Letter: How Santa does exist

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Sir: Robert Winder should remember that there is a difference between being disillusioned and being enlightened ("Why do we lie to our children?", 18 December).

Children who are disillusioned at the news that Santa Claus does not exist are being told that there are no free lunches, that no one outside their immediate circle knows or cares about them, that there is no justice and that there is no place for fun or fable in the "adult" world.

Children who are enlightened by the news have learnt the more important lessons that children everywhere are objects of delight, that fables exercise a proper imagination without being taken "literally", that generosity is a virtue, that no one should be left out of the gift-exchanging community and that the annual festival is meant to keep those messages alive until the day when we need no more reminders.

In many traditional societies initiates learn that the fearsome gods and demons who had delighted or alarmed them are impersonated by their elders, and that it will one day be their task to do the same for others. Cashing this as a claim that "the gods do not exist" would be intolerably literal-minded. The point is rather that they "do" exist, because we act them.


Department of Philosophy

University of Liverpool