Spare Santa

25th December 1998 at 00:00
"Not in front of the children" used to be the admonition by which children were protected from the seamier side of life as well as from family secrets like Aunt Doreen's fondness for the sherry bottle. Now that those of an impressionable age are given access to the intimate practices of the most powerful man in the world, protecting children from adult arcana is pretty well redundant.

So what hope is there for Santa? Today's worldly wise youngster is expected to maintain belief in Santa Claus for the sake of grown ups. Not that anyone should seek to dispel the myth for children. Out-and-out rationalists who would spell out to three-year-olds the absurdity of an old man coming down non-existent chimneys are guilty not just of unkindness but of failure to recognise the place of storytelling in all our lives.

Yet in the mushy commercialism of Christmas the Santa story is an excuse for adults to maintain paraphernalia that should have been abandoned when offspring's first doubts turned to nihilism tempered only by acquisitiveness. Teenagers hang up their stocking before going out clubbing mainly so that parents will think the family is still young and they are not yet middle-aged.

The age of innocence is brief nowadays. Young children should be allowed their time of believing without everyone else cynically muscling in on Santa.

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