‘Tis the season. Soon we—well, not all of us, but still enough to say we—will welcome a magical fat man in a garish pimp suit into our homes. Of course we won’t actually see him; he lives in our hearts. We’ll only see traces of him: smiles on little faces, ecstatic that he indeed visited and didn’t leave a sack full of coal; the emptied plate of cookies and drained glass of milk, although this year I like what this dude is cooking insofar as treats for me, err, Santa are concerned.
Trying to convince the family to leave pralines and bourbon out for Santa this year.— Sam Burnham (@C_SamBurnham) December 14, 2014
Some disagree, even in the face of possible pralines and bourbon. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, for example, suggests we go Defcon 1 on Santa and vaporize the fat bastard. Although his points aren’t illogical, he’s nonetheless wrong. Santa doesn’t deserve scorn. Maybe he doesn’t deserve love either, but, if nothing else, he does deserve a commuted sentence. Here are but a few reasons why.
1. Lying to Kids Is Awesome
Seriously. I lie to my kids constantly, especially at bedtime. There’s Randy the Jaguar. He roams the house to make sure little ones don’t get out of bed. If they do get out of bed, he’ll turn them into jaguar poop. There’s Rando the Jaguar. That’s Randy’s brother. He has the same job. There’s Bessie the Velociraptor. She also has the same job, but she produces velociraptor poop.
Granted, the kids have mostly figured out that it’s just me hiding around a corner and growling. Sure, they’ve started adding ferocious beasts from their own imaginations to my arsenal. But this tradition could not have started without complete fabrications on my part. (With a tip of the hat to “Archer” for inspiration.)
2. Lying to Kids Is Practical
Don’t lie about important things, like how electricity is wonderful but dangerous or that pork shoulder is the superior meat to throw in your smoker. Honesty is mostly the best policy. When our old cat Isobel died, my eldest didn’t notice for a few weeks. I created some stories. I forgot them. Then, out of the blue, the oldest asked where Isobel was. I blurted out, “She died.” That turned out to be a good time to tell the truth. “Oh, okay.”
But later in life, if that same daughter asks what happened at that Grateful Dead concert in ’95, I’m lying my ass off. Sure, my kids have agency and will probably make many mistakes, but I’ve not always been what one would call a role model. As such, I’m not going to give them license to make mistakes. Or ideas about how to do so. Perhaps you’ve led a more staid life and can be completely honest with your kids. Good on ya. For the rest of us, some strategic lies will be necessary at times.
3. Lying to Kids Can Become a Family Tradition
I once threatened to throw a bag of cobras at my kids when they were being particularly obstinate. I don’t even have one cobra, let alone a bag full. Being completely wedded to the truth would have prevented us from sharing that moment. I also once claimed that I put a saddle on a great white shark and rode it around the ocean. You think your kids respect you, then watch their little faces light up when you tell tales of riding a shark.
Allow me to back up for a minute.
When I was a kid, I went to the train yard my dad worked from. He and one of his buddies convinced me the buddy had a ranch full of talking horses. Naturally, I wanted to see the horses. Dad insisted I get permission from mom. Mom, not wanting to dig him out of that hole, promptly gave her blessing for me to go see the talking horses. Dad and his buddy somehow orchestrated a phone call from the ranch saying all the horses had broken loose. Moral of the story: Lying is a Cromwell family tradition and, being a traditionalist, I’m going to continue it. That includes Santa.
My old man, gruff as he can be, rather enjoys Christmas, much like the Old Man from “A Christmas Story.” Yes, Red Ryder will make an appearance at some point. Actually, maybe this year, potentially the last year when all the kids believe in Santa. But, shhh!, don’t tell my wife. She has an irrational aversion to weapons that have absolutely no chance of ever shooting an eye out. No disrespect to Daisy, but its BB guns are not exactly powerhouses.
4. Lying About Santa Claus Is Utilitarian
Kids want a bunch of junk and the list changes on a daily basis. If you can’t keep straight that the ONE BIG THING they want is a train doll microscope telescope, you have a fall guy in a garish pimp suit waiting to bail you out. It’s part of his job. “What? You didn’t get your train doll microscope? Santaaaaa!”
