Is it okay to lie just because it’s Christmas? That does seem to be the pattern in various holiday movies and Christmas special episodes of television shows. The orphan is told that she’s sure to be adopted although statistics would call that a lie. The dying patient gets told that he could recover despite medical history scoffing at the notion. And of course, if you are literal enough and skeptical enough, you would consider both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ to be lies, too.
I’m literal and I’m very skeptical, but I’m also capable of recognizing metaphors and anthropomorphic personifications of ideals. Is there a jolly old elf living at the north pole like the legends say? I doubt it. Does there exist recognition for good acts and reward for merit? Absolutely! Those ideas live in me, at least, and many others I’m sure. That’s Santa in a nutshell as far as I’m concerned. Was there really born the son of God who lives today to redeem us of our sins? Well, I haven’t met him. But can we live happier, more emotionally fulfilled lives of our own if we forgive the human failings we encounter in others? I think that’s possible. Not for me, mind you. I don’t forgive failings so much as I recognize when people have redeemed themselves for their failings. But I’m pretty sure others do forgive.
What of the lies that children are told around this time of year? Christmas morning really doesn’t come any sooner if you go to bed early. Should parents use that to calm their children who might otherwise keep bouncing around all night? Santa doesn’t really eat the milk and cookies you leave out. Should that easily faked evidence not be mentioned? If you want to consider an extreme example, think of a girl diagnosed with cancer, sitting bald in her hospital bed who just wants to hear that she’s going to get better. Should we lie to her?
I want to know the truth about the world around me so that I can make the right decisions in my life. I want to tell others the truth so that they can make the right decisions in theirs. On the other hand, I also believe that every person should be allowed to make whatever choices they want in life so long as those choices don’t harm others without good reason. So, if I know that a child has cancer but she hasn’t asked me how she’s doing, I’m not going to tell her. But if she asks me, then I will tell her what I know as the truth.
Does it serve any good purpose to tell the more common lies to kids, like the ones about Santa Claus? I was told those tales as a young boy. I remember when I was about eight years old, I went exploring my house one cold day in December. During my explorations, I discovered a small pile of presents behind some junk on one side of our garage. Now, even as a child, I didn’t like jumping to conclusions. Instead of making a judgement based on my discovery of those gifts, I instead just examined them very carefully over and over so that I could recognize them again if I saw them. I really hoped that they were left over from last year or for some other Paul than me. Time passed and Christmas morning came around and sure enough, I found all those gifts under our tree. Even then, I didn’t want to give into my suspicion so I asked my mother where they came from. She told me that those festive boxes were from Santa. I even tried asking leading questions, like “Did Santa deliver them early to you so that you could put them under the tree this morning?” Nope, Santa delivered on Christmas Eve. At that point, I couldn’t avoid the truth any longer and I realized that my parents were lying about Kris Kringle. The lesson I learned from that experience was that I couldn’t trust other people, even my family, to tell me the truth. I learned that I had to find out what was true or not for myself.
What does that do to a child? I’m pretty sure that was the point when I began to lose my innocence. I lost trust. I lost faith. I lost my sense of connection to my family. I’m sure I’m an unusual case, but I ponder how my life might have unfolded if it had begun with honesty instead of lies. My family could have told me that Christmas was a time for families and friends to show affection for each other by giving each other gifts. I could have learned that people ‘played Santa’ because they believed in the good of charity and compassion. Maybe I would have turned out to be a nice guy. Instead, by holding fast to a lie, my parents kept me from learning the importance of other truths.
I don’t regret that experience, though. It contributed to who I am today and to how much I do value truth. I am glad of it.
I tell people today that I catch a ride with Santa Claus every year. I say that not to keep truths from anyone but to share my joy in this season with them. It’s obvious that I am playing a role for a fun, seasonal joke. I like to think that I bring some surprise and fun into the lives of those people closest to me when they find evidence of a visit from a Santa-like visitor on Christmas mornings. I play the role to make Santa Claus true to a small degree for a few people. I make Santa true.
That segues to my answer to the question that started this blog. It is not acceptable to lie just because it is the Christmas season. But it is great to share your beliefs with people so long as you make it clear that you’re describing what you believe rather than stating what is right. In that way, others can choose for themselves to believe with you or believe something else. And it is magnificent to try to make a truth from a falsehood if you believe that will improve the world. After all, every statement is false until it is true for the first time. This year is not 2008 until it is.
So I’ll tell you today, I believe in the idea of Santa Claus. And today, perhaps Santa is just a lie. But I hope, this December 25th or some similar date in your future, that you will discover he is true after all.