I believe in Father Christmas
I don’t like to see children being indoctrinated with irrational, illogical or nonsensical beliefs. I’m careful to give my boys plenty of information, to be honest, acknowledge uncertainty and try to give them all the information and tools I have at my disposal to learn and investigate for themselves. I even insert my own asides to correct their dinosaur books when they mention brontosauruses. So why do I find myself telling them that there’s such a person as Father Christmas?
I tell myself that it’s traditional, that it’s something everyone grows up with, and which is more or less expected. I ‘m sure the boys will soon be old enough to draw their own conclusions about the truth or otherwise of the story. And I suspect the grandparents would be less than impressed if we were to tell the boys it’s all just a silly story. But I could say exactly the same about religious beliefs, and I clearly don’t treat the two in the same way.
I started out with high ideals. I was going to tell the truth, just not the whole truth. So if asked about Father Christmas, I’d say that I’d heard – or some people say – that he comes and puts presents in your stocking. If that wasn’t enough for an inquisitive boy, I’d add that I’d hung my stocking up every Christmas Eve and it had always been full in the morning. Not a word of a lie. It might even teach them to think carefully about what was actually being said. But that was a bit of a cop-out, and in hindsight, it was never going to last long, seeing that small children could have taught Torquemada a few things about interrogation.
It’s all very well having ideas about being carefully truthful, but you have to have the stomach for it, and you have to plan for every eventuality. Unfortunately, as Field Marshal von Moltke said, “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. I made several small slips over time, and when my careful hedging was met with the retort “Granny says he’s real” and a baleful stare, I had to choose between my principles and my family. I caved, and the thumbscrews hadn’t even come out.
But in truth, I was clearly never all that committed to being honest, or I would have been direct in the first place – Father Christmas is made up, reindeer can’t fly, and the finances of an operation that revolves around giving things away with no obvious income stream would make the Lehman Brothers look solvent. Apologies if that shocks anyone. I was prepared to tolerate and tacitly encourage a belief in ridiculous supernatural events because it’s the social norm, I didn’t want either my boys or me to seem weird, and it seemed – still seems, I suppose – like a nice, harmless story.
So I’m inconsistent – a hypocrite, if you like. But I just don’t know what I should change. I’m still uncomfortable with religious indocrination (although that covers a multitude of sins, and could do with a lot more detail), but I don’t want to live in a world without innocent wonderment, where all stories have to be clearly identified as either fact or fiction. I’d like to believe there’s a watertight middle ground, but I don’t know what it might be.
At least I should have a while before I need to worry about the tooth fairy.