Imagine trying to strike up a conversation with someone at a social function and saying some platitude like, “Nice weather we’re having,” and then having the person angrily jab their finger in your chest and exclaim “GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!!” and walk off in a huff.
That would be bizarre, wouldn’t it? The reason would not be because the person said anything incorrect, it would be because it is totally unrelated to the matter at hand.
Similarly my diatribes against Santa are most often meant with the objection that children need “imagination” and “whimsy” and what-have-you. Well, sure. And George Washington was, in fact, the first President of the United States. But that is totally irrelevant.
Do you know how children exercise imagination and whimsy? Through works of fiction.
The reason why The Lord of the Rings and Narnia and The Beauty and the Beast and the Arthurian tales and all the rest enchant children because they know they are fiction. That is why and how they have the freedom to invent variations on the stories, to put themselves in the story, to imagine them. I have seen children play at lots of things; I have never seen them play at being Santa. Pretend play is play. The kids know that it’s not true, and that is why it is magical. (Even pretending that they’re not pretending is part of the fun of pretending!)
A story is not the same thing as a lie, and it is those who would confuse the two who befoul the nobility of stories.
(Not that any of it matters, of course, because even if none of this were true (though it is) lying is still wrong.)
You can tell that you’re right and you should pursue a line of argument with renewed vigor when people respond with panicked ad hominems, mischaracterizations and appeals to pure sentimentality. Thus my beloved friend Michael Brendan Dougherty, who knows so much better, calls people like me “Puritanical”, a “killjoy,” “humorless” and “literalist”.This is the perplexing and absurd dichotomy, that you either have the Santa lie or a joyless Christmas. If only there were some other joyful stories and traditions than Santa that Christians might reach for around Christmastime! Care to think of any?
Since these discussions are inevitably and tediously peppered by first-person anecdotes, let me tell you what my wife and I do for Advent: put Christmas music on all the time; put up a Nativity scene; put up an Advent calendar with chocolate for our daughter; tell Christmas stories; tell stories about how Santa is made up bullshit; did I mention we have Christmas music on all the time?
My wife being Swiss-French, I have learned to appreciate the wonderful Germanic Christmastime traditions her family observes: beautiful Christmas markets, with their lights and goodies and singers and (especially) mulled wine, and even St Nick instead of Santa Claus (again, it is not stories I object to, it is lies). The family makes traditional Mannala, little man-shaped brioches which are then dunked in hot chocolate before eating, along with oranges and (for the men) more mulled wine (did I mention I like the mulled wine, Puritan killjoy that I am?).
Of course this is before you even get to the joy of the family gathering, and of gift-giving, and this is before you even get to the true joy of Christmas, which is–you know, by the way–the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the creator God who became man so that we may be saved from sin and to redeem His Good Creation.
The idea that refusing to lie to children is tantamount to disenchantment and that the only way to re-enchantment is to essentially make shit up is the biggest concession imaginable to the atheist worldview. The world as it exists is already a permanent theophany, an endless symphony of glory to the infinite beauty that is the Creator God; the stories we have as stories already offer us infinite universes of beauty and wonder and imagination; the reason why you should believe things, and tell other people to believe things, is not because it procures a warm fuzzy feeling to believe them (fearful it is to fall in the hands of the Living God!), but because they are true.
Merry Christmas! Stay thirsty, my friends–and Kill Santa.