This is about my reflections on our family experience as one which "does" the Santa thing.
Yes, I did use the present tense and, yes, my children are all in their 20s! Notwithstanding adulthood, independent living and -in one case - marriage and impending parenthood, my brood will head off to David Jones in Melbourne in a couple of weeks for their annual photo with Santa! A mythical being who was, in their childhood, considered to be an actual person who visited their home in the dead of night bearing gifts and consuming refreshment.
Given my recurring exposure to families of young children, each year at this time I come upon discussion on the merit or wisdom of creating the legend and even the ethics of "lying" to children each year. Aside from those whose religious beliefs don't sit comfortably alongside the secular celebrations, what is really in dispute is the place of fantasy in children's lives and whether adults have the right to misinform children deliberately.
In our house, fantasy, make-believe and let's pretend have been central to childhood play. The dress-ups box was always in action, toys for role-play in good supply and everyone encouraged to enjoy stories of other worlds, mythical beings and escapes from reality.
Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny have all been part of the folklore of childhood and the mystery of their presence discussed as though they were as real as our family and friends. How did Santa get in after we moved from the house with a chimney (where he left sooty footprints to and from the Christmas Tree)? How did the tooth fairy always (well, nearly!) know to visit even when a tooth came out at bedtime? How did the Easter Bunny sneak into the house with chocolate treasures when the weather outside did not suit early morning egg hunts? (And when a French exchange student shared our Easter one year, our youngest accepted that in France, the Bells bring the eggs - because - obviously - the Bunny was busy in Australia!)
At what age did it dawn on them that magic isn't always what it seems? I truly don't know. Melissa at five or six announced someone at school told her a crazy story about parents really leaving gifts, but she said she knew this wasn't true, as she knew we couldn't afford to buy her a bike! But as the older became wiser, they did not share their wisdom - in fact, they joined forces with the adults to create the magic!
One year, when the older two were in on things and the youngest was keeping his own counsel, Santa was bringing an entire set of Lord of the Rings figurines - the first movie just released and greatly enjoyed by this fantasy-loving family. A friend in the toy industry was helping with staff discount and access to rarer figures. But - at the last, Aragorn AKA Strider was stuck in a container on a ship at the wharf and could not meet the deadline So Santa and his Elves hid the figurines around the house to be discovered, but also a note from Gandalf, on a scroll tucked in with a silver Elven cloak (secretly sewn in the en-suite bathroom!) alerting the receiver to Aragorn being delayed. Deceit Lying? Untruths? Or just plain, good fun? All I know is, more than ten years later, it is remembered with fondness by all - and much more happiness than the time a cricket set from Santa included an unintended Huntsman Spider in the wrappings!
I think the proof is in the (Plum) Pudding: All our adult children enjoy and treasure the Christmas traditions of their childhood and keep as many going as possible. They enjoy the history of Father Christmas in their own ways - Melissa loves the folk-tales and Kieran loves the irony of Coca Cola's role. And pregnant Kaitlyn knows Santa will be part of her child's Christmas and his/her grandparents, aunt and uncle will do all they can to create the mystery.
"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."
Norman Vincent Peale