Santa Clause Is REAL!   Leave a comment

Introduction

Click The Icon of St. Nicholas of Myra To Be Taken to Source Page

It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa is coming to town! The title as you may know seems very naive and ignoramus of me, but after the end of the post you will see that I am quite sane, aware and mature in pointing out the existence of Santa Clause. The article is broken up into two parts, the first is concerns the Origins of Santa and the second half talks about the Psychology of the Santa Legend. In the end you will see that Santa Clause is not so much a myth, but a historical legend that has been adopted by many in different places and times.

The Origins of Santa Clause

The Legend of Santa Clause goes back to the 3rd Century A.D. on the Southwestern shores of Turkey, by a man named Nicholas Bishop of Myra. He was born and raised under a wealthy Christian household, however his parents died and left the wealth to him, and so gave the wealth away to the poor and needy in order to follow a more devout lifestyle. Nicholas of Myra is known as the Patron Saint of Children, The Falsely Imprisoned, even Sailors, Ships and Young Women Looking for Marriage Partners. Eventually the life story of this Saint was shared throughout Christian Europe and moved from Eastern Christendom to Western Christendom, only then to move into Germany and Holland, and upon the Age of Exploration when the Dutch came to the New World did the name of Santa Clause get adopted for the Holiday Season, as it morphed through the various cultures it moved into.

The Psychology of the Santa Legend: Part One

Today, however I hear a lot of angry criticism addressed to the notions of Christmas, and sadly Santa Clause is not spared in this attack. I humorously wonder if this anger is rooted around adults still unconsciously hung up over discovering that the Childhood Christmas Myth is only a myth. I want to look at the psychology behind the Christmas Myth, more particularly that oh so famous song that, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

The song starts as such:

“Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He’s making a list,
Checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!”

Now it sounds all nice and soft, but such a notion is based on the Childish Paradigm of Reward and Punishment, also known in psychology as Operant Conditioning. When it comes to the study of Children, we often look at the two types of conditioning: Classical and Operant. In this case however, Santa is either a Punisher or a Positive Reinforcer, and so children associate not getting anything with being bad in a general sense or expecting something because they were good. Such a method of learning I do not recommend in the Christian lifestyle, expectation in a punishment/reward paradigm is delusional and unhealthy, one only need contemplate on The Book of Job to understand why.

After that part of the song we run into the next part which is:

“He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!”

Nothing is more totalitarian and terrifying then this, that Santa is somehow God and can know what you have been doing and knows what you are doing right now. It serves as a Big Brother, literally for children. However this does not last for long, since Children grow up and learn that Santa was really your parents, and your parents are the ones who know how your behavior is throughout the course of the year. However, it is a disappointing reality for children to feel betrayed by their parents for having been lied to them for such a long time and this of course violates a basic human social need, namely trust.

If Santa should be brought up at all in the household it is my opinion not to be dishonest and tell your children, “Yep he is real and you better be good or else…” Rather I would recommend honesty, namely that, “Santa did exist a long time ago, he was called Saint Nicholas and he gave his life over to Love of God and Neighbor, he was a compassionate and generous man, during a time of hardship. We give gifts to loved ones and some even give gifts to strangers out of memory for the life he lead.” Of course, such talk ought to be watered-down enough for a child to understand, but you get the point, physical gifts should be given to children who use compassion and generosity toward others to help allude to the spiritual life that God gives to us Treasures in Heaven for the compassion and generosity we show on earth. This would be a positive reinforcement in operant conditioning.

The Psychology of the Santa Legend: Part Two

Of course as I said earlier this childhood myth is told to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior because all-seeing eye of Santa is watching and will dish out punishment and rewards accordingly. However the punishment and reward paradigm is a very limiting and immature perspective to carry in life, to make this point I am going to appeal to Theologians of old.

First of all regarding Gifts, we must understand the Pinnacle of Gift Giving namely God’s Gift to the World, namely His Son but also The Holy Spirit. Of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit we read from CatholicEducation.Org that,

“These are not gifts one simply invokes in times of emergency; rather, these gifts are present to the person as long as he remains in a state of sanctifying grace. As such, these gifts help a person attain sanctification and bring to perfection virtues, both the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and the infused virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance). The idea here is that these gifts help a person to share in the very life and nature of God, now in this life and for eternal life. In this sense, as St. Thomas Aquinas asserted, they are in the fullest sense “habits,” from the Latin habitus, signifying their indwelling presence and operation.”

