As I sat helpless in a car last week, trying to maintain my composure amidst the traffic fallout from Toronto’s annual Santa Claus Parade, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself: “Is Santa ever going to die?”
As far as his media presence is concerned, most calculations put him at almost 250 years old. Assuming he wasn’t born with gray hair and a severe obesity condition, we can probably assume he’s actually approaching 300. By most standards outside of Japan, that’s pretty old.
The more I thought about it though, the more I began to realize that yes, just like the rest of us, Santa is going to croak. In fact, he’s slowly packing it in as we speak, and if he’s lucky, he might have 10 years left on the clock.
In a grim twist of fate, it won’t be the harsh climate, the stressful travel schedule, or the staggering caloric intake that finally does him in.
It will be us.
Children Are Now Fully Qualified Detectives
A few years ago, I was hanging out with a close friend of mine and her two children, ages seven and ten. The two kids were having a quiet debate about Santa Claus. Finally, the seven year old addressed me:
“Ben,” she said, doing her best impersonation of a litigator. “Do you think Santa is real?”
On the surface, what she asked me wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but appreciating the nuance of her phrasing, it screamed to a huge shift we’re seeing in the interrogation tactics of our youngest generations. At a certain age now, kids are rarely asking for answers. These days, when they talk to other people – adults and parents included – whether they know it or not, they’re usually investigating perspectives.
They do that because they’ve known for their whole lives that all the answers are already on their phones. Or their laptops. Or their iPads.
Sugata Mitra is an education researcher and Professor of Education Technology at Newcastle University. In 2013, he gave a TED talk that earned him that year’s prestigious TED Prize. His talk was based around research he conducted in which he randomly plopped info-stocked computer kiosks into poor Indian communities to see how much children could teach themselves without the help of teachers or parents.
Specifically, his study asked: “Can Tamil speaking 12-year-olds learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English by themselves from a streetside computer?”
The answer to that question, after two months of self-directed learning, was pretty much, yes. Or in the humble words of one young girl in the experiment, “Well, apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes disease, we haven’t understood anything else.” He gave the children a test on the broader subject and they scored an average of 30%. On the biotechnology of DNA replication. By themselves.
With kids using the internet from the age of three, how long before they all figure out the biotechnology of Jolly Old Saint Nick?
We Don’t Like Messing With Kids As Much As We Used To
Feeding kids bulls**t used to be as common as feeding them milk; “Crossing your eyes will make you go blind”, “You can do anything you set your mind to”, “Mommy and Daddy love each other very much.” As more liberal sensibilities permeate Western culture, competition levels soar in both academic and professional arenas, and the sciences take a more critical and informed approach to child-rearing, pulling legs is quickly losing ground to strengthening minds and securing relationships.
“…the Santa Lie encourages credulity,” writes David Kyle Johnson for Psychology Today. “…what I mean is that it encourages the formation of belief based on convenience, rather than good reason and evidence…I’m a huge fan of all kinds of fiction, but when my son asks me whether or not Star Wars really happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” I’m not going to tell him it did. I’m not even going to tell him it could have…I’m simply saying that we should treat the Santa Claus story just like we treat all other stories—as a story. To do otherwise would be to cruelly take advantage of the child’s naïveté and possibly hinder his/her intellectual development.”
Or as best-selling author Sam Harris succinctly puts it, “If you deceive your children about Santa, you may give them a more thrilling experience of Christmas. What you probably won’t give them, however, is the sense that you would not and could not lie to them about anything else.”
Go talk to parents; good or bad, it’s an undeniable trend. Plus, going back to my first point, it’s a lot scarier to lie when it’s so damn easy to get caught.
Compared to Gandalf, Santa Is a Loser
For generations, kids were stuck engaging with relatively lame mythical characters through dull renderings like comic books, cartoons, and the odd kind-of-convincing movie graphic. Now, everywhere they turn, there’s some mind-blowing hero wearing a sick outfit and saving the planet with magic or mechanical engineering that makes Santa look like he just failed a fantasy breathalyser.
Not only that but when these bad-ass heroes are out doing way cooler stuff than working for the reindeer division of FedEx, they’re doing it with the help of graphics, screens, and special glasses that make everyone question their concept of reality.
Santa vs. Gandalf? The Elf on the Shelf vs. Legolas? Reindeer vs. Cars? Vs. Harry Potter? Vs. Guardians of the Galaxy? Vs. Wolverine? ANYTHING VS. THE HULK!?!?!
It’s not long before they stop caring about the chubby cloud-cowboy and refocus themselves to realize that the real magic is how their father can afford an X-Box in the unpredictable wake of his gambling addiction.
Don’t be sad. Santa has had a good run. Ok, with his physique, maybe “run” is the wrong word. Either way, the whole Santa thing – the North Pole, the cookies, the workshop, the weird songs about spying on children – it did the job for a while. Like most seniors squinting at their twilight, Santa will continue to fly south for the winters.
But ten or so years from now, don’t be surprised if he never comes back.