I am generally opposed to telling lies, even trivial ones. Partly for this reason, I did not intentionally set out to sell the myth of Santa Claus to my children. When my older daughter was younger, I explained to her that Santa was "just pretend." She nodded knowingly, because this was something she had always known. Only, for her, "just pretend" meant something a little different. There was a "pretend land" where the pretend things actually existed, and sometimes they came to our "real land." So "just pretend" didn't mean "not real," it meant, essentially, "supernatural." She had no problem saying something like, "Santa is just pretend, but he's real."
I suppose that I could have rigorously disabused her of this false notion. But the benefits of her misimpression soon became clear. There was, of course, the behavior modification. She didn't really care about disappointing or annoying me, but the thought of getting on Santa's bad side—the dreaded "naughty list"—could move her to immediate tears. In a pinch, this comes in really handy.
More importantly, this idea of Santa brought her palpable joy. Her fascination with Santa, the North Pole, the Elves, the Workshop, etc., was very endearing, and the visible thrill she got from thinking about getting presents from Santa was just adorable. Eventually she knew that what Santa was purported to be capable of was impossible without magic. So she believed in magic.
It came to seem cruel to disabuse her of this notion. So I let it slide, and her belief has intensified over the years. Big Time.
This might be a big mistake. Maybe when she learns the truth about Santa, and about magic, she'll infer some unflattering truths about me as well—for one, that I'm a liar. I will, it must be said, have some plausible deniability. (I'm a lawyer, after all.) I will be able to say that I told her the truth from the start, and she just misunderstood. But this probably won't convince her.
Just the other day she asked, "You believe in Santa, right daddy?" And I said, "In spirit, yes." (Lawyer'd.) "But Santa is real, " she said. This was not a question. "Well, in spirit." "No, really real," she insisted. Her grasp of the real/pretend distinction is more sophisticated nowadays, and only magic bridges the gap. She was staring at me, somehow looking down her nose from below. So I relented and agreed.
Then this morning I told an outright lie, and it was awesome. We will be in Madison for Christmas, with the grandparents, but we're going to give our presents to the kids tomorrow. Today I just blurted out, "I got an email from Santa, and he said he's going to drop off presents here tonight."
"Really?" Ivy looked like she was going to cry, and I realized my mistake: (1) this was counter-myth; (2) more importantly, she gets a lot more presents at the grandparents than she gets at our house, so she was worried about an inferior haul. (This is a practical magic she believes in.)
"He's still going to Gaga's house, too, he's just dropping some of the presents here tonight."
"Really?" Now she was very serious, sensing one of my little jokes. "No, daddy: really? This is serious. I need to know the truth."
Now Laura chimed in to back me up, which is important because she can be counted on to dispel my little jokes.
Convinced at last, Ivy jumped up and down and began making plans to leave cookies and milk. It really made my day.
Lesson: the more brazen the lie, the better the results. There's going to be a lot more lying to the younger one.
Merry Christmas, Reader(s)™.