I took my toddler to see Santa this week. She was pretty excited about the prospect of meeting “Fada Wissmus” beforehand, but when we actually stepped into the grotto she went completely silent, stared straight ahead and pretty much refused to acknowledge the poor guy with the red suit and the passably good beard. There were a lot of one-sided questions, furtive attempts at jollity and a decidedly awkward moment when Lara decided she was more interested in trying to steal Santa’s little decorative reindeer than receiving her gift. Sure, the whole concept of Father Christmas is a bit much to expect from a two-year-old, but at least we got some fairly ridiculous photos and a rather nice jigsaw puzzle out of it.
There has been some debate in the press recently about the morality of perpetuating the Santa myth. One line of argument is that we’re promoting what is essentially a big fat lie, making hypocrites of parents who bring their children up to believe lying is wrong. My problem with this is that it asserts, out and out, that lying is always wrong. I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree. I have no problem with lying if it’s with good intentions. When my dad was dying and shaved his head he asked me if it looked good. I lied then. Was that wrong? Is it really, truly wrong to lie to children about a kind, magical man who gives them and every other child on the planet presents on Christmas Eve without expecting a thing in return?
I don’t remember asking my parents whether Santa was real, probably because by the time I was old enough to ask, I was old enough to know I didn’t really want to know the answer. It didn’t damage our relationship. On the contrary, I credit them with the reason why Christmas time was so tummy-squeamingly exciting for so long in my life. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know anyone whose relationship with their parents has suffered as a result of them lying to them about Father Christmas for however many years. Nor do I know anyone who has suffered in any way whatsoever as a result of having once believed in Santa. So what’s the big harm?
We’ve already covered the grey area around the ‘evil’ of lying. What about kids getting freaked out about a strange man coming into their bedrooms at night? Call me naive but isn’t part of believing in Father Christmas believing in his goodness, his innocence, the great equality of his generosity towards all children in all the world? Our kids are going to become as cynical and suspicious as we are soon enough, why hurry the process? And, if your kid really is that freaked out, just put the damn stocking downstairs like they do in America.
It all comes down to childhood, I think. If your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine, there aren’t many days that go by without someone sharing a meme lamenting the loss of those carefree, innocent days. Who doesn’t miss the reaches your belief could stretch to when you were little? The days when the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and, yes, Father Christmas were perfectly reasonable… That’s why we keep trying, for so long. That’s why we lie in bed at 12 years old, eyes determinedly shut as dad muffles a swearword as he stubs his toe on his way out with our empty stocking. Even in those days of heady adolescent awakenings, there still flickers a tiny, iridescently vaporous glimmer of belief that maybe, just maybe, it’s not dad at all… The tiniest shadow that’s only there because it’s trying so hard not to die. Something you may no longer remember or want to acknowledge now you know – so irreversibly – better.