It’s happening, whether you like it or not.
My older son is very excited. My younger son is only eighteen months old. He has no idea what is going on. He likes the tree, mostly because he likes pulling things off it. He likes the lights that my wife has strung up on the bookshelves. He keeps pointing to them and making the sound and facial expression that, combined, signify mildly quizzical interest. A bunch of sleigh bells from the decorations box entertained him for about ten minutes yesterday, until he tried to ingest one of them and they had to be forcibly removed from his clammy grip.
My older son’s understanding of Christmas is growing. He is four. Last year was probably the first year he really got it. This year he can really participate. He has written a letter to Santa. He is learning some carols for the preschool concert. He has a good enough grasp of time to understand that an advent calendar has a secondary function, as well as providing a daily chocolate ration. He knows that there is a sanctioned degree of material acquisitiveness that is not seen throughout the rest of the year, which he is more than happy to take part in.
He buys the Santa Claus paradigm wholesale, even when we make minimal effort to maintain it. The other day we carelessly left one of his presents on the stairs. Of course, he found it. There was a lot of hastily improvised mendacity about having to pass some things on to Santa so he can decide whether to deliver them or not (the decision of course dependent on which side of the naughty/nice watershed he happens to fall). Watching my son watching us, processing our lies, was eye-opening. In his mind it all makes perfect sense. Like Fox Mulder, he really wants to believe.
Oh, I know. He’s only four. We’ve probably got a good six years of credulity left before the reasoning starts to kick in. But we are unwittingly leaving clues to the awful truth everywhere. Because he wakes early and foul-tempered, we have recently got into the habit of leaving a small snack in his room at night while he is sleeping. Will he connect the dots? How many leaps of four-year-old logic can it take to see that we could just as easily deposit a range of chocolate items and inexpensive toys on his bed in an oversized red sock?
And how far am I required as a parent to bolster his wavering faith? If he comes to me tomorrow and says that, having weighed up the arguments, he thinks it highly unlikely that a metaphysical being such as Father Christmas could exist, should I try to talk him out of his enlightenment? Should I introduce burdens of proof and launch into an adapted version of Russell’s Teapot (Rudolph’s Teapot, perhaps? Reindeer don’t drink tea. Forget it.)? Or rather, should I just nod sagely with the saddest hint of a smile that acknowledges the coldness of the truth? When do I start trying to make him see that faithlessness is an emancipation rather than a loss?
I suppose the answer is, not yet. Maybe next year.