15 Nov 2017
It was said by my 5 year old son with the wide-eyed amazement of a boy who believed he was the first human ever to make this discovery. In a moment of confusion, I blurted out, “I know”. It seemed the obvious reply to the idea that a solitary, overweight man delivers presents to every child in the world in one night, driven by flying reindeer!
Father Christmas is incontrovertibly ridiculous, yet almost all parents perpetuate the myth. So every year, the question gets asked, “What should a parent tell their child about Father Christmas?”
Two professors – Christopher Boyle from the UK and Kathy McKay from Australia – said the Santa story can lead children to distrust their parents. They wrote: “Seeds are planted – Santa might not be real! But adults are not meant to lie … you are aware that they have, so as a child you also consider what else have they lied about.”
To Christian parents, the dilemma is even more acute. We tell our children to trust an invisible King who rose from the dead, and now rules everything from his throne in Heaven. Few others believe he is real. His miracles often seem as fanciful as delivering endless presents around the globe. When our children discover that Father Christmas is a lie, will they think Jesus is a lie as well?
I feel torn.
On the one hand, children naturally learn to differentiate between myth and truth. Although steam engines are excellent, none of them can talk like Thomas. On the other hand, I take seriously the command, “Do not exasperate your children.” (Eph 6:4). I do not want to lie to my children. When I look them in the eye and answer their questions, it matters that they can trust me in every situation.
My considered answer is that I don’t think it is the most important issue to get straight at Christmas. I want to spend far more time explaining why Christmas is a miracle for an entirely different reason. God became a baby. The creator was placed in a feeding trough. The Lord of all was nursed by a teenage mum. I want to leave each family to make their own decision. This is not the issue I would pick to chat through with another parent at Church.
In our family, we made sure that the best presents came from us rather than Father Christmas, because we wanted our children to be grateful to us, not a mythical bloke. We chose not to lie to our children about Santa. We were occasionally evasive in our answers, and didn’t correct their misunderstandings. But when we were asked straight questions about Santa’s existence we gave the whole truth. You might say that we were inconsistent. Sadly, we often are.
But the truth did not make our lives easier. That Christmas my son got into a fight on the rugby pitch, when he told a little friend during a water break that Father Christmas was a fabrication. I sat him down and talked about the need to love others by leaving them to enjoy Father Christmas until their parents decided the time was right. It’s ironic that I was asking my son to let others enjoy the lie of Father Christmas while I frequently encouraged him to tell them the truth about Jesus Christ.
As always, it is in the difficulties of life that parents can have the most meaningful conversations with their children. Perhaps Santa is the opportunity to talk about the difference between truth and lies, between fanciful myth and hard reality, between shared secrets and widespread denial of the facts.