I’ve watched with interest lately, a debate on Facebook surrounding Father Christmas/Santa Claus, and whether he is indeed real.
When I was little, Father Christmas came in the middle of the night and left presents in a stocking at the foot of my bed. He ate the mince pie we left out for him, and left a little letter saying thank you.
Then one year, my older sister told me she’d seen my dad putting presents in her room.
The year after that, my parents divorced and when Father Christmas left his note, it was in different writing.
The debate on Facebook has been between “traditional” parents who tell their child Father Christmas/Santa is a real person who brings them gifts… and parents who don’t. Instead they tell their children that Father Christmas is a made up character who is part of Christmas, or something else.
These parents don’t encourage their children to sit on Father Christmas’s lap at parties, or have them leave out mince pies and carrots, or ring bells outside their bedroom door in the night. Father Christmas is just a storybook character.
At first I read the argument and couldn’t decide whether this approach was a clever way to avoid that crushing disappointment of realising it was all a lie… or just really mean in that it stopped the children ever believing in that magic in the first place.
I’ve a friend who has two children. The ten year old recently discovered that Father Christmas wasn’t real, and now Dad feels like a big fraud, “keeping the magic alive” for his seven year old son, when he’s always taught both children to always be honest. Whenever his son mentions Father Christmas, my friend’s daughter catches her father lying – something he’s always tried to drum into her that you don’t do.
I spoke to a lovely German lady who grew up in Hamburg. She told me that in Germany, children don’t start school until they are 6 or 7, and by that point parents tend to have told their child the truth about Father Christmas – so as to avoid them hearing something on the school playground. In Germany, children are encouraged to be more inquisitive generally, and their questions – about Father Christmas or otherwise – are generally met with truthful discussion, rather than the usual “stop asking questions” or similar that I grew up with!
I also then read this piece about a child finding out her mother is Father Christmas. I loved the letter the mother wrote to her daughter: Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch…Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy. I think that’s nice… but something you’d have to trot out a little later than the age of 5 or 6 really.
I hadn’t really given the whole debate much thought until recently, when I realised I need to make a decision about what to tell S.
Part of me thinks, with so many different depictions of Father Christmas and Santa in books, movies, cartoons, shops etc, one can’t really expect a child to believe it’s one real person who flies around the world in one night and so on. In one film he’s old and doddery; in another he has children; in another he’s a grumpy old man. I tend to think that by never telling the lie to begin with, you’re not at risk of your child having all their beliefs dashed by that bratty kid in the playground who insists on breaking their friends’ hearts by shouting about it all being a made-up lie.
But on the other hand… it just seems a bit cynical to never have your child enjoy that particular magic of waking up on Christmas morning and exclaiming, “he’s been!” Of finding snow in the hall way and crumbs from a mince pie… I have good memories from my childhood, despite feeling a bit cheated when I found out the truth.
I probably have another year before I need to make up my mind on this; S isn’t really bothered one way or the other right now, and I sincerely doubt she would ever volunteer herself to sit on the lap of a stranger in a red suit and fake beard.
I’m wondering though, what do you tell your children? Have you ever been caught out with this one?