The Pillars of our Beliefs

Well folks, we made it through yet another Christmas, and I am happy to report, we are still parents to two believers.

This year, we flew to Florida to share Christmas with my mom and step-dad. A few days before leaving for our trip, I was on the phone with my mom going over some last minute details. Before we hung up the phone, my mom said, “Oh, and one more thing…Does Peyton still believe in Santa?”

I confirmed, with confidence, that she did.

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Recently a friend of mine suspected that a couple of her older children no longer believed.  She thought the kids might be pretending that they did either not to diminish the magic for their younger siblings, or not to impact the number of gifts they might receive.

While the more materialistic motivation sounds like a pretty clever tactic, I would bet that they are less worried about the quantity of presents under the tree than they are about the fairy-tale disappearing for good. I can clearly remember when I was a child and that house of cards tumbled. One question followed another. The moment after I knew the truth, I so badly wanted to go back, but it was impossible.

When it comes to my own children’s belief in Santa, I know that the number of years I have left are limited, and while I’ve read about the suggested ways a parent can break the news, I am still not sure what I’ll say when I am forced with that question, but I do know that I don’t look forward to that day.

My step-dad is a skeptic. He thinks that my oldest daughter already knows. There may have been a close call with a price tag that was accidentally left on a stocking stuffer, but we survived, despite his snickering.

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A few short days after Christmas, my daughter and I were headed to the store when she started talking to me about how she knew Santa was real. She listed all of her evidence for Santa’s existence. Should any of her friends suggest that he is not, she was going to offer up a detailed plan that involved sending parents to bed first on Christmas Eve. I’m hoping she forgets it by next year.

Back when she was learning about Greek gods and goddesses in school, we had a conversation about beliefs. She realized that some people only believed in one God, while others believed in many. Which was correct? I asked her, “What do you want to believe?”

She remembered what I said to her, that people can choose their beliefs and they can believe in anything they want, that the more beliefs a person learns about and can accept, the more open-minded they become.

She reminded me about that conversation and then she proceeded to list all the things that she believed in: unicorns, mermaids, fairies, Peter Pan, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, God, Jesus, all the Gods and Goddesses, and of course, Santa. She said she believed in thousands of things. And then she asked what I believed in.

So I told her, “I believe in all that too.” But I also told her that I also believe that some things, like Peter Pan, are just stories. And that stories are often inspired by things that have actually happened, yet over the years, the stories grow, and people add to them.

“Like the pillars,” she said.

I didn’t quite see the connection, but then she explained what she had learned about the pillars in school: The Egyptians had first made pillars in triangle form. As time went on, other people changed the form so that they were stronger, better. Eventually we were left with the pillars we use today, a final product of the Romans.

“Yes, just like the pillars.”

Saint Nicolas gave presents. It may not have been on December 25th, and he didn’t wear a red suit. He evolved from the man he was to the legend he has become, and that evolution began with a poet and an illustrator. People needed what he represented so they reinvented his story. They added some flying reindeer, some elves, a sleigh. They chose a day that historically was marked with loud, drunken debauchery and created a family-friendly, child-centered, religious holiday. They improved upon the pillars.

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Our beliefs are extremely personal, and in that, they have to fit within our own personal stories. I want my daughters to know that their beliefs are what will guide the way the live. That their beliefs are theirs to select, change, or abandon as they see fit for their lives. That no matter what others believe, they do not have the right to tell them that their beliefs are wrong. And vice versa.

Just this year, a unicorn fossil was discovered. Somewhere along the way, that story changed too—from a fat, hairy relative of the rhino to a majestic mare.

The stories are what hold the magic; the story tellers create it.

I am not lying when I tell my daughter that yes, I believe in Santa Claus. I do. I am creating a story and I believe in what the story represents. While I know that I will have to tell her the “true” story  one day, I hope that even after I do, she continues to believe too.

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