On the eve of Easter, barely 24 hours after we arrived from a weeklong out-of-town family trip, I climbed into bed, nudged the sleeping hubby half-awake, and softly whispered in his ear what are probably the last words any husband expects to hear from his wife in the middle of the night:
“We have no eggs from the Easter Bunny for the kids tomorrow.”
The hubby peeled one eye open in a sleepy glance and gently chided me, “For someone who knows what Easter Sunday is really all about, I’m surprised you’re worrying about bunnies and eggs. Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.” Then he smiled, turned over, and returned quickly to dreamland.
So I lay there in the dark, wondering if I should or shouldn’t make a mad scramble in the middle of the night to hastily prepare and hide Easter eggs. A quick glance at the clock made me ditch that futile plan and instead think up possible excuses, in case the kids asked the next morning why the Easter Bunny called in absent this year. By that time, my mind was not only wide awake but on overdrive as well, so it wasn’t difficult to move on to torturing myself with more considerations: Is the Easter bunny incompatible with the whole reason for celebrating Easter Sunday (He is risen, alleluia!)? Would my failure to provide an early morning egg hunt for my kids elicit guilt-inducing tsk-tsks from my Martha-Stewart-Pinterest-inspired supermommy friends? Or would it earn me I-told-you-so glances from friends on the other end of the spectrum, who proudly declare that they don’t “do” Santa lest their kids lose touch with the real meaning of the Christmas season? Speaking of Santa, does this man in the red suit with his sack of gifts muck up the message of peace, love, and joy of the Babe in the manger? For that matter, does the Tooth Fairy turn my kids into gullible fools living in a fantasy world?
You can see how this was going (I’m thinking now perhaps midnight ruminations should come with a warning label: Don’t do it, or you might go a little nutty).
Nutty or not, though, this motley jumble of thoughts wasn’t entirely useless. They actually all led up to the same end-questions: Is it a disservice to our children to perpetuate the myth of the Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy and their whole coterie of childhood-inspired imaginary characters? Ultimately, which makes us better parents: teaching our children how to believe in magic or ditching all things fantastical in favor of raising them with perfect awareness of the hard facts of reality?
It’s not an original question. It’s been asked before. Studies upon studies have been performed to determine whether believing in Santa and his cohorts is healthy or not (do a Google search if you don’t believe me). But it’s a question that I never seriously considered until I found myself caught in this no-eggs-for-Easter-hunting dilemma.
Amazingly, my search for answers (or, okay, multiple reassurance that I wasn’t wrong in worrying about the Easter Bunny’s no-show) led me to tons of studies where psychologists and scientists alike attest that believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny et. al. is not only important for kids, it’s also normal, healthy, and essential for their cognitive and creative development. The traditions associated with these beloved childhood characters give rise to good values as well: When kids leave cookies and milk for Santa or shout “Thank you, Easter Bunny!” as they gather their egg loot, they’re showing generosity and gratitude that warms many a parent’s heart.
The facts show that kids readily believe in magic and accept the Impossible without much question. It’s when they grow up that things change, and logic and reality push magic far back into the subconscious.
Is trading magic for logic a good thing? It must be: The real world functions on logic and reason, after all. But I’ll confess to this: I’m a big proponent of keeping some childhood magic alive all the way into adulthood. Why? Because I firmly believe that there’s a precious child inside each of us – whether we’re 18 or 28 or 80 – and that inner child should never lose the wide-eyed wonder, amazement, and appreciation of the little simple things in life.
I think of my boys who’ve written letters to Santa, their wish lists peppered with I-love-you’s. These are the same kids who’d strive to make at least one sacrifice each day of Advent so that they could put a bit of straw on the wooden manger of our traditional Belen, filling it up daily with sacrifice-straws so that Baby Jesus would have a softer bed to lie in when He came on Christmas Eve.
And I’m struck by the realization that if their belief in Santa never took away from the true meaning of Christmas, then neither would believing in the Easter Bunny take away from the glory of Christ’s resurrection. In fact, I’d take it a step further and suggest that it’s precisely the exposure to childhood magic that helps us reach beyond existing limitations and transforms our dreams into reality.
Think about it: would the Wright brothers have dared to invent the airplane if someone didn’t first marvel at the magic of birds in flight? Would Neil Armstrong have taken that first step on the moon if someone didn’t first look up and dream of leaping across space and stars to land on unchartered craters? Could Albert Einstein have given us e=mc2 if he didn’t first recognize that “Logic will get you from A to B but imagination will get you everywhere”? I think much of what we now take for granted around us first sprouted from the seeds of fantastical imaginings combined with fearless daring and the determination to keep pursuing dreams no matter how impossible they appeared to the rest of the world.
It’s so much easier to just put a Christmas gift with a Love-from-Mom-and-Pop tag under the tree instead of stealthily delivering it to the front door at midnight while the children are kept busy. It’s also much easier to put chocolates and candies on a breakfast bowl instead of tucking them in Easter eggs hidden all over the house. So why do I bother to do it year after year until the day the kids outgrow the childhood traditions?
Because it’s fun for the kids. Because it makes them happy. Because it infuses their day with a little bit more magic. And because I think that kids need to believe in childhood magic in order to understand the bigger magic of life. It helps us move beyond what’s possible and probable, and believe, hope, and have faith in what we may not see, taste, and touch at present. And even as we grow up and magic gets tucked away to make space for logic and realism, I truly believe that we ought to make sure that a little bit of magic remains in our hearts. Because maybe, just maybe, it’s that residual belief in magic that helps us have faith when faced with what seems insurmountable. It’s what gives us the ability to suspend cynicism and bitterness and arms us with the power to find beauty and awe in the simple, ordinary every day. It’s what infuses us with the energy to continue hoping and believing and reaching beyond what’s in front of us in order to shoot for the moon and shine like the stars. And really now, with such a great Return on Investment like that, who could resist the temptation to indulge in a little bit of childhood magic?
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