Years ago, a co-worker was debating whether or not his new daughter would be introduced to Santa Claus.
His conundrum was whether or not he was lying to this child, and if that was a precedent he wanted to set. At that time, I already had two kids, and we were full on into the “Of course you lie to them” mode, so I explained that lying to your children was probably one of the few things that would get you through parenting relatively sane.
Now, I’m not talking about big, impactful, harmful lies. I am talking about lies of extreme convenience. Maybe, just maybe, all McDonald’s weren’t actually closed for the day. Maybe, just maybe, the store wasn’t actually out of candy. Or maybe, just maybe, failure to eat your vegetables will not, in fact, result in all ponies being eradicated from the earth. But they didn’t need to know any of that at the time, and we had to sidestep some issues.
But Santa is certainly in the harmless camp, and can even be justified as not technically a lie, but a little necessary misdirection. (Quick aside: I read a comment on the web a while back that, when the Santa mythology was being formed, we should have all gone with the narrative that Santa actually leaves all of the kids’ presents with the parents, but not until kids are asleep. That solves bedtime and when a kid wakes up and walks into the den as you are cursing the fact that you are starting to assemble an indoor play fort at 11:00 and have just realized the directions are only in Mandarin.)
During this discussion with the co-worker, another chimed in with this two-word response: “10 years.” When pressed for what exactly that meant, she explained that kids have 10 years of their life when they are aware enough of the world to actually understand it but also not have (hopefully) a care in the world. A 10-year block when your parents are perfect and the world is still magical. There is plenty of time later in life for soul-crushing reality. Give ‘em some Santa for that blissful decade.
My kids are beyond that decade. They now know the full realities of the world: McDonald’s are open but I’m not stopping because I would like to get to Atlanta before next Monday. The store had plenty of candy but I’m not your personal candy dealer. And eat your vegetables, don’t eat your vegetables. I don’t really care, but rest assured when you get hungry later you’re on your own.
But there is always a little bit of Santa magic left in everyone (I hope). Santa still delivers gifts in my house. Granted, the way the kids write their Christmas wish lists are a little different these days. My kids used to love getting a toy catalogue and circling everything they wanted, or going to the store and sharing with my wife and me the various things they REALLY hoped Santa would bring them.
Our son is 14, and really into fishing. His main way of sharing his Christmas list: Rattling off a long line of fishing equipment he wants, with names that I will never remember so I end up saying, “Yeah, can you text me those?”
Our daughter is 17, so her Christmas list is really simple. “Cash. And ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ on vinyl.”
All that said, come Christmas morning, Santa will have come to visit, and he will every year for the foreseeable future. By now, it’s a collective lie that we are all a part of of, and we are all OK with. Because sometimes these things aren’t so much lies, but rather the spirit that lets us grab back a little of that decade where everything was perfect.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Mt. Pleasant. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.