Sunday, December 16, 2007

Festive Philosophy?

Well - 'tis the season to tolerate the tabloids feigning outrage at the alleged suppression of Christmas traditions in the name of political correctness (see HERE for an example, and HERE for an article from the Guardian on the topic.).


We discussed this last year (see: http://r-p-e.blogspot.com/2006/12/christmas-banned.html ), so will leave it for now: but I did wonder, amidst the songs, the tinsel and the crowds in the shops this week: Is it morally acceptable to lie to children about the existence of Father Christmas / Santa Claus ?

Leaving asides cheap jibes about believing in a fictional old man, who you can't see: why do we perpetuate this falseshood? An interesting discussion at http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/09/12/lying-to-children/ also (as well as mentioning the Tooth Fairy) takes it on to a more serious note with discussions of how much doctors should or should not reveal to seriously ill children. I suppose a number of questions emerge from thinking about this:

- Is it somehow less wrong to lie to children? Is our (apparent) epistemological superiority sufficent warrant for us to deceive them? Would it be wrong to lie to an adult for the same reason.
- When we tell children things about Santa that are not wholly factual - is it for their benefit (the magic of Christmas) - or our own - an attempt to recapture our own lost innocence?

How would/should we react if someone were to tell us that they were going to always be honest with their children - including about the Tooth Fairly and Father Christmas? (or the culturally-specific equivalents)

Of course, you can always read Stephen Law's The Philosophy of Christmas, if you really want to think more deeply in a festive vein...
ps - comments still welcome on the School Uniform debate at: http://r-p-e.blogspot.com/2007/11/sir-sir-its-causal-fallacy-school.html

5 comments:

  1. jeannie5:11 pm

    i have always lied to my children about this big old man that breaks into our house creeps into their bedroom while they're asleep and apparently leaves presents for them.. i don't admire myself for doing so.. when my son 'clicked', he was gutted that ... i had lied to him all his life.. when a huge thing that i always teach my kids is to be honest no matter what (to an extent, i won't get into a Kantian discussion here!).. but i have 2 children that still believe. while i long for the day when the charade is over, i am the one that perpetuates it. i don't know what it is that i'm protecting.. is it a strange coming of age thing, out of fantasy and innocence... once you know is it all over?

    the strange thing is though, whilst lying to them, i have also, at various times, told all my kids the myths and urban legends that surround father xmas, from st. nick to the coca cola formation of the well known figure, and even the shaman of the inuits is mixed in there somewhere.. but they all chose to still believe.. i think kids want to believe, and they will continue to believe until they're old enough not to, if that makes sense.. that's the conclusion i came to anyway... but in still believing, it is then me, once again, that perpetuates it.. and i don't know why..

    it could well be that our own memories of that magical feeling overrides any common sense, and we simply want our kids to experience that feeling.. but they they also have to experience the come down when they know the truth..

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  2. My daughter is 2 1/2 now, so this Christmas is the first one that she really has any understanding or real excitement about the time of year. I had pondered this issue; my wife and I had discussed silly things such as whether we talk about 'Father Christmas' as my family did with me, or 'Santa Claus' as her family did with her. I remember thinking at the time we never seem to be discussing whether we should actually perpetuate the myth at all!

    It would be exrtremly difficult not to play along, her playgroup talks about it as though its a given, all her extendend family, my parents and brothers and sisters etc mention it to her EVERY time they speak to her from sometime in mind-Novemeber to the new year, and I find it a very useful excuse to put a few extra pounds on at this time of year so i can fit into the costume :-)

    I have often wondered, is it a religious thing? do children of religious backgrounds other than Christian society get told about santa in the numbers our kids seem to?

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  3. You're telling me there isn't a Santa Claus?!

    Children all have something the rest of us don't: belief in an Absolute. Myth is developmentally sound and necessary. Grimm's fairy tales, Greek myths, the Scandinavian myths, Radha and Krishna, Rama and Sita, the Old Testament, fire and brimstone, black and white moral issues are all of this make-belief ilk. They present an allegory we can fashion ourselves from; children respond well here. Read 'The Red Shoes' to your sweet adoring daughter overcome with bestial glee/horror when the feet are sawed off in deserved punishment. Children are mean and cruel, but lovable and loving to the core - but we're absent (separated) from this long-ago beast we once were - the child. In cultural 'sophistication' don't forget the savage - in contrast to the last 2500 years of civilization. We've been trained incorrectly

    Yay! Santa Claus is great; I love him. And don't let cynicism and the nasty Symbolic Law get you down; society is a cursed drag, but remember deep inside every individual is a playful small child that doesn't want a book by Plato for Christmas, rather a train set or an easy-bake oven (perfume will do)

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  4. Charlie8:01 am

    Part of the magic of Christmas is the whole Santa thing isn't it? Whats the excuse to get loads of presents otherwise?! What would Christmas be without it? Just a half-term, a 'winter holiday'?

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  5. jeannie6:18 pm

    i think its true that children live in the land of myths and legends, fairies and monsters.. which is why santa is extremely real to them.. until such a time as that land starts to fade.. isn't it around 9 or 10 the average for finding out that he doesn't exist.. isn't this also the time that kids now begin to emerge from the fantasy and start to explore reality... why i'll never know :) so whilst i don't like to lie.. as jason says, its nigh on impossible not to, and to be quite honest, the kid thinks you're lying if you say he doesn't exist, as fc is everywhere and talked about by everyone.. part of the sadness they feel when they realise the truth may just be some of the sadness of emerging from that world and leaving it behind...

    so i think that wherever santa came from, whatever myths and legends he's made up from, he is now a very real figure for children.. just as fairies are... except i still believe in fairies....

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