Happy St. Nicholas Day!
That said, it has to be said: I'm sick and tired of being told that having done the St. Nick pretend game with my children involved "lying" to them.
Even over here, some of the commenters are throwing around the "lying" word.
Why does this bother me?
Because, as I said in the comboxes over there, lying is intrinsically evil. A sin. And, possibly, under the usual conditions, a big one.
It's not something the Church ordinarily winks at or condones--yet the Church has had very little to say on the subject of St. Nicholas or the tendency of young children to think that he is the one responsible for the cool toys under the Christmas tree (with Mom and Dad providing the sweaters and books, of course).
So either the Church is being extremely, seriously, terribly deficient not to warn all Moms and Dads that they are risking their immortal souls by lying to their children for years, or--the Church views fantasy, fairy tales, and pretend games as an important part of childhood, and not as lying at all.
My three-year-old niece walked around at Thanksgiving with an empty plastic teapot and teacups, offering the assembled company drinks of anything from tea to orange juice to alligator tail with hot sauce (yes, she is adorable). She would eagerly ask each adult how they liked her offerings--and we all made delighted faces as we sipped from empty cups, told her everything was delicious, and asked for more, or made special requests (I think Thad was responsible for the hot sauce). Of course, we were lying to her. We should have told her sternly that the cups and pot were empty and that she was making the Baby Jesus cry for her duplicity and fibbing, right?
Chances are, you find that idea ridiculous. Of course, we were NOT lying to her. We were pretending, because we all know how important pretend play is to small children, and how much they learn about the world from such games.
What they learn from the St. Nicholas game is that the world is much more than it seems to be; that materialism and empiricism are not all that is, and that when the veil is lifted and we enter the Kingdom of Heaven some day, God willing, we will discover how much more vastly real and lasting generosity and openhearted love are than tax deductions and compound interest. Now, maybe some parents would rather teach these lessons in other ways, and that's their right, which I respect.
All I ask is a little respect in return--starting with not accusing me of having spent years lying to my children. Because that accusation involves an accusation of my having participated in something that is intrinsically evil--and unless you're willing to back that up by insisting that it always is and always has been intrinsically evil not only to play the St. Nicholas game with small children, but to play any other pretend game that involves putting a little spin on empirical reality (like agreeing that an empty plastic cup is full of alligator tail), then you don't really mean it.
For the record, my girls--who had the "big reveal" conversation with us over a year ago, in the middle of the summer of last year, when for various reasons they had pieced together this and that and started asking the kind of pointed questions that let parents know it's time (and my only answer to questions about St. Nick or any other fantasy character have always been "Well, what do you think?")--do not in any way regret that we played the St. Nicholas game with them, and have graduated into being guardians of the secret for their younger cousins with ease and grace. They still find Christmas to be a joyful and holy and magical occasion, the same way they found last year's Christmas snowfall to be a miracle and mystery; the difference is that last year they realized that the snow was also extremely inconvenient, as it kept us from attending the Christmas Mass for which we'd practiced music for a month--something they wouldn't have even thought about when they were little. Growing up happens all too quickly; the time for pretend games involving magic teapots or magic gift-givers vanishes like that Texas snowfall, and is gone before we have time to enjoy it.
So pretend that St. Nick brings gifts or fills stockings, or that La Befana or the Christ Child or even the Wise Men's Smallest Camel is involved--or don't. But unless you sincerely believe that the former involves the intriniscally evil sin of lying, quit telling parents that playing pretend at Christmas is a form of lying--or else lobby every bishop to mandate immediate instruction to the faithful that this lying has to stop at once for the good of everybody's souls. Because, quite frankly, it's not going to be enough on Judgment Day for you to insist that you didn't lie to your kids about Santa (or the Camel or Befana or...etc.), and then expect to be let off the hook for not denouncing this intrinsically evil act every chance you got.
And that's no lie.
UPDATE: Be sure to read Cheeky Pink Girl's excellent Santa post here!