Friday, September 22, 2006

Father Christmas

A random not-especially-seasonal post today. I was in a coversation a few days ago where the topic came up and I realised I should write some more on it.

I was quite traumatised as a child over the whole Santa Claus thing. Here's how it happened.

My parents, in a well-meaning but ultimately misguided way, had told me that Father Christmas existed. They told me that he came down the chimney and put presents in my stocking. My stocking certainly went from being empty to being full of presents overnight, and many of the presents claimed to be from Father Christmas.

Having a fairly scientific mindset, I wanted to know how this worked. Specifically, I was bothered about the fact the chimney was bricked up and wasn't sure about the level of communication that seemed to take place between Father Christmas and my parents. So I stayed awake one year - I guess I was about 6 - and waited to see what would happen. As my parents were going to bed, I heard my mother come into the room, so I said hello. She seemed surprised, mumbled something about checking if I was asleep so Father Christmas could come, and went out. I figured I'd better pretend to be asleep the next time, and true to form, my mum filled my stocking with presents.

The next morning, I mentioned this to my parents, and they still tried to maintain that Santa existed, but came up with some much less plausible story, which I didn't believe. I know now that they meant well, but I also know that I lost a lot of respect for my parents that Christmas. I stopped regarding what they said as true just because they said it - I stopped trusting them. It felt as if they were lying to me, and thinking I was stupid to believe the lies.

Why do I say this? Because lies, however well-intentioned, damage relationships.

I think there are some situations where lying is ok - for example if I was hiding a load of Jews in Nazi Germany and the SS came looking. One thing that Daniel Hill has been pushing me on a fair bit lately in when I think it is ok to lie and when I think it isn't. I guess the key issues there are an understanding of the big picture, a knowledge of how others would respond to your statement, and issues of informed and humble consciences. If my parents had understood how lying about Santa would affect me, they wouldn't have done it.

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