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Debate: Belief in Santa Claus

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Should we believe in Santa Claus?

Background and context

For many people, Santa Claus is the most important person in the celebration of Christmas. His origins are disputed, with many recognising him as St Nicholas, an early Christian saint noted for his generosity and love for children. Others view him as a descendant of northern European gods and spirits from the pre-Christian past. In Britain (and Australia and other Commonwealth countries) he is traditionally called Father Christmas, but Santa’s red suit, big white beard and large belly are now widely recognised all over the world. Although other details vary, experts also agree that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole where he and a workforce of elves spend the year producing toys. On Christmas Eve Santa hitches up reindeer to a magical sleigh which lets him fly around the world in one night, delivering presents to children everywhere - often descending to their bedrooms via the chimney. Surprisingly, there are some sceptics and kill-joys who raise doubts about Santa Claus, questioning his relevance to a Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, his involvement in the commercialisation of Christmas, and even Santa’s very existence.

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Argument #1

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Yes

There is plenty of evidence for the existence of Santa Claus. Millions of children worldwide wake up on Christmas morning to find that their stocking has been magically filled with toys and candy overnight. Everybody agrees that it was Santa who was responsible - and surely if it was anyone else they would want to take credit for their generosity. Further evidence can be found in the way in which cookies, mince pies and drinks left out for Santa have been consumed in the night - often leaving crumbs.

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No

Belief in Santa Claus is not rational. For a start his supposed activities would break all the rules of physics - how could anyone fly around the world in just one night visiting every child? How would his sleigh stay up in the air? And how could he get into so many bedrooms - most people nowadays don’t have chimneys to come down, and he wouldn’t fit down one even if they did? And do we have any proof for the existence of elves, or of flying reindeer? Secondly, if Santa existed don’t you think that someone would have seen him delivering the presents, at least once? Sure, there are lots of Santa Clauses in malls and stores, but despite the red suit and hat they all look a bit different from each other. And some of their beards don’t seem very convincing to me at all.

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Argument #2

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Yes

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” Written in answer to a child’s letter by Francis Pharcellus Church and published in the New York Sun’s Editorial Page in 1897.

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No

Santa is a class oppressor - for he always seems to give the most and best presents to children in the richest families while those who are poor get little or nothing. And he has been enlisted as a bogeyman in the fight to make children do what their parents want. All those, “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout… I’m telling you why” threats that bad children won’t be visited by Santa are just designed to scare children and keep them under control. Such a figure is not worthy of our belief.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Santa Claus, especially under his British name of Father Christmas, harks back to old folk ways and pagan mid-winter festivals (e.g. the Viking Yule). He reminds us of the need for life and generosity at a time when men and women were huddling depressed in the cold and dark with little to eat. Centuries ago the Christian Church adopted these festivals and tried to turn them to its own ends by locating its own celebration of the birth of Jesus (undated in the gospels) at the same time of year. But the Christians couldn’t drive out all the old beliefs and for centuries they have coexisted. The Church now should be grateful that Santa Claus allows it to get a free ride by using the popular mid-winter festivities to publicise its own beliefs.

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No

Belief in Santa Claus is against the real Christian message of Christmas - that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem to be the saviour of the World. Neither Santa Claus nor Father Christmas appears in the Bible, and many Christians are dubious about the St Nicholas traditions as well. At best Santa is a distraction from the real Christmas story; at worst he competes with Christ for attention, confusing children and turning a Christian celebration into a worldly orgy of consumerism. It is significant that in many European traditions the red-clothed mid-winter visitor is not a St Nicholas figure, but some kind of devil instead.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Far from being outdated, Santa Claus is right up to date. Although he has a long and distinguished history, he has taken care to move with the times in order to be relevant to each new generation. Our modern view of Santa was shaped by Clement C. Moore’s description of him in The Night Before Christmas, and by Victorian illustrators drawing upon their European heritage to give them clues about his appearance. In the early twentieth century the most common image of Santa Claus/Father Christmas was popularised by Coca-Cola advertising posters. And as well as updating his image, Santa has also adjusted his methods, leaving presents under a tree or on the lawn if there is no chimney to climb down, and making use of a sack instead of a stocking if necessary.

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No

Belief in Santa Claus is outdated and rather worrying. Who today has a chimney through which to send a burning message to Santa, and through which he can descend to distribute presents? Who wears stockings rather than socks or pantyhose? And who thinks an old white male is a relevant role model in today’s society? There is also something rather sinister today about having a stranger enter children’s rooms at night, or having them whispering secrets to him while seated on his lap in a store.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Billions of people across the world believe in Santa Claus, and so many people can’t be wrong. What’s more, a belief which was once confined to the Anglo-Saxon world is becoming more and more widespread. If Chinese and South American children are coming to accept the existence of Santa Claus, then why should we in the western world give up our belief?

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No

It is a shame that this western capitalist icon is taking over Christmas around the world, and driving out other traditions - e.g. the Babushka in Russia, or St Nicholas in parts of Europe. The popularity of Santa Claus in other countries is cynically driven by multinational companies, eager to create new markets for their toys and other good as potential gifts. It is another downside of globalisation as unique cultures are drowned under a wave to americanisation.

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Argument #6

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Yes

Belief in Santa Claus is also economically necessary. Without Santa to set an example of generosity, gift-giving at Christmas could go out of fashion. And once you take Santa out of Christmas, what else would be stripped away - Christmas trees, lights, tinsel, Christmas dinner? Huge sectors of our economy depend on belief in Santa Claus, from the department store grottoes to the entertainment industry, from toy shops and manufacturers to the makers of wrapping paper, stockings, red hats with bobbles on, etc. Trust is the basis of all economic exchange, and the consequences of doubt in Santa Claus, in terms of bankruptcies, closures, unemployment and stock market and currency slumps are too awful to imagine.

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No

We should have a strict regard for the truth, and see the world as it is regardless of the consequences. Our children deserve to be told the truth about Santa Claus, as well as about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the possibility of fairies at the bottom of the garden. If they start off believing in these things, one day they will become disillusioned and maybe psychologically scarred for life by the experience. And once parents start to lie to their children about Santa Claus, then other dishonesty and mistrust can all too easily follow. Instead of giving all credit for Christmas cheer to (a saint from late-Roman Asia/ a Northern European pagan winter spirit - delete as applicable) we should celebrate our humanity. Teaching children to share and feel the pleasure in giving, as well as receiving is much better for them, rather than outsourcing all generosity in a rather embarrassed way to Santa Claus.

See also

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