A reader writes:
I hope this thread takes off with reader comments like many of your others! There is a lot of room to maneuver between the cruel, artless, and deliberately upsetting lies encouraged by the revolting Jimmy Kimmel and the cold, unblinking presentation of reality to children. Indeed, I find bullshitting one’s children is a singular and abiding joy of parenthood! For example, I have insisted for years to my now seven year-old son that (a) chocolate milk comes from brown cows, and (b) dogs can drive. He has never really believed me, but I have stuck to my guns with increasingly unlikely embellishments (e.g. not just any dog – only those that can pass a special driving test).
I believe there is value for children in sniffing out and articulating why certain massive whoppers peddled by their normally-trusted parents are untrue. In this way, healthy skepticism is developed without making children distrustful (as perhaps you should be if your parents will reduce you to tears just because a second-rate comedian told them to) or naive (believing adults always tell the truth).
Another is on the same page:
Count me as yet another defender, and practitioner, of lying to one’s offspring. When done right, it is good for their souls. I refer to the paradoxical cults of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.
What strange mythic beings those three are! They are neither gods nor fictional characters; they are a hybrid of the two. The child is expected both to believe and then later disbelieve! They start out as Truth Revealed, but end up as Fun Lies. They enact, within the child’s own lifetime, a mini-Enlightenment. Their final sermon is doubt; their greatest miracle is their own refutation.
For Santa doesn’t just die, like some plain old corn god; it turns out that he never even was. He was a lie, a trick, a prank. But the disillusionment is gentle; for the presents were real, and they keep coming. The god fails, but parental love remains.
I see Santa as an initiation rite into skepticism. He is a noble lie; for he turns children into philosophers. Santa is the patron saint of unbelief.
My oldest came home in 2nd grade and said a bunch of kids at school were telling her that Santa isn’t real and it’s just her parents. She then asked me if that was true. In my defense, I was nursing her infant sister, wasn’t sleeping, and wasn’t thinking. I thought she knew the truth and was testing me. So I told her that Santa isn’t real and that we gave her all her presents. She freaked out. She started crying hysterically and mourned Santa as if he died. It was horrible. I called my husband at work and he was so angry at me. It was awful. So now I lie:
Mom, have you ever tried any drugs?
Mom, were you a virgin when you met Dad?
Mom, what does tea-bagging mean? (got this one when she was in 6th grade)
Answer: It’s a new political movement. Taxed Enough Already.
How the hell was I supposed to explain tea-bagging to an 11 year old? The Jimmy Kimmel stuff is funny, though a bit cruel, and I wouldn’t do it to my kids, but sometimes you just have to lie.
Fantasies about Santa Claus can be seen as part of psychological development, as we move from pre-rational, to rational, then onto trans-rational (hopefully). I may not believe in Santa anymore, but I’m glad he’s still around, as a reminder of generosity. In the same way, the Garden of Eden may be fully believed at one point, dismissed as fantasy later on, but hopefully seen in a trans-rational perspective as a valuable meditation on good and evil. Most of us get stuck at some stage or another. Perhaps religion, understood differently, can act as a sort of conveyor belt.
I have to object to the reader’s characterisation of the “Christian tendency to turn religious holidays into occasions for inventing impossible narratives (a flying fat man and a giant bunny delivering toys and candy respectively).” I’m sorry, but that is a British/American tendency, not a Christian one. Spain, for one, did not turn either Easter or Christmas into any such thing, nor did any country in its vicinity.
Another narrows that point even more:
I suspect that for the common difficulties of balancing truth with commercial myths – Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny – the problem is uniquely American. Growing up in England, as I did, to American parents, none of these were on the map. Christmas had Father Christmas, but he was a minor and distinctly human figure – good for a sack of chocolate gelt or Cadbury bar, but not the main chance. Santa, the fairy, and the bunny didn’t exist. I suppose we missed out on certain fantasies, but they weren’t missed. It was nifty enough to get a few coins under the pillow as payment for a tooth, or to find a bright blue egg behind the couch – no explanation needed. A straightforwardness worth emulating, I think.