Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Just wanted to take a break to sprinkle some magic into this blog ;P
Well as it happens, I have always believed in Santa. Perhaps thanks to the wisdom of my parents, instead of my confidence in him failing, what has changed over the years was merely my understanding of who Santa was.
There are many ways to explore this question. The easiest (and perhaps cop-out) place to start is the question of what do we mean by “real” or by “exist”? Do I exist? “I think therefore I am” may or may not be convincing, but in Buddhism one of the deepest realizations that allegedly leads to enlightenment is that “there is no me.” Santa certainly exists as a powerful cultural construct, with a clear personality, preferences and goals. We can even reasonably ask the question “what would Santa do?” and perhaps derive some useful insights from this.
But does he exist as an independent self-aware free will? Well, while the obvious answer seems “no,” if we try to answer this more carefully, we realize that we have no clear objective definition of self-awareness or free will anyhow, and we’re not even sure these things “exist” themselves! So this question is roughly of the same quality as “do unicorns have magic powers?” — it’s sort of up to you how you like your unicorns.
But when some guy dresses up as Santa at a holiday party, or when our parents sneak presents under the Christmas tree, isn’t it all fake? Neither that guy nor our parents are “really” Santa, are they? Indeed, they don’t literally live on the North Pole (though there is some debate whether Santa is even from there) and that beard is definitely fake! But to the extent that they are sincere in going into the role of Santa — giving presents from the pure joy of giving, selflessly sharing their time and attention for the happiness of others — they truly embody the cultural archetype in those moments. If they go deep enough into this role, their personality and reactions may even temporarily change, and they can say things they would have never thought of in their everyday life. We can imagine such a transformation as if there is a “spirit of Santa,” culturally created and passionately promoted by corporations, that temporarily is “incarnated” in this person.
As such, I now think of Santa, rather than being a flesh-and-blood person, as a spirit. This spirit is powered by our cultural traditions, and in return it shares with us the joy and kindness of Christmas. Since Santa was never supposed to be just a normal dude, there is nothing disappointing to me in now realizing that he is actually a spirit. And this finally explains how he manages to deliver presents to so many people in one evening!
So, does this story convince you and re-establishes your faith in Santa? Or is there still something missing from the Santa you once believed in? To me, it seems quite satisfying — especially in light of my conviction that fundamentally “no model is right, but some are useful” — though I’d love to hear your thoughts =)