By ZACH NOBLE
Santa Claus is dead.
Jesus is not (anymore).
If I want my kids to believe the second statement, why would I deny the veracity of the first?
As Christmas approaches and my first child, a beautiful little girl, farts herself to sleep in her rocking swing, I've been debating what I'll tell her next year, and the next, about the big mystery of the season.
There are some good arguments for keeping up the Santa Claus charade.
It's one of the few unifying traditions we fragmenting Americans have left, and the underlying premises—anonymizing parental generosity and inspiring good behavior and wonder in tykes—seem good.
So what, some Christians argue, about when your kids inevitably learn it's a ruse? They're not bound to lose their faith altogether just because they learn their parents didn't believe in all the myths they preached themselves, right?
"Unless your commitment to Santa and to God look roughly equivalent, there's probably not much danger that St. Nick will ruin your kids for religion," argues The Week's Michael Brendan Dougherty, a non-Santa-believer who defends the belief nonetheless.
Then there's Cracked's David Wong making a point about Star Wars that applies just as much to Christmas: You may hate the calculated commercialization of childhood wonder, but so long as wonder is being delivered, can it really be such a bad thing?
Yes, it can.
I just can't get away from the trust issue.
Plenty of well-adjusted, nice people, on the other hand, grew up without Santa.
If my daughter grows up to adopt different religious, political or whatever other views than I, so be it. I want her to make her own choices, after all. But I don't want her to make any of those changes based on a distrust of her dad. I'm aiming to be as honest as I can with her, and faith can be such a fragile thing to start with.
"God gives us just enough evidence that we can believe in him," my parish priest preached recently, "but not so much evidence that we have to."
So I was up a creek until Jim Gaffigan offered me a convenient out.
"Santa is dead!" he crowed in a recent Jimmy Fallon appearance, and the minute I heard it, I knew I was saved.
It's not a joke. Santa IS dead.
Saint Nicholas, the fourth-century philanthropist, died a long, long time ago, and that's what I'll tell my daughter when she asks.
But his spirit lives on in the gifts we give one another.
His remembered generosity is a reflection of God's generosity to us, giving his son in a lowly manger birth.
And, in Saint Nick's sainthood, I can offer my daughter a sincere belief: You may never see genuine reindeer tracks in the snow or hear a fat man sliding down the chimney, but someday in heaven you'll be able to meet Saint Nicholas face to face.
And that's a better present than anything in the Saks catalog.
Zach Noble is a journalist who has covered everything from the OPM hack to a rescue dog's retirement party. He's been wrestling to reconcile his bleeding heart Catholicism with his pragmatic libertarianism since that freshman year love affair with Ayn Rand. He tweets erratically as @thezachnoble.