Our jobs as professors are built around truth and integrity. We spend our research time searching for the truth, and, once we find a piece of it, we teach and profess that truth in journals and classrooms, hence earning us the name of "professor." Indeed, if someone was to claim our idea as their own, we would be outraged, as we rightly are if our students claim work to be their own when it is not. So why do people whose livelihood is based on a search for truth find themselves willingly letting someone else take credit for work and effort that they produce each year, happily letting our little ones think that the gifts under the tree, which appear on our credit cards, were given by someone who lives far away and doesn’t really know them? For, in many ways, such is the yearly tradition of Santa.
Of course, we would not be able to do otherwise, as the tradition of Santa permeates this time of year, and who could resist telling a little child that "Santa will be coming?" While the child is growing up and is not as dependent on our complete and total devotion on a day-to-day basis any more, this one time of year allows us to return to the days when our care was the center of their lives. For a short time, they can recall what it was like to have the world revolve around them, and to have their greatest wishes anticipated and fulfilled.
In looking at the tradition, I suspect that much of what we do at this time of year is actually an example of what we economists call "impute altruism." Such altruism is not concerned with only the well-being of the recipient, but also with the pleasure the giver gets from giving the gift. Why else would I buy my daughter books that I loved as a child, or make a conscious effort to avoid the "pink isle" in the toy store, where all the "girly girl" toys, that never interested me, are displayed? Of course, she is happy to receive the one toy she insists she must have, but I suspect that much of the tradition of giving gifts from Santa results in pleasure to the parents as much as to the children.
Perhaps part of the answer lies in the reaction our children show when they experience a visit from Santa. For a moment, all is right. This rightness may involve not only them, but also those that they love. I recall one year when my daughter wanted a toy motorcycle, and told everyone of this. It didn’t take long before my husband joined in, telling everyone that Santa was going to bring him a motorcycle, too! When my daughter came down the stairs on Christmas morning to see a toy motorcycle sitting under the tree, she looked around, and, without pausing, asked "where’s daddy’s motorcycle?" Surely, if she could get what she wanted, her dad could, also!
My daughter, now in grammar school, is starting to show signs of realizing that Santa is not as real as she would like to believe he is. After seeing "Santa" at two different parties in two weeks, she remarked that they are not the same Santa, since the one from this past week has blue eyes, while the one the week before did not. She was quick to add, however, that “this week was the REAL Santa.” I recall that we told people that we were hoping to adopt by saying that we hoped that “someday soon Santa would visit our home.” After years of such visits, I am realizing that the number left may be very limited, a thought that brings me to sobs. However, this year, my daughter is in a Nativity pageant, playing the part of a “wise one”, and so is beginning to assume the role of proclaiming another Christmas story. I am hoping that this story will find a home in her heart and stay there, long after tales of flying reindeer and overworked elves have left. For, in the end, this is the Christmas story that strikes this seeker of truth as having the most credibility.
Wishing everyone a Happy 2010, and, to my readers who celebrate Christmas:
Have a Happy and Blessed Christmas.
I will see everyone back here after the New Year.