Father Christmas: to lie or not to lie?
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
It's that time of year again.
The advent calendars are out, Christmas music is being played on repeat, and grumpy-looking dudes wearing red suits and long white beards can be found in malls up and down the country. The kids are excited - there is the promise of presents, chocolate, more presents, more food, and did I mention presents? Upon receipt of said presents, there are no thoughts of 'they spent too much, that's a bit awkward' or 'where the hell am I going to put this?' or 'another body wash, are they trying to tell me something?' All that runs through the kids' minds is a level of excitement that can't be captured with words. While I'm thinking 'oh, a toy dog that yaps, how long until it will accidentally end up at the Salvation Army,' they are thinking '!!!!!!!!'
Part of the excitement for many children is the belief that an overweight octogenarian came down the chimney and left them loot. Never mind that they don't even have a chimney, but a heat pump. Who cares that the presents are wrapped with the same paper your beady all-seeing eyes spied in Mum's bedroom last week, or that the beer you put out for Father Christmas happens to be Dad's favourite? It was Father Christmas. They know. They believe.
A few years back a study found that lying to your children about Santa may damage them. At first glance that feels like the Grinch that stole your ability to get kids to behave in December. Many parents talk about Santa like he's real, and go to great lengths to make their children believe in the Man in Red. Many more are willingly passive in the whole charade: not lying to their children per se, but not correcting their children either. We all have a variety of reasons for perpetuating the Father Christmas story: it's fun, let's let the kids believe in magic before they turn into cynical old bastards like the rest of us. If my kid is the one to tell his mates Santa's not real the other daycare mums will lynch me in the village green. It makes them so happy.
But: are we actually doing our children damage? To quote from the study, "if they (parents) are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?' If there isn't anything that rains on my Santa parade more than, you know, actual rain (always a risk in Wellington), it's that quote. On one hand, I want to roll my eyes. Is Father Christmas just something else I should feel guilty about? If that's true, my first thought is take a number and get in line. The line of things I feel guilty about as a parent already winds down the road and around the block. Lying about Father Christmas can stand in between 'the kids watch too much TV' and 'feeding my children McDonalds'. Or, it could hang out with my other Christmas related guilt: ‘my children have too many plastic toys’, and ‘the crappy cheap chocolate in their advent calendars will rot their teeth’. Santa guilt wouldn't even come close to the big scary bogey monsters of guilt I torture myself with on occasion, like 'being a working mother' and 'not clearing out my daughter's basket at daycare so not seeing an invite to a party until a week after said party had occurred'. Indeed, Santa fibs aint got nothing on those.
But: I want to be a guardian of wisdom and truth. I want my children to believe the things I tell them, which is why I am always truthful when asked about the big stuff like death and illness and what happened to Mufasa in the Lion King. Sometimes those questions require linguistic aerobics of masterful proportions to be both truthful and not scary ("Mufasa bonked his head then went to sleep forever"), but I try. Sometimes I fail, but I still try.
Why, then, is Father Christmas different? It's not even a good lie. There's a different man inside the red suit whenever we visit. There aren't reindeer in New Zealand, we're a hellava way from the North Pole, and the whole concept defies the laws of physics. There's also the social inequality factor: some kids get a lot more than others, and some children don't get much at all. Maybe I shouldn’t carry on the charade at all; maybe I need to up my game at being a guardian of wisdom and truth. Maybe that’s what my children really need.
But then, my little boy said: “Is Father Christmas true? I hope he’s true.” And I thought, you know what, I’m not going to be the guardian of wisdom and truth this year. He’s only little, I’ll tell him next year. 12 months is a long time at that age, and he may even figure it out for himself when he realizes his Monster Truck Masher set is from K-Mart, or that the grumpy old man in the Santa suit only smiled when a group of teenage girls draped all over him for a photo.
In the meantime, the Santa guilt can join all my other guilt in that line. Like I said, it’s a long one, so at least it will have plenty of company.
Blog entry first published here