Should I lie about Santa Claus?

Welcome to December everyone. I now officially allow myself to talk about Christmas.

And this year I have a new challenge and I need your help. For the first time my daughter will be old enough to know what is going on and to ask about Santa Claus (to our American friends) or Father Christmas.

Honesty

I really, really value honesty. I rather be punched than someone lie or dissemble to me. It’s extremely disrespectful, impedes progress in projects and creates barriers in relationships. So I go out of the way to try not to say anything untruthful to my daughter. No weird stories about what will happen to her if she doesn’t behave, no idle promises to get her out the door on time (that can be tough!). That doesn’t mean that I tell her everything about everything – Children should be children as long as possible.

I also think that truth is not just a set of logical propositions, but found in stories and actions, so I try and model and convey ‘true’ things through these methods.

The Santa Claus Conundrum

So I don’t want to lie to her about Santa Claus.

But I’m not a kill joy and I don’t want her shouting across nursery ‘FATHER CHRISTMAS ISN’T REAL!!!’ leaving other children in tears or leaving the workers to patch children up after the ensuing Nursery Wars.

So here’s my idea.

Like all small children my daughter loves playing pretend games with me. At the soft toys’ tea party it doesn’t even matter whether she’s got a real cup in her hand or a made up one.  I’m thinking of explaining that at this time of year people(including grown ups) play the ‘Father Christmas game‘. Most people join in and will assume you’re playing too and it’s fun. This way she’s free to join in as she pleases, but it also gives us a way of talking about parts of the Father Christmas game we as parents aren’t so keen on.

Help!

I said I needed your help.

Do you remember when you realised that Father Christmas wasn’t real? Did anyone feel deceived?

From those of you with older children I need you to help peer into the future with me. How have your children grown out of believing in Father Christmas? How do you think the ‘Father Christmas game’ approach will work out in practice?

Please also vote in the poll below and let me know what you think…

About Jonathan Chilvers

Jonathan Chilvers...leads a homeless project in the middle of Leamington and is part of Jubilee Church Leamington. He is a Green Party County Councillor in Warwickshire, but is not writing on behalf of any of the above. Jonathan loves his wife and two beautiful daughters. Follow or contact him via Twitter: @jonchilvers
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18 Responses to Should I lie about Santa Claus?

  1. Kaf says:

    Jon, I can’t remember believing in Father Christmas, we did more of a father christmas game that you suggest above and it never did me any harm. What caused me more trauma and anxious conversations with my mum was not knowing what to say to my friend who still believed aged 9! I think for 3-4 year olds, a game or a story can be every bit as captivating as the real truth.

  2. Karen says:

    I voted to keep the Father Christmas mystery going. It’s not a silly concern, though – I went through the same thing a few years back. When my two children gradually realised there is no Santa Claus, it didn’t upset them, they weren’t annoyed with us, and they still believe in God, but there were questions concerning that last part – they did need reassurance that the God story is real. Your ‘Father Christmas Game’ idea seems to me that it will eventually lead to a similar place – your daughter will wonder if the God and Jesus game is just a game that people pretend with.

    Bless you in your parenting!

  3. Kevin says:

    I was thinking about similar things, as being a vicar I get asked to talk in schools and toddler groups and things where Christmas IS father Christmas… so I thought about how Jesus would often take familiar things and transform them into something new and fresh. So what would he do with Father Christmas? See my post The Santa Clause http://wp.me/pC2vm-sr for some (hopefully relevant) thoughts…

  4. Jonathan says:

    We kind of fell into our approach because we didn’t do the stocking thing (we do some of our Christmas celebration European-style and start on Christmas eve). So we never claimed that Father Christmas was real. BUT with everything that goes on with films, Father Christmas at parties etc, it just kind of developed into the “Father Christmas” game, which suits us just fine and the kids definitely still fully enjoy Christmas

  5. Jon Kuhrt says:

    your thoughts have provoked me – I fear I am in too deep with the deceit.

    But also I have more to confess – last year I stood in at the school Christmas Fair as Santa when the regular Santa couldn’t do it. And now they have just asked me to do it again! I did try and inject some ethical commentary into my patter but I may have been whistling into the wind of consumerism hurricane. The thing is though that my kids knew it was me so maybe they think the whole thing is just a game anyway?

    But what about when your kids ask you (as mine did the other night), were Adam and Eve real?

  6. Martin Williams says:

    Kevin Lewis (@theblogofkevin) just posted this from the archives: http://theblogofkevin.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/the-santa-clause/

    I think it captures well how Jesus might approach the issue.

    Jon – if you want to know about Adam and Eve existing or not, you should have been at home group this week (or ask Mari…)

  7. Mark Harvey says:

    Santa isn’t real…?

