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Why do many of us deceive our children in the name of tradition?

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"Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus," an editorial by Francis P. Church in the New York Sun on Sept. 21, 1897, was an eloquent response to a question asked through many generations: "Is there a Santa Claus?"

But the child's direct question remains unanswered. Santa, the jolly old King of Confusion, can be a lot of fun at parties where nobody takes him seriously--but a child takes to heart tales of a powerful figure who clowns around with a bag full of toys for rich kids and a lot of promises for the poor.

We've learned the importance of early inputs into young psyches, and Virginia deserves a simple, direct answer that she's capable of understanding. Yet she won't get that even today from most adults. Fairy tales that are presented to children as fact distort the message of Christmas, and the tradition defeats its purpose.

Shortly after my brother, Eddie, was born during the Easter season, I began to catch on to the traditional ruse. "How can a bunny carry a basket of eggs?"

"You're too little to worry about that; forget it and have fun," Mother said. She didn't say, "Figure it out," like she did when she didn't want to be bothered, so I figured this was important.

"How can a rabbit carry a basket?"

She laughed, then sighed. "Easter won't be fun now until your brother is old enough to believe. And don't you tell him any different!"

She had lied! She'd been tricking me, and everybody was in on it. (On the other hand, I really looked forward to helping her lie to my brother.) The feeling that somebody I loved, the Easter Bunny, was dying began to crawl around in my chest.

I didn't look at her. "What about Santa Claus?"

"Figure it out," she said, not unkindly.

When Eddie was pushing 8 years of age, our Aunt Kitty-Kat was getting tired of making up dumb answers for his perfectly rational questions like, "Will Santa's reindeer get shot by the hunters around here?" So she let him have it about how Santa's not actually a person.

She did her best to soften the blow with "spirit of Christmas" stuff, but he was inconsolable for days. Aunt Kitty-Kat was treated with contempt by everyone in the family for more than just days.

This was a tradition I was determined not to carry forth.

If I had my way, "Virginia," from the time she first heard about Santa Claus, would have been pretending while knowing the truth--not trying to believe in a person who could travel around the world and visit every house in one night. There is no need to give up any of the fun by convincing a child that this could really happen. There's no need to dampen a kid's curiosity with a snow storm of deception.

Traditions are wonderful and can be celebrated even more joyously when we use the information we've amassed about our human condition. If Christmas is for children, as the saying goes, it would be a good idea to remember that kids love to pretend--they're experts at it--and they, sometimes more seriously than adults, are wounded when misinformed by people they trust.

We live in a world in which lies are respected, Ensuring our right to be dumb is protected.

With positive-thinking as one of our poses, All kinds of nonsense smells always like roses.

Our children learn early about our bad habit--Been tricked by St. Nick and deceived by a rabbit!

No wonder we wonder what's wrong with our youth, We start with a lie to try teaching the truth.

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