Liar, liar, pants on fire!

>> Dec 14, 2009

When I was working as a ski rep in Ruka we spent the whole of December organising so many events with Santa (that's him on the left there, the real Santa and his wife) that by the time Christmas came around we were ready to kill the first fat person we saw wearing red.  We had visits to his house, visits to the Santa theme-park, visits to his reindeer and of course the obligatory Christmas party guest appearance. 

Throughout all this there was one family I remember very well.

The boy was about 10 and his mother really wanted him still to believe in Father Christmas, she was desperate to cling on to that magic for one last year. The boy was on the edge. Jaded by too many poor Santa copies in shopping centres and department stores, all of whom looked different from the next, he wasn't sure what he believed and spoke openly about it to his mother. They went to Santa's house, met the elves and reindeer, sat on the old guy's knee and the boy had a great time, on the way back he was half convinced.

'If it's the same Santa that comes to the party, then I'll believe.' He declared still with a little squinty eyed suspicion on his face.

The party rolls around and lo and behold, the very same Santa appears with sleigh and reindeer behind. The kid is made up, it's the same guy, and he remembered his name (kids have an amazing ability to forget they are wearing name badges within minutes of putting them on). Santa must be real. I'm not sure who was happier, him or his mother.

It was a wonderful touching moment, throughout which I couldn't help wonder just how hard that kid was going to fall when he found out the truth?

He had gone through the natural process of reasoning for himself what was and wasn't true, accepting that Santa could be make-believe without feeling any anger with his mother for lying to him all these years. However, on reaching this critical stage in his learning he was pushed right back over to the other side. At a point where he understood that some things are made up and others teal, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Santa was real -after all he'd been to his house and met his wife, you don't get much more real than that.

Lovely for the mother but how fair is this to the child?  Will he not just fall further and harder when he learns the truth? Rather than just being something that he accepts easily as being harmless make believe, has this now become a lie?

A couple of weeks ago MrsW from Clinicaly fed up wrote about telling her nine year old daughter the truth after she accidentally killed off the tooth fairy.
I looked her in the eye and asked her if she wanted me to lie. She cried for a whole day. A.Whole.Day. Can you even begin to imagine how awful that feels? All my platitudes about the “spirit” of giving and the “magic” of fantasy were well met…. eventually. And being on board for her new baby brother, who hadn’t arrived yet, made her feel special and grown up and in on the “secret”. But nothing, none of it, was worth watching her break. Nothing was worth the anguish and despair with which she asked me if I’d been lying to her. With hindsight it was probably a combination of betrayal and embarrassment. By carrying on with The Santa Lie for so long I think she’d probably been defending my story to more street-wise kids at school.

And yesterday Jo Beaufoix pondered over keeping up the pretence in the age when a child could quite easily just ask Google and wondered whether protecting them from the answers was the right thing to do
Is it right to keep things from them because of our idea of an idyllic childhood?  Would we be doing this for them or for us?
My eldest is three now and I haven't spoken to her about Santa at all yet.  I'm not sure if I'm going to.  What do you think?  Should we perpetuate the Santa lie at the risk of breaking our children's hearts and if so, what age is the right age to tell them the truth?

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