The Santa Claus Lie
Is it wrong to teach our children about jolly old St. Nick, and set them up for heartbreak?
-April Daniels Hussar
I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus. My mother believed whole-heartedly until she was quite old – maybe 9 or 10 – and, as she tells me, she was so utterly heartbroken and disillusioned when she found out the truth, that she wanted to spare me from the heartache. So, though I do have a photo of me on Santa’s lap, I think I was too young at the time to really understand who he was supposed to be – and by the time I was old enough, I knew who he wasn’t.
My 6-year-old daughter Isabella, on the other hand, is a believer. And this year, her letter to Santa breaks my heart. It’s just a short list with a big note at the top that says, in her sweet, first-grader scrawl: “Dear Santa, What I really want this year is to go for a ride on your sleigh.”
Augh. Instant, wretched mommy-guilt. I immediately began trying to figure out how I could fake that. Of course, I can’t. And it kills me because I know that no matter what we tell her (Oh honey, Santa can’t do that, it’s not fair to the other kids …), she believes in her heart there is a slight possibility that he’ll arrive on Christmas Eve to grant her wish, and whisk her off through the sky in his cozy sleigh, the stars twinkling merry Christmas songs and Rudolph beaming his red nose to guide them all the way to the fairyland at the North Pole.
Earlier today, I asked my husband if he feels bad that we taught Isabella about Santa Claus. “Yes,” he said immediately. “It’s a lie.” He’s worried that when she does find out the truth, she won’t ever believe in magic again. The real kind of magic – which, the way I think he sees it, is the magic of possibility, of miracles, of all the beautiful, unexplainable things in life and beyond.
“So you wish we never told her about Santa?” I asked. “Yeah,” he replied, “I wish we just taught her about The Spirit of Christmas.”
Ah yes, the Spirit of Christmas – a very real and true thing, even for non-religious people like us. And certainly a concept that we’ll try to segue Isabella’s notion of Santa Claus into, because of course Santa really does exist, in a way, if you think of him as a parable, as an embodiment of giving and generosity. It’s just that the truth isn’t as exciting if it doesn’t come wrapped in a red coat and a long white beard, carried on a magical sleigh.
That’s the bald-face lie part. And it’s making me more and more uncomfortable as Isabella gets older that I’m telling her a lie when the rest of the time we teach her to be honest and true.