on Santa Claus, a Platonic Dialogue

My son is 7 and has his doubts about Santa. He’s kind of been fooling himself for years because he wants to believe.

Not believing in Santa is a rite of passage and not considered a big deal. But Ollie immediately concluded that if there is no Santa there is no soul and that when you die, you’re gone.

I don’t know what I believe about the soul but I was upset to see my son throw the soul out with Santa. Should we throw Santa under the bus to preserve the soul? Would that be honest? Can I honestly make a case for Santa? Can I honestly make a case for the soul if I deny Santa?

I let it go. We all go back and forth on these issues and as sure as he sounded the day he declare there is no Santa and no soul, he’s likely to change his mind as time goes by. But when the issue comes up again, I want to have thought the thing through.

I am unlikely to be alone in this situation. I offer the dialogue below to anyone is a similar bind.

I resolved the soul-Santa dilemma with Plato. That’s right: Plato. A platonic dialogue on Santa.

Ollie did say much of what I have him quoted as saying, about Santa and the soul, about the light in the trees… only I didn’t have Socrates to help me out at the time.

As the fields ripened and air cooled, Socrates left the walls of the city and wandered up into the hills. He went for a considerable distance and crossed a small stream, then found Ollie, then about 7 years old, sitting on his swing under the maple tree that turns red in the Fall. Ollie was kicking the trunk of the tree and swinging back and forth and Socrates sat on the steps to the porch.

“And how goes it today?” asked Socrates.

“Not well,” said Ollie. “I’ve decided there is no Santa Claus. The parents give the presents. If there is no Santa Claus, there is no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, no soul, no God and when you die, that’s it your dead.”

“Can you so easily extrapolate from one creature to the next? What is it that unifies all these entities you have so easily connected as similar.”

“They are all made up and not true, that’s what,” said Ollie.

“You started with Santa Claus. Let’s look at him first and leave the soul to the side for now. What is the essential activity that makes Santa Claus who he is?”

“Giving. He gives stuff away.”

“If he were to charge for toys, that would un-Santa Claus-like?”

“Of course.”

“Can we say that Santa Claus is generous?”

“He is the most generous person in the whole world.”

“Could we say that Santa Claus personifies generosity and the spirit of sharing?”

“I don’t know since I don’t know what that means.”

“Let me suggest this to you: In the real world, it is impossible to be generous perfectly. If I give you a present, in the most simple case I want you to know I gave it to you so you can thank me and perhaps give me one in return some day. I want you to feel in my debt.”

“Yes, but I think it’s the parents that give the presents. They actually don’t want me to know they gave it to me.”

“Right, but they are there when you open the presents, right? They like to watch you open them, and enjoy your reaction. Are they not actually giving presents to themselves? Do your parents give so many presents to other people’s children or only to their own?”

“Only to their own.”

“So you see, when your parents give you presents in the real world, it isn’t perfect. Yet, if a spirit in the spiritual realm were to give a present to another spirit in the spiritual realm, then that present would be given in perfect generosity.”

“You mean angels have Christmas?”

“I mean there is perfect generosity in the dimension we do not experience very often since we live in the concrete world. We cannot see this spirit of perfect generosity. We are lucky to get any glimpse or sense of the spiritual realm at all. A person can live 100 years and only get a slight glimpse of the spiritual realm for only a few seconds. How much more unlike is it for a person to see perfect generosity? We can never see it.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Or course you’re not sure. When you look in the mirror you see your face but it is not your face but that image in the mirror could not exist without your real face existing. When you make a shadow of your hand on the wall the shadow is not your hand but it could not exist without your real hand really existing. The same is true when your parents give you a present: when we are generous here on earth, when we give presents, that imperfect generosity is the reflection of the perfect generosity in the spiritual realm. It is like the shadow of your hand: as you hand is more than the shadow, the perfect generosity of the spiritual realm is more than the imperfect generosity of your parents giving you a present.”

“Wow. Can you say that again?”

