December 6, 2021

The Lies we Tell our Children aren’t What they Used to Be.

My parents told me about Father Christmas, and I believed them.

As a small child, I excitedly visited him each year to tell him what I would like for Christmas, and I eagerly hung my stocking up on Christmas Eve in anticipation of his visit.

When I was young, we saw the real Father Christmas, then once I was old enough to recognise that each man was a different person, they became his “helpers”—because the real one was obviously far too busy to be meeting with children in the run-up to the big day. Still, I believed.

There was no internet to challenge my belief, and by the time my friends and I returned to school after the holidays, we were only focussed on what we had been doing and what our main or favourite gift had been. I don’t remember having discussions about “what Santa had brought,” like my own children now have.

Each of us will have entered parenthood with the best of intentions for our children, mixed in with attachment to our own traditions and a little nostalgia for the magic we once felt. Without much thought or discussion, it is easy to attempt to recreate what we experienced.

This may work well when our children are little, only these days, they are often exposed to other people’s lives when far younger, in a way that we were not. Children now tell each other the lies that we have told them, and they soon realise that we are all telling a different tale.

I quickly discovered that while Father Christmas only brings small gifts to fill a stocking in our house, in other homes, he provides all of the presents under the tree too. Santa even fills a stocking for the grown-ups in some families, whereas he only delivers to the children here.

In many a home, he will deliver the main gift that the child has asked for, even if that is something costing hundreds of pounds. This is a significant difference to receiving new socks, a book, small toys, and chocolate—and a far cry from the traditional gold coin and fruit delivered on December sixth by Saint Nicholas.

Children now ask questions of us, and they are relentless until satisfied with our answers:

“Why did he get a PS5 from Santa?”

“How come her daddy gets presents in his stocking?”

“Why does Father Christmas bring really expensive gifts to them, but not to me?”

“How come Santa doesn’t bring presents for under our tree?”

I have heard many creative answers, such as that the parents pay Santa for the things he brings, or that he will only bring gifts the parents can actually afford so as to not make them feel bad. Personally, in keeping with the lies I had already told, I explained that the parents are lying to their children and saying that Father Christmas brings everything, when he is actually only bringing the items for the children’s stockings, and the parents are doing the rest.

It seems to be getting harder to keep the magic alive beyond their early years. And if there weren’t enough lies tangled up with the man in red, we now have an elf or two to contend with as well.

I tried to avoid this latest craze and told my children the truth, but my younger two decided that they were missing out and didn’t care if it was me who moved the elves; they still wanted one—so when I said no, given the elves are only small, they asked Father Christmas to bring them one each instead. Oh great, thanks Santa!

Now, each December, every evening I have to wait until after my children have gone to bed to move the elves around the house for them to find the next morning. An important reminder that our lies always find a way to bite us in the butt.

If you’ve missed this joyful new addition to advent, a quick search on social media will show you all the cheeky and adventurous things that people’s elves have been getting up to. Those parents who leapt on the naughty elf train several years ago may well be regretting their decision, after needing to create new and interesting things for their elves to do each night once their children are asleep.

Again, the activities they get up to are as varied as every other tradition. Even the “kindness” elves require thought, planning, and creativity.

As someone who has always strived to be honest with my children in an age-appropriate way, it surprises me that I never even questioned lying to them about Christmas. And those lies didn’t stop there. I got drawn into the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as well.

Choosing not to lie is an option, but again comes with its challenges. What do we tell our children to say to their friends who believe? Do we ask them to lie to maintain the illusion? How do we generate feelings of excitement and magic that we ourselves so fondly remember and long for them to experience?

New parents have a wonderful opportunity to consider all of this, can decide whilst their children are babies or toddlers whether to lie or not, and consider which lies they are comfortable telling. My advice is to choose wisely.

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