COLUMN: Keeping the joy alive

What do you tell the kids about the jolly old elf?

Before I became a parent, I wondered why anyone would tell their children – essentially, outright lie to their kids – about Santa Claus.

Wouldn’t the elaborate story of a death-defying, bearded fat man flying around the world with magical reindeer and a bottomless sack of toys inevitably lead to bitter disappointment and undermine my child’s trust in me?

I remember learning about my youngest cousin’s reaction to discovering Santa wasn’t real. He was upset not because St. Nick didn’t exist, but because his parents lied to him.

My aunt and uncle listened as their distraught little boy said, “But you told me it isn’t good to lie.”

Apparently actor Brad Pitt felt the same way. He told E! News last year that he saw the experience as a “huge act of betrayal” when he was child, so now he tells his own children that some people believe in Santa, some believe it’s their parents, and they can choose to believe what they want.

And then there are some parents who use the tall tale as a overhanging threat to elicit good behaviour, along the lines of “Santa’s watching. Be good or he won’t bring presents to our house this year.”

My logical side tells me perpetuating the story of Santa is morally wrong. But then I think about my own childhood, and the excitement I felt in the lead-up to Christmas and Santa’s arrival.

One year, I snuck downstairs the night before Christmas and was utterly convinced that I saw Santa’s boot as he disappeared up the fireplace chimney.

Learning he wasn’t real didn’t destroy my trust in my parents; I don’t even remember my reaction to the discovery.

Is it selfish of me to want to watch my daughter excitedly leave out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve? Or to see the look of wonder on her face when she finds unexplained presents under the tree on Christmas morning?

I want her to get as excited as I do about the twinkling lights, family gatherings and generous spirit that is such a part of the holiday season, and the magical story of Santa seems to be intertwined with all that.

So this year, my husband and I are telling our daughter about the jolly old elf, even though I know I’ll have trouble with the deception when she eventually asks for the truth. (Earlier this month she asked if I was friends with Santa, and I told her I’d never met him personally).

I’ve been watching the procedural crime drama Bones lately, and I’ll let the fictional FBI psychologist Lance Sweets during a holiday episode convince me on this one:

“It’s not only all right for us to allow children the transient experience of innocence and joy, it’s our responsibility.”

I may be rationalizing, but it sure is a fun responsibility to have.

Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter and mom to two-year-old Elise. She writes monthly for The Leader on parenting issues.

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