Brandon Vogt

Why G.K. Chesterton Believed in Santa Claus

GKC-santa

G.K. Chesterton, that wondrous lover of paradox, explains how as he grew into adulthood, his belief in Santa Claus increased:

“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.
 
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.
 
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me…What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.
 
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
 
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”

Read more from G.K. Chesterton on Santa Claus here (PDF):

ON_SANTA_CLAUS_-_The_Sole_Test_as_to_Whether_Santa_Claus_Is_Genuine_Is_Simply_Whether_He_Is_Recognized_-_View_Article_-_NYTimes_com

I was reminded of Chesterton when I saw this viral video making its rounds on Facebook. It was made by an Evangelical church and perfectly captures the Chestertonian spirit:

If you’re a parent struggling with the Santa question, check out this helpful article from Matt Warner: “Are You Lying to Your Children About Santa?”

  • Chesterton Believed in Santa Claus because he knows Santa will always make happy children of whole world. God Bless to the volunteer. Thanks http://www.proforbes.com

  • “dollars and crackers” looked wrong from an Englishman, so I checked the original. It’s “dolls and crackers”.

    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3589/gk_chesterton_and_santa_claus.aspx

    • Philip

      Does “DOLLS and crackers” look right from an Englishman then?

    • Thanks! Fixed!

  • Tom Cook

    Howard:

    The inward anticipation of Santa Claus is not a logical statement of belief; it is not theology. It is poetry. Being suspicious about it (as you border on doing) is a sin against “the first principle of poetry.” It is not a proposition open to falsification by argument, it is a vision, and visions are facts, not true-false statements. “I see a floater” cannot be retorted with “No you don’t” without risk of insult. Visions (and traditions) are democratic, but analytic science will always be aristocratic. Yes, aristocratic, even imperialist. It is not for nothing that scientists call their methods “empirical.” But when scientists go to make observations from their “empire of sense” it is really to dominate that empire that they go. The rationalist tries to fit the heavens in his head, the poet is merely content to have his head in the heavens. When reductive historians try to explain the origins of Easter, Santa Claus, etc., they insult the “creative credulity” of the masses. They sin against the first principles of poetry which are to disregard verification.

    Chesterton’s whole career may be summarized in one way as one gigantic defense of poetry and aesthetic appreciation in life. We must have an area of life that is free of the crazy modern mania for verification.

    To attack that area of life because it it “dangerous” is to believe that the sin of humans lies in a kind of passive credulity; the sort of credulity that gets taken advantage of. And of course this view is thoroughly Marxian, Freudian, Nietzschean… in a word, thoroughly modern. The masses are high on opiates, the Id plays tricks on the conscious mind, morality is for slaves, etc… But the truth is that when humans are credulous, they are most often credulous on purpose. Sin hasn’t affected the logical faculties so much as the Puritans supposed, and if we leave them alone and engage in a fun delusion, they’ll be out of danger’s way in the meantime.

  • Norman

    I think its good to children who come of age that:

    The gifts you been receiving from Santa Claus are symbols that point to the gifts God gives you throughout your life.

    Now, they’ll have to know and understand that symbols are signs that point to a bigger truth whether it be a written word, a sign on the road telling you of truths yet to be seen in the form of food down the road, or a gift of need rather than want, but they can get the gist at the right age..

  • Howard

    OK, this gives me a rare opportunity to disagree with Chesterton.

    This seems entirely too dangerous for the same reason as the hymn “I Serve a Risen Savior” by Alfred Henry Ackley. The chorus of the hymn concludes with, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” I hope that Ackley was referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but even when people do not mean mere sentimentality by that, too often they mean something spiritual which may or may not have anything to do with the physical Resurrection and Ascension.

    Metaphors can lead us to the truth, but sometimes they can lead us past the truth so that we depart from it on the other side. That is the risk of Ackley’s chorus, and it is the risk of Chesterton’s Santa Claus metaphor. This is especially true when people tend to think any warm, fuzzy feeling is the voice of God.

