to lie or tell the truth?


Most parents know that lying to our kids is not a good idea—it’s not respectful or kind, and is likely to erode the trust our children have in us.

However, what about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Surely these innocent ‘white lies’ are okay, aren’t they? Anyway, it gives parents such joy to see little faces light up as our kids indulge in the pleasure of make-believe.

Or is it a dangerous path that deeply affects our child’s capacity to trust adults when they eventually find out the truth? I know at least one man in his 40s who still feels a sense of betrayal at having been lied to as a child. He’ll probably never get over it.

It is not for me to tell other people how they should live their lives. But perpetuation of the Santa myth has been described by some as a way to condition children into becoming materialists par excellence, and one of the most valuable lessons of my life is that materialism is a dead-end street.

Yet Rich Cromwell of The Federalist has come up with Six Reasons to Lie to Your Kids About Santa Claus, and I like the reasons very much—especially the fact that you can blame any clunker gifts on the old fat man. He makes a great fall guy.

I think that we should give our kids every opportunity to figure out things for themselves. With Santa bell ringers at the entrances to shopping malls and on most street corners, it’s a pretty dense kid who doesn’t begin to figure out the truth about Santa by age seven or eight. Parents who go to great lengths to perpetuate the myth much beyond this age are not teaching their children the important lesson of the season: that this is a time to think of others, not ourselves.

Several years ago, a piece by Martha Brockenbrough appeared in The New York Times that answered the Santa question perfectly. Martha’s daughter had figured out the truth about Santa, which “left her mother grappling with how to explain that belief.” So she did it with this letter:

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”
I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.
The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.
I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)
I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the Christmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.
This won’t make you Santa, though.
Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.
It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.
Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.
With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.
So, no, I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.
I love you and I always will.


One of the reasons I like today’s Groove is that it is a gentle way to introduce doubt to children about the Santa myth.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Jimmy Boyd performing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”


2 Responses to “to lie or tell the truth?”

  1. 1 anonymouse
    December 23, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Nah, nah, nah . . . I am not listening to Dan. There is a Santa, there is!!!

  2. 2 Frank Manning
    December 23, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
    Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
    Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
    Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

    Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

    You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

    No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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