Father Christmas – What Do You Tell Them?

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Having a distinctly Scrooge-like attitude, it was the only Christmas task I really enjoyed – overseeing the children’s ritual of leaving mince pies and milk out for Father Christmas, together with a carrot for Rudolf. And later tiptoeing into their bedroom with filled Christmas stockings. For several blissful years I sang When Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney to them and fielded questions about Santa’s domestic arrangements (Is Father Christmas married? What does Mrs. Christmas do on Christmas Eve?) And it all seemed perfectly straightforward…

Screen-Shot-2012-12-23-at-11.35.55Until my six year old daughter rushed across the school playground one afternoon, red-faced and indignant, “Katherine Shawcross says that Father Christmas isn’t real! She’s lying, isn’t she, Mummy?”

Could I bluff it out? It seemed so unfair – to be stripped of all the illusions about Father Christmas at the tender age of six. After heartily wishing Katherine Shawcross a really miserable Christmas, I took only option I really had. I told the truth. If I lied now, she would never trust me again.

She was appalled. “But… we write letters to him every year! And in assembly Mr. Weaver read out a poem about Father Christmas and talked about the reindeer and he’s the Headteacher and he hates lying, he told us so… Are you sure it’s made up.”

“I’m afraid so,” I mumbled.

We walked home in an unhappy silence. When she finally started to cry, I nearly joined in.

Of course, it didn’t end there. Her trust in adult ability to tell the truth evidently undermined, my formidably precocious daughter interrogated me about other characters she had doubts about – I soon had to come clean about the Tooth Fairy.

Rebecca frowned. “I’ve always wondered about her, anyhow. And what about this business about God and Jesus, then? Is that the same?”

“Oh no.” At last, I was on solid ground. “There are people who don’t believe in God or Jesus. But millions of clever people around the world do and pray to them every day. While no grown-up really believes in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy.”

She then decided that her four year old brother ought to be told about the ‘Father Christmas lie’, as she put it. After a long discussion, we agreed it would be fairer to tell him when he was at least six.

A relief, as this had been the first year that he hadn’t been nearly hysterical at the sight of a large, red-robed man with a bushy beard. A perfectly understandable reaction, if you think about it. Of course, until confronted with a screaming, sobbing child in Santa’s Grotto, I hadn’t. However apparently, it is a common reaction. My sister spent a sleepless, tearful Christmas Eve before finally getting her youngest to explain he was terrified of Father Christmas coming into his bedroom while he was asleep. So she pinned a note to his bedroom door explaining to Father Christmas that David would rather have his stocking filled in the lounge, after which he finally calmed down sufficiently to go to sleep.

In the face of Rebecca’s outraged reaction, I have often wondered since why we do spin such an elaborate story around a completely mythical character. Maybe, it’s some sort of preparation for all the disillusionments children will suffer, later on. Or maybe, it just seems like a simple, fun thing to do. Has anyone else encountered a similar reaction? I can’t be the only one who ended up being interrogated about the ‘Father Christmas lie’…

6 responses »

  1. Keep it going until you are forced to tell the truth. Often children really do know he isn’t real but are prepared to go on pretending they believe as they enjoy the mystery (and the stockings) It’s a great game, after all. The age depends on whether there are older children in the family and what the child’s peers say, as you discovered. Grotto Santas often find children cry when they are introduced to them. If the idea isn’t bringing happiness, ditch it.

  2. Yes, as ever, you bring a solid grounding of common sense to the issue, Julie. But Rebecca is now 28 and still recalls the incident with some sense of betrayal. I had to do some fast talking to persuade her to at least let her own daughter believe in Father Christmas for a few years. She has now reached the age where I think she has a shrewd idea that he isn’t real, but continues to enter into the spirit of it all, anyhow…

  3. I’m afraid we’re one of those parents who had fun with Santa but told our children from the get go that it was all pretend…and they told their pre-school friends! Parents were upset with us, but at least we avoided the scenario you described, lol. Ah well, life works out. Enjoy your Christmas – and the joy Father Christmas brings. (whether or not he’s real).

    • In retrospect, I think this might be the right idea – however every family has to work this one out for themselves. I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem…

    • It all depends whether you attended North Lane Primary School at Rustington in 1990/91… If so, hope you didn’t take my will-wishing too personally lol…

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