When should children learn the dark truth about Santa?

Christmas is all about children. From its origin in a small stable in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, to the commercial mania that it is today, the festive period has always been focused on children.

Up and down the country this week, many youngsters will have waited anxiously to see what was behind the first window of their advent calendar. Many more would have started learning about the Christmas story. Thousands would have helped their parents to light up their house with baubles, tinsel and lights. Perhaps most exciting and thought-out for them, though, would have been the carefully scripted letters to Santa Claus, telling him what they want for Christmas.

Every time they switch on the television or walk down the street, they are reminded of the imminent appearance of the bearded philanthropist who comes each year to grant their wishes with a ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’

It is almost impossible nowadays to think about the festive season without the portly saint in his red, furry coat. He pervades every song, card and light that fills this jolly time, representative of all the good will and joy that makes Christmas special.

It is no wonder that children love Santa Claus so much: for the price of simply being nice, they can be rewarded with their greatest desires. It is a fairy tale like no other, rewarding you with not just a moral but the potential of a new bicycle or puppy.

Yet, as the Christmas buzz begins to spread slowly through the country, gaining momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill, so too grow the playground rumours of the most detestable truth.

What starts as a whisper in one corner from a pupil with an older sibling, gradually permeates from ear to ear, planting the seed of doubt that grows into the inconceivable reality.

‘Have you heard about Santa?’ ‘Do you know the truth?’ ‘You know he doesn’t exist.’

Soon, thousands of parents are left with the terrible task of picking up disconsolate children, shattered by the removal of their hero from the Christmas magic. Children faced with a horrible reality in which it is impossible for one man to fit down each of the world’s chimneys in a night delivering their favourite gifts.

Parents will face an array of emotions: relief that they no longer have to sneak around on Christmas Eve to fill stockings, despair at their child’s anguish and a pain that their child may never truly trust them again. How could they? If you are willing to lie about Santa, what wouldn’t you lie about?

While, for many this is the case, the time you realise your parents can keep such a terrible secret from you, this feeling misses the point of Santa. It reflects the commercial bonanza that Christmas has become that Santa’s non-existence can remove the fun from the event.

Santa has become all about the presents and not about the values that he represents.

He, like Christmas, has been commercialised to the point that his message is no longer relevant or known.Children focus on their parents’ deceit in upholding Santa’s myth, instead of the love they show in anonymously supplying presents year after year to bring them joy.

Christmas would run just as smoothly without Santa, presents would still be delivered and children would be kept happy. Yet, it would lose some of the its magic.

Christmas is a time to do the unbelievable; to break down boundaries and spread love, to bring people together in communal joy, to fly around the world delivering presents. Santa encapsulates this, adapting Jesus’ message to the modern world, making children and adults alike feel giddy with the joys of Christmas.

While Santa may not exist, his myth should still be spread to add the love and merriment of Christmas and instil the magic into children. Just make sure parents prepare for when their child finds out.

image: Kelly Sue DeConnick via Flickr

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