The Santa Sham
I struggle more each year with the approach of the Christmas holiday, as I find myself deeper and deeper in the Santa lie. It felt so good at first. When my first son was born more than a decade ago I relished my new role as Santa. Above my desk at work I hung up the card my wife gave me that first year: “First he believes in Santa,” it read. “Then he does not believe in Santa. Then he is Santa.” I loved that last part, the magic in it, the giddy sneaking around with Mrs. Claus after the kids were in bed to fill up the space under the tree. I hung that card above my desk with a special care previously reserved only for stockings. With our kids we put out deer food for Santa’s team. We strained our ears for any jingle, and scanned the skies for any glimpse. We swore we heard a bell, were certain we saw a twinkle.
These are the difficult years, now that my eldest son has reached double digits. I know some year soon - perhaps even this one, though I hope not - my son will realize it is all a sham. He will realize that this benevolent character of his childhood excitement is nonsense and that I have perpetuated the lie. I, his father, who has so adamantly insisted on truth-telling has been lying to him all along. “The Tooth Fairy too?” he will ask with quivering lips fighting back tears as he tries to reconcile the disappointment with the shame and embarrassment of having been so gullible. “The Easter Bunny?” Maybe he will just nod, as some of my friends’ children have done. “I thought so,” he may say before casually returning to the examination of this year’s haul. Or maybe he will react as other kids have, awash in confusion and crushed dreams he may turn to me and say in a way he never imagined, “I hate you.” Either way it will mark a turning point in his childhood, a point to which we will never be able to return.
He is a clever boy and we are only keeping up this charade as long as he will allow it. It is only his grace that gives me another precious year of being Santa. He will help with his younger brother, I am sure. He is not the kind who would spoil it for another kid. Hopefully he will enjoy that new role, playing Santa right beside his conspiratorial parents. Hopefully he will feel the fun in that and forgive the lie. Telling my sons people should always tell the truth has made for easy navigation through some tricky waters. Telling them they should almost always tell the truth is not a change I am eager to make.
I was thinking about all of this today, when I came across the word that will save Christmas. Just in time for the pending revelation, “post-truth” has been named the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. The word is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In crowning the word, the Oxford site references the EU referendum in the United Kingdom (Brexit) and the presidential election in the United States. This troubles me more than I can explain in a simple blog post, filling me with deep misgivings about the future we all face. I still want the truth to govern major elections, just as I want it govern my interactions with my sons, my teaching practices, my marriage. I don’t want to live in a post-truth world, yet here I am. Perhaps that is why I prefer my small Vermont house where I don’t get any wi-fi or cell service to living here where I can follow the President-elect on Twitter #hamilton.
But the holidays are coming, so I am going to embrace this post-truth world. I am going to really up the Santa game this year so that my boys can have one more year of believing in a man whose sole purpose is to bring gifts to good little boys and girls and justice to the bad ones. I like a Santa with a clear sense of good and bad. Nice kid who helps other kids and doesn’t make fun of the kids who look different or talk “weird”, enjoy your pile of toys. Little shit who picks on kids because their clothes don’t match or because they have two dads, enjoy your coal you little bastard. In this post-truth world, I am going to rub the soles of my boots in the ashes from our Christmas Eve fire, and stomp all over the carpet. Stains be damned. I am going to savor each and every bite of those cookies to make the lie feel a bit more real.
Then when my boys figure out that Santa does not exist, I am going to talk to them about the importance of post-truth thinking. I am going to tell them how I once found out the truth about Santa too, and how I chose to believe anyway. I am going to talk to them about how sometimes objective facts are less important than personal beliefs. Sometimes those personal beliefs are all that sustain you when the truth just hurts too much.