For many people, the experience of childhood is often associated with parents telling tales of fantastical characters like Santa Claus around Christmas and the Easter Bunny around Easter (if one’s family celebrated those holidays), or the Tooth Fairy every time a baby tooth fell out.
The carefree, innocent worldview of a child is informed by many things that are, for the most part, fictional, and in retrospect, difficult to fully believe in. But parents and peers still continue to feed and protect children’s belief in different forms of “magic.” Why?
Take the example of Christmas's brand ambassador: Santa Claus. The online debate surrounding when, how and whether parents should tell their kids that Santa isn’t real is surprisingly extensive.
The debate has gone so far that there has even been some recent academic research on the subject. A study by the psychology department at the University of Exeter, titled “The Exeter Santa Survey,” found that most children stopped believing in Santa around the age of 8 years old.
Father Christmas essentially personifies Christmas and captures the spirit of giving during the holiday season. His frosty white beard, plush red suit, reindeer sleigh and an army of elves in the North Pole make his persona particularly intriguing to the young mind.
After Halloween, you’ll see his face beginning to pop up at every storefront, ready to serve business interests on an increasingly commercialized religious holiday.
As a kid, the legend of a chubby old man sneaking into your house in the middle of the night to drop off gifts for you can be especially appealing. Many parents also use the magic of Santa as a disciplinary incentive in the home: “Make it on the nice list, or else!”
But, it should be noted that the advent of the internet and its somewhat limitless access gives today’s kids a head-start on the reality of the Santa situation.
Some would argue that childhood is, more often than not, imbued with a sense of magic because that’s what being a kid is really about. Cherished children’s movies — think “The Lion King,” “Toy Story,” “Ratatouille,” “Cars” and beyond — aren’t completely rooted in reality but there is always something a child, or even an adult, can learn from them.
Their visual storytelling usually goes hand-in-hand with some form of moral instruction. Many older generations thrived on this storytelling, making the concept of “magic” timeless.
Realistically, rats probably can’t cook, cars don’t take emotional journeys on their own and toys don’t interact with one another beyond the imaginations of their young owners.
Yet, we go back to the animated worlds of such films over and over because there are important values that their narratives are rooted in and we can uphold. Magic, in this particular context, is a didactic means of being and doing better.
Gillian Dauer, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, enjoys the creativity and joy that childhood “magic” sparks. “The myths that inform children’s stories help shape their imaginations and suspensions of disbelief, which I think is a good thing. It makes you a better person in the future if you don’t live your life in hard facts,” she said.
Furthermore, if kids didn’t have “magic” sprinkled into their lives — whether in the form of mythical characters like Santa or the Tooth Fairy, or those from animated films — the world would be a much more bleak place.
There are far worse lies parents could tell their children than, “The Easter Bunny is real.” We all may need something to believe in and to add some flair to the mundanity of everyday life.
Children embody the greatest kind of curiosity and the elusive “magic” that popular myths perpetuate is meant to cater to kids’ infinite imaginations.