As the season of Christmas draws to a close tomorrow, I thought I’d better get this one in quick. A priest in Italy has found himself in serious bother because of this. A supply teacher in Rochdale is being refused work because of it too. So why do we lie to our children about Father Christmas? What do we, or indeed children, gain from this fantasy? And what does it say about our desire for them to seek out truth?
Few other fantasies command so much pressure on our children. Few parents, for instance, make such an effort to have their children believe that Harry Potter is real. They might not mind too much if the lines of reality are being blurred, but how many go to the same lengths to create the world of make-believe that lies around Santa? Do we think that Saint Nicholas himself would wish this upon those over whom he is patron saint?
I suppose in a way, this is all symptomatic of the general feeling around Christmas. “We have to make an effort for the children” I often hear. But whilst that might be an excuse for a lavish Birthday party for a child, when the child in question is not our child as such, why make such a fuss.
I suppose there’s a sense that we’d like to believe in this Jesus thing as well, but why? Is a relationship being sought with this Jesus, born in what might be translated better as the garage behind the local pub? Or are people just looking for an escape from the crappiness of life? I think its perhaps the latter. We want to believe in this unbelievable guy who beats the laws of physics with reindeer and a sleigh to come visit us. Someone who breaks the laws of the Universe, coming from beyond our universe, a place beyond our potential understanding, and arrives as a baby in squalor is perhaps not quite so welcome.
Perhaps this is why we like our idealised baby, born not as a revolutionary revolutionary, but as an idyllic part of a set piece family-to-be. Do we seek the depths of reality, or simply an escape from it? I know I’d rather forget for a few days what the end of the story would be, and feel hugely uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus was specifically born to die on the cross (though there are sound arguments that he was born in the hopes such a move would not be necessary).
Many people tell their children two stories at Christmas. Is it fair that we tell our children stories to be believed that we ourselves don’t believe? If we truly believed in Santa, we’d be right to convey the message. Yet it seems we tell these stories for reasons that are completely different. We don’t actually believe either of them, but feel that children somehow benefit from them. But how can children benefit from either of them, if they are told in this way.
Jesus story is not an escape from reality. It is a harsh reality, but one we can truly celebrate; not because its a nice story to think about, but because its a deep and meaningful event. Santa is a nice story, but nothing more, certainly not when devoid of his much less inspiring historical roots.
Perhaps its not so much society’s desire to lie, but society’s failure to handle the truth which causes us to make Santa seem so real to children. Either way, as someone who values honesty, I really think it sucks. I’d ask “how can we expect children to believe in Christ if we lie about Santa”, but in reality, I think I recognise now that the question should be “how can we expect people to believe in the truth of Christ, when they find belief in Santa so appealing, yet obviously so difficult?”.