One gift however is called the Gift of Fear of the Lord, such a Gift [because it can be called that] brings us back to the watered-down understanding of being good for goodness sake. Today we understand the notion of being good in hopes of a reward, but truly as the song goes and as the Theologians of old teach us we should be good for its own sake, by doing this then you entered into the divine life,

“The Gift of Fear of the Lord enables the person ‘to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God.’ Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God who is the Supreme Being. Here, a person realizes his ‘creatureliness’ and dependency upon God, and never would want to be separated from this loving God. This gift of fear arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for the majesty of God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin… This gift is also the launch pad for the other gifts.”

The word Fear however is often associated with worldly understanding. However God is not of this world, so we need to understand what this fear is, for it is not servile fear and this brings me to my next point namely that, servile fear is at best found at the beginning of the journey to God, but it is certainly not the furthest extent in which Man develops his relationship with God, as the article goes on to state that,

“In a similar way, a child should not be motivated to obey a parent’s moral guidance or commands simply because of fear of punishment, but because of love and respect. One should fear hurting a loved one and violating that person’s trust, more than one should fear punishment. (Nevertheless, one should have a healthy sense of fear for the punishment due to sin, even though this should not be the motivating factor for loving God.)”

Saint Thomas Aquinas writing in his Summa Theologica is asked a question about Fear of the Lord and how it relates to Love that God has for mankind and that mankind should have for God, and he states clearly that,

“There is a filial fear whereby one fears offense to one’s father or separation from him, and a servile fear whereby one fears punishment. Filial fear must necessarily increase with the increase of charity, as the effect with the increase of the cause, for the more we love another, the more we fear to offend him or to be separated from him. But servile fear in respect of its servility is altogether taken away by the advent of charity. The fear of punishment remains however in substance; and this fear is diminished by the increase of charity, especially as to the active exercise of such fear, because the more we love God, the less we fear punishment, first, because we attend less to our own good, which is defeated by punishment; secondly, because adhering more firmly to God we have more confidence of reward, and thereby less fear of punishment.”

The Theologian describes Filial Fear differently from Servile Fear. According to St. Thomas, Filial Fear occurs when, “one turns to God for fear of fault” and Servile Fear occurs when, “one turns to God and cleaves to Him for fear of punishment.” By “Fault” he means to say a rupture or breaking away in the relationship. He goes on further to say that, “The saying of Augustine, ‘He who does a thing through fear, though what he does be good, still does not do well,’ is to be understood of him who does a thing out of servile fear, inasmuch as it is servile, that is, in such a way as not to love justice, but only to fear punishment.” When it comes to Love Saint Thomas Aquinas writing on The Effects of Love in his Summa goes on even more to say that,

“Now nothing is wasted away or injured by simple conformation to an object suited to itself, but rather, if possible, it is perfected and bettered thereby: whereas what is conformed to an object not suited to it is thereby wasted and altered for the worse. The love of a proper good is therefore apt to perfect and better the lover: while the love of a good that is not proper to the lover is apt to waste away the lover and alter him for the worse. Hence a man is perfected and improved most of all by the love of God; and wasted and altered for the worse by the love of sin, according to the text: ‘They became abominable as those things were which they loved.’

Therefore, if one grows and develops in the spiritual life properly, Fear is replaced by Love and the Lover only Fears losing the Beloved rather then being punished by the Beloved. Therefore, I ask you this question: Does an adult think as a child? No, likewise an individual with a mature psycho-spiritual mentality does not think like an individual with a childish psycho-spiritual mentality. Said individual can be old in body but immature in mind. These stories focused around the Reward and Punishment paradigm are meant for those whose psycho-spiritual state is immature enough to keep them from doing harm to others yet lead them into further psycho-spiritual growth through emphasizing the Good, the Highest Concern, and for the Christian that is God who is Love: A Love which both Transcendent and Eternal [Love of God] and Immanent, shown through the lives of those who surrendered to God [Love of Neighbor].

There is also a film that is in production now, called Nicholas of Myra. I do look forward to watching the progress of this film and seeing how it will turn out. In truth, although Santa Clause is used as means to commercialize Christmas, I will tell you that an “indie film” such has this has the power to point people back to Santa Clause as he was, a Christian who believed in the very Nativity scene that we see so often being replaced today.

For Further Reading on Love and Fear of God as it pertains to this article and the relationship of Reward and Punishment please visit The Rosary Light and Life Page that describes The Fear of the Lord in more depth.

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