The Most Wonderful Time… to lie to children?

Grace Buchanan, Contributing writer

My parents lied to me for 10 years. Just as the twelfth month came around, and frost formed on the ground, the curtain was drawn, and the show was on.

I would awake on the 25th of December to all new toys, decorating the sofa in green and red. My little heart would be so full of joy and my brain rattled, trying to comprehend how a man who eats billions of cookies in one night could move so fast around the world. It was magical, as they had planned it to be.

As I grew older, I became a detective, inspecting the handwriting on Santa’s left behind letter and straining my eyes to stay open throughout the night. I am still unsure if my eventual submission to sleep was due to my preconceived notion that Saint Nick could not visit if I were awake, or if an all-nighter at 8 was too much to take.

My parent’s lie was white as the snow that cloaked our yard, and their lovely intentions could have been wrapped with a bow. The greatest gift I ever received for Christmas was belief.

As Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

In the early years of our lives, we have the freedom to explore our wildest thoughts and dreams, with the restraint of logic-based society and responsibility resting in the distant future. Fantasies like Santa Claus add wonder and anticipation to Christmas, and without it children would not experience the magic of the holiday season in the same way.

Susan Linn, psychologist and author who promotes imaginative play in children says, “For that capacity [of imaginative play] to grow…kids require time, space, inspiration, and silence.”

The ability for parents to appear faithful in something that is not tangible, like Santa, inspires them to do the same. This skill of believing in something, without needing proof of it, will be carried throughout their lives and allow them to persevere when faced with obstacles.

Imagination is, “the beginning of self-motivation and how they [kids] wrestle with life to make it meaningful,” says Linn.

When their dreams and greatest ambitions are not guaranteed, a child that has been raised in a household that practices belief, whether it be religious or not, already has the foundation needed to move forward without palpable proof that their efforts will be successful.

Like the renowned Polar Express quote, “Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

Some people question the ethics of holiday fantasies like Santa Claus, arguing that lying to your children sets a bad example, teaching them to follow suit.

But Bright Horizons, a childcare organization that has 1,000 plus care centers worldwide and was ranked #1 on the Boston Globe Top Place to Work List in 2010, has differing thoughts. One of their “Tips for Nurturing Creative Minds” in children is to “Invent scenarios.”

They even recommend that adults “Join in the imaginative play by taking on a role yourself [themselves].”

The story of Saint Nick, his elves, and Rudolph, is a scenario; parents are simply playing a role. Sometimes, it is okay to withhold the truth for the sake of the well-being of our loved ones. In the long run, the act that my parents put on each December 25th was for the better.

I turned eighteen in October, and although the façade of Christmas has faded, I can still feel the magic of the holiday season. Without the annual letters to Santa, trips to Christmas Village, and putting “reindeer food” out in the driveway on Christmas Eve, I would not feel the depth of the emotional connection that I have to December in the way I do now.

Adults cherish “the most wonderful time of the year,” but if it weren’t for their childhood memories of the season, would they truly be as fond of Christmas as they are now? The love for Christmas being fostered at a young age is a common denominator for Christians everywhere. Not only did Santa Claus promote ambition, resilience and hope in us, he also brought us together.

As Cindy Lou Who from “The Grinch” says, “No one should be alone on Christmas.” And with holiday magic tickling the minds of our little ones, they will never truly be lonesome at this time of year.