You may have noticed that Christmas is approaching. Our youngest (now 7) will have to learn the truth about Santa in the New Year. Over the years all our children have tried to drill down on the details of the Father Christmas myth before committing to a month of near model behaviour and borderline paranoia about spying elves.
Their queries always knock me off guard:
‘Why would you let an old man that we don’t know wander into our bedrooms at night?’
‘What’s to stop burglars coming down chimneys? Why make all that noise breaking windows?’
Then there are the questions along the lines of a parental subsidy of Father Christmas (in response to my objections about financial constraints); questions around some weird Elf-High Street franchise arrangement involving branded items; questions around Santa’s selectivity and religious inclusion policies: ‘Does Father Christmas bring presents to children who don’t celebrate Christmas even if they’d like some toys or need clothes or food?’
Then there are the death knell closing statements such as, ‘I’ve seen that wrapping paper in the under stairs cupboard so is Father Christmas real or is it just you and daddy?’ This is the final option for our guilty plea before the dread accusation – and we know it’s coming – ‘Why did you lie?’
Our youngest firmly believes that Christmas is magic and that Father Christmas is real. It is enchanting to watch her pink cheeked, sparkly-eyed excitement as she talks about making things for the reindeer and her concern for Santa’s digestive system after eating a world quota of mince pies rammed in with the force that only a hole in the space/ time continuum could allow. It distracts me from the main question: why did we lie? Why did we? Because New Year – and all the flannel about ‘the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas’ etc is not the beautiful appeasement you hope for when there is still a big, ugly lie staring at you. What else is lies?
So do you tell your children the whole truth all at once? Our daughter knows about the Easter Bunny, but the Tooth Fairy has set up camp in her bedroom over the last couple of weeks with an inexhaustible supply of coins. So what actually is my answer? Is it that we make up mythical characters to keep our celebrations magical because now they are reduced and debased to consumer transactions? We heave our hearts into our wallets and hope that it makes up for the times over the year that we should’ve talked, listened, visited. We pay a penance for the guilt of our absence, our not noticing, our distractions – none of which we remember now. Maybe. Perhaps it is the adults, and not the children, who so desperately need to believe in Father Christmas and magic?
Perhaps it is because ‘magic’ can’t be measured. It is the part of celebrating that takes time, thought and love. It is the bit that shows grown ups that their loved ones and their bonds with them matter more than their daily preoccupations. We know that the trust, faith and enthusiasm of our children will make it true – if only for a night. It is the one night of the year that, as a battle-weary adult you can join with the people you love most and believe that tomorrow will be full of promise, love, happiness and excitement before the spell is broken with one simple bank statement. This, when my daughter asks, is the real reason why I lied. Because, too many times, I have forgotten to wake up in the morning and see that magic. But can you ever justify needing to believe a lie in order to see the truth more clearly? No doubt I’m going to find out the hard way in January and I’m not looking forward to it. Help me out. How did you deal with it?