It may easily come to pass that a vain man may become proud and imagine himself pleasing to all when he is in reality a universal nuisance.

Baruch Spinoza

The idea of Father Christmas

You can tell children anything and they'll believe you. But why tell them stories about Father Christmas? Everyone knows that lying is wrong. The role of parents is certainly not to mislead their children; on the contrary, it is to tell them the truth to make them more conscientious and to give them the means by which to judge things well when they grow up.

This is precisely what Plato, who was not very fond of those who concoct stories, thought. He didn't really like the "great" authors you read at school. In The Republic, he spends a lot of time criticising the great poet Homer who, according to him, was not that great. Why? Because he said things that weren't true and Plato saw no point in telling imaginary tales to children; they might be pretty - but they are futile. He hated artists, acrobats and painters, for no other reason than that they deceive people.

So why tell children stories about Father Christmas, especially as we know very well that they will find out, sooner or later, he does not exist. Why do we persist in telling this fantasy from generation to generation?

While we know that generally we have to tell the truth, we also know that we can sometimes lie to someone for their own good. Plato himself admits that myths, fictions and stories, in short, fairy tales, can be useful, especially in educating children.

A child is above all guided by his senses and his desires. To educate him, and show him what is good and what is bad, we must play on his feelings; we cannot address his reason as it has not yet been developed. We will tell him to eat his soup because it makes him grow taller, which is a falsehood. The important thing, nevertheless, is that he eats. We will also tell him that it is Father Christmas who comes down the chimney to put presents under the tree. What is important is the educational function of this myth. Indeed, Father Christmas, officially, only gives presents to “well-behaved" children, without anyone knowing where he gets this information. Either way, the story might help to encourage children to follow the rules their parents try to teach them. Since children are ruled only by their desires, they are promised gifts if they obey and fear is often played on to prevent them from being disobedient. It remains to be seen why we don't just promise them presents. Why invent a Father Christmas?

One could think that Father Christmas is an incarnation of God - the best way that believers found to acquaint their children to this idea. A God in a red cloak with a long beard, which is good, since Christmas is first and foremost the birthday of Jesus Christ, the son of God. Moreover, one could wonder to what extent God could not be a Father Christmas for adults, since he seems to fulfil the same function: he allows us to believe that the world is just and encourages us to do good and to flee from evil.  He punishes sinners on Judgment Day, and rewards pious people ("the last shall be first"). Can the redemption promised to believers not be compared to the gifts awaiting good children ? Is there more reason to believe in God than in Father Christmas?

We endured the day when we had to bury our childhood; that day when we realised that the age of myths and fairy tales was over and it was time to be rational. It's the day you do things no longer to get a reward or to avoid punishment, but because you are able to understand that it is just fine. In short, we are able to judge for ourselves the value of things, thanks to the education we have received, especially through the story of Father Christmas - this old man from the North Pole, etc. Once we have full use of reason and we know how to distinguish between things, we have  the knowledge, intelligence and experience to distinguish true from false. We no longer believe in Father Christmas because we know enough not to believe anymore. We will have known how to adopt certain rules of prudence, like the apostle Saint Thomas, who said: "I only believe what I see." Indeed, I would probably find it difficult to admit that a man is able to walk on water and turn water into wine. For parties that go on forever this may be very practical, but it is not very plausible, especially if we add that this man is dead and has been resurrected. He's also the only one: there hasn't been anyone else who has been able to do this, except perhaps his buddy Lazarus. It doesn’t add up, considering that all other men systematically die, and it is almost inconceivable 12 people can be found who can testify, and will swear they saw him do this. Merely 12 apostles, compared to the testimony of all the other men who have never seen these miracles. So I have learned to be wary of what people tell me if it is clearly contrary to everything I, or most people, acknowledge to having seen. Therefore, when we ask ourselves: "How can I believe in Father Christmas?" we imply that we can no longer be deceived, to the point that we are even surprised to have been so gullible for a time. It is said that you cannot believe something for which there is no proof. However, is it really true that I no longer believe in Father Christmas?

The problem is, "we were children before we were men", so much so that for a long time we trusted anyone and anything. Nevertheless, how many of these beliefs inherited from our childhood, still influence our lives? Most people only believe what they see, think that Napoleon was Emperor, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that one should not kill one's neighbour. Still deep down, what do they know? Some even believe that God exists, not to mention those who pay homage to Joan of Arc who decided to kick the English out of France on the express recommendation of the angel Gabriel, but then doubt the reality of the gas chambers. The smart guy who saw fit to say one day: "I only believe what I see," is he really being careful? Can I trust what I see rather than what I am told? Philosophers have shown, and Descartes first of all, that our senses can be deceptive. The first optical illusion that has come to us proves it, that of the sun which is not as close to us as it seems, or this intermittent spectacle which in December, is to make children believe that Father Christmas exists. Everyone knows that appearances are deceptive. And yet, that doesn't stop us from believing that the table in front of me exists because I see it, and I can touch it.

So how can I be sure that I am correct? It has also been said that it is better to believe the "truths" most people accept, and of which the testimony of the Twelve Apostles was not very credible. Having everyone believe the same thing would be a better way to recognise the truth than to trust  our own senses. Yet, when in the 17th century Galileo claimed that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not the other way around, he was alone against all; he was right, while everyone else was wrong. So just because everyone else agrees with me doesn't mean I'm telling the truth either. And once we finally admit to that, what evidence is there that the Earth revolves around the Sun? It has been proven by science. Yes, science, the specialist who is on TV, and who is bound to be right, since a banner at the bottom of the screen gives him the title of "specialist". After all, what do we know? Have you seen the Earth revolve around the Sun? Have you studied this ?

As you can imagine, most of the things you think about are prejudiced. Everyone has long admitted a number of truths without ever bothering to question everything they have been told repeatedly. So, how can I be sure that I am correct? To find out, we have to start by asking questions. The problem is that you think you are sure of what you think, purely because you never questioned it. So the real question is not how I arrived at believing in Father Christmas, but rather: "Don't I believe nonetheless?”

Most people often wonder what philosophy is for, as if there is a good reason not to study it. But what about other subjects? The maths exercises we knocked out at school are no more useful either. Calculations that can be used in everyday life (doing your accounts, filling out your tax return), are more than enough. And what about watching a TV game for an hour, is that useful? And music? What is useful? Are we only doing things we think are useful? Surely not. So, why philosophise? To reflect, that is, to question one's opinions and beliefs. To make your ideas your own. In short, to no longer believe in Father Christmas.