Despite the professional advice against it, lying to your kids at Christmas about Santa is worth the flack for a bit of fleeting magic.
When I was a child, Christmas was so exciting. Leaving cookies and milk out for Father Christmas while carrots and a bucket of water waited outside for the reindeer. I’d place my Santa sack at the foot of my bed and will myself to stay awake all night so I could meet the fabled man himself.
This reverse thief who breaks into your house and gives you toys for being ‘nice’! What a legend!
That magic has obviously faded somewhat as I’ve grown older. Christmas, as an adult, has morphed into breaking bread and drinking (heavily) with my family, then passing out in a meat coma in the afternoon. Not too bad either, actually.
But now that I’m a dad with two very small boys, what am I supposed to do? Now that I’m the big kahuna, what do I do about that big fat white lie (with a beard)?
Do I reignite this farce for a few years, only to see my boys be ultimately let down like I was when I found out Santa wasn’t real?
Am I just forcing this lie on them to mask my own disappointment? My attempts so far have been pretty miserable judging by this photo (see above) of my eldest screaming when I told him to sit on some old weirdo’s lap.
To lie or not to lie
My wife’s position is crystal. Don’t be a Grinch and get on with it. She’s super Christmassy. Our tree is about to collapse under the weight of each new glitzy bauble she buys at this time of year.
My mum however sits in the opposite corner. She still decorates the entire house every year (and does a great job), but I reckon for her it’s a pain in the arse and she would rather not do it.
I think I fall into the second camp with my mum. And I would have been happy to continue to do so … until I became a dad.
Is the Santa lie damaging my kids?
There are experts who suggest these harmless lies are not so harmless and that children need to know they can trust their parents to tell them the truth.
In a spiel in the Lancet Psychiatry, two psychologists suggested lying to kids – even about something as innocent as Santa – could undermine their trust in their parents later on, and leave them open to experiencing “abject disappointment”.
“The Santa myth is such an involved lie, such a long-lasting one, between parents and children, that if a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw,” reckons Kathy McKay, a clinical psychologist at the University of New England.
Ouch. Now I’m setting them up for lifelong mistrust and misery?
Fake news is better than the reality
After much deliberation (and a stern look from my wife), this year I’m surrendering to the chimerical Christmas spirit. The tinsel is up and here are my lies:
1. Santa is real
Hand on my heart, Father Christmas is a portly white-bearded man in a red suit who somehow delivers all the “good” children presents and eats every snack left out for him. But I’m going to skip the “he sees you when you’re sleeping” bit. That’s just creepy.
2. Santa lives at the North Pole
Yep, he lives there with his lovely wife, Mrs Claus, and their army of slave elves making toys for all the kids in the entire world. Saying that out loud sounds insane but then again Apple got away with slave labour in those factories in China for years, so it’s possible. And given the rate the polar caps are melting, Santa may soon need to outsource to China himself anyway.
3. You can write a letter to Santa
We have already said this to my eldest. He will dictate, we will write it, he will then draw all over the letter and we’ll pretend to send it to Santa. The letter will detail exactly what my son wants from Santa which is great. I know what my kid wants and I will go get it … unless it’s a kite because kite flying is vegan fishing.
4. Santa gives you presents
Now, I’m not letting this imaginary freak take all the credit. My wife and I are going to be giving him presents, but he will also get some of the things specified in his letter. I don’t know how long this charade will last, but for the moment I’m happy for him to live in this beautiful little bubble and damn the consequences.
5. Santa flies in a magic sled led by Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
My eldest loves reindeers and I loved the story of Rudolph as a child so I’m sticking with this flight of fancy. This doesn’t mean I’m going to start telling him other stories he likes are also real. I’m not going to imply the Gruffalo is real for instance. Besides, the Gruffalo wouldn’t give presents – he’d eat deep-fried kids or something.
6. Santa knows who’s been naughty and nice
I hated this bit the most when I was a kid … being forced to be on my best behaviour all the time. It’s impossible for kids not to be naughty.
Hell, I threatened to put my son in the bin the other night when he was screaming at me to put the TV on and refusing a bath! How traumatic is that to a kid compared to discovering Santa isn’t real?!
But my wife jumped in on this one recently telling the eldest “you better be good or Santa won’t get you any presents”. We both looked at each other when she said that realising what had been laid down.
So I need to back my wife on this and if she says “if you don’t behave he’s not coming”, then that’s what’s happening.
Live the lie as long as you can
Whichever way you go, just know that at some point your child is going to work out that Santa isn’t real – either from you, from kids at school or because they’re the sort of little shit who stays up all night and busts you putting the presents out before eating Santa’s biscuits.
Some of you may want to rip this bearded Band-Aid off early. It can be annoyingly arduous running around like a headless chook trying to buy something your child will like when some tubby bloke with a beard takes all the glory.
But I personally don’t look forward to telling them the truth (“Yeah, sorry mate, it’s just a bit of fun we do at Christmas. The real story of Christmas is about a bloke called Jesus …”) but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
For now, my children are blissfully unaware and I selfishly love seeing them happy.
Merry Christmas, liars, long may it last.