• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • December 16, 2012 in Columnists

    The story of Santa Claus is a beloved, well-intentioned lie

    by Debra DeAngelo

    Last week I picked apart the Christmas Tree. This week: Santa.

    Here’s the deal: Santa Claus is the most well-intentioned, beloved lie we tell our kids. But, at the end of the season, it’s still a lie. And sooner or later, your kids will get suspicious.

    Maybe it’ll happen when she sees Santa at Macy’s and JC Penney at the same time. Or wonders how Santa got inside when there’s no chimney in the apartment. Or when he notices that shopping mall Santa’s beard is held on with elastic.

    That’s when your child turns to you, the person s/he trusts more than anyone in the world, and asks, “Is Santa real?” And we’ll look into those big, trusting eyes, and lie through our teeth: “Of course Santa’s real!”

    However, your intrinsically wise child remains somewhat skeptical, and will eventually turn to the real authority: friends. Who’ll ridicule her/his naivety mercilessly. The next time s/he brings up the topic with you, it won’t be a question. It will be an accusation.

    Trust me, I’ve taken that dart. It stings.

    It happened one random December day, my kids in the back seat, chattering about what they wanted from Santa, and my son (ever the most helpful of the two) blurted out, “Santa isn’t real, stupid!” to his younger sister. She fired me an angry glance in the rearview mirror.

    “Mom, Jimmy says Santa’s not real!”

    I didn’t see it coming. I faltered. How could I wiggle out of this with that gleeful little witness poised to pounce on my response? I sputtered a weak reply and the boy sprang: “See? He’s not real! Mom made it all up!” and then cackled gleefully as he savored his sister’s shock and horror.

    Did she punch her brother in the head for saying horrible things about Santa? Oh no. Her little face twisted in red fury, and she glared at me and spat, “You LIED to me!”


    Unlike the boy, who, upon discovering Santa wasn’t real, played along with it, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, because the end result was lots of toys, my daughter had only one interpretation: My mother will lie to me. It was the first time that thought had entered her head. And, if I lied about something as important as Santa, what else might I lie about? Could I ever be trusted again?

    Oh, how I wished for a Santa do-over. If only I’d taken a casual “it’s all just for fun” angle on Santa. But there aren’t any do-overs in parenting, are there. Once you’ve stepped in a big, steaming pile of lies, there’s no getting it off your shoe. You are, and always shall be, suspect. And wait until you get to the hard stuff, like smoking pot and sex. That Santa thing will come around and bite you in the butt. Your kids will turn to their friends for the truth.

    That’s why I cringe a little when I hear parents telling their kids about Santa. It seems sweet and harmless now, but there will come a moment when it won’t be. And it will sting.

    Far worse, however, than being forced to wear a scarlet L, are all those kids who are so good all year, trusting that Santa will bring them toys, but on Christmas morning, the toys aren’t there. For some, there’s nothing under the Christmas tree. Some don’t even have a tree because their parents had to buy food instead. It’s heartbreaking.

    At best, those children will doubt Santa’s existence. At worst, they’ll conclude that they’re unworthy. For some reason they can’t detect, they don’t deserve any presents. Santa just doesn’t like them. That’s the ugly underbelly of the Santa story. I want to scoop all those kids up, and hug them and tell them it’s not them, that Santa’s just a cruel lie, and that yes, life is unfair now, but they’ll have a chance to make it better someday. But my scooper’s just not big enough.

    Beyond disappointed kids, the magnitude of people feeling alone and left out at this time of year gnaws at me. And it’s not just about presents. Some are homeless, or alone, or grieving for a loved one. Sure, that’s true all year, but at Christmas, it seems as garish and glaring as Rudolph’s nose.

    That’s why the song “Grown Up Christmas List” just tears me up: “No more lives torn apart, and wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts… Everyone would have a friend, and right would always win, and love would never end… This is my grown-up Christmas list.” Yes, THAT’S what I want for Christmas.

    Ironically, it’s a song to Santa. It begins, “Do you remember me? I sat upon your knee. I wrote to you with childhood fantasies.” Well, aren’t we in a pickle, having established Santa’s not real. But maybe wishing that everyone could be happy and loved is as ridiculous as believing that flying reindeer can pull a big, fat elf in a magic sleigh across the world and bring toys to every child in one night. Carried in one sack.

    (Really? We believed this, ever?)

    But recently I read about a guy who put on a Santa suit, traveled to the East Coast and handed out $100 bills to Hurricane Sandy victims. He plans to give away $100,000, one Ben Franklin at a time, to anyone who seems to be in need, in honor of his deceased friend who did likewise for two decades.

    Another Secret Santa walked into an Arizona Walmart last week and anonymously paid off the layaway bills for toys for 20 families. The store clerks said the people cried when they found out.

    Wow. A Santa who commits random, anonymous acts of kindness and generosity. Not because you’re naughty or nice. Just because. And, we could ALL be that Santa, in our own little way. I think that’s a much better Christmas story to tell our kids, don’t you?

    • Hey, this just put me in the Christmas spirit!

    • I have a friend who has kids who still believe and their answer as to why you see Santa’s everywhere is a great one. The real Santa has no time as he is busy in the North Pole and he sends pretend ones to help him while he is so busy. I think this is great. I think most kids when they find out are ready to find out. Your daughter was not allowed to discover on her own, mean brother. 🙂 I think angels, tooth fairies and all others you can’t see are what you want them to be. When anyone is ready to give up on all of these images, they are ready and sometimes into adulthood they are not ready. Let them be. 🙂

      • Kelvin

      • December 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm
      • Reply

      That’s an interesting take on the Santa myth/lie. LOL I was lucky in that my brothers waited until I came to them with my doubts. Then they welcomed me into the Brotherhood of Knowing. LOL They would wake me on Christmas Eve and we’d go get gifts under the tree, unwrap them and look at them and then wrap them back up. In the morning we’d do our best acting in front of our parents when we opened them. Instead of spoiling it for each other we played along. I kept my younger brother’s belief in Santa alive until he figured it out.

      I can see how some kids could be horribly disappointed. But I think a lot of kids are excited to know the truth because it makes them feel more grown up. Plus, let’s face it, kids don’t care whether Santa or their parents are giving them the latest XBox game. LOL

      The Santa random acts of kindness is awesome. I’ve gotta get a Santa suit.

        • Maya North

        • December 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm
        • Reply

        You’d look freaking awesome in that suit, especially with your smile and kind, kind eyes 🙂

      • Maya North

      • December 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm
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      I remember being pretty calm about finding out. I also remember that odd state between ‘I know Santa isn’t real’ and ‘but I still believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.’ In fact, we kids would compare notes about what we still believed in and what we didn’t. We all knew that grownups created this happy, semi-fantastical world for us to keep us safe and make us happy and we weren’t bothered by that.

      My daughter uses Madgrew’s Santa (and Tooth Fairy) delegates system and it works pretty well 🙂

      As for the real world, teenage stuff, I told my kids from a pretty early age all the stuff I had done as a teenager. I was absolutely honest while leave out details as was appropriate for their ages. I told them the parts I liked about my wild years, but I was very, very clear that there were costs associated and that some of them were terribly hard to pay. It had a lot of impact on my older daughter (the one born to me); my youngest (my blessing from marriage) was rather more skeptical and went her own way more–and got some consequences. Parents just have to do their imperfect best; more of it than we like to think is up to our kiddos…

      • Jesse

      • December 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm
      • Reply

      I plan on messing with the grandkid on this topic and eventually roping him in to fool the other kids. I hope to do it all in good fun. Jesse

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