Why Santa's real present is keeping alive the magic in our lives
There is no clearer evidence of the increasing cynicism of our nation than the filthy rumour spreading round town that Santa is not real. Research out this week says that the average age children stop believing in the great red gift-giver has gone down from almost nine years old in their parents' time to six years 11 months old today. So, most kids don't even get to seven before the lazy, magic-denying adults around them allow bad influences and a greedy, self-serving marketplace to convince them Christmas is about spending money, rather than waiting to find out what hard-working elves have come up with after 12 months of hard graft. How thoroughly depressing.
It's mostly Google's fault, apparently. In the 18 years since Google search was launched, an estimated 3.37 million children in Britain have been persuaded by the internet that Santa is a myth.
Some have found erroneous reports to that end as a result of a simple "Is Santa real?" search. Some have simply looked at their parents' online history and seen evidence of purchases which match the requests they put in their letter to Santa.
While particularly savvy children may realise proof that parents buy some presents is not proof that Santa doesn't also make and deliver others, it still seems like unforgivable laziness/stupidity for adults not to erase internet history which might give rise to such concerns.
As for those mums and dads who allegedly sit on the sofa buying Christmas gifts while their kids scan over their shoulder, propriety curtails me from sharing the full extent of my contempt for these jaded, joy-killing couch potatoes.
Most parents, I believe, do care. Just last month, a PayPal ad which suggested parents should buy gifts for their children online so they can escape being "caught" trying to smuggle shopping bags into the house attracted hundreds of complaints when it was shown before the watershed. PayPal accepted the mistake, apologised for implying that Santa didn't do the main bulk of the work, and shifted the ad until after 9pm.
However, I've also had some heated conversations this week with parents who say there's no harm in children "living in the real world" as early as possible. Reality is tough, they tell me. The sooner young people get used to that idea, thicken their hide and forget the "nonsense" of Santa, the tooth fairy, angels and unicorns ("and heaven", a few have added), the better-equipped they are for the disappointments, challenges and injustices which await them.
I'm not entirely sympathetic to this point of view. I generally regard it as the product of a sour, suspicious mind shrivelled up by bitterness about its owner's gone-wrong life. It also betrays a lack of understanding regarding the transformative powers of art and the imagination.
Believing in Santa isn't simply about maintaining a fairytale, it's about keeping faith with the idea of a world in which some elements, good and bad, are unseen, mysterious, and difficult to quantify. It's about staying alert to the promise of surprise.
This is a mindset which, if tended, rather than prematurely destroyed, pays off way into adulthood.
It raises the chances of having full-blown, sweep-away romances, happy marriages fuelled by hope and a willingness to keep trying, fulfilling careers based on aspirations rather than dull pragmatism and a life made more rewarding by performing acts of compassion in the hope the vibe spreads around.
There is a download (www.hidemyass.com/keep-believing-in-santa) which claims to filter damaging anti-Santa references in children's internet searches.
I'm going to try it. If it works, it'll be worth its weight in fairy dust.
Take note of this inspiring memoir
For those who, like me, find diaries an especially enjoyable source of special insight, I must recommend A Notable Woman. Sixty years of diary entries from Londoner Jean Lucey Pratt document her journey from 1925, when she was a excitable, idealistic schoolgirl, to just before her death in 1986, when her view on the society she'd seen change so much is rather less generous.
Jean's is a voice we haven't heard the likes of - romantic, intelligent, politically engaged, widely travelled and well-read. She nevertheless struggled to find a place in a world still patriarchal and less keen on clever, unmarried women.
In the end, she'll break your heart.
That wimpy kid is the hero now
Cool is a term re-interpreted by each generation, but I find the current school-age version a beautiful surprise.
The specs-wearing, comic-reading, Doctor Who-loving top of the class wimpy kids who were bullied and labelled "weirdos" when I was a student have become the kings of the world.
Harry and Hermione, Doctor Who David Tennant and technological geniuses like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are the icons to aspire to now.
So, among the gloom of this week's dark news stories, the revelation that Zuckerberg is to give 99% of his shares to forward-thinking charities is as encouraging as it gets.
Bravo, that 21st-century role model.