Most people don’t enjoy lying, and even with good intentions, lying to children still doesn’t seem quite right. So how can you tell a kid that Santa does exist and remain truthful? It’s surprisingly easier than one might expect, and certainly makes more sense than to deny his existence.
First, it helps to understand the different ways in which we understand ‘existence’.
The first and most obvious is physical existence. The chair you are sitting on either has a physical existence or it does not, in which case you wouldn’t be sitting on it. This is in some ways rather uninteresting, unless you like arguing simply for the sake of arguing, in which case it provides a never ending source of argumentation bliss.
A second, and perhaps more interesting way that we understand existence is in terms of non-physical existence, such as when you have an idea, or your teddy bear has a cute name. You can quickly examine how people talk about these things in these simple examples:
I have an idea.
The implicit assumptions are that there is an idea that exists, and that you possess the idea.
My teddy bear’s name is Kant.
Again, the teddy bear possesses something, a name. But in order for the teddy bear to possess that, it must necessarily exist.
Now, it is pretty much trivial to change the name of your teddy bear from Kant to Immanuel. Naming is a specific case of something called an “expletive performative”, that is, the act of doing so makes it so. When you name your teddy bear, poof! It’s name is what you just gave it. Your naming made it so.
The idea of non-physical existence isn’t a radical notion, and has many examples that are firmly entrenched in society and law. The entire concept of intellectual property (IP) relies on this. Copyright and patent law assume “intangible assets”.
For example, Disney “owns” Mickey Mouse. But for Disney to have ownership, Mickey Mouse must have some kind of existence, i.e. non-physical or intangible existence.
So it should be relatively obvious that we do have another sense of the word “exist” for non-physical things.
Then how does this relate to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Pretty simple. They all exist. Just not as physical entities. Sure, there are physical manifestations of them. You can see a physical manifestation of Santa at the mall around Christmas time, or on a TV Christmas special, or perhaps in a Santa Claus cookie. Are they still Santa? Certainly. As manifestations of the idea of Santa.
Substitute in there Mickey Mouse or some other “fictional” character and you can get the same result.
So, yes, there is a Santa Claus. And yes, Santa Claus does exist. When you’re a very small child, your initial reaction is to assume that Santa is a physical entity, which is natural enough. Later, we often drift into disbelief. However, as thinking adults, we can grasp how Santa does exist, and how we can use the idea of Santa to make this world a better place.
For those that are wondering, yes, I believe in the existence of leprechauns, pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, unicorns, fire-breathing dragons, talking dogs, and yes… there most certainly is a God.
The question really isn’t about whether these exist or not – the question is about what you do with their existence. Do you help make the world a better place with them? Or do you retreat into some flavour of cynicism and piss on everyone else’s parade?