  8. Jayne Moon says:

    I hated to think that santa wasn’t real, and even after I ‘knew’ he wasn’t real (I think my childminder told me ‘of course he doesn’t exist’ when I was I guess about 9), I still chose each year to try and convince myself he was – I think I put out a carrot and mince pie each year til I left home for uni!! I didn’t feel I had been deceived, I felt let down that people spoiled my fun by telling me it wan’t true! Have been having the same dilemma, and have been avoiding the subject of santa as much as possible, but is getting difficult with people asking Ellie ‘what did you ask santa for?’ – I respond for her saying I asked him to bring some things, and she looks at me as if she hasn’t a clue what we’re on about! Am liking your game idea, but not sure how easy it’d be to pull off…

  9. Leona Angus says:

    We always told our daughter that Christmas was about Jesus – his birthday – we even made him a cake! and that Father Christmas was just a nice story that some people believed in. I remember seeing the Jasper Carrott thing when the kid realises that Father Christmas isn’t real then makes the next assumption that God isn’t either – I wanted to have a clearly defined boundary between faith and fairy tale

    • Martha says:

      true stories versus lies? is this the dichotomy? is our faith a true story or is it our life? is it taught or caught? will our children not grow in discernment? i intend to relish the wonder + playfulness of santa rituals with my 3yr old – from letters to the north pole, to mince pie + sherry by the fireplace. if she asks ‘is God real?’ I hope I don’t just say yes. I’d like to say ‘how would we find out?’ methinks it’s hugely important to value the child’s wisdom + playfulness…

  10. Terry Moran says:

    My 2 year old son thinks Barney the dinosaur, Bob the builder and Alvin and the Chipmunks are real too! I’m more worried about him finding out that they are not real (sorry to those who were not aware of this) than I am about him discovering Father Christmas is just another good story! Let’s allow kids to have fun and develop their imaginations and keep our grown-up-theological-angst to ourselves! The whole ‘Santa’ thing was a wonderful part of my upbringing (I was a Christian from a very young age and knew exactly who Jesus was) and I wouldn’t change it for the world. As a pastor I don’t think it has held back my spiritual development in any way. For those who know me you can check my wife’s facebook page to see my son and I sitting next to Father Christmas yesterday afternoon in Hyde Park – now you try to tell me he’s not real!

  11. Zoe Bell says:

    My 3 year old seems to easily distinguish what is real and what is make believe (and even though we read her bible stories alongside other bedtime stories she seems to get the difference and know that Jesus is real!) We decided to not do the Santa thing, but that if she picked it up elsewhere we wouldn’t shatter it for her! As it is she seems a bit nervous of him… Until we talked about the fact that he wasn’t real, and just a man dressed up. We even talked a bit about st Nicholas! Now she just sees it as a means to getting extra presents when he visits schools etc! (not sure that is great either – all about what she can get, but that’s a different debate!)

  12. Pip says:

    I can’t remember ever finding out as a child that Father Christmas wasn’t real but I guess I must have done at some point because I do know as we all got older we carried on playing the game and it was a magical part of our Christmases until we left home. I never thought badly of my parents or felt they had lied to me in any way, nor did I ever get confused between Santa and Jesus.
    I can see the arguments for not doing the “Santa thing” with kids but I have to say with my own daughter (who is only ten months at the moment) I plan to do it, to play the game, to tell the story and to help her enjoy it. I think that for me the key is what you do when they start to realise that it isn’t real. I think that is the time to explain that it’s a game and that it’s pretend and that we can carry on playing the game (especially if there are younger siblings around) and although we all know that it’s Mummy and Daddy filling the stockings we can still play pretend just for fun.
    I really like the term Terry uses about our grown-up-theological-angst and keeping it to ourselves, and also there is a massive part of me that doesn’t want to seem bah humbug-y to my children. I hope that Christmas will be a time of fun and laughter and family taking time to be together and to play together and I’m really OK with part of that playing being about Father Christmas.
    I think for me a much bigger issue with Christmastime in relation to children is about teaching them not to be selfish and greedy because that seems to me to be the message the world teaches us all at this time…but that’s a whole other discussion!

  13. Jon Chilvers says:

    Thank you for sharing all your wise and thought-provoking stories, advice and comments. It’s been a real pleasure to read and think through them – I hope you’ve thought likewise.

    I still feel strongly that I want don’t want to speak untruthfully even in this context. However, many of the comments have been helpful in thinking about how to let the ‘Father Christmas game’ develop as naturally and enjoyably as possible.

    As Pip and others above suggest there are other massive challenges in parenting (self worth, identity and self esteem being the obvious ones) and talking through Father Christmas / Christmas more generally can provide opportunities to speak to children in ways that make sense for them. Definitely a whole other discussion…..

  14. Nick says:

    Tell kids the truth that we don’t know 100% however that you don’t believe that he’s real (or if you do tell them you believe in Santa…). Tell the kids that they should make up their own minds and enjoy the fun. Help to keep hearts open to mysteries and protect minds and eternal souls from worldly arrogance.

  15. Andrea Sharpe says:

    It’s not lying! It’s a wonderful tradition, a fairy story that we act out every year and there should be no need to ‘explain’ it. Just embrace it, enjoy it, love the magic. My 4 eventually worked out for themselves what Santa was all about and continue the tradition themselves.

  16. Pingback: The Power of CBeebies | Resistance & Renewal

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