The Santa Dilemma

My son is not a compliant shopper. He starts screaming the minute we cross the threshold of the store, and sometimes refuses to stop until we leave again.

Here’s the thing: it is the most appropriate response to the trauma that is Christmas shopping. He is only doing on the outside what I am doing on the inside. I also hate the sweating, teeming deluge of desperate humanity that inundates every shopping centre at this time of year. There is something vaguely psychotic about the single-minded determination that drives this horde, year after year, to quest for trinkets. I perfectly understand Nathan’s reluctance to join them. I am just forbidden by social mores to express it in quite the same way.

Maybe I am just cynical, but I really do struggle with the concept of tradition. Doing something just because it is what we have always done is just an excuse for not thinking. Telling a child that we do something because it “celebrates our cultural roots” or because “it is family tradition” is really admitting to not having the foggiest idea why the action has value in the first place. And I am a firm believer that unless you have a very clear understanding of why you are doing something, you should not be doing it. A lack of understanding is very dangerous.

Let me give you an example. When I raise the issue, most of my friends fob it off as a sweet but unimportant concern, but I am genuinely worried about what to tell Nathan about Santa Claus. Unlike most, I find the whole thing quite appalling. (This is where most people squirm awkwardly: here he goes on an inexplicable rant again. So I won’t blame you if you stop reading here). I find it appalling because at the heart of it is a deep betrayal. A parent knowingly and willingly lies to his child, and justifies it by calling it tradition.

Invariably, the child will discover the lie, and I think we forget how much that discovery hurts. The damage caused does not lie in the fact that there is no Santa Claus, but in the fact that the people who should teach you about the world lied. As adults, looking back, it seems harmless enough. After all, it is just what we do. But as a child, I believe, discovering that such a central part of your worldview is merely a lie – if not originating with, at least perpetuated by your parents – is potentially devastating. We know as adults that when those we trust lie to us, the relationship is always damaged. Why are we so willing to believe that in this case that will be different? Lies always – without exception – break down relationships. We are naïve if we believe this one won’t.

I get that we don’t want to “destroy the magic”, but is the magic of Christmas really centred on Santa Claus? If so, then Christmas is actually a meaningless celebration. And I understand that other parents would be upset if Nathan were to expose their lies to their children, although a part of me thinks that if you are prepared to lie to your child on such a grand scale, you ought to understand that there will be ramifications. This is a lie that cannot be covered up forever.

And so if I fight tradition and do what I am convinced is the right thing for my relationship with Nathan, I run the risk of causing all sorts of problems socially down the line. I resent Coca Cola for inventing Santa in the first place, and putting parents in this terrible predicament. But what can I do?

For this year, anyway, he is small enough that I can postpone the decision for a while. For this December, at least, I can get by with simply having to barge through the urgent masses of shoppers (if this is the season to be jolly, why do most of them seem so stressed?), suppressing the urge to scream.

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