Yes, I believe in Santa Claus. Yes, I am an adult. Yes, I know Santa isn’t real. And Yes, all those statements are true. Mostly. I had a conversation about Santa Claus with a friend the other day, and in this conversation we discussed belief in said magical Arctic dwelling whatever he is. Is he a person? I suppose person and human aren’t necessarily the same thing, so fine: Santa is a person. Anyway, in this discussion we talked about the different reasons and arguments for telling children that Santa Claus is real or just being open with them or whatever. I don’t mean to get into that too much. Suffice it to say that if I ever become a father I will be the kind of parent who is going to lie his ass off to his kids about probably almost everything. But in a nice way. The better discussion, I believe, isn’t about lying to children. It’s about lying to yourself. I believe in Santa Claus, and I will defend that belief forever. (I was going to say to the death, but if we’re believing in Santa Claus, we’re going for an afterlife too.) Now, I know there’s no Santa Claus, just as I know there’s probably not an afterlife. The evidence simply suggests otherwise. But just because I know something isn’t real, doesn’t mean I can’t believe in it. This all started when I was fourteen years old. I was in junior high school, and it was near Christmas time. Somehow my friends got into a discussion about Santa Clause. When someone casually mentioned that Santa wasn’t real, I flipped out. “What do you mean? Of course Santa’s real!” I said. “If he’s not real, then how do you explain all the presents you get on Christmas morning?” They responded with mixtures of confusion and pity and arrogance. “Umm, your parents put the presents there.” “And I suppose you think your parents fill your stockings too,” I shot back. “Yeah. Of course.” The most confusing part of this exchange for those poor, brave teenage souls was that I was not speaking in a sarcastic tone, but rather as one who really believed and stood by these convictions. Now, by this point I had known for some years that Santa wasn’t real, and I assumed my friends would take my joke for what it was. What I have never realized is that when you act serious, people will assume you are serious. It makes the joke better, but also harder to perceive as a joke. Alas, against my better judgment I was drawn into a debate about the reality of a supernatural character, and I was supposed to argue the losing side. I couldn’t just give in to reality. That would have been too easy. So I played it out. And I discovered something in the process: It’s more fun to believe. There is a terrific scene in the terrific movie “Secondhand Lions” wherein a boy tells his uncle he needs to know if the stories he’s been hearing about his two uncles’ youthful adventures are true. The uncle responds with a short speech about belief:
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
A false notion is that belief and knowledge have anything to do with each other. They don’t. Belief is in fact the very antithesis of knowledge. It is impossible to both know and believe something at the same time. But far from destroying the foundations of belief, this thrusts belief into a very special realm all its own, where it’s possible to both know something isn’t true but believe it all the same. I choose to believe in Santa Clause because the world seems a more magical place that way. And no I will never allow that belief to cloud my judgment regarding whether or not I need to fill my possible future children’s stockings. That would just be irresponsible. And I will never trust magic or crystals or prayer to heal me when medicine has been proven to do the trick far better and more reliably. But I will continue to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny and magic and The Doctor because even though reality is pretty awesome, a little magic still goes a long way.