Contrary to what some parents believe, their children will not be traumatised to discover that Santa Claus is, strictly speaking, a myth. Children are in general smarter than their parents, and only lose their super-powers as they get older.
They will often play along with the Santa-Reindeer-Chimney game because it clearly means so much to their parents and other assorted adults. Also it’s kind of fun. Our granddaughter has already given us the look when we mention the S-word, meaning that she understands why we talk about it, but she knows the truth.
Of course she does.
But when faced with the Nativity story children immediately realise that they are dealing with reality. It is a bit of a struggle to get all the facts right, because as usual adults have made it confusing by introducing all kinds of irrelevant things that didn’t actually happen.
Christmas cards and carols have much to answer for, but so do the mis-tellings of the story, as if it had been passed down by years of Chinese whispers instead of being translated into fairly plain English.
Take the star over the stable. There was no star, and the stable has been seriously misrepresented. New non-existent characters have been introduced. Landlords in particular.
The shepherds were not guided by a star. OK, you knew that. The star guided the powerful wise men, or kings, and that didn’t happen till Jesus was toddling around and Joseph and Mary were living permanently in Bethlehem. In a house. And not at Christmas time.
Joseph and Mary were not refused entry to an inn by a landlord. They were almost certainly staying in a tower built in the countryside to protect lambs destined to be sacrificed by the high priest. Because there was no guest room there, they had to stay with the sheep, but the surroundings would have been clean because sacrificial lambs were well looked after.
Other animals, cute or not, were unlikely to have been present.
What about the angels? Any child will tell you that the angels were there, all right. Children understand angels.
And they understand that the whole story makes sense. All right, it’s mysterious, but life is mysterious. It’s awesome, but life is awesome. Is it silly, like Santa? No, it most certainly isn’t.
Once again, the truth has been cunningly distorted by something that is not apparently evil but quite amusing, sentimental, and nostalgic. We three kings, in the bleak midwinter, three ships sailing by, holly, ivy, sleigh bells, bears, elves and lots of merry gentlemen.
A neat trick, but not neat enough to deceive a child. Oh no. Adults, yes.