Should I lie to my children about Father Christmas?

Like most non-parents, before I had my children, I had some pretty strong opinions about how I was going to parent my future children. I remember sitting in my neighbour’s lounge, 9 months pregnant with my first son, saying to her:

“I will never let him watch In the Night Garden. What a ridiculous programme!”

Well ha bloody ha ha! By the time he was 1 year old, Night Garden had become a part of our bedtime routine. He wouldn’t commence bath and story time until CBeebies had actually told him it was time to go to bed. So much for my pre-parent parenting plans.

Another topic on which my pre-parent self had strong opinions was about telling my children the truth. I told anyone who would listen that I would never lie to my children. And that included “lying” to them about the existence of Father Christmas.

I saw an article on Netmums recently saying that researchers have found that “the lie of Santa can actually be damaging”. Now, pre-parent me would have been nodding vigorously to this. I had long conversations with my mother-in-law about how I wouldn’t be telling “the Santa lie” to my children because it would be a betrayal. She understandably disagreed with my thoughts on this.

I worried that if I lied about this one thing, then once they found out the truth they would never trust anything I had taught them. Especially if it was anything that needed to be taken on pure faith without any proof. However, post-parent me feels a bit different.

The thing is, I never truly believed in Santa Claus as a child, but I still went to his grotto every year. My family never went out of their way to convince me he’s real, but they still sometimes gave me gifts from “Santa”. I enjoyed playing the game. It didn’t matter to me whether he was real; it was just fun to imagine he was. I never told them I didn’t believe because I was afraid that would be the end of the fun stuff. I’m sure they knew that I didn’t believe, but none of us cared.

So as my eldest son grew old enough to understand the concept of Father Christmas, I found I couldn’t resist teaching him about the Christmas customs. Soon, I was shamelessly “telling the lie”. I’ve enjoyed getting family pictures at Santa’s Grotto. I’ve loved teaching my son Christmas carols. One of his faves is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Last year, on Christmas Eve, we even put out mince pies, brandy and a carrot for the reindeer. The brandy was large and the carrot was very, very small.

This year we’ve kicked it up a notch and he’s written his first letter to Santa, which we actually sent off in the post.

Letter to Santa

So, as with Night Garden, I’ve done a complete 180 degree parenting turn.

The thing is: I’m not sure if it’s really lying. How is it any different from telling any other imaginative story or playing a game of pretend? And importantly, my son hasn’t questioned it yet. The closest he’s gotten is, when listening to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, he asked how Santa can see him when he’s sleeping. I just said “magic” and he was happy with that.

The real test will be if he starts asking more serious questions about whether Santa actually exists. This is where I will draw the line. I don’t care to go out of my way to propagate the fantasy, but at the same time, I don’t want to outright say Santa doesn’t exist. If I told him this, he might ruin it for his friends, and no one is going to thank me for that.

So my plan is to explain that believing in Father Christmas is a game we all love to play in order to make Christmas more fun. That’s why we do it, right? Because it’s fun?

I’m going to tell him that nobody knows for absolute certain that he doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t matter. The idea is that it’s fun to believe – just like when we pretend to be cats or Pontipines (oh yes, being a Pontipine is a popular pastime in my house). And I will remind him that it’s important not to tell other people if we don’t believe he’s real, because it will ruin the fun.

There may not be a literal jolly fat bearded man hanging out at the North Pole forcing elves to make toys. But the idea of it is a positive way to fuel our children’s imaginations. Just look at all the fantastic books and films that use this popular myth to create a new and different story. It’s a quintessential part of our culture.

So even if Father Christmas doesn’t exist in the real world, he will always exist in our imaginations. Without him, Christmas wouldn’t be half as much fun. And that’s the absolute truth.

Petite Pudding
Two Tiny Hands

Halloween is not an American import, says the American import

Right, so I’ve got to capitalise on the season and write some seasonal posts. The next seasonal fun in store is Halloween. As I grew up in America, I think I have an unusual perspective on the whole thing.

First I should explain that I’m one of those immigrants who is more British than the British. I have a deep love of my hard-earned crimson passport and I embrace British culture wholeheartedly. I’ve assimilated. I can’t really change my accent, but I can choose to say trousers instead of pants. I know my aubergines from my eggplants and I never, ever talk about fanny packs (mind you, I’ve not even considered wearing one since the early 90s, but I saw a 6th-former wearing one today so maybe they’re back).

I drink real ale. I drink my tea with milk and would NEVER heat the water for it in a microwave (a popular American pastime). I am good at queuing. I am willing to accept less than impressive customer service because I wouldn’t like to make a fuss. I think baked beans are perfectly acceptable to eat at breakfast time.

But one time of year when I am entirely and unashamedly American is when it comes to Halloween. My childhood memories of getting dressed up and going trick-or-treating are among the best for me. I may have made a few dodgy costume choices as a pre-teen which got me teased at school, but the sweets (you see, I said sweets, not candy) made up for it.

