The Persistence of Modern Myth

By Gayla Nelson © 2006


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            Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, religion: why do we perpetuate these myths into the twenty first century?  There is a transition that occurs in each American child that marks the end of their innocence when they first have the cognitive thought that a single man really cannot climb down chimneys all over the world in just one night and deliver all those presents. They also live in a world of jets and rockets to the moon. Why would this dude be using flying reindeer? It is a child’s awakening to the vastness and mystery of the world. Strangely, many children will delay letting their parents know they have realized it is their parents who are Santa Claus.


            The tooth fairy is a great reward myth for the purpose of easing the trauma of losing one’s teeth. For many, this phase in life is stressful and frightening.  A tooth can barely be hanging, but they absolutely will not let you near them. We bring up the tooth fairy.  Face it: this is a bribe.


With the limited critical thinking ability in the age of the child, they may process this information in this way. The child’s mind is thinking, “okay, this is not so bad now, because I know these teeth are going to fall out.  Most of my friends have already lost their two front teeth.” And they brace themselves.  The myth outweighs the fear. Mythology is man’s best friend in the fear department.  Without believing in our own abstract realities, we would not be able to cope with the world. But children still can. We see to it by perpetuating childhood myths.


The tooth fairy arrives on schedule and apparently, the tooth fairy, of all people, has been getting big raises.  Obviously he does not work for the government or state. He is definitely no longer on a budget.  I remember getting a quarter for a baby tooth.  Having had so many students in my college classes, I knew when someone’s kid lost their first tooth.  These young entrepreneurs are getting anywhere from $3.00 to $5.00.  A tooth.  The Tooth Fairy must be heavily invested in oil.  Of course, kids eventually learn that their tooth fairy is really their parents.  Another mystical moment lost in youth. Yet, another epiphany to the vastness of the universe on a metaphysical level.


The Easter bunny also is a mythical symbol for a religious belief, although they have nothing to do with each other. All Christians know the meaning of Easter.  But for children, when they are very young, we do a very strange tradition that in no way ties into the Christian concept of Easter.  We go from the gruesome crucifixion of Christ, and the betrayal of his disciples, to the resurrection, and then, somehow, make the jump to the concept of this bunny rabbit, who can be unusual colors for a rabbit, and who delivers colored eggs. 


Wait a minute.  Chickens lay eggs. Why does this particular myth revolve around something that makes no sense?  Why didn’t this modern myth evolve logically with a chicken who delivers colored eggs instead of a rabbit? Is their some symbolism to the rabbit that escapes me?  Now, this myth has several other dimensions to it, also.  It is big retail business. Granted, it is not as big as the commercialism of Christmas, but then, what is? I could have discussed Christmas earlier, but that would be like preaching to the choir.

Easter dresses, shoes, socks, hats, jewelry, gloves, corsages, new suits, new ties, dress slacks, Easter candy, Easter paper plates and napkins; the list goes on. This is another myth that not only perpetuates itself with time, but grows bigger each year. Scrap bookers must have Easter stickers to go with all those pictures they took on Easter. Lilies and orchids are big sellers at this time.

I have searched and thought about it, but I still don’t know how this myth ties to its historical date or the Biblical events that it represents.  Children, dressed in all their finery, carrying wicker baskets, and picking up colored, boiled eggs to place in a basket is the ritual. But this activity carries with it no mythological wonder at all.  The exposure of this myth occurs early in life as kids help mom make the eggs for the bunny to deliver and then help deliver for their younger siblings.  The loss of this childhood myth is the least traumatic of all, yet it occurs during the most critical week in the development of Western beliefs regarding religion. Did that occur on purpose? Can you find any logical connection? Do you see this myth dying any time soon?

No.  Just as Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are modern myths, they are here to stay and most likely to continue to be the most high volume merchandising times of a year for retailers.  They will make sure that whatever you possibly could need to make that holiday spectacular, and the bizarre modern myth that accompanies it, will be available to you, and preferably, in large quantities.

And finally, as stated in the introduction, there is religion. Perhaps the most controversial, diverse, and frenetic myth of all. It has always been, and will always be, the one mythological belief that one man will actually kill another man over.  Holy wars will increase in this world as hate between nations grows. Civil wars, like the current one in Iraq, will continue to pop up in countries far and wide. As more and more religions splinter into various sects, the conflict is going to continue to rise. Protestants broke off from Catholics and then diversified at a rapid pace. Ireland has never resolved its Catholic and Protestant “conflict”, whether it is a physical war they are engaged in or a war with words.

The destabilization of the Middle East and the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program and their openly defiant attitude will be seen from more countries in the years to come. Has the abstract reality of a God become a point of contention among the world as to how each of us sees Him?  Have we simply not evolved enough intellectually as a world to realize how stupid and counter-productive and downright dangerous it is to fight each other over a mythological belief? Apparently not. Myths perpetuate themselves into adulthood with a much greater burden than those childhood myths that we outgrew.

Is a creator and a meaning in life what a man seeks? Or is it power and money?







Nelson, G. (2006). The persistence of modern myth. Gayla's Garden. Retrieved 

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