Sunday, December 07, 2008

Father of Lies

The other day, Melanie got out our Christmas decorations. One of them is a tin, such as you might fill with candy. On the lid of the tin is an image of St. Nick himself. While Eddie was looking at the tin, I thought I would give my first attempt at explaining who the jolly fellow in red is. Thus far, Edison has no concept of Santa Claus (or scarcely of Christmas, for that matter). I didn’t think he’d get much out of my explanation of Santa Claus, but I thought it would at least familiarize him to the idea.

As I began to tell Eddie about Santa Claus, I felt this pang of sadness in realizing that I was lying to my son. I was incredibly surprised by this. I have always intended to raise my children with the myth of Santa Claus. No part of me has ever seriously questioned that I would do so. I never worried about it. And it is not as though, once I started explaining Santa Claus to my son, I thought about the fact that I was lying, and then felt sort of bad about it. I felt sad the second I started saying it. The sadness was immediate. Here is my boy, looking up at me, believing whatever I have to say, and for the first time I am blatantly saying things to him that are not true. I, on whom he has relied for his understanding of the world, am now deceiving him. For the first time, I am purposely causing him to believe something that is false. It honestly felt really sad.

I am betting that most of you who read this will think I am insane. Or you will think my reaction is some weird consequence of being a philosopher. Something like that. I disagree entirely. The reaction was so immediate and natural that I really believe it was rooted in nothing more than the fact that I was deceiving my sweet, loving, trusting child. The fact that this particular lie is customary and generally regarded to promote a sense of magic and fun does not change that. I admit that I still plan to carry on the Santa Claus tradition, but the fact is, because of Santa Claus, something that has never happened before has now happened—I have lied to my child. That is kind of sad, and those of you who want to sugar coat it fail to see that the innocence of my relationship with Edison has been lost. Yes, that’s a part of growing up, but until now, nothing was a lie. Does nobody sympathize?

(Note: this post from March 2005 may prove an interesting backdrop to today’s post.)


  1. Wow Ben, I think I'm going to cry. What a different and poignant view here!
    Actually, I think I do sympathize, at least to the extent I'm capable for now. I've been thinking a bit about this subject lately probably because we've been watching Christmas movies (so delightful!) and I'm pregnant. I've wondered if I will feel like I'm lying. Is this something I should leave to society to teach my children and then just play along? I worry what it will do to their testimony seeing that I think Santa Claus has quite some comparisons to Christ; isn't he a symbol of the love and giving of Jesus? And yet, there is that magic and hope and fun of it all; I DO want my children to experience that!
    Hmm... perhaps I have a couple years to figure this out. I'll be watching you! Let me know what you think :)
    P.S. The guilt you feel says a lot about the relationship you already have with your son. I think that's so neat. You are so pure and unconditional, it really is touching. I'm just sorry you have to feel it this way.

  2. This is certainly a different way of looking at Christmas. Maybe, there is no longer a place for Santa Clause in this modern, techno world. He was once a unique incarnation of love and giving that fit very well into the spirit of Christmas. Maybe now he's just another commercialized invention.

    When my children were growing came the time for each of you to ask if this person is real. Not wanting to lie to his children, Papabear always told the truth. THAT was sad. It shattered innocence as well. And I don't see that it protected any principles. I think you could simply say, "There's Santa Claus," and let the magic just play out. There is a need for magic and wonder at the time of Christ's birth and Santa has filled the bill now for a good long time.

  3. I still believe in Santa Claus, as a symbol. I feel like the conviction I had in Santa as a kid was practice for the conviction I have of other things. Finding out Santa wasn't real didn't make me feel like I'd been lied to. I was a little sad that he wasn't real the way I understood it, but I don't think that means he's not real. In my history class, we've talked about how cultures without a living mythology produce less healthy individuals-they are more likely to be neurotic, have emotional disorders etc. I think that's why our story poor culture latches on to Santa so much. And we need it.
    I hope this doesn't sound like I'm trying to sugar coat things. I can't imagine how you're feeling, and it must be strange. But I don't know that I would call it a lie or a delusion. It's story, myth, ritual-it's truer in many ways than some facts are.

  4. I want to second Jak's comment. I remember thinking when I was 11 or so that the tone that adults use when telling kids about Santa Claus is suspiciously close to the one used to teach a Primary lesson.

    Of course at some point, every kid has to come to the realization that "sometimes grown-ups lie," I really hope that when mine get to that point I'll have enough a reputation for integrity with them that they could honestly append "but my Dad doesn't."

  5. This seems to be an issue that a lot of people I know are struggling with and I am as well. We are going to do the Santa thing because I feel like it's okay, but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around exactly why. I love Damsels comment.