All discerning adults know that Santa Claus is a lie. In Australia, we really don’t need to worry about the general absence of chimneys because the jolly old man with the white beard and red suit doesn’t need to gain access to our houses on Christmas Eve. He’s a fabrication – a Christmas myth. And that’s the interesting issue that Santa brings up.
Is it OK to lie to your kids?
The children’s author John Marsden in his book ‘The boy you brought home’ (a guide for raising boys) cautions against telling your children that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are true. The rationalisation for this is that by lying to your children you’re not setting a good basis for a future relationship built on trust. Sure, lying about Santa is not going to be the catalyst that sends your child into therapy at a later date, but it’s a step towards establishing a culture that is fostering the deception of kids.
A few years ago we decided that we would not lie to our kids about the existence of Santa. This was based on a few things. We didn’t want to lie to our kids full stop, and we also didn’t want to get dragged further into the consumerist whirlwind that Christmas has become.
Not surprisingly our position on Santa has been met with a variety of responses. This has lead me to believe that the position you take on Santa could well be the next modern parenting debate – right next to breast or bottle, cloth or disposable and private or public (and potentially just as divisive as these debates!).
The most usual response is that we are taking away some of the ‘magic’ of Christmas for our children by doing this. There are also the parents that worry that our child might reveal the lie to their children and thus shatter their kid’s Christmas.
So on critical reflection – has doing this made Christmas any less ‘magical’ for our kids? I truely believe the answer is no. Christmas has, and always will be, magical for us. The kids look forward to it and are so excited by it. It is the most special time of year for them.
Interestingly, as it has turned out, our kids still engage with the idea of Santa; probably because you can’t escape the Santa myth in Australian society. How many people ask your kids ‘what did Santa bring you?’ or ‘is Santa coming to your house?’ or ‘have you been a good boy for Santa this year?’. Even very multicultural schools and preschools usually have some engagement with Christmas and therefore Santa.
Our kids don’t receive any Christmas presents labelled ‘from Santa’ – they’re all from mum and dad, or one from their brother. Yet they still get into the magic of pretending about Santa – but they know it is pretending. Pretending is what kids do best, and love, and just like any other kid they get joy out of using their imaginations.
Our kids are genuinely excited by the magical story, and the general ambience of Christmas time. But they are not actively encouraged to have faith in a belief that they will discover at a later date to be a fabrication. They’re also encouraged to understand that there are a whole range of different stories and beliefs that people hold, and to be respectful of people’s beliefs.
So aside from the ‘bahumbug’ response we sometimes receive that we’re taking away the magic of Christmas (something I know personally to be untrue), the only other downside appears to be that we don’t have that wonderful parental control mechanism up our sleeve of getting our kids to behave under the threat of Santa failing to visit them.
So do I think you should follow suit?
As with all the great parenting debates, I think the best approach is tolerance of the different ways in which parents chose to bring their kids up.
The majority of kids in Australia will be brought up with Santa, and that’s great for those families. It’s just not the way for my family.
For us, teaching Santa as part of the Christmas story, and not Christmas fact, is part of aiming at tolerance.
Everyone has the right to celebrate (or not celebrate) Christmas however they choose to, and it’s critically important that we teach our kids that its OK for different people to believe different things, and that we need to respect other’s beliefs.
Do you celebrate Christmas in your family or have visits from the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny?
How did you feel about your parents and Christmas when you found out the ‘truth’?
How can we encourage the tolerance of different beliefs in religious periods?
For another interesting blog on this see http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/parenting/archive/2009/12/14/santa-claus-truth-lie.aspx
Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/darrencullen/4797833042/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to Darren Cullen.