It’s Boxing Day evening here, and I’m tired. This is obviously due in great part to the fact that it was Christmas Day yesterday, and Christmas Eve the day before that. Our Offspring have been so excited about The Big Day, counting down the days, with Fourth Offspring asking everyday, if we could go to Christmas.
This has been the first Christmas where they all ‘get’ it. Last year, Fourth Offspring was only two years old, but this year, having turned three a few months ago, he was very much aware of what was going to happen: Santa comes in the night, and leaves presents under the tree. First Offspring, aged eight, is still convinced of this, and so for the first and almost certainly the last time, all children were enthralled with the magic of Santa, and I’ll admit, that was a lovely thing to be a part of.
But the Handsome Sidekick and I did discuss with each other, whether we should tell First Offspring about Santa. After all, he’s almost nine. We were both younger than that, when we found out about Santa. How long should we keep up the facade? And how should we break it to him?
I found out about Santa from our parish priest. He broke it to me, the Christmas when I was seven. Of all times to find out, right? And from all people! It’s quite possible the seeds of my atheism were sown then and there.
Anyway. There’s obviously no way we’d just tell our Offspring something like this on Christmas Eve. But I’ve been thinking lately about truth and lies and where Santa is on the spectrum. Of course I want to tell the truth to our Offspring, because I also value the truth from them, and it’s important to set an example. This article argues that by telling them a lie–that Santa comes to give them presents if they’re good–we’re setting ourselves up for them to question whether other things we tell them are false. The author, David Kyle Johnson, explains:
Recently, one man told me the moment he realised his parents had lied about Santa, was also the moment he concluded that his parents must have also been lying to him about Jesus and God. He’s an atheist still today.
As you can imagine, this particular example is rather a sore point with me, but never mind.
Johnson suggests that we’re doing our children a disservice by telling them that Santa is going to bring presents, and that there are other ways of making Christmas fun, without having to lie about Santa. And he might be right. It’s not that I really enjoy lying to our Offspring. Ethics aside, telling lies is more hassle than telling the truth, and for someone who already has a lot to remember, trying to ensure that I don’t slip up and say something about Christmas shopping or presents can be stressful.
But we live in a culture where Santa is the norm. It might be a lie, but it is a lie we share with other parents and older children. It’s a part of a world where magic exists. We lie about Santa because we want to give our children that gift of believing in an otherworldly somewhere else. The world can be mean and harsh and unfair, but Santa is not–oh, sure, there’s always the ‘you’d better be good, or Santa won’t bring you any presents’, but I don’t generally use that threat, anyway. It’s far too abstract a punishment, and lacks immediate consequences. It also focuses on the negative, rather than the positive. You’d better be good, or Santa won’t bring a present, instead of, ‘if you’re good, Santa will bring you a present!’ Let’s face it. Santa always brings presents, even if you’ve been bad.
(Let’s not even get started about what ‘being good’ means It’s a vague concept which is hard to understand, especially for a small person. It’s much easier for them (and you) to measure if you can quantify it. But I digress.)
Our Offspring are already a little different from most of their friends. Their sandwiches are made from home-baked bread, they don’t watch commercial television, they live in a big family, and they have two parents who work from home in the creative industry. They’re the weird kids. And generally, we value telling the truth, which is why we honestly answer questions about pretty much every topic they throw at us, from sex to history to social norms. But Santa is one aspect where they can be like the other children. Yes, it’s a lie, but it’s part of our culture. When children find out the truth, it is a rite of passage, as they move from ‘little kid’, ever closer to adulthood. And then they’re in on the secret, custodians of the magic, which they will pass it on to their children. A tradition. A fantasy. And so short-lived, because these days, childhood seems to be getting shorter and shorter.
As far as lies go, we could do worse. So for now, I’m sticking with it. And I’m confident that when the time comes to discuss whether or not Santa exists, they’ll have the emotional maturity to be able to deal with it.
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PS: On Christmas Eve, as our Offspring headed to bed, Second Offspring (aged seven) stopped at the doorway, and said,’Hey, Mummy. What if it’s not Santa who brings the presents, and it’s really you and Daddy, pretending?’
What if, indeed?