Saturday, November 27, 2010

What it all means to me

I wanted to take a moment to let you know where I'm coming from and what this holiday actually means to me.

And that's going to take a little background about me, my family, and why, despite most of what you see on this site, Christmas continues to occupy a very special place in my heart.

No small part of that is due to what I was raised to believe.  Faith and spirituality aren't subjects I touch on much: they tend to smear my otherwise impeccable image as a cynic.  But this is Christmas, where cynicism and spirituality meet face to face, then bash each others' faces in with picket signs arguing whether store clerks should greet customers with "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" as a matter of company policy.

But that's another discussion for another day.  This is about ME.

Yes, I was raised to believe in something greater than myself.  Something eternal.  Something that loved me; indeed, that loved us all.  This faith defined me as a child, gave me hope, and shaped who I'd become.

I'm speaking, of course, of the real reason for the holiday: Santa Claus.

No, really.  My belief in Santa was total, complete.  And it wasn't the presents (well, not JUST the presents - again, another topic, another day).  It was because he was magical, impossible, and yet still verifiably real (at least to the limited empirical skills of a five year-old).  I kind of find it strange that more isn't made of the worship of Santa.  It's a religious tradition upheld by the vast majority of young children in the country.  In terms of practitioners, it's got to rank among the top religions in the United States.

As outlined in the dedication to my first novel, my father is mostly to blame for this.  A devotee of Tolkien and folklore, my dad's stories painted a very different picture of the old bearded elf than I saw on Christmas specials or in the mall.  As a rule, I find that the children who believe the longest are the ones who are taught to make this distinction early on.

When eventually told that Santa wasn't real, I rebelled.  The first philosophical thoughts I can remember entertaining were devoted to redefining the nature and meaning of "reality" to include Santa.  The first existential crisis I faced was over the idea that Saint Nicholas wasn't a real person living at the North Pole.

Bet I'm not the only one.

It's interesting to contrast this with my early memories when I was exposed to that other tradition.  I remember one instance when I was watching a cartoon about a baby, a manger, and some farm animals.  There was something about a star, some wise-men, and the son of God.

My mother came in and saw this.  She sat down and said she wanted to discuss what I was watching.  I remember her explaining that some people strongly believed the events in the cartoon were real, but that she did not.  I remember her explaining that I'd have to make up my own mind, but she wanted me to know what she thought.

I remember laughing out loud.  There were people who believed that cartoon was real?  I'd only turned it on because I was bored, and I was about to turn it off because it hadn't helped alleviate the situation.  But now that I knew there were people who thought this was a true story, it had taken on a whole other level of entertainment.  It was an unintentional farce; a comedy.

I like to think that incident - and others like it - also helped shape the person I became.

I don't actually remember how old I was when I saw that special; four, five, six... who can tell?  But I know one thing.  At the time, I still believed in Santa Claus.

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