OK, so here’s a real contentious issue for you. We never did Father Christmas. Our kids never believed that FC was anything other than a story. Not a story they particularly bonded with, TBH, but part of our mishmash Christmas Yule Solstice thing. The other day, I read something that suggested that parents who didn’t ‘do’ FC were somehow depriving their children of the ‘magic’ of childhood. This seemed to be something about lack of fantasy and imagination.
I find this rather bizarre. Having now lived eleven years with two kids, I can say that fantasy and imagination are always there. Both the children have engaged in different types of fantasy play over the years. These are things in which we have often colluded – building the fantasy through discussion and play. One example is a glove puppet that we had when the kids were little. He was a passed on toy from a neighbour and rather old and grubby. He was a king – called King, imaginatively enough ;-) He was ‘naughty’ and was responsible for all the knots on the wooden kitchen cupboards. These were caused by him hurling fruit (one of his favourite wicked activities, which were called King’s Naughty Jobs) and he talked in a haughty, bossy voice. His best friend was a small, plastic, ray fish – called Ray... They had a wild time together and went on holiday to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, where King was arrested for shoplifting. It was all very strange and organic. I’d throw things in and the children would build and change it. They would go and find the puppet and demand, “Do King!” So, it is true, of course, that they knew King was not a real being. They didn’t really think he did these things. But it was magic. He would come alive. They were able to suspend their disbelief and address themselves to him, in a way that most adults would struggle to do.
I think that children are capable of a remarkable level of sophistication when it comes to fantasy. They know all about pretending. Leo invented his own magical creature to bring him tooth money and Christmas pressies – the Golden Dragon. It came out of him – wasn’t planted in his head as any kind of explanation for the appearance of money and gifts. And, of course, he knew (on some level) that it wasn’t real, but was inviting us to join him in this fantasy – in this bit of magic of his own creation. And, of course, we did. It was play. It was pretend. It was as real as he wanted to make it.
For me, there is a difference between the invented and evolving fantasy play of children and an imposed piece of pretend like FC. FC has always seemed, to me, more like a big joke being played on children. I’m sure that it can be done as a kind of ‘tongue in cheek’ shared pretend. But, for many kids, I think it is presented as FACT. That is a different thing altogether. It must be a loss when the child learns that FC is not real. Why do people want to set their children up for that? Anyone?
Children don’t need their heads stocked with fantasy. It bubbles up out of them. They can spin their own tales. Of course, those tales are fed by the culture in which they live. I love story and love sharing it with my children. But I’m not keen on lies. I could never line myself up with the adults and spin my kids a special ‘kiddie lie’. That just isn’t magical to me.