| from Library of Congress
Santa’s Coming! OK now – be honest. What was your first response to that statement? Excitement? Surprise? Revulsion? This points to your story about Santa. What you do or don’t believe about that seasonal celebration.
“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it” — Vincent Van Gogh
In modern society we like to think of ourselves as beyond myth. We live in a time of science. But that is a complete myth. Most people in North America believe in God, heaven (usually as another place), miracles, and angels. A majority also believe in hell and the devil. Thats not to say this is right or wrong. Only that they believe in something that most of them have not experienced. That is the basis of a myth.
Look at the stories we raise our children on. The Easter bunny. Halloween. I was raised with Grimm’s tales and they are that – grim. The grand-daddy of them all though is Christmas. Here’s a blend of a celebration of the birth of Jesus with excess and the Santa story. People who come to the west from other cultures find some of this quite bizarre and inconsistent.
Add in to the Santa story the “better be good” part where Santa’s giving is dependent on you being a good child, entirely based on your parents rules of right and wrong. Rules that may not be consistent or match your friends parents rules.
And then we dump it all when old enough to recognize its a story. Rather than being told what Santa represents, many kids are informed that “now you’re old enough to know the truth”. Or they discover from friends that it was all a lie for little kids. Being grow’d up meant rejecting kids stories. Only they shaped our stories at the deepest level.
We may suggest that we outgrow a believe in Santa, but children under the age of 5 or 6 are like sponges, absorbing everything, especially the unspoken messages and feelings around them. That never leaves us. Instead, we layer on stories about the stories. We have the Xmas morning story. Layered on with the ‘its not real’ story, then the ‘thats for kids’ story, then the ‘have to deal with family’ story, then the spending excess story. No wonder Christmas is messy for some people!
The same is true for our stories about work, money, the opposite sex, sex, cars, music, and on and on and on. We have stories about cigarettes, litter, driving habits, pretty much any subject you can imagine. Ask anyone their opinion about, say movies, and they will usually spout their story. An automatic programmed response. Each of us has some area or 2 in our lives where the stories create internal conflicts. The successful guy who can’t make relationships work. The well-paid woman who is always in debt.
People like Joseph Campbell have observed that we need myths, we need stories to explain our world and give us something to believe in. To give order to the world. The trick is to be aware there are stories that deeply influence our response to events in our lives. (Our response determines how we experience life, not the events themselves.) If we are aware of the stories, then we can ask ourselves if those stories serve us or do we serve them.
The trick to being aware of a story is to simply pay attention to how we are responding to life. When we notice, perhaps afterwards, that something has triggered an excess or inappropriate response, theres a flag to pay attention to. Why do we feel this way? What is our story about this? And thus begins our exploration of our storybook world that we have build for ourselves. The one that tells us if we should be happy or sad.
Does yours have a fairy tale ending? Is that ending now or always in the future? You can’t be happy now if your story tells you its wrong. When is happiness wrong?