The Santa Cause

Two of my favorite holiday movies are Miracle on 34th Street and Bass and Rankin’s The Year Without a Santa Claus because they address questions of belief and faith. Not the religious interpretations of the words but the parental version: What we tell our children they are too old to do and believe in anymore.

My mother once said to me with a sigh: “Don’t make the children grow up too fast.” I made a remark about her coddling my children too much.

Her comment reminded me of a chapter from the child development textbook I used at Bank Street. The chapter described how different cultures and societies had different expectations of their children throughout the process to maturity (from activities as fundamental as when children are expected to walk to when they are considered contributing members of society).

What the chapter didn’t address was imagination. When do other cultures expect their children to “grow up” and tether their imaginations? Is the imagination something other cultures indulge in?

One of my favorite scenes from Miracle on 34th Street is when Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle) teaches Natalie Wood (Susan Walker) how to imagine she is a monkey. It’s Susan’s desperate need to interpret the world beyond the realm of the seeable and concrete that is the catalyst for the Miracle story.

In The Year Without a Santa Claus, Santa (Mickey Rooney) is the one who succumbs to the “real world.”  After a visit from the doctor, he decides he needs a break from delivering presents panning the decision as: “Nobody really cares anymore.”

There is also a child who is “too grown up” to believe in Santa Claus in this story. His name is Ignatius Thistlewhite and he dismisses Santa as something for the “little kids.” However, he quickly changes his mind when he learns his father still believes.  The story continues with Ignatius as Santa’s most enthused advocate.

The imagination is a very powerful resource. Like the song says: “ Imagine all the people sharing all the world.”  It is a skill and like any other skill. It requires effort and practice in order to gain proficiency.

The Wright Brothers are a testament to the power of the imagination. They, “working essentially alone and with little formal scientific training,” imagined the possibility of flight and solved a problem that so called experts in their day could not.

This holiday – more so than the past two – it is important to nurture your imagination. The still poor economy has taken its toll on many people’s spirits and fostered among some a self-destructive cynicism. While it is easier said than done, a stab at imagining a solution to current problems must be attempted.

This holiday, Church’s words seem much more meaningful:

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 eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

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