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I Embraced The Santa Lie & Honestly I Recommend It

Santa Claus is better than a bogeyman, he’s more effective than any empty threat of punishment — why not let him be the fall guy?

by Amil Niazi

Just before I had my first kid I made a list of all the things I would never do as a parent. At the top was a promise not to lie to my children about the big four: god, sex, drugs and Santa Claus. Several years and two kids later I’ve kept pretty steady on the first three but I’ve completely caved on the fourth.

I certainly didn’t grow up believing in Santa. I was raised by two lapsed Muslim hippies who came to Canada in the late 80s. Like a lot of new immigrants they cycled through their new country’s holidays, picking and choosing the ones that helped them integrate, but never really committing to anything beyond that. When they participated in Christmas at all they always made it abundantly clear there was no jolly, old, bearded bringer-of-all gifts, only their rapidly fluctuating bank balance to account for a bounty or bust under the tree.

Yet here I am, decades later, threatening my four year old son with a naughty list to convince him to finish his chores, occasionally admonishing myself for caving in to this most grievous of myths, but mostly just thanking the North Pole for giving me this brief but beautiful parental lever to pull.

It makes a lot of sense in theory to skip over Santa, but in practice, I will cling to any life raft that immediately conveys the notion of consequences to my kid without damaging his psyche.

I never even intended for it to get this far to be honest, for the first three years of his life we didn’t have to tell him anything, he just pawed at presents like a bored housecat, played with the enclosed toy for a little while and then moved on with his life. But by last Christmas he’d started to piece together a narrative around the holiday, partially fuelled by repeated watchings of The Grinch and solidified by starting school this past fall where children exchange mythologies and Santa stories by the pocketful.

I thought a lot about correcting him, about reinforcing the idea that actually mom and dad and grandma and grandpa bought these things for you because they know it brings you joy, or some other unsentimental but sparing truth that would instill, I mean, I don’t even know — respect for money? An appreciation for the cost of things, the labor behind purchases? But I didn’t do that. No, I gave into the lie utterly and completely for the most basic but essential of all parental needs: Survival.

It makes a lot of sense in theory to skip over Santa but in practice, I will cling to any life raft that immediately conveys the notion of consequences to my kid without damaging his psyche or worse. For now, there are very few tasks that don’t get finished when St. Nick is conjured, he’s better than a bogeyman, more compelling and powerful than any punishment could be. If you practice any form of gentle parenting, you know how quickly your reserve of patience dries up, so why not let Santa Claus be the fall guy when you’ve tried everything else? Besides, by the time I started to second-guess myself I was already in so deep it felt silly to reverse course and undo all the hard work that Santa had provided.

On the recent publicity tour for his new raunchy, holiday-themed animated show Santa Inc, Seth Rogen told reporters he would love to burst the Santa bubble for people’s kids, tell them the truth behind the legend. He’s not alone in this kind of fervour, studies have shown lying about something as benign as Santa Claus can undermine kids’ trust in adults, and many would-be parents agonize over the decision.

But let me assure you that all kids will eventually learn the truth, one way or another, about who actually bears the brunt of the toy budget and they’ll be no worse off discovering it at 7 than at 3. More importantly, you will have another necessary tool in your parental kit that is briefly but gloriously fail proof while it lasts.

So for now, Santa reigns supreme until the ice thaws and then, well then I have to figure out a way to make the Easter Bunny a little more menacing.

Amil Niazi is a writer and producer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Elle and Refinery29. She is also the showrunner of the weekly CBC pop culture podcast, Pop Chat.