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Leader comment: It’s OK to believe in Santa Claus

17 December 2021

THE annual Advent tradition of denying the existence of Santa Claus ­— and then trying to row back in response to outraged parents and (supposedly) damaged children — has for once been lifted off the shoulders of whichever hapless curate was in line to catch the attention of the press this year. The Bishop of Noto in Sicily, Mgr Antonio Staglianò, stepped in, blaming Coca-Cola for the invention of Santa, and attempting to redirect children’s attention to St Nicholas. “If Santa Claus is St Nicholas, children should open up to a feeling of mutual help, to the solidarity of gifts toward the poorest children.” A diocesan spokesman apol­ogised afterwards.

Bishop Staglianò’s impulse — to attack the materialistic trap­pings of Christmas in the way in which Hebrew prophets at­­tacked altars to idols — is shared by everyone at some point during the festivities. But it is mistaken to believe that it is ne­­cessary to dismantle one image in order to elevate another. Children’s belief in Father Christmas (to give him his proper name) is sophisticated, having an element of Pascal’s wager about it as they get older. They are perfectly capable of retaining a de­­gree of belief, somewhere between wishful and playful, in something they suspect not to be true. And if they have the same uncertainty about elements of the Christian story, then good for them. They are on the same path as many adults: from pleasure, through experience and habit, to belief. It is wise to allow chil­dren to play with belief and question certainty, and thereby ex­­plore the territory that allies knowledge with the imagination, bringing them to the manger with awe and wonder.

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