On December 23, 1951, the day before Christmas Eve, the Catholic diocese of the French city of Dijon held a big rally to which they brought the children of the diocese's Catholic schools and orphanages. They were shown an effigy of Santa and solemnly informed that the jolly man in red was not real, after which Santa was denounced as an usurper and a heretic, hanged, and set on fire.
A release following the even proclaimed, "In truth, lies cannot awaken religious sentiments in children, and they are in no way an educational method."
To which I can only say, Amen! Once upon a time, Catholic bishops stood for truth!
I have never believed in Santa, because my parents never told me he was real—partly out of religious conviction, but partly because, quite simply, they believe that lying is wrong.
This didn't cause me any problems, though there was one hiccup. I remember staying with the neighbors' kid—I must have been five or six—and playing video games. He asked me what I had asked for Christmas from Santa. Quite naturally, I responded "What? Dude, Santa's not real."
I distinctly remember what happened next, like a slow-motion scene from a movie. His mom, who had been watching behind the scenes, started waving her arms left and right and mouthing a big "NO," eyes big as saucers.
I caught on: "…by which I mean, he totally exists!" I don't think my friend figured out my careful ruse.
My daughter, who is now about the same age as I was then, doesn't believe in Santa either, because I've made sure to tell her that he's fake. To avoid the sorts of awkward incidents I went through, I told her that Santa is a story people like to repeat, like Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella, and that just like other stories, sometimes people like to play pretend that they're real. This is fine. It's surprisingly easy not to lie to your children.
I don't know if I'm part of a movement to kill Santa, but there are others. My friend W. has told her five-year-old daughter that Santa isn't real, though not entirely successfully—her daughter has come to believe that gifts are delivered by people dressed like Santa, and has asked how people dressed like Santa can fit through chimneys.
A lot of people are shocked when I tell them about this. For my part, I'm just shocked that people will lie to their children. And that, really, should be the end of the discussion. Lying is bad. Lying to vulnerable people is doubly bad.
But since this convinces no one—and just look at current events to see what a world where people treat lying as no big deal looks like—I have to keep talking. Believe me, I've had this conversation about 5 million times, so I know everything you're about to say.
Don't lie to children? Well, what about SEX? Do you tell your three-year-old everything about SEX? Well, you should start sex ed early anyway, but you can always say things in a way that's both truthful and age-appropriate. (When she was three, my daughter asked me how babies are made. I didn't say anything about storks or bees, I said that a man and a woman have to do a special act together that signifies love.) And anyhow, even if you were to make exceptions to the "No lying to children" rule, which I can understand, you'd make them for really serious cases, not to invent a magic man who lives at the top of the world.
Well my parents gave me the Santa lie, and I was OK. I'm looking forward to your runaway parenting best-seller, How to Probably Not Traumatize Your Kids. I in fact know of people for whom discovering the truth about Santa was a traumatic event, because discovering that their parents lied to them undermined their trust in them. Sure, that's probably not most people, but they're out there. Are you going to take those odds? For what?
But they're so cute when they believe in Santa! See, now we're getting to the truly silly—and truly concerning—arguments. Why is it that when you teach a kid a lie you find them cuter? It's because it enables you to see them as inferior and under your control, which they are. And you're abusing that control by deceiving them. It's really a form of contempt.
But what about whimsy! And imagination! This is the one people keep coming back to, and it's the most puzzling one. Trust me, I was never at a loss for whimsy and imagination as a child, and neither is my daughter. Kids can tell the difference between fact and fiction just fine. They play pretend, sure, but when they play pretend they know they're playing pretend. And that's what boosts their imagination, that's what builds up their whimsy: making up stories on top of all the stories that they're told. Have you ever seen children spontaneously play a game of pretend where they're Santa or reindeer? No. They don't. Because they're not presented with Santa as a story, they're presented with Santa as if he's real. So Santa is not a building block that kids use to beef up their whimsy and imagination. If anything, he does the opposite, by obscuring what's true and good and beautiful about the magic of Christmas with a nonsense lie.
Join the movement. Together, we can kill Santa.