Lying – Should we lie to our children about Santa Claus? Is it ethical?
If you live in a Western culture with a tradition of Christmas then when December approaches, children and parents are bombarded with images and advertisements featuring Santa Claus. New parents have to decide what to tell their child. Do they join the collective lie? Is it a betrayal of their child’s precious trust to participate in this gigantic ruse?
I found this a morally challenging moment in my early parenthood. On the one hand, I was proud of my honesty (thus far) with my 2-year-old. But who was I to deprive her of the fun and delightful anticipation that characterises the approach of Christmas? Also, if she is disillusioned at a young age and then goes on to brutally shatter her peer’s illusions. Would that make me some kind of unfeeling monster? Would I then have to swear her to secrecy and make her lie to her friends just to protect them from hearing the truth? Surely that would be an unreasonable burden to push on to such a young child? It was passing the responsibility from my shoulders to hers. This seemed a craven act.
I thought long and hard about all the options and decided that I would participate in the collective sham. My three reasons were:
1. We are not supposed to be our children’s best friends or equals. To side with the majority of parents and promulgate the myth of Santa Claus means we have joined a very well-established club and, when the lie is exposed, children will realise that they are on one side and we are on another. The separation hurts both sides emotionally but it is a step towards growing up and I see it as a healthy separation.
2. If we tell our child that Santa is just a capitalistic construct invented by retailers to sell more stuff, then we would be hypocrites to participate in any of the established traditions. Where would we draw the line? Perhaps if we were Christians, we could still have a tree and presents. But not delivered by Santa. But if there is no religious affiliation in the house then, to be consistent, we would just have to eschew the whole thing. Where does that leave our child when people are handing out presents and having Christmas parties? Bah humbug?
3. As a child my head was full of stories about fairies who lived at the bottom of the garden and leprechauns searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These stories fuelled my imagination and made the world a wondrous place full of unexplained mysteries. The miracle of Santa delivering presents to every home in one night and squeezing down our chimney (even if we don’t have one) is a collective fantasy to be shared too. Most importantly, the tale is told to us by our parents repeating the stories of their parents. It is a shared history and the discovery that it is untrue is a necessary rite of passage. Many kids discover the truth early but choose to pretend they still believe in Santa, for their younger siblings’ sakes. It is a sign of maturity if they can be persuaded to restrain themselves from blurting out their discovery and join their parents in keeping the fantasy alive.
I don’t believe that the myth of Santa Claus does harm to a family but that it is a very good way for parents to join their peers and realise that sometimes they have to let their children uncover truth for themselves.
What do you think? Am I wrong?
The cartoon below depicts a Moral Dilemma featuring the topic of ‘lying’ and is suitable for use with primary school aged children. It is available as a Free PDF with appropriate discussion questions and a worksheet to develop the concepts. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for you FREE pdf’s.