I’ve been shocked over the years to find how resistant some British people can be to aspects of Halloween that they consider to be American imports. A recent Telegraph article quotes survey results stating:

Some people have negative impressions of Halloween, seeing it as an “unwelcome American cultural import” (45 per cent in agreement). Furthermore, not everyone is convinced that “trick or treating” is harmless fun for the kids (33 per cent).

So here is a bit of history to put Halloween in perspective, and an explanation of why people really ought to lighten up and embrace the fun of Halloween.

A Halloween history lesson

Contrary to popular belief, trick or treating is not wholly an American invention, and Halloween has a long provenance in the UK.

Halloween originally comes from the pagan ritual of Samhain. Celts believed that the dead would return to earth on Samhain, and they would wear “costumes made of animal skins to drive away phantom visitors” (History.com), and leave offerings out for roaming spirits.

After Christianity came along, Samhain got replaced by All Souls’ Day, in which people honoured the souls of the dead. Halloween is All Hallows’ Eve and is part of the All Soul’s Day vigil. In the middle ages, part of this festival involved “souling”, in which children and poor adults would dress up and beg for food and money by singing songs and saying prayers on behalf of the dead (Today I Found Out).  Sometimes, people would even cross-dress while they prayed for fertile marriages during Hallow Mass.

The “trick” part of Trick or Treat also has more British origins than one might think. You may be familiar with “Mischief Night” in which traditionally young people played pranks and even damaged property on 4 November – the night before Bonfire Night (The Guardian). Leave it to the Americans to take something the British invented, slap a shiny name on it and sell it back.

Trick or treating is safe and fun for kids

Lots of people worry about the safety of Halloween for kids, but with the correct precautions there is no reason to worry about this. No one had more protective and cautious parents than me and I was still allowed to go trick or treating, with my parents when I was very young and with a group of friends as a pre-teen. There were simple rules:

  • Don’t go to houses that haven’t turned on their lights and added some sort of decorations.
  • Don’t go inside anyone’s house.
  • Stick with your friends or a responsible adult.
  • Don’t eat any sweets until parents have checked the wrappers for structural integrity, stray razor blades and/or poison (urban legend).

I was never allowed, nor was I interested in, performing any “tricks”. As far as I know, almost no actual trick or treaters do this. Adorning houses with toilet paper and throwing eggs are for bored teenagers who will find any excuse.

And kids just love trick or treating. What’s not to like about accumulating sweets? I took my older son out for the first time last year (at age 3), and I’ve rarely seen him quite so excited. He’s been counting down the days until autumn so he can go again.

Plus, I think trick or treating is good for children’s people skills. It takes confidence to knock on someone’s door and present yourself politely to be provided with sweets. When I took my son, I was so proud the way he said “trick or treat” with a smile and always remembered to say thank you.

Halloween is good for the community

I’m lucky enough to live in a little village where people have some semblance of community. We come together to prevent anti-social behaviour that ruins Halloween for everyone, but we can also come together to celebrate it. Besides the grownup fancy dress parties at local pubs, which often raise money for charity, there is a general festive feel on Halloween night in my village.

Not everyone participates, and that is respected, but lots of houses are lit up with jack-o’-lanterns. Some people even make little haunted gardens for people to walk through on the way to the door. The adults enjoy chatting at doors and while they pass each other on the streets.

Some people really resent the notion of being expected to provide sweets to children. No amount of British acculturation can get me to understand why anyone wouldn’t enjoy making children happy with such a simple gesture. I get excited to hear a knock at the door and see their smiling excited faces.

Dressing up is fun and not scary

Children love dressing up and role play anyway, so why not have a whole day that gives them an excuse to enjoy it? Fancy dress fosters imagination and creativity.

The thing that really confuses me is that many British people think you HAVE to dress up as something scary on Halloween, and that not doing so is uniquely American. However, my history lesson above describes a long history of non-scary Halloween outfits.

When I took my son to his school “Pumpkin Party” this year, I saw no less than 10 little skeletons waiting outside. Boring! My son was a completely non-scary fireman. He got to dress up as a hero! And someday, I’d like to think that he’d be perfectly free to dress as a burrito.

So get carving

According to this interesting history of the Jack O’ Lantern, the practice of carving them comes from a rather creepy Irish folktale about a jerk called Stingy Jack. Originally, in Ireland and Scotland, people carved faces into turnips and potatoes to ward off Stingy Jack and his unsavoury mates. When the custom came to England, they used beetroot, which sounds very scary indeed.

Using pumpkins is an American import, but they are clearly more fit for purpose than turnips. But if it makes you feel more British, go ahead and use some other sort of root vegetable. Or even branch out and use an alternative squash.

The point is, Halloween has a long tradition in this country, even though traditions have grown, changed, and been influenced by other cultures. So, turn off your lights, dress normally, and keep your sweets to yourself if you like … but Halloween is just as British as baked beans at breakfast.

How do you feel about Halloween? How do you celebrate it (or not) in your family?

Two Tiny Hands
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Petite Pudding