When my father was a little boy, he told his brother that he was excited for Christmas because Santa was coming. His brother called him an idiot, spelling it out clearly: “Santa isn’t real.” My dad ran to his mom and asked tearfully, “Is Santa real?” She looked into his innocent eyes and told him the wintry truth, “No, son. He’s not.”
He felt betrayed and brokenhearted. He couldn’t understand why his parents had lied to him for so long.
As a result, my parents always told me the truth about Santa Claus growing up, and I’m so thankful they did because I never distrusted them and still had wonderful Christmas experiences.
Every year, on Christmas morning, my mother would pass out presents to my family one at a time, a painfully slow process for eager children. The “FROM” label on some of the gifts was filled out with a foreign signature: “Santa Claus.” Seeing the label, we’d smile and then look knowingly at our parents, who were also smiling, before ripping the wrapping paper off in delight.
I never felt betrayed or disappointed because my parents told me the truth about Santa. Rather, I knew that every year my parents showered me with gifts because they loved me, not a fat man in a red suit with a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer who showed up in the middle of the night and broke into our house. Christmas is a time when parents have an opportunity to demonstrate their love for their children, so why would you want to dilute that with a lie?
My parents did tell my siblings and me not to tell the other kids, especially after little Timmy, a gangly neighbor who was an only child, went crying to his mom because my sister, during some childhood skirmish, dropped the weighty Santa bomb of truth.
But millions of children every year, like Timmy and my father, are told that Santa isn’t real. They all share in the tradition of disappointment and disillusionment. Both are part of life, of course, but they don’t have to be part of Christmas.
Unlike my father, I never had to learn the truth from a neighbor kid or sibling. I learned it from my parents. If kids can’t trust their parents, who can they trust? Worse than the initial disappointment is the disillusionment that follows: If children learn that an omniscient being that they can’t see is actually made up by their parents, what do they do with God?
I won’t argue that Santa is satanic, as some do, (Although don’t they sound too similar for coincidence? Sorry. I couldn’t resist.). Nor am I arguing that he’s a commercialized effort to encourage excessive materialism. But maybe raising your children to believe in even a cute lie may not be worth the emotional backlash.
In his famous 1897 New York Sun editorial, “Yes, Virginia,” Francis P. Church claimed the fiction is worth the risk of emotional upheaval because Santa is a valuable part of childhood. He justified his lie with the claim that Santa Claus “exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.” “There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence,” Church wrote. “We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
The problem is that faith comes from trust in something, so using Santa as a way to teach kids about faith is both ironic and misguided. Ultimately, the author’s claim that the destruction of Santa would make life not worth living seems just a tad melodramatic.
Every Christmas I realize yet another wonderful tradition, like scripture reading, greasy breakfasts, and thoughtful presents, that my parents have created for our family. Christmas can be magical without Santa, so when I have kids, I plan on giving them the gift of trust every year.