Disclaimer: Warning! This week’s entry is about Father Christmas, so if you have young children nearby, you may want to cover the screen / read it later, and make sure you don’t leave it open on the laptop or tablet for them to inadvertently stumble across. I accept no responsibility whatsoever, for anyone’s Christmas being ruined because of your carelessness. Look, children shouldn’t be reading most of what I write about anyway. Fuck. See, told you…
Ah, Christmas. The time of year when it is perfectly acceptable to lie to your children (as well as gorge yourself stupid; act like a drunken tit; play Chris Rea very loud in the office, etc….).
In truth, parents lie to their children all year round, but this is generally for three very good reasons:
1. We want to protect them from the harsh realities of real life (thereby preserving their innocence that little bit longer), e.g.:
“No, darling, Bambi’s mummy is going to be absolutely fine. She’s just having a lie down because she’s tired.”
2. We, as adults, want our lives to be just a tiny bit easier, and sometimes lying is the only way to achieve this, e.g.:
“The television seems to be broken. Never mind, time for bed”;
“I know you hate parsnips. That’s a chip, I promise.”
3. Sometimes, we screw up, and have no other choice, e.g.:
“I have no idea where your Easter Egg went, sweetheart, I haven’t seen it in days.” (said whilst discreetly wiping away a chocolate smear from the corner of your mouth);
“Mummy was just giving the window cleaner a cuddle, because he was sad that he had lost his trousers. There’s no need to tell Daddy about this….”
I accept that very few people condone lying (rightly so), and fewer still actively encourage it, but that is the beauty of parenthood, especially at Christmas time: you get to do things that would be considered unacceptable in other walks of life, all for the sake of your children.
The great thing about lying to kids, particularly when they are young, is that you will almost certainly get away with it. When they are babies, you can say what you like to them, because they probably won’t understand, and, even if they do, they can’t answer back to question the validity of whatever bullshit you happen to be spouting this time.
Then, when they get a little older and can talk, the whole world will be an exciting mystery to them, so they will believe everything that you – as a responsible parent – tell them. After all, why would you lie? They trust you more than anyone else in their universe, and it will be many years before they understand the concept of lying to protect someone, or, in their case, to preserve the innocence of youth. Better still, because they do not yet understand the intricacies of this cruel world in which we live, they are really fucking gullible.
Perhaps the greatest lie in the history of mankind (apart from Keyser Soze), is Father Christmas – or Santa Claus for any Americans reading.
Father Christmas embodies all that is good and magical in the world, even though everything (and I do mean everything), that we are taught as children, should set alarm bells ringing about him. He supposedly breaks into your house once a year, sneaks around while you are sleeping, helps himself to your food and drink, and then leaves. Fair enough, he leaves gifts, but that’s still fucking creepy. Plus, he even looks like a BBC presenter from the 1970’s. How Operation Yewtree have never investigated him is a mystery.
But, when December arrives each year, the concept of ‘stranger danger’ no longer applies, as parents all over the world thrust their young child onto the expectant knee of someone from the local Round Table; a fellow parent from school; or perhaps just a plump bearded man in Debenhams (tip: do make sure he actually works there before offering him your child. If he’s in a grotto, surrounded by elves, that’s generally a good sign. If, however, he is browsing the lingerie section and sweating, it’s best to steer clear).
Has any parent ever asked for evidence of a criminal background check on a department store Father Christmas? No. And the reason for this, is that we don’t ever suspect Father Christmas of being anything other than a figure of kindness and virtue (although we said the same about Rolf Harris, didn’t we?).
The bottom line is, we as adults would dearly love to believe in Father Christmas too (it would make our lives considerably easier – not to mention cheaper), and every time we are reminded that the jolly man in the suit is actually Geoff from Accounts, or Sally’s husband from three doors down, it kills us a little.
Ultimately, though, Father Christmas is any parent, or grown-up relative, in the company of young children at this time of year. It’s you, me, and millions of others all over the world. It’s the greatest (and nicest) mass lie ever told.
Fortunately, young children are naïve and desperate to believe in magic, so we are able to maintain what is, quite frankly, unbelievable bullshit, for far longer than should be possible.
Aside from the sheer logistics of visiting all seven billion people on the planet in just one night (when, as we all know, it would be damn-near impossible to circumnavigate the M25 in one evening, let alone the Earth), we are expected to simply accept that he then squeezes down your chimney – a physical impossibility – leaves gifts, and then zooms off again, in a carriage towed by flying ruminants with silly names.
None of this is even remotely plausible, but children are gullible when it comes to the lies told by their parents, and they want to believe it could be true – because they are innocent, adorable, and, most of all, they really want that new bike.
So, we, as parents, tell ourselves that it is acceptable to lie to children, because it helps to protect them, and preserve their blissful ignorance of how shit the real world can be. They will have many years throughout their lives, to come to terms with all the horrors of being an adult, so we allow them to believe in things like Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, and a Conservative Government, while they still can.
The problem is, because it is so easy to lie to our kids about Father Christmas, we often exploit that for the very reasons mentioned earlier – to make our own lives easier, and because we just can.
At home, we have a burglar alarm, which comprises motion detectors around the house, and these will flicker with a red light at the mere sight of any movement nearby. I know it’s a burglar alarm, my wife knows it’s a burglar alarm, and any intruders to our house would know it’s a burglar alarm. But not our boys. To them, it’s ‘Santa Cam’, and they genuinely believe that he has nothing better to do that sit there and monitor their behaviour all year round.
The other night, Isaac (our youngest) had just gone to sleep – having had two fake calls from Father Christmas by way of a threat – but Ollie (our eldest) was reluctant to get his pyjamas on and head up to bed.
So, in the end, my wife resorted to using the latest App on her phone, which involves setting a timer so that ‘Father Christmas’ can phone your child. The genius behind this App, is that you can input your child’s name, age, and their current misdemeanour, so that the man in red can then berate them on an individual basis – giving the entire charade an element of plausibility, for any slightly-older (and therefore sceptical) children.
Hiding her phone to one side on the sofa, I could see my wife setting up the call as Ollie made a fuss about getting ready for bed and brushing his teeth, and then, sure enough, her phone started ringing. The ‘caller ID’ showed that Father Christmas was ringing, so my wife made Ollie answer it.
A recorded message then revealed that Ollie’s behaviour had not escaped his attention, he was aware Ollie is now 7 and should be being good – especially so close to Christmas – and he needed him to listen to his parents if he wanted any presents this year. It’s fair to say Ollie was dubious at first, but once his age and latest offence were revealed, he wasn’t willing to jeopardise that sodding Barcelona kit for any remaining doubts he may have had. I’ve never seen him get into his pyjamas so fast in my life.
The best part was, as he then half-sprinted from the living room to go upstairs to bed, and thinking that my wife and I could not see him, he turned half-way up the stairs, gave a ‘thumbs up’ to the burglar alarm (which was of course flashing red because he had just run past it), and then smiled as he headed to his room. Father Christmas had seen him, so all was ok.
This was simultaneously hilarious and adorable in equal measure, but it brought home to us that this is probably the last year we can maintain the lie. It breaks my heart a little to think about revealing the harsh truth to him, shattering his little world for every December thereafter, but I can’t keep it up forever (which, as I approach middle-age, is a concept I am going to have to get used to).
Lying is bad. We all know that. But sometimes, when your intentions are good, and the alternative is only going to hurt someone, it’s acceptable. Better still, when it comes to the lie that is Father Christmas, it gives you a lovely warm glow inside.
Thanks for reading.