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No Bullshit About Christmas

Read in the Sydney Morning Herald 22-12-2013 by

Sam de Brito

There are better gifts to give than a lifetime of lying

Ho, ho, no: The mythical Mr Claus.Ho, ho, no: The mythical Mr Claus. Photo: Ian Horner

Santa Claus is not real and that’s just what I’ll be telling my three-year-old daughter if she brings up the subject this Christmas.

I imagine many parents might be appalled by this and consider it akin to vandalising my kid’s childhood but, then, they probably tell their sprogs Jesus was born to a virgin in a manger and visited by three kings. However, let’s stick to the Santa myth today.

Slaying Santa strikes me as an awesome start to a life of rational, secular curiosity; with any luck my daughter will also see through the fairytales and fabrication of Barbie dolls, princesses and buying women’s fashion as an outlet for her ”creative expression”.

”But you’re ruining Christmas for your child!” is how the confidentiality Claus usually runs.


My response is my child quite happily deals with knowing Batman, dragons and Nemo are not real – and still enjoys the absolute bejesus out of those fantasies – so I reckon she’ll handle hearing the fat guy in the red suit doesn’t exist.

When I mentioned this to a friend, he told me to expect irate phone calls from other parents after my daughter had pantsed Santa for her peers at kindy. If that happens, I’ll ask if they’re happy teaching their child they can be judged as ”naughty or nice” based upon random acts, that there’s some old dude constantly watching over them and they should do good simply for the sake of reward and punishment by an all powerful stranger but … oops, we’re back at the Jesus thing, aren’t we?

American writer Sam Harris tackled the Santa subject in his 2011 essay Lying: ”The real truth – which everyone knows 364 days of the year – is fiction can be both meaningful and fun. Children have fantasy lives so rich and combustible, rigging them with lies is like putting a propeller on a rocket.

”Is the last child in class who still believes in Santa really grateful to have his first lesson in epistemology meted out by his fellow six-year-olds? If you deceive your children about Santa, you may give them a more thrilling experience of Christmas. What you probably won’t give them, however, is the sense that you would not and could not lie to them about anything else,” Harris writes.

When I read this I realised how insidious it can be infusing your children with pointless myths and falsehoods; you’re inuring them to lying, immunising them against truth.

I used to tell my daughter marshmallows grew on bushes and giants lived next to her grandma’s house because I thought it was cute. To what? Deceive her? Amuse myself? To give her a story to tell her psychiatrist when she’s 30?

In actuality, all I’m doing is repeatedly showing her I’m prepared to lie when the situation suits. At some stage, after some lie, that no one can pinpoint (but which a shrink will attempt to, at $300 an hour), her trust will degrade so fully that she expects, not the truth, but lies from her father.

Look at public and political discourse and you’ll see this erosion of faith happens everywhere when people lie to us.

As Harris points out, ”it’s now impossible to say anything of substance on climate change, environmental pollution, human nutrition, economic policy, foreign conflicts, pharmaceuticals, and dozens of other subjects without a significant percentage of one’s audience expressing paralysing doubts about even the most reputable sources of information”.

”There will be no carbon tax”, ”We’ll honour Gonski”, ”Holden has made no decision to leave Australia” and ”Woolworths gives you the cheapest prices” are all lies boldly told to us by politicians and corporations of late.

By lying to my daughter about Santa, I’m simply adding my name to a list of people and entities she’ll one day assume bullshit her.

That’s not much of a Christmas present.