The figments of the western childhood imagination, personified in such figures as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, serve an important function in society.
They teach the lesson that sometimes what we are told is real is not real.
It is well understood that no child is intended to reach adulthood still believing in the notion of flying reindeer or anthropomorphic rabbits mysteriously hiding eggs on a Sunday morning. The traditions of our childhood holidays and events (a fairy that takes teeth!) are simply too fantastic to continue believing once a child attains a certain degree of reasoning ability.
Thus, the trappings and tidings of holiday figures provide an excellent opportunity for children to learn that they can *unbelieve* in things and to gain experience in coping with the process of unbelieving, to sit with doubt, to stumble upon a sense of “this can’t be true.”
They learn that sometimes it hurts to have to stop believing in something.
These icons are a gift, first in the wonder of believing in something far-fetched. The characters are necessarily preposterous, because even very young children with wild imaginations know that deer cannot fly and that most rabbits are quite small and skittish. They have no business depositing fanciful colored eggs amidst the grasses. Yet, because absurdities are sometimes fun to believe in, children are offered the chance to believe in something that is unbelievable, for the sheer joy of doing so.
There is a dark side in deluding children, yet – as the inevitable disbelief in the Easter Bunny proves – the human tendency toward logic prevails and these holiday mainstays offer a clear path for the realization of one’s capacity for reason. The lessons learned in unlearning Santa have the potential to serve children well. Within these basic processes of doubt, questioning, comparing information, grappling with implication, and negotiating the emotional landscape between the trappings and tidings of reality as presented and as actual, children gain skills that will later equip them to see through other distorted or poorly constructed truths.
That being said, Happy Easter.
In our family, it is a time for chocolate and talk of planting seeds, a day to acknowledge the rebirth that comes with Spring. This evening, after dyeing eggs because it is fun to dye eggs, my eight-year old asked: “Did you get us anything from the Easter Bunny?”
Feigning dumb, I said: “I don’t know anything about any of that.”
We laughed, because she knew that I was lying.