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Amberly McAteer is a freelance writer in Toronto and a former editor in the Opinion section at The Globe and Mail.

The first time I remember feeling truly devastated was Christmas Day, 1987. I was four years old.

A few days before the Big Day, my brother, four years my senior and a dedicated truth-teller, was trying to convince me Santa was pure fiction. “He’s a fat guy, you think he’s in the kind of shape to go to every house in a night?

“Do you think he eats all those cookies and isn’t violently sick?”

I couldn’t be shaken, strongly upholding my conviction in Saint Nick. That’s when my brother resorted to the big guns: He led me to the back of my parent’s narrow walk-in closet, and showed me the gift I had written to the North Pole for weeks earlier: the portable Casio keyboard.

“It’s just a gift from Mom and Dad,” I insisted. “Maybe Santa couldn’t get it for me, so they did instead.”

“Just wait what they tell you Christmas morning,” he whispered.

And sure enough, there were my weary-eyed, well-intentioned parents – totally, completely surprised that “Santa” had “brought me” my keyboard from “the North Pole.”

“What a guy!” My dad bellowed, as I forced myself to smile, and thank Santa as I tinkered on the keys for the first time. It was 34 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

The realization that your parents aren’t impenetrable heroes is supposed to come in teenage years. But on that green shag carpet in 1987, I learned mine had real faults and flaws and were capable of bold-faced lying to me. I was four, and I was shattered.

So is it any wonder that I’m vehemently opposed to telling my toddler the biggest lie I was ever told?

Maybe I refuse to lie to my daughter because she was born weeks into the global-shuttering pandemic, when the difference between lies and truths were at the very core of keeping her safe. The truth, and trust in authority figures, has never been so important as it has in her 18 months of life.

Maybe it’s simply that I want her to trust her mom, and believe in me, always. My husband wants to tell her Santa came down our non-existent chimney to create “magic.”

We’re a full-on Christmas household – and I firmly believe we can create the holiday magic for our kids. We have our tiny Santa marching band playing all the hits, eggnog poured and two Christmas trees up and decorated by Dec. 1. We go on chilly, long family walks where we stop and take in the sights – our neighbourhood lights sparkling, families decorating trees in their front windows. We’ve made sure Lucy knows this time of year is special. There are no less than eight mandatory Christmas movies to watch before and on Christmas Day.

But on the Big (Santa) Lie, neither my husband or I are capable of bending. So we looked for a professional opinion – and read a psychiatric journal about the ethics of lying about Santa. In The Wonderful Lie, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, academics Christopher Boyle and Kathy McKay appear to agree with me.

“Children must all find out eventually that their parents have blatantly and consistently carried on a lie for a number of years,” they write.

And they delve into the psychological question of what the adults get out of it: “By perpetrating the Christmas lie, one believes in the possibility of a better place and time. ... A time when imagination was accepted and encouraged but which becomes lost in the space and time of adulthood.”

Which is, I suspect, the reason for my husband’s insistence. “I remember,” he says, “the idea of this wonderful man secretly giving gifts to every boy and girl. … That’s what reappears every Christmas and brings back that magic feeling.”

His eyes actually get misty.

“Even if she discovers the truth later, I think the magic Lucy will experience in believing outweighs her disappointment.”

I strongly disagree – but a 1897 editorial, the most reprinted in history, sides with Santa. The piece, published in the New York newspaper, The Sun, answers an eight-year-old’s pressing question and famously responds: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

The author, Francis Pharcellus Church, equates Santa with other magical forces that cannot be seen but must be believed: “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

A heart-warming notion, Church – and one I’m not disagreeing with, philosophically. Yes, the idea of Santa as a magical, mythical being can exist – and we can think of Santa as we do mermaids and dragons. The notion of Santa can live – but do I have to look my daughter in the eye and tell her the gifts under the tree just, poof, appeared there, her stocking fully stuffed by some stranger – who does this for all Christmas-celebrating kids? And that she got that special gift because she was a good girl, who – congratulations – who made Santa’s nice list?

My husband and I were headed for a marital impasse – that is, until I read something online that might save our Christmas, and provide a way to lessen the sting when the truth comes out. The strategy goes like this: When they’re asking more questions and getting to an age where they suspect something fishy is going on, you take them to out to lunch. You whisper “it’s time.”

They’re now old enough to join us, to learn the truth, and be a Santa. You ask them, who is someone you know who really deserves something special? Together, you buy a gift and sneakily give it without a trace that you were there.

It’s a good idea – and one that I’ll probably have to do sooner than my husband would like. But it reveals the spirit of the season, and one worth underlining to our children: giving for the simple sake of giving.

It teaches our little ones the importance of generosity without recognition or thanks. And at the core of the true meaning of Christmas, we’re all Santa Claus. What could be more magical than that?

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