I've been wrestling with my conscience for a week.
We have history, my conscience and me – a bloody and harrowing history (who can forget the battle of the ATM that spewed two hundred bucks at me before I’d inserted my card, or the saga of the stolen umbrella?), but this time, for once, it feels like I’m fighting the good fight.
According to a Lancet Psychiatry article published last week, and most of the comment cloud spawned in its wake, I’m setting my kids up for a lifetime of disappointment and mistrust of their parents by perpetuating the great Santa lie.
That’s right. In the very act of walking them up to the local post office to send off their little begging letters to the North Pole, I have sewn seeds of paranoid discontent in their vulnerable wee psyches.
For, when finally the blinkers of deception are lifted from their innocent eyes (at aged what these days - eight? nine? - our daughter’s seven already, her brother five - surely some playground loudmouth will be wising them up before long), how drained of colour will their world seem, how wretched in its lack of magic.
In the very act of walking them up to the local post office to send off their little begging letters to the North Pole, I have sewn seeds of paranoid discontent in their vulnerable wee psyches.
And as for that shifty pair of porky-pie-peddlers, their mum and dad, how are they ever going to believe another word we say? When they reflect on how we’ve played them, setting that carrot out for the reindeer, a glass of port for Santa beside it every year (a pretty generous glass of port, now they come to think about it, always emptied by Christmas morning, while the carrot would just receive a cursory bite, go figure) - what fools they’ll feel, what victims of sustained treachery.
And there was me thinking I was just being a helluva dad.
They could be onto something, those psychologists, and not just bah-humbugging over nothing. The whole Santa industry has been getting out of hand of late, after all. Reindeer-tracking apps abound and Lapland’s booming tourism sector is devoted to the mythology, so that the scam is taking on the scale of a global conspiracy.
Not that we go in for anything so high-tech or costly in our house. When it comes to selling the lie, we keep it simple, and cheap.
Sure, the kids send their letters, hang out their stockings to be stuffed with fleetingly amusing bits of crap (rubbish toys as traditional as clementines nestled in the heels) and I’m no stranger to the trusty lines of blackmail that can be called on from October onwards (“well, kids, it’s up to you - you can carry on fighting/torturing the cat/ignoring requests to brush your damned teeth and get your shoes on, but don’t blame me when Father Christmas skips our house on the big night”), but that’s as far as it goes.
We do have the mixed-culture angle in our family, though, to complicate matters. My partner, mother to these gullible chumps, was brought up in a Vietnamese household: ergo, no Santa.
If it feels like I’m fighting the good fight, this time, it’s because I’m a sucker for Christmas, ho-ho-hoax and all.
So, when our daughter piped up this evening, “Mummy, you believe in Santa, don’t you?”, the query sounded loaded. Right there at the dinner table, stakes had suddenly been raised.
“Of course I do,” replied my deceitful beloved, not missing a beat.
“And he used to visit you when you were a little girl?” (Was I imagining, in her still squeaky voice, the savvy note of a bluff-caller?)
“Yes he did,” continued her mother, “because I was good”.
Oh what tangled webs we weave.
Yes, we’ve been wrestling for a week now, my conscience and me. If it feels like I’m fighting the good fight, this time, it’s because I’m a sucker for Christmas, ho-ho-hoax and all, and I can’t believe our children will be damaged by our trying to make it a time of wonder for a few more, short years.
When it comes to wrestling with my conscience, I know all his best moves, I’ve got his measure. As usual, I’ll overcome.
And, just as I kept that two hundred bucks and umbrella, the prizes of victories past, I’m going to keep on telling the Santa lie, nibbling the carrot and guzzling the port.