It’s hard to overstate the importance of being honest with children. It is no less important to teach them the value of honesty. And to model what you teach.
That’s why it shocks me that so many parents tell their children the most appalling lie — particularly at this time of year, when goodness is supposed to count more than any other!
For the record, I am absolutely not joking. There is a Santa Claus. He is very real. Literally, figuratively, any way you slice it.
Children deserve to know the truth about Santa Claus.
I mean, who else do you suppose is responsible for those presents under the tree? What? You say you bought them?
No, no, no. I said, who is responsible? And, sorry, but it isn’t you. You didn’t just suddenly have this brilliant idea the exact same moment a couple billion other people did. You didn’t wake up one day and go, “Hmm, I think I’ll put a tree up in our house and scatter some toys under it.”
No, sir. No, ma’am. Those presents are under that tree because of one person. Santa Claus. Okay, Jesus too, but Santa really gets the credit for this particular aspect of Christmas. He’s the one who started this tradition to honor the Nativity of Jesus.
He did it to teach us something which would lead us into the greater wonder of the Nativity. And, yes, the flying reindeer, the elves and all the rest of the Santa traditions serve a purpose in that.
The exact purpose, however, needs to be kept a secret from children — until they are ready to comprehend it. When they’re ready, learning Santa’s secret can, and should, be one of the proudest rites of passage for a child.
Kids who learn his secret never ever have to leave their “Santa years.” Santa Claus, in fact, only becomes more real.
Not that he was ever not real. Just open a history book!
Why, yes, that’s probably the best way to begin, by taking a look at Santa’s historical origin.
Way back in the fourth century, some 1700 years ago, before he was called Santa Claus, there was a man called Nicholas. Well, Νικόλαος, if you want to be a stickler. He a wealthy man known for his extreme generosity. He became a monk and later a bishop in a town that is now part of Turkey.
He had a reputation for giving toys to the children, mostly poor children. And, for whatever reason, he had a habit of doing it anonymously — to the children’s great delight and wonder.
The most famous of his gifts were not toys though. They went to three sisters, daughters of a nobleman who had lost his fortune. Without money, he was unable to pay the customary dowry for each of his daughters to marry. As the story goes, he was so desperate, he contemplated selling them into slavery. Or worse.
But Nicholas saved them from that fate — anonymously, of course. It was said to be on Christmas Eve that he came to their house by the cover of night and slipped each of them a bag of gold, enough for a dowry. How he got the bags into their house remains a mystery. He may have tossed them through the window, he may have tossed them down the chimney. But, so the story goes, at least one of the bags ended up in a stocking left to dry by the fireplace. The girls all had dowries and could get married. And a tradition was born.
These gifts created a tangible connection to the first Christmas, the Nativity. Not merely by mimicking the Magi, but by providing a practical sense of what it’s like to receive something unearned — and yet deserved in the unconditionally loving mind of the giver. It inspired awe and gratitude that children still feel each Christmas morning.
Largely because of these things, Nicholas was declared a saint. And his fame spread around the world where he would be known by many different names: Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus. And children learned to expect stockings filled with toys and hearts filled with joy every year.
But as the years mounted, and their understanding of all things grew, they would begin to wonder. How? How could one man achieve such wonders in one night? Even accounting for the 24 time zones?
There are two answers to that question. One is the truth. The other is a lie, even if those telling it believe it is literal fact.
Those of us who know the truth have been entrusted with the duty of sharing that truth with our children when they are ready to know it. Santa’s secret.
The problem is, it is a secret designed to be passed down through families. An ancestral gift. In too many families, however, it has been lost.
Since this is a parenting blog, I have been given the dispensation and honor to restore that ancestral knowledge.
But with this caveat. No uninitiated children are allowed to read it.
So prepare to read it in secret on Friday, when I complete this post, under the expressed authority of Santa Claus.
Or, for the more literal minded, S.A.N.T.A. Claus.
(NOTE: This was originally a two-part post. Here is Part II.)