Lying is almost universally condemned as immoral behaviour. Deceiving children doubly-so. Yet for some reason, the lie of Santa Claus is celebrated every Christmas as children worship at the tabernacle of St. Nick, and parents knowingly smile and take joy in the deliberately perpetuated naivety of their offspring. Surely there must be a reason to pull the wool over the eyes of the young.

It would be nice to believe we lie for the sake of a lesson in post-modern deconstruction: the true nature of an old white man literally at the top of the world enforcing nonspecific yet absolute moral conventions is a social construction, and when children become disillusioned to the lie that is Santa Claus, they can become aware of the further social constructions of the dominant discourse in our society. Unfortunately, this inevitably leads to children thinking for themselves, and so this method is discarded as anarchical.

Many people believe that childhood is a time of innocence and joy, and that a belief in Santa Claus is a reflection of that innocence. The world is shitty and bleak, and children are not to be exposed to its true nature until they’re old enough to handle the responsibility that the misery of our inherited existence imposes upon them. Is this to protect them? Are we suggesting that joy cannot exist outside of a world built on lies? That innocence cannot survive when it is exposed to the truth? To believe this is to be a greater pessimist than those who choose not to lie to their children about Santa Claus, and those people are monsters.

When I was a child and suffered through my own carefree joy, I asked my mother if she believed in Santa Claus. She told me she believed in the spirit of Santa Claus. Though she didn’t elucidate at the time and I certainly didn’t know what elucidate meant in order to ask, what she meant was that there isn’t necessarily a being that delivers presents on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, but there is an essence of unlimited generosity that permeates the world once a year that is reflective of the nature of Santa Claus. People become more giving, human connection is enhanced, and the world becomes a better place, if only for one month out of the year. To her, this was Santa Claus. Perhaps we lie because children in their ignorance can more fully embrace this essence due to their unencumbered faith in jolly ol’ St. Nick.

Does the lie beget the symbol? Santa Claus in his current incarnation is notoriously based on an advertising campaign from Coca-Cola. His generosity is shown solely through his dispersal of material ‘things’ rather than intangible yet genuine human connection. Children cannot possibly understand this as a symbol of giving, because they are only ever on the receiving end. Does our lie not teach children that generosity, love, and human connection are about the transaction of objects? That our gratitude should be given to an unknowable deity rather than the very real human beings who loves us with all their heart? That happiness is about receiving unearned material wealth? If we desire a symbol for unlimited generosity and kindness, we can do better than one of commercialized consumption and misplaced gratitude. Which, if you ask anybody who has worked in retail around the holidays, is in fact the modern spirit of Christmas.

So life is shit, and Santa Claus is more of a reflection of that than we might ever actually care to admit. So why do we lie? I think it’s because we want to believe in magic. When we are children, anything is possible: reindeer can fly, a guy who’s built like a dump truck can fit through itty-bitty chimneys, red and white are somehow fashionable… When anything is possible, hope and wonder trump sarcastic cynicism every time. We feel as adults that magic dies with youth, and that merely implausible impossibilities become statically impossible and futile to resist. We desperately want life to be better, and magic would simplify that to easily attainable.

As many point out with derision, Christmas is an appropriation of the pagan winter solstice festival, and Jesus was more likely born in September. Why then the association with the winter solstice? The shortest day of the year inevitably leads to longer and brighter days; the birth of the saviour marks the end of darkness and entails an increasingly brighter outlook for humanity. Christmas, as it were, is the celebration of hope for a better future. The essence of magic as a symbol for hope is what Christmas is all about; not gifts or generosity at all, but magic. In the spirit of Christmas, rather than seek magic in our own lives, we pass the torch to our young out of nostalgia before we inevitably extinguish it for them as well. Hope becomes fantasy as we purge ourselves of our childhood delusions, and we choose to accept bitter reality over a world with brightness. Santa Claus isn’t a lie, Santa Claus is dead. Santa Claus remains dead. And we have killed him.