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Hypocrisy: Should atheists lie to their children about Santa Claus?

Is it wrong to encourage Santa Claus stories, or is this what Christmas is all about, asks Grace Vaughan.

Grace Vaughan Mother and writer

EVIDENTLY CHRISTMAS IS open season (not just for turkeys) but for nonreligious parents to get short-shrift for promoting the belief in Santa Claus but not the belief in god. If you embrace one bearded fellow then you should embrace the other because they come as a package and cannot be sold separately.

At one time religion may have claimed full ownership of Santa (after all he was conceived in the image of St Nicholas) but today companies such as Coca-Cola have as much stake over him as any church.

In any event, the desire to monopolise Santa may have less to do with ownership and more to do with identity disturbance. The incestuous relationship between Santa and god is so ingrained we sometimes find it hard to distinguish between the two, regardless of how old we get. And I’m a case in point.

War on Santa

Once upon a Christmas (pre-kids) my husband made the devastating announcement that should kids enter the marital frame he didn’t want them believing in Santa. And he was adamant, no Rudolph, no ho-ho-ho-ing down chimneys, not one boot would Santa set in this house if it were solely up to him. Not his exact words but that’s what I heard.

As crushing as it was to hear, it was grossly ill-timed as we hadn’t even finished decorating the Christmas tree and already the father of my unborn had declared all-out war on Santa.

Reason? Lying to your kids is wrong and that the Santa lie is too big and too fat for them to swallow without causing lasting damage. Because when kids find out the inevitable, that Santa isn’t real, never was, it will hurt and any trust built will be affected from there on.

shutterstock_519328690 Source: Shutterstock/Subbotina Anna

I needed Santa

Wracked in self-conflict (agreeing with my husband but not wanting to concede) I dig the heels in deeper. Before long what should have been a grown up conversation on child-rearing descends into some juvenile ultimatum. Horns locked, my husband and I sit in exasperated silence until he gently probes the real reason behind my “Save Santa Campaign”. Who exactly was I keeping the big jolly man alive for, myself, or the kids that were no more than mere twinkles in our eyes?

He’d found the scab and began to pick. A scab nearly four decades old but still fresh enough to feel the pain of what it’s like to be 8 years old and get unceremoniously dumped by your biggest love: Santa. And the timing couldn’t have been more cruel. Back in 1980 fear and unrest consumed my small world. It was around the border where we lived, in school where corporal punishment was still admissible, and of course, in the church.

My Santa-shaped hole

Every ounce of magic and wonder I had was tied up in Santa, and when he left there was just this big hole, this big Santa-shaped hole that god would eventually fill, for a time. Until I learned it’s just more of the same old chestnut: old man with beard, travels through the sky, constantly watching over you.

As far as lies go Santa Claus is by no means the worst and if it means inflicting less alienation on kids, then Santa has to stay. And he did, on two pre-conditions: damage limitation with a weaning off process whereby Santa brings one less present each year and we the parents make up the shortfall. Two, absolutely no Orwellian methods of discipline like using the “Santa Cam.” Because as harmless as it seems it encourages blind faith and represses critical thinking.

Believing can be comforting

Believing in something may be more about how it makes people feel rather than whether they think something is real or not. If I walked into a shopping centre today, I’d automatically do it, hug Santa’s big wobbly belly and tug at his silly cotton beard. Even though I know he’s not real that warm fuzzy notion I still have of him absolutely is. And that’s why he gets to stay.

But as an equal opportunity household he’ll be treated the same as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh or any other imaginary friend that comes to visit. If he doesn’t like it, him and Rudolph can hoof off.

Grace Vaughan is a wholly irreverent mother and writer, who lives in Co Meath with current husband, Emmett. 

A date for the blasphemy referendum still hasn’t been decided on>

Is there any point putting ‘Jedi’ down as your religion on the census?>

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About the author:

Grace Vaughan  / Mother and writer

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