“Mummy do you think Santa’s real?”
This was the question 7YO posed for me this morning. I froze. What could I say?
There are basically three options for parents in this scenario:
- Tell the truth
- Lie through your teeth
Telling the truth isn’t really an option. Seriously, how could you? Has anyone ever come clean to their kids about Santa? As in telling them that he isn’t really … damn it, I can’t actually say it, but you know what I mean. My mum certainly never told me that he wasn’t… you know what. So no, Option 1 is a non-starter.
Lie through your teeth then? Well, here’s the thing: is it lying? This is a morally ambiguous issue for parents. I know several people who are frankly much better parents than I will ever be, and who – I’m sure – are 100% honest in their adult dealings, and yet they have no qualms about telling their children that their letters will definitely reach Santa, that the Elf on the Shelf really does move round the house at night, and even that the International Space Station flying past on Christmas Eve is actually Santa’s sleigh. I read a thread on Netmums recently debating whether parents were right or wrong to tell children “the truth” about Santa, and I’d say that 75% of the contributors thought that that it was somehow immoral to not allow your child to “enjoy the magic”. I’m not disagreeing with them (done my fair share of indulging them in the magic over the years) but I do think it’s interesting how our normal moral standards (lying = bad) are somehow inverted when it comes to Santa.
So by that logic, there’s no harm in reassuring 7YO that I came downstairs in the middle of the night one Christmas Eve, and there was the big guy in red putting presents in the stockings. She’d believe me and we could stave off these awkward conversations for a few more Christmases. The thing is, it’s all very well indulging a 3 or 4 year old in the magic, when all their immediate peers are equally convinced. But she’s seven now; her older sister has been threatening to reveal who’s really behind the stocking filling for the last few years, and I’m sure that some of her class mates will be getting a bit more cynical too. I don’t want her to have her illusions shattered by some more worldly-wise kid, leaving her thinking I’m a complete pathological liar. So Option 2 is off the table as well.
Which leaves fudging. I suppose this is the definition of what we all do, the compromise that sits somewhere in between claiming that yes, we’ve definitely seen him come down the chimney in person and an outright declaration that he’s … you know. All the ‘Santa Stop Here’ signs, the hanging up of stockings, the leaving out of mince pies and whisky (Santa gets a decent single malt at my gaff, and
she he enjoys every last mouthful) are just creating a nice warm fudgy illusion, which doesn’t do any harm… does it?
Well actually… tonight about an hour after bedtime a little voice called out of 7YO’s bedroom:
“Mummy can I ask you a question?”
“Can’t it wait till morning?”
“No, I really neeeeed to ask you now”
“Go on then. Just one question.”
“You know how I sleep with my bedroom door open? Well, on Christmas Eve I might see Santa when he comes…”
[slightly embarrassed but emphatic sounding] “I don’t want to see Santa.”
“Shall we leave your stocking downstairs for him then?”
And this is the problem, I think, with continuing to indulge in the magic beyond a certain point. She’s getting to an age now where she knows what’s real life and what’s magic. Animals can’t really talk the way Peppa Pig and Peter Rabbit do. Fairies are just in books. In real every day life, strangers don’t come into your house in the middle of the night to give you presents. So the thought that she might see this mysterious bearded man in her bedroom late at night… it’s kind of scary for her.
So to go back to her original question this morning – do I think Santa is real? I fudged, of course. My default answer is “Well I’ve never actually seen him. Do you think he’s real?” and then we talk about it for a few minutes until she moves onto the next thing. But maybe, on this evening’s evidence, she’d actually be reassured to think he wasn’t… you know.
What do other parents do? Is there a right time to stop “indulging in the magic of Christmas”