I promise I don’t write these articles to offend you.
Several years back when our children got old enough to understand the story of Father Christmas (you may know him as Santa Claus), my wife and I had an argument. She thought (and still thinks) that it’s okay to tell your children that there exists such a person: A plump, white-bearded old man, dressed in fur, flying magical reindeer, delivering presents to good boys and girls throughout the world.
I think it’s one thing to allow your child to believe a myth, it’s another thing entirely, I think, to talk them into believing it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “[a] lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”
Leaving to one side the issue of mental reservation and the, ‘if-a-Nazi-was-at-your-door’ dilemmas*, it seems obvious to me that telling a child—who does not yet have the cognitive ability to discern the truth of the matter, and who trusts you to tell him the truth about the world, (and at the very least, not to deceive him about it)—that Santa exists; that he ‘knows if you’ve been bad or good,’ that he can be tracked on ReindeerCam, etc. etc. is a lie: a falsehood told with the intent of deceiving.
For this reason we don’t lie to our children about Santa Claus.
When people discover this they usually object in one of three ways:
1. “My parents told me about Santa Claus and I turned out okay. Once I found out the truth, I never doubted that God existed or anything like that.”
My argument isn’t that lying to children about Santa Claus will have negative effects (or even that it won’t have positive ones), it’s that I think it constitutes lying, that lying is wrong, and that we therefore should’t do it.
2. “Don’t you worry that you’re robbing your children of the magic of Christmas?”
To this I say, if celebrating the historical fact of the birth of the second person of the Blessed Trinity is not enough to arouse wonder, ‘magic,’ or awe, within you and your children, you may wanna reflect upon that.
3. “I think it’s good for their imagination!”
You’re probably right, but I think there are other ways to encourage your child’s imagination that don’t involve lying to them? Like reading them good literature? The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance, or, The Lord the Rings. These books, to paraphrase Fr. Robert Barron, prepare the imagination for the reception of the gospel.
Will the real St. Nick stand up?
Perhaps you and I should learn more about the real St. Nicholas, and even find ways to creatively celebrate his feast with our children (his feast is on the 6th of December); they’ve got some great ideas at the St. Nicholas Center.
Did you know that St. Nicholas was a fourth century Bishop of Myra (part of modern-day Turkey)? And that he participated in the First Council of Nicaea—where he apparently punched the heretic Arius for denying Christ’s divinity? Bring it Nicko!
If you’d like to read a post that appears to argue the opposite of what I’m arguing here, you can read Catholic apologist Michelle Arnold’s post, The Truth About Santa Claus. You might also enjoy Matt Warner’s recent post (looks like we posted around the same time) Are you lying to your children about Santa.
I’m Open to Changing My Mind
I think most times when people say in the middle of an argument, “hey, I’m open to changing my mind,” that they aren’t really. Rather it’s just something to say to sound objective. But in this situation, I really am open to changing my mind. Leave your comments below and I’ll do my best to read through them all.