Is it okay to lie about Santa?

 

I'm addicted to frivolous controversies, especially those that pop up around the holidays. There are the expected moral quandaries regarding gifts and shopping and "the reason for the season." That's par for the course. There are also issues surrounding exclusivity and inclusivity -- is Christmas being taken away from us by "others" and/or are we hurting those same "others" with the boldness of our celebration? It's normal and productive to talk about these things. What's supremely stupid, however, is the eternal debate about the so-called immorality of lying to children about Santa Claus.

Now, if you don't want to "lie" about Santa, that's fine. It's a personal decision. Some might bust the Santa myth early and for various reasons. Maybe some parents really aren't comfortable with telling an elaborate story or need their children (who perhaps don't celebrate Christmas) to know that they aren't being denied presents by a gift-giving legend simply because they're Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist. They're not being visited by fat man carrying precious loot because he doesn't exist.

But the idea that the Santa myth is not a fun tale told in the spirit of imagination, but rather a malicious lie concocted to manipulate innocent children into behaving well so that they may be rewarded with obscene material gifts, is a little simplistic and didactic (even though the sentiment makes sense). Let's break down the main arguments against perpetuating the treacherous Santa Claus "lie"

1) It's wrong to lie to children.

When it comes to lying, there are many shades of grey. Some argue that a lie is a lie and lying to children -- even about something fun and frivolous -- teaches them that it's okay to spread malicious untruths. You tell your kids that Santa is real, and they'll become pathological liars who will ruin their lives (and possibly yours) with their parent-sanctioned dishonesty. They'll become little Rob Fords, smoking rock and lying about it for months -- all because they'll never understand that lying is Bad and Wrong and Never Okay Ever.

Many, many children have been lied to about Santa. Most didn't become Rob Ford, therefore frivolous lies are probably not harbingers of drug abuse. Statistics -- they're on my side.

Also, anyone who's ever told a friend that he or she hasn't gained any weight knows the value of a benevolent lie. If you're the friend on the receiving end of the lie, you know it too.


2) The idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing figure is creepy and diminishes the severity of spying and stalking

I don't know if I can speak for all former and current children, but I'll try. The idea of a watchful Santa was excellent incentive to not be a dick in December. Sort of. I think I always expected Santa would come through for me, as I wasn't killing cats or setting things on fire (and I figured those sort of offenses were the ones that prompted lumps of coal). I didn't feel like a man was watching me sleep and shower (I didn't take the lyrics of Santa Claus is Coming to Town that literally because I, like most kids, trusted Santa not to molest me or accuse me of being a terrorist). I didn't live in fear of him watching me, nor did I grow up thinking spying and stalking were totally cool and okay because Santa kept a naughty list.

Also, children aren't typically afforded the privacy and freedom adults enjoy. Stop pretending the Santa myth is some unthinkable corruption of a child's civil rights. Children's behavior is policed by pretty much everyone, so they don't find a "Santa saw you hit your brother!" all that discombobulating. They're used to exchanging good behavior for material and immaterial rewards.


3) Lying about Santa is deceitful and deceived children stop trusting their parents

While there's probably some cray adult out there who blames his or her misery or criminal record on a traumatizing Santa talk, that adult is not the norm. In fact, if you look around you, you'll probably see many adults who not only didn't run away from home when they found out Santa was more an idea than a flesh and blood man, but who actually passed the Santa legend onto their own children. These same people might even still talk to their lying liar parents who lie. Or, if they don't, the estrangement probably (hopefully) has little to do with Santa Claus.

Parents lie to children often. Sometimes it's damaging, but many times it's not. Any parent who's ever told their four-year-old that vegetables are magic knows that the trust between parent and child shouldn't shatter when the kid learns that onions won't turn you into a beautiful pony for a day.

So, "lying" about Santa isn't all that bad. It's a fun lie that brings an extra element of magic to the season -- a season heralded by icy temperatures, short days and virtually zero sunlight. If you don't want to lie about it, you don't have to. If you don't want to emphasize gifts and material rewards, you don't have to. It's your family, your child and your Christmas. Just don't try to ruin it for everyone else with soapbox-y speeches about the frailty of the child psyche and the evil of deception. Children have all their lives to learn about how little magic there is in the world.

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