From the moment a child is born there is probably no greater "universal truth" pounded into their head by society and culture than of the existence of a fat jolly man dressed in red who brings good little boys and girls presents each year with his eight tiny reindeer. It is the one great myth that is inescapable. Stores, malls, songs, programs, teachers, relatives, as well as friends and neighbors rigorously propagate and enforce this little piece of fiction. While mostly harmless and enjoyable, the story of Santa Claus is unknowingly used and abused by many well-intentioned parents who otherwise are upright and honest. They insist on lying to their children that Santa Claus is real.
My wife and I have three young daughters and from the very first we agreed that we would not lie to our children. It was our contention that to instill proper values and traits in our children would require us to be consistent and honest with them. What we would tell our children about Santa Claus was to be based upon the idea that we wanted them to always trust us and that their faith in us to lead them on the path of truth would not be compromised. Most parents would agree and do attempt to instill such basic principles into the hearts and minds of their offspring. Then why do they insist on perpetuating the lie, that Santa Claus complete with chimney tricks and bag of toys is real?
The main argument seems to be that it would be taking the fun out of Christmas if children did not believe that Santa Claus brought them presents on Christmas Eve. As if the basis of Christmas should be a falsehood and that children would suddenly find this special time of gifts, goodwill, carols, and family a shallow shell without an unquestioning belief in Santa Claus.
What little extra fun they may have had as small children with such a story is usually far exceeded by the bitterness and anger that an older child feels when they discover the inevitable truth. It is often a harsh experience to discover that the magical Santa Claus and all the hype perpetrated in the most complete of conspiracies is nothing but a big, bold, naked lie. Even I was surprised at the deluge of stories of disillusioned, supremely disappointed, and often very angry children who suddenly realize those they trusted the most have purposely misled them.
The next reaction children usually have is to question everything that they have ever viewed as true. What else have they been lied to about? Everything they have been told or taught is suddenly under a cloud of doubt and suspicion. The sting of the discovery that they have been lied to usually has some nasty and unexpected results. Christians should be especially concerned as they are susceptible to their children suddenly doubting the existence of God. Why should He be viewed any differently than Santa Claus; just another mythical character portrayed as the truth by their parents.
Though such reactions are not universal, they are far more common and consistent than most would like to believe. As I conducted my usual informal field research for this column, even I was surprised by the consistency of the stories of the "Santa reaction" by my friends, customers, and acquaintances. Very few, it seems, have chosen the path that will not result in angry children, shattered trust, and a questioned belief system. How many times do we tell our children that it is wrong to lie but then by our actions signal that it is OK in certain circumstances or if it is about certain things?
Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny should not necessarily be banned from the household and Western culture but properly presented as the silly make-believe characters that they are. Santa hats and tooth fairy pillows exist in the Huntwork household but not to the extent or at the expense of losing my children's faith and trust.
My children fully understand that Santa Claus is a made up fictional character and I am secure in the knowledge that they have not had one less iota of fun or enjoyment this Christmas than any other child. The visit to the mall Santa and the occasional whimsical story or comment about Santa Claus is still fun but he is understood to be "pretend". He should not be seen as any different than a character in a cartoon, a person in a play, or a star of one of my imaginative bedtime tales; fun, enjoyable and entirely fictional.
Christmas should be a time to cherish and spend time with your family and friends as we commemorate the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of this world. He is the reason for the season and children should be properly taught that Christmas is not a season for greed and fairy tales but commemorating the Truth and cherishing the things that matter the most.