“No. The idea of a perfect spirit of generosity existing in the prefect spiritual realm beyond our senses is very hard to understand. We can’t imagine what perfect generosity would look like. So, to let us get some sense of what we would see in the spiritual realm, we invented Santa Claus to be the image of perfect generosity on earth. Santa Claus is real: he is the essence of generosity. He gives without ulterior motive. He is perfect. Whenever someone is generous, that person is the image of Santa Claus. No one could ever be generous if there were no Santa Claus. How can you have a shadow of a hand without a real hand? How can you have shadow of generosity without the real generosity of the spiritual realm, which is Santa Claus?”

“But what if I don’t believe in the spiritual ream or whatever you said, that spirit world?”

“Well, do you? Have you ever felt it on earth in any way?”

“Yes. My mom’s friend died and we went to the service afterwards. The Dad was talking to the little boy, her son, and we were all under her favorite tree. The Dad said she was in Heaven looking down on him, the son. Just then the light came through the leaves of the trees. I don’t know how it came in, but there was no light before, and no light like that afterwards. Maybe the clouds moved or the leaves, or both at just the same time, just when he said that about the Mom. We were all there and everyone was sure something had happened.”

“How long did you see the light?”

“A few seconds.”

“So you’re lucky: only seven years old and you’ve had a glimpse of the spiritual realm. If there is a spiritual realm, and you say you know there is since you saw into it, then it is perfect. In the spiritual realm there is perfect everything, perfect love, perfect truth, perfect generosity. We can’t see it, so we imagine these qualities as special people, like Santa Claus. There is a Santa Claus and his reflection shines into Christmas as people become more generous.”

“Is this what I should tell my sister if she asks?”

“How old is your sister?”

“Three.”

“No: you see, you’re seven, you can understand about the spiritual realm. She is only three and must image pure generosity as Santa: a man on a sleigh, giving actual presents, real, to real children. And that isn’t wrong. It isn’t a lie. It’s just a simpler story than the one I have told you about the reflections and the spirit world.”

“Okay, I’ll just tell her Santa came and left the presents.”

“And what will you tell her about the soul?”

“That I saw the spirit world and that there is a soul, I think.”

“That’s okay for now. I’ll be back later to talk to you about that again when you’re older.”

“Okay, see you, Socrates.”

“Bye.”

3 comments

    • Joy B. on September 30, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    As a children’s entertainer I don’t encounter many chances in a crowd to get so deep. At Christmas season we’ve long done malls – Mama and Papa Elf. Once in North FL during the first Gulf War we were working the Santa line in center court, talking to the kids, juggling, clowning, etc. during their long wait. Over several circuits I noticed a girl of about 8 sitting with her mother on a bench watching the action, both looking terribly morose. Finally I couldn’t stand it any more, knelt down in front of the girl and asked her what was wrong.

    The girl told me that Santa wasn’t coming for her that year. I asked why not. She said her Daddy was in the war and her mother told her there was no Santa (and brought her to the Mall Shopping/Santa frenzy just to rub it in, I guess). I gave mom The Eye, knowing she was projecting her own anger and sorrow onto this little girl, as if destroying Christmas was somehow going to make her feel better. The little girl said there was no money, so there would be no Christmas.

    I confided that yes, parents do supplement Santa. Which is why rich kids get a lot and poor kids get little. But, I told her, Santa Himself is really only responsible for the thing a child wants the very most. And I asked her what she wanted the very most. She told me she wanted a bicycle. A pink one with a basket. So I told her I’d certainly let Santa know (and no, that guy in the suit at the picture booth wasn’t really Santa, that was for the little kids…). She brightened a little, I introduced her to Papa Elf and with a subtle sign he knew to take her hand and walk around the fantastic mall display with her. While they were gone I gave Mom a business card, told her to give me a call during the week.

    We delivered the bicycle – shiny bright pink, with a white basket and flowers that we got from one of the toy collection outfits we worked with – on Christmas Eve while we were delivering trees and cookies and and groceries and gifts to our list of families in need, in full Elf Mode. Mom cried, I gave her a hug and reminded her that the spirit Santa represents is precious even when we learn he doesn’t really exist. Asked that she pass it on to others however she could in the future, and she said she would. I don’t know if she did, but I do know that little girl got her bicycle.

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