Great post, Charles! As a child, I never recall that my parents specifically told me about Santa Claus, but the story was there (school, classmates, Christmas Carols, the shopping mall Santa and so on). As for Santa’s non-existence, it’s something I figured out eventually. I did wonder about the lying part though, and whether that meant that the whole thing was morally wrong. (I was a deep-thinking child.)
I’m not sure that all lies are morally wrong. If you think someone looks atrocious with a new hairstyle, but she asks you if it looks good, is it morally correct to tell her that she looks terrible and should get it dyed back to her original colour? Or is it morally correct to tell her that she looks “years younger” or “wonderful” just out of Christian charity and not wanting to hurt her feelings? Or how about the famous man-trap question “Does this dress make me look fat?”
I’m not sure that the Santa Claus lie is told to children to hurt them or lead them astray. It has generally been used as a sort of bribe to get them to behave, do well in school and not fight or call other kids names - all morally admirable lessons.
But, I must admit, I am not comfortable with the Santa Claus lie. If there are children in my future, (in cooperation and discussion with their father) I plan to tell them the true story of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas is a Saint who lived in the third century … St. Nicholas is the model for Santa Claus (who is referred to as “Jolly Old St. Nick”) and there are popular stories about how he rides through the air on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer on Christmas Eve to deliver toys to good children throughout the world. It can be turned into a lesson in charity. Good children donate some pennies to charities during Advent and lo-and-behold they get gifts “from” St. Nick (Santa Claus) on Christmas Day. It can also be a way to teach the real Christmas story. You get gifts in commemoration of the Wise Men bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus.