At this time of year around the world, if you had a vaguely Christian-associated upbringing, or live somewhere where celebrating Christmas is standard, you’re probably fully caught up in the madness of the Christmas rush: satisfyingly finished, in mid throes or even yet to start present buying in full dread of the traffic and the crowds that will elevate your cortisol levels; making arrangements for Christmas Day itself complete with anticipation of family dramas based on past prima donna performances; living through the never-ending gluttony of Christmas parties; and planning the packing for those of us in the southern hemisphere for the summer holiday away starting typically on Boxing Day if you don’t travel for Christmas itself. It’s always such a busy, frenetic finish to the year, particularly those also working like myself with much still to complete and it’s easy not to spend time contemplating what Christmas is all about.
Yet thinking about festive occasions and holidays and what they mean personally to you and your family should at some point be a priority. Somewhere in that Christmas lead-up: you may have relatively blindly bought or are yet to buy secret presents to go in the Santa stocking or sack or pillowcase (my childhood); you might be taking the kids off to have photos taken with Santa in a department store or mall; be at events such as childcare parties where Santa makes a guest appearance; you may be letting your children ring Santa on the telephone to tell him what they want the jolly red gentleman to bring; and be spending time building up the idea of Santa’s imminent visitation with stories and songs and the concept of he’ll only come if you’re nice, not naughty. On Christmas Eve itself, you may have your children writing adorable letters to Santa with their wish list, leaving out milk, biscuits, a carrot for Rudolph. In the morning, stockings or alternatives full, children epicly excited, they may also discover milk drunk, biscuit crumbs, carrot half eaten, note back from Santa. You may go further and convince them of hoofprints in the grass, disturbed chimney. All of this sounds fun, doesn’t it, and harmless, right? What if it’s not?
Wherever we live, we are members of a society that has its own culture and traditions. Some of the finer detail may vary from family to family as families develop their own values and traditions that can get passed down from generation to generation. You may indeed not be aware of what hefty societal and family filters and values are pressing down on top of you, ostensibly shaping you who are, and even how you parent. You may think that the values you hold and the decisions you make are entirely your own.
A theme though that you will see in my posts is my encouragement that you make yourself aware of these filters or values and spend time analysing their ‘fit’ to see whether they truly serve you. Just because something is tradition (whether that be tradition within your culture or tradition within your family) doesn’t mean that it is the right way for you and your family in the present right now and heading into the future. I feel privileged to be a scientist at times because it’s given me the space to never stop questioning. Having a bit of a contrary bent means I like to challenge the norm at times and fiercely independently forge my own path.
Knowledge is power. When we as individuals or as a society acquire more knowledge we all have the power to create a better and brighter future. Acquiring more knowledge also extends to learning more about our self.
Traditions are lovely but they also need to feel like they fit. So what then does Christmas mean to you and what in particular do you feel about the Santa myth? Once you’ve spent some time thinking about your own values you’re ready for Part 2.
In part 2, I explore who is Santa anyway? And my take on the Santa myth with some science around it.