Sean Moncrieff: Santa is back, baby
The magic part isn’t for the kids. That’s for the grown-ups
On Christmas morning, Daughter Number Four will be happy to believe that some overweight chap with a pre-hipster beard broke into the house, left a bit of a mess, necked back a bottle of Guinness and staggered on to the next house to do the same. Photograph: Getty Images
Santa is back. After a long sojourn from present-dispensing duties (cynical teenagers can be so discouraging), he’s announced he will be returning this year now that Daughter Number Four is ready for what your local advertising agency calls The Magic of Christmas.
She’s nearly three and more or less understands the concept. She knows that Santa says Ho Ho Ho and that he’s got something to do with Christmas trees and, most importantly, that he gives presents. But only to her: she seems to feel that Santa is her flamboyantly-dressed personal shopper. But it’s best not to quibble about the details. The point is that on Christmas morning, she will be happy to believe that some overweight chap with a pre-hipster beard broke into the house, left a bit of a mess, necked back a bottle of Guinness and staggered on to the next house to do the same. She won’t think any of this is strange. She won’t worry about how he managed to get in and whether we should invest in a few more burglar alarms.
To a three-year-old not yet able to identify the boundaries between reality and imagination, this will all be perfectly normal. Like Donald Trump voters, toddlers will believe anything you tell them and never ask for supporting evidence. We could tell her monsters from the planet Bongo left the presents behind, or that every time a whale sneezes, toy cars come out of its nose.
Or we could just tell her the truth. In the political-correctness-gone-mad era we have to endure, it’s now a bad thing to lie to your children. Some nonsense about trust. On just about any of the Nervous Parent websites, you’re bound to find someone agonising about the whole Santa thing: about the lying, about using a lie to get them to be good. They picture a dark future where 10-year-old Tommy has to sit down with his ashen-faced parents and tell them that if they lied about Santa Claus, then what else were they lying about? Can he believe them about anything? Did he really need those vaccinations? Are vegetables good for him? Tommy, we didn’t know. All the other parents were doing it. Pathetic.
Because it’s possible to get an academic grant for anything, some research has been done into the potential damaging effects of the Santa myth. The good news is that there aren’t any; or at least no evidence of any. Mammy and Daddy usually don’t have to ’fess up to their crime: what actually happens is that the little one starts to grow up. They emerge from Trumpish credulity into the next stage of their development, where they start to examine the evidence around them. They start to think that going around the world in a flying sleigh probably isn’t feasible; that a 16-stone man probably wouldn’t get down the chimney. Without even knowing what the phrase means, they start testing this theory, usually by the simple means of poking around in the fairly obvious hiding places to see if any presents are stashed there.
Yet the discovery of the fraud isn’t particularly upsetting. Indeed, many of them continue the pretence for some time afterwards: mainly due to a fear that not believing in the Big Guy might lead to a steep reduction in presentage. (Organised religion works on largely the same basis).
But for daughter number four, this is years in the future. For the time being, the gifts will mysteriously appear under the tree, and we’ll point to the various signs that Santa has been in the house. And she may be enthralled by the notion. Or not. It could just be anther piece of information, one of the many she hoovers up every day. Nothing magical at all.
Because the magic part isn’t for the kids. That’s for the grown-ups.