‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was keepin’ it 100. Yes, it is Christmas and we have entered into another annual round of lying to our children about the existence of Santa Claus.
For the first two years of my sons’ lives, I was spared the ethical dilemma.
They were too young even to meaningfully lie to. But for the last three years, I have acquiesced to my goyishe wife’s wishes and played along. “What is Santa going to bring you?,” I’ve asked, “What do you want to ask Santa?” (For those wondering, whether Joshua David Stein is a Jewish name, it is. I was raised a Jew, though I have since converted, and therefore stood outside the Santa lie looking in for my entire life.)
Even worse, I, like parents across America, have turned the benevolent-ish construct into a sort of Orwellian overlord, a man with lists and coal and carrots and sticks. Well, this year for Christmas, I’m going to give them something much more useful than Skylanders figurines. I’m going to give them the truth.
Man deludes himself with relish for pleasure and profit. One must always test what one is told with the faculties of one’s mind. Adults lie. I lie. But I’ll not lie about this, not any longer: There is no Santa Claus, boy, nor Rudolph nor Dasher, Dancer, Prancer nor Dixon.
I can hear the weeping now, chased soon after by torrents of hellfire from my wife.
I am afraid the damage done will not heal in time for the exchange of carefully wrapped presents. And then all those figurines of Spyro, Wrecking Ball and Double Trouble will have been purchased for naught. The Christmas lights will sparkle through a veil of tears.
Let us nevertheless state clearly that which needs stating: Lying to our children about Santa Claus is just simple lying. It’s not a matter of allowing your child to believe or letting them believe in Santa Claus.
Positing the existence of a fat bearded guy living in the North Pole riding around on a sleigh delivering presents to all of Christendom is some sort of naturally occurring innate belief in a child. Santa Claus isn’t one of the Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.
No, we implant this falsehood in their minds. And if it hurts them to uproot it, this is simply the ripening of our own karmic seeds. Nothing’s free, not even at Christmas.
But it is much more malignant to allow that falsity to flourish. As the neuroscientist Sam Harris notes in his slim, stellar book Lying, one of the many problems with telling a lie is the generative effect it has.
“Lies beget lies,” writes Harris, “Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality.”
Thus when my five-year-old asks how it could possibly be that Santa Claus appears simultaneously at Macy’s in Herald Square and at the twee Brooklyn gift shop where we saw him—not to mention how he visits as many homes as he does in one night—I find myself contradicting the laws of physics or else building elaborate explanations to cocoon the untruth.
Perhaps there is plenipotentiary body of Santa representatives, elected by elves, and divided into geographical regions and sub-regions down to a district level, I say.
Each region coordinates with the relevant governmental organizations like the DOE, NSA, FTC, DOT, and FAA to ascertain which children have been naughty and which ones nice and to deliver the appropriate presents to the child in question with near simultaneity and without mishap.
My hope is that after 15 minutes of bureaucratic explanation, my son will be sufficiently bored to classify the World of Santa Claus among other topics like how his toys are organized into animals, vehicles, squishy things that aren’t animals and blocks as “too boring to care about.”
There are, in addition, pretty serious implications about lying to your child. We ask them to believe their parents about everything else all the time, about what is dangerous and not, what is kind and unkind, what to adopt and what to disavow.
We are their moral Google Maps and how would you feel if your phone led you to falsehood? We do damage to them, clearly, but to ourselves as well.
As Harris notes, “Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding—these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are discovered.”
I suppose the paradigmatic shift here isn’t that lying is bad. You don’t even need to read through all ten commandments for that one. Rather it is waking up to the truth that just because you’re lying about something you think is harmless--though I’d contest a capitalist fiction hell-bent on consumption is harmless--doesn’t provide some sort of Christmas exemption because he’s so jolly or it’s tradition or because we’ve all bought into the lie.
Fake news is fake news, even if it arrives on a sleigh.
Now, more than ever before, we should be raising children not to believe in convenient fictions, not to accept as true a claim if there is a preponderance of evidence against it, not to be hornswoggled by the promise of presents or to be good because they think someone is watching. The best present we can give them this year is truth.
Merry Christmas, boys, Santa doesn’t exist.