    • merengue

      If you don’t agree with Chesterton on this, it cannot be a rare thing, for this belief in Santa Claus is pure Chesterton. I defended Santa Claus after reading Chesterton’s “Ethics of Elfland,” and was not even aware of this Santa quote.
      The truth about Santa is that he brings us gifts, which are true gifts, from a place not quite of this world. And that is the great truth that is imparted by encouraging Santa (or St. Nicholas). We replace the concept of Santa with the idea that gifts come from individuals, which at its core, is not true. All that we have is a gift. It’s why justice demands that we return the first fruits to our Creator, and to those in need what we can. It’s this proper understanding of gifts that make us sacrificial Catholics.
      It has little to do with the fuzzy side of God. It’s all about the importance of truth and fairy tales.

      • Howard

        Maybe the English Santa is different than the American Santa. The American Santa is largely the creation of big businesses, not really an authentic, grass-roots tradition. Santa Claus in America does not come on Christmas (a bad word for many), he comes on Decemberween.

        Elfland is not made in China and sold at Walmart.

        If you want to talk about the reality of THE IDEA of Santa Claus, the one place you will not find it here is under the NAME of Santa.

        • Kemble Pipes

          Read The Shop of Ghosts in Tremendous Trifles, http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/Tremendous_Trifles.html#2H_4_0038, Even the big business side of Christmas is uniquely Christian, although perhaps taken some times to the place of a Christian heresy.

          • Howard

            Yes, I have read it. It does not involve a big business; it involves a small shop, exactly the sort of thing a Distributist would wish to encourage. There is a difference.

    • Philip Mackin

      Eph. 3:17 “and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,”

      • Howard

        Numbers 21:20 “and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah which looks down upon the desert.”

    • Peter James Musielski

      What a pity for so many reasons

      • Howard

        Yeah yeah yeah. How sad for me that I fail to recognize that the founder of Distributism not only believed that the modern spirit of irreligious greed is as real as Christ or Beelzebub, but that he rejoiced in that belief. Had he lived long enough, he would no doubt have also believed in Spuds Mackenzie and Ronald McDonald, and he would have written a delightful tale in which he encountered Tony the Tiger in a Walmart. Why, surely he MUST have believed in Santa Claus, just as firmly as he believed he had actually met Charles Dickens, who died 4 years before Chesterton was born, in that toy shop.

        The Santa Claus of today is more akin to the Soviet-era Grandfather Frost than to St. Nicholas of Bari, and to pretend that Chesterton would have supported what Santa Claus today is as wrong as finding a sentence in Chesterton’s writings in which he claims to have been gay and give the word “gay” its contemporary meaning. It has been said the Americans and the British are two peoples separated by a common language, but the same common language separates us from recent generations.

        • Peter James Musielski

          Yep- i pity you. I’d rather believe in St. Nicholas / Santa than become an arrogant, self righteous fool that can’t recognize a symbol of Christ. The symbol of Santa in no less real than the metaphors in the Book of Genesis or the story of Noah or the Book of Revelation but i’m sure you’ll have a little lecture for us on that too. As a child I believed in Santa and it taught me to think of the less fortunate and care for those in need. I believe in the communion of Saints which St. Nicholas is a part. “You will know them by their fruits”… I can only say my belief and knowledge of St. Nicholas has only produced good fruit in me and my children. I wish you a less judgmental, less arrogant life, filled with a little more wonder and childlikeness which you obviously are in great need of.

      • Howard

        Yeah yeah yeah. How sad for me that I fail to recognize that the founder of Distributism not only believed that the modern spirit of irreligious greed is as real as Christ or Beelzebub, but that he rejoiced in that belief. Had he lived long enough, he would no doubt have also believed in Spuds Mackenzie and Ronald McDonald, and he would have written a delightful tale in which he encountered Tony the Tiger in a Walmart. Why, surely he MUST have believed in Santa Claus, just as firmly as he believed he had actually met Charles Dickens, who died 4 years before Chesterton was born, in that toy shop.

        The Santa Claus of today is more akin to the Soviet-era Grandfather Frost than to St. Nicholas of Bari, and to pretend that Chesterton would have supported what Santa Claus today is as wrong as finding a sentence in Chesterton’s writings in which he claims to have been gay and give the word “gay” its contemporary meaning. It has been said the Americans and the British are two peoples separated by a common language, but the same common language separates us from recent generations.

© 2017 Brandon Vogt

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