Then you can move onto another mimosa safe from blame, even if it is totally your fault.
5. Lying About Santa In No Way Undermines God
‘Tis true that Santa is omnipresent in a way that God is not. Namely, Santa is very immediately putative. See, kids barely comprehend their own mortality. So while they comprehend reward and punishment, the advantage of Christmas is that it occurs annually. It’s more present. And despite the universal childhood desire to cheat death on the regular, they’ll only achieve death once. By then, if you haven’t done your job, it doesn’t matter what truths or falsehoods you’ve been laying down, you can only hope for the best.
‘Tis also true, as Gobry points out, putative threats are not the best reason for Santa Claus; putative threats aren’t even a moderately good reason for Santa Claus. We’ll get to that in a minute. But Gobry overstates the potential damage that will occur when kids discover the truth. Just as discovering that Randy doesn’t actually patrol the house didn’t cause my kids to develop serious trust-issues with me and instead sparked a new game, discovering Santa is a myth only shatters the dream that Christmas comes without a budget.
Similarly, the argument that lying about Santa weakens the case for Jesus seems, well, more made up than Santa himself. Yes, Christmas is a magical, wondrous time for Christians, one that doesn’t require myth. But here’s the thing: Santa is fun. Tracking him on Norad is exciting. Blaming him for the profanity the kids heard pouring from the basement while “he” finished putting toys together on Christmas Eve adds mystery to the evening. Jesus may be much more serious than most of the modern Buddy Christ iterations of him, but he didn’t eschew wonder, magic, or joy. If eternal salvation isn’t an opportunity for child-like joy, I don’t know what is.
Whenever my kids get too caught up in Santa, I remind them that Christmas isn’t about Santa. At all. When they do figure out he’s a myth, they’re tough enough to accept it and move on. My oldest is getting suspicious. She hasn’t stopped saying her prayers. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus, a man who died for us, rightly comes across as more serious than a right jolly old elf piloting a flying sleigh behind a team of flying reindeer. And maybe, just maybe, that seriousness is an opportunity for that aforementioned child-like joy.
6. G.K. Chesterton for the Win
As Michael Brendan Dougherty points out in his defense of Santa, Chesterton was an enthusiastic believer.
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good — far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me… What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea…
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.
This is a crucial point for we supporters. If Santa really maintained that naughty and nice list, he’d never leave the North Pole. All children are horrible. Mine, yours, all of them. They’re lovable and I strongly recommend having them, but they are rapacious, destructive balls of impulse. That’s why the system is designed around them having parents. Without us, their lives would quickly devolve into a situation rivaling “Lord of the Flies.”
Yet their lives don’t devolve in such a fashion. Because through it all, their inherent worth renders them suited for “peculiarly fantastic goodwill.” In other words, grace. Yes, only God can bestow true grace, but kids need to work up to appreciating that. Appreciating the terrestrial grace bestowed upon them by Mom and Dad is practically impossible when their lives have always been defined by receiving goodwill for no reason whatsoever. That’s where the fat man comes in.
Does that mean that Santa is a necessity for Christmas? Of course not. Santa is there for us if we choose to include him, even as he does have a predilection for breaking and entering. But to kill him off—to deny those of us who do believe the magic and wonder of an obese ninja in a very impractical attention-grabbing get-up—is antithetical to the Christmas season. It is a season of giving, of kith and kin, of bonhomie and blessing. It is not a season of destruction. I won’t launch Santa down your chimney, so don’t put a bear trap atop mine. Allow me and my fellow-travelers the opportunity to mesh child-like wonder with the deadly-serious business that is Christianity. It’s a delightful conundrum and a complementary dichotomy.
But, having said that, get back to me on December 26. If Santa—my minions, that is—comes armed with too many items marked “assembly-required,” I may rack my shotgun and join the hunting party. Until then, give me the splendiferous magic of a velvet-ensconced myth. At worst, it will keep the kids in the bed long enough on Christmas Eve to get the presents out before 2 a.m. At best, it will imbue them with a lifelong sense of wonder and astonishment.