Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lovecraft and Santa Claus

There is a classic story told of Lovecraft. Had not Lovecraft himself told the story, it might have been dismissed as a FOAF (friend of a friend) urban or church myth. This very story circulated widely in Christian circles of his era - and continues to do so today. (I've often encountered it.)

"... just before the age of five he was told that Santa Claus does not exist, and that he there upon countered with the query as to 'why God is not equally a myth'".

This is a nightmare of every person who holds the Christian faith. What does one do with Santa Claus? In fact, it's the very premise of the quaint movie "Miracle on 34-th Street".

Having started in the midst of Southern Baptists at the age of 9, Chrispy is well aware of this dilemna.

Parents split into two camps. One camp finds no harm in the quiet myth of Santa Claus and thus when the age of the myth comes to an end - usually earlier than ten dependent upon how sheltered the child has been - the transition is softened by indicating that the myth of Santa Claus is a substitute for the benevolence of the divine.

(Chrispy has actually played Santa Claus, age 12 I think. Recently, a novel kitsch icon has been created showing the classically illustrated Santa Claus kneeling in front of baby Jesus' manger. This is a blog about Lovecraft so we must no longer digress.)

There is a firmer camp (usually amongst the more fundamentalist believers) that insists the myth must never begin in the home, and thus the conflict shall never occur in the child's mind.

This is certainly not new.

Christmas is an invented holiday stemming from the New York Knickerbockers society for polemical reasons (i.e. about 1815 with Washington Irving, etc.). As Federalist America's first truly American Myth, its American spirit exploded across the New England and Midwestern states (often through Unitarian churches) and quickly cascaded to England (at least by Charles Dicken's time).

New England Baptists had to come to terms with it, as did professional educators.

Lovecraft would have been 5 on Christmas Eve of 1895. From that approximate era (Dec 1894, PRIMARY EDUCATION, Vol2, No 10, p. 347 ) come these pros and cons in an educator's magazine.

Read carefully the anecdote in bold! :)
Question and Answer

I have never quite decided that it is right to tell children that Santa Claus brings their gifts to them at Christmas though it is such a delight to them that I have so far kept up the fiction

Will you give your opinion of the subject

If it is true as I think it is that the office of the imagination is to lead the way toward larger higher fields of thought and feeling then Santa Claus has as real an existence in the world as any other unseen force. The personation of the spirit of giving has grown out of the deep need of child life and has an important work to do Santa Claus is the embodiment of loving sympathy for and with all the world and to deprive a child of this personality is to rob him of one of his most precious rights. In one of the magazines in the interest of children some time ago a strong protest was made against teaching the lie of Santa Claus and a case in point was cited: A little boy found after a few years that there was no Santa Claus and felt that he had been deceived asked if they had been deceiving him about Jesus too .

Now if there ever was such a boy he had been brought up on too much bare fact and was painfully unnatural. Fact should be the basis of all thought but need not therefore be thrust upon the child in all its bareness but clothed in a more presentable way so that it can be more easily grasped. Love truth beauty are inconceivable to a child as abstractions but put into concrete form as bits of daily food for mind and heart are life itself. Let children believe in Santa Claus as a real though intangible presence in their lives and they will never weary helping him to be the worldwide benefactor at the glad Christmas time Childhood.


Immediately following is this gem:

The Myth of Santa Claus

There are many parents who shudder at the myth of Santa Claus an invisible being that brings the children gifts but that invisible being to the child's weak apprehension is the foreshadowing of the All Giver the forerunner of the One who came to man on that blessed Christmas night. No rough voice and no ignorant soul should ever tell the little child that Santa Claus does not exist for Santa Claus is the foreshadowing of the All Giver All Lover the One who gives because He loves.

Col. Parker in Talkus on Pedagogics


Chrispy thinks too much of old Lovecraft has been put upon 5 year old Lovecraft. He certainly rejected Santa Claus, and placed a panic among the baptists in the house (Grandmother Robie, Aunt Lillian, and Aunt Annie). It seems he was packed off to Sunday School pretty quickly thereafter, but at what point he reached full rebellion is a matter of study.

On this subject, Chrispy is an authority.

A child of age 5 through age 10 is most susceptible to parental and child peer pressure to come to faith and belief. Most "professions", "conversions", and most "baptisms" occur near the age or 8, 9, or 10. As the age increases, statistically the probability of a faith decision lessens, unless there are extenuating circumstances (i.e. falling into a cult situation).

I have seen only one 5 year old profession in my now nearly 45 years of attending church. Six and seven is not unusal, though.

If parents do not attend with the child, the likelihood of profession is much less, even with the sustained peer pressure of other children, and steady pressure by Sunday School teachers.

One suspects that Susan was not strongly motivating in church attendance, and with Robie's death at precisely the age when Lovecraft might have sucumbed to a profession of some sort - even in name only - one suspects that he quickly was off the hook.

His Sunday School teacher might have been sad to see him exit, but probably relieved that the hypertensive, ever-questioning and quarrelsome Howard was no longer there to stir troubles.

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