Christmas. The time of discounts and icy roads and beautiful…lies.
For us storytellers and pathological liars, December is the time of year where we have a free pass to lie to our families.
We can lie to our spouses. “I’m going out to fill the car up.” But we’re really hopping over to Target to pick up some gifts. (Or, if you’re me, browsing the DVD section to see what’s on sale.)
“What’s in that bag?” asks your spouse. “Oh, some bars of soap and warm socks.”
And the most popular: “If you’re good, Santa will come bearing gifts.” (Or, as he’s called in our house by our toddlers, “Ho, ho, ho will come bearing gifts.”)
It’s a timeless debate. Should we lie to our kids about Santa? Will they trust us when it comes to anything else? Will they start believing they can sprout wings and fly and jump off the roof?
I’m no parenting expert, but here’s my take on it:
I lied to my kids when I read them Peter Pan. Every time I put in Wreck-It Ralph because the movie suggests that video game characters exist outside of our control and have feelings and lead lives when the game consoles shut down. I have never once said, “Kids, this is make-believe and Wreck-it Ralph and Fix-it Felix don’t really exist.”
I’ve never once said to them, “People can’t really fly,” or “toys don’t really come to life.” Instead, I buy them Woody and Buzz dolls with built-in voice boxes that suggest that they’re real.
I’ve also asked them every morning this month, “Did you hear any elves running around the house last night? Where do you think he’s hiding today?” You know what I’m talking about.
I don’t think telling your kids that Santa is coming is a bad thing. If I did, then I have no business letting them read books about talking dinosaurs. I don’t think any of us suffered any psychological trauma having been told about Santa when we were younger. In fact, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we didn’t honestly believe Santa was real even when our dads dressed up and we were encouraged to leave cookies and milk on the fireplace mantel.
Otherwise, why did we so blindly accept the truth about electricity but we bogged our parents down with hundreds of Santa questions? We never had solid proof. It was mists of teasing. We can recall the smirks our parents threw at each other when they said the Santas at the malls were just his helpers. We can recall how their answers to our endless questions were nonchalant like, “Eh, he just kinda shimmies down those chimney. I don’t know, the reindeer have pixie dust. Um, Santa’s probably a thousand years old.”
Think about it. You knew something was up. Our parents had a bigger reaction to the weather than to some world-traveler breaking into the house to leave mysterious boxes under the tree. I mean, those presents could have been bombs, or crazy sex toys.
But we also remember the feeling of magic and sentiment we felt when our parents were “in on it” with us. For one month out of the year our parents chose to believe what we wished was real.
What stands out to me the most about the Santa story is the themes of innocence and safety. The Santa story makes strangers friendly, the unknown pleasing and pleasant, and elves not so creepy. It also fights against pop-culture and film theories claiming red is a good and comforting color.
In short, the Santa story sets things right. I don’t swear to my kids that Santa is real, and I don’t make them sign some contract binding them to be good for Santa’s sake. But I’m not going hide them from any image of Santa and insist that he’s not real. Instead Sarabeth and I take a neutral stand. If they choose to believe in Santa, then who are we to stop them? I’m not going to rob them of that magic I felt growing up. They’re smart kids. I know deep down they don’t really believe the elf hops down off the shelf on his own every night, and they know that the reindeer at the zoo aren’t going to just up and fly away.
We all have chosen a side in this great December debate. I’ve chosen my side because I can’t stop the world from being dark and terrible, so I’m going to fill them with as much talking fish and wardrobe magic and Santa lore that I can.