of course only one way will allow you to live contradiction-free and happily.


P.S. If the Universe had to have a beginning, then why didn't the creator have to have a beginning thus leading to infinite gods all of whom created the next one? If it is because God is defined as ever-existing, then you know why the argument positing that Universe has always existed negates the point of your proof. There are scientific theories that can explain the current state of the Universe using an expand-contract theory.