Spoiler Alert: Santa Isn’t Real

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‘Tis the night before Christmas and all through the world, parents are creating an elaborate ruse. Stockings are dangling, waiting for treats and gifts. Cookies and milk are set out nearby for the jolly man’s snack. Presents are wrapped in shiny paper before moving to their spot under the tree. When it’s time to tuck the children in, parents everywhere whisper, “Go to sleep or Santa won’t come with presents.” Parents lie.

Atheists don’t typically teach their children to believe in magical beings. Skeptics don’t typically teach their children to believe without question. Atheist skeptics make an exception though when it comes to Christmas. Not only is the exception made, but it’s an extravagant, deceptive exception at that. Even the most hardened anti-theists still perpetuate the Santa Claus myth with their children and for no apparent, logical reason.

Parents tell their kids stories all the time. There are books, movies, TV shows, and games that all have an interesting premise and a captivating plot. We take great pleasure in being charmed by a good story. It’s almost a magical experience. And yet, we don’t assert that these stories must be real in order to enjoy them. Children too can enjoy the myth of Santa Claus and not believe he is real. Kids love to be entertained by Christmas movies and books. It’s a beautiful tradition. Then parents take this wonderful experience and gild refined gold by insisting an old man actually does travel around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.

Kids are intelligent and perceptive. They can separate myth from reality if we give them the tools to do so. Instead of teaching kids to believe in fairy tales as fact, we should teach them to value the celebrations we have in place. Christmas, as a holiday, isn’t simply Christ’s Mass. It’s a holiday that has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia. Some type of Winter Festival is commemorated all throughout the world and it’s rich with multi-cultural history.

Let’s teach children about Santa Claus. Let’s also teach them about Saint Nicholas and how gifts were given on December 6 instead of December 25. Tell them how Saint Nicholas was called Sinterklaas by the Dutch and Pere Noel by the French. Teach them about the god Odin and the Germanic Yule celebration. Dive deeper. Discuss Kwanzaa, Hanukah, and Saturnalia. There is no reason to maintain one Christian-Pagan tradition over so many others. Adapt new traditions and assimilate old customs. Let’s teach our children to appreciate all myths and fables as the exciting stories that they are rather than the one commercialized tale we’re all familiar with.

Winter festivals are a great time to teach generosity and compassion, to further humanism. Giving to others was the primary motive of early celebrations and we should educate and continue that tradition with our children.

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“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”

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Brushing a curl back from my daughter’s eyes, I softly sing the lyrics to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” without really thinking about the words. It is only when my three year old starts singing them back to me that I pause. Wait a second. We do know what stars are. And they don’t twinkle either.

A fantastic new version of the song has popped up online that I am now teaching my children:

Twinkle, twinkle little star
I know exactly what you are

Opaque ball of hot, dense gas
Million times our planet’s mass
Looking small because you’re far
I know exactly what you are

Fusing atoms in your core
Hydrogen, helium, carbon, and more
With such power you shine far
Twinkle, twinkle little star

Bright when close and faint when far
I know exactly what you are

Smallest ones burn cool and slow
Still too hot to visit though
Red stars dominate by far
Twinkle, twinkle little star

Largest ones are hot and blue
Supernova when they’re through
Then black hole or neutron star
I know exactly what you are

Our sun’s average as stars go
Formed 5 billion years ago
Halfway through its life so far
Twinkle, twinkle little star

Forming from collapsing clouds
Cold and dusty gas enshrouds
Spinning, beating protostar
I know exactly what you are
Twinkle, twinkle little star

The beauty of this version is that it’s accurate, for the most part. For simplicity, it still says that stars twinkle and, to us, it appears they do. All it takes is a side comment to a child to educate them why stars twinkle (because our atmosphere distorts the light and causes refraction in multiple directions.)

When I first started teaching the song to my children, I got some backlash from family members. “It’s just a lullaby, Candice, not everything has to be a science lesson.” Not everything does have to be a science lesson, this is true. But why not teach kids accuracy instead of fables? Why not open their minds to the beauty and awe that exists in the universe? It’s still a lullaby and I will still poorly sing it to my kids at night but now they’ll have questions in the morning.

Scientist Apologizes for “Sexist Shirt”

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Rosetta scientist Dr. Matt Taylor has now apologized for the shirt he wore showing half-naked women and the outraged masses seem to have begrudgingly accepted it.

Yes, it was a tactless decision to wear the shirt. Good for him for apologizing and feeling bad, etc. But what’s with the outrage? It’s the outrage that I find bewildering. It’s a tacky shirt. That’s it. Would the reaction had been different if a female scientist wore a shirt showing half-naked men? Yes. People would have laughed, maybe even encouraged her, and then gone back to the success of the mission at hand. Not the case with Dr. Taylor. It was the only thing that filled up my news timeline for days. Hashtags like #sexistshirt and #shirtgate started trending and, all of a sudden, no one is focused on the fact that the ESA just managed to land a probe on a comet. Which is amazing. This is fantastic news. But no, attention shift to sexism outrage and we’re no longer celebrating the successes of humanity.

I know women have a hard time in STEM fields. Lacking personal experience, I have read articles and talked to with women who have told me the challenges they face. It really blows, to say the absolute least. But I think I can speak on behalf of at least 3 or 4 people when I say, “This mission is an amazing one, Dr. Taylor, and you should be very proud of yourself and your team. I’m really looking forward to the information we’ll attain by exploring the final frontier… on an aside, maybe try a white button-down next time.”

Introducing my new website

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Thanks for stopping by and welcome to my new blog! This is just an introductory post so I’ll keep it short and sweet.

I decided to start a new blog because I want a fresh slate for the ideas I’m constantly planning out and ranting on- primarily science before the classroom.

Over the next few months I plan to be writing and sharing posts about new developments in science, education, science for children, skepticism, critical thinking, humanism, politics, and religion.

That’s it for now! If you’d like to be kept updated with my posts “Like” this post or subscribe to my blog.