Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam

Yes, Santa Claus is still coming to town despite the Covid-19 travel restrictions

  • After such a tough year for children, with school disrupted and friends they can’t see, which parent wants to tell them Covid-19 will keep Santa Claus away?
  • Still, kids are smart enough to deserve not being lied to about some things. Use this year’s adversity to teach them about hard truths in an age-appropriate way

A child asked me recently if Santa Claus would still be visiting his home this year because of Covid-19 and travel restrictions worldwide. It is a simple, yet difficult and delicate question, which I think most adults would dread to have to tackle.

We all know the truth about Santa Claus, but most of us choose to lie to children to keep the magic alive. Sometimes parents go to great lengths to protect their child’s belief in Santa.

I know of some parents who would even fake footsteps in the middle of the night to convince their kids that Santa is placing presents under the tree.

Some parents told me they leave a note signed “S.C.” next to an empty plate of mince pies or cookies, along with a half-drunk glass of milk with some red and white fabric left on the glass.

Some families leave a little ‘gift’ for Santa Claus. Photo: Shutterstock

We did that in our home for only a few years and somehow my daughter seemed to figure out there was no real Santa Claus at quite a young age. But she pretended she still believed in Santa and played along with the Santa’s mince pie and milk trick, perhaps for my sake.

This year has been particularly harsh, and kids everywhere have been affected by 2020. Children across the world have had a disrupted school year – or two – as they have not been able to attend their usual classes or see their schoolmates and friends. Knowing this, would parents still want to be the bearer of more bad news – that Santa can’t make it, with or without Covid, because he is not real?

This Christmas, even Santa Claus is social distancing

I know of a little boy, Charles. He is only three years old and already knows of the many unpleasant effects brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. I enjoy talking with him because he really understands how to adapt to the new normal. Rather impressively, Charles takes the pandemic in his own little stride.

He loves going to Disneyland, and whenever the theme park was closed due to a spike in Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong, he would tell me, “Disneyland is closed again because of Covid, but it’s OK, it will open next week and we can go again, and you can come with us.”

Whenever his daily schedule is disrupted due to Covid-19, Charles remains unflappable because to him there is always a better tomorrow.

Most of our kids took home learning in their stride. Photo: Shutterstock

More often than not, I think we don’t give children enough credit. We assume that they don’t understand enough about the world to comprehend the problems that adults deal with on a daily basis; this isn’t always the case.

If we give them the plain facts – using age-appropriate language – I am sure they would be able to digest the facts and make sense of them in their own way.

As a general rule, Chinese parents don’t like to teach children things that they think would do little to contribute to their upbringing. They prefer to only pass down wisdom from traditional schools of thought.

Children are perceptive and understand more than we give them credit for. Photo: Shutterstock

For example, they don’t like to talk about death with their kids; but having said that, their behaviours are often contradictory. Chinese parents often use ghost stories to scare kids into behaving or following traditions, but they often avoid discussing matters that touch on death and grief in a real-life context.

Most parents, Chinese or not, often sugar-coat or shield harsh realities from their children. But with the entire world having been engulfed by a global pandemic for nearly a year, there is no reason why we shouldn’t talk to children about various issues that concern us. This even includes social issues such as bias, diversity, or even death and grief.

This year has been a brutal revelation and a time of reflection for us all. As we make new year’s resolutions, why not teach our children to do the same?

How the world will celebrate Christmas during Covid-19

Use this opportunity as a first step to teach them how to deal with life in a more realistic manner, instead of shielding them completely from all hard truths. We can explain the harsh reality of life in a manner appropriate for their age. Let’s not forget that children are perceptive, so don’t undermine them by lying to them.

When we explain to them some of the hard truths in life caused by Covid-19, we should also be prepared for a range of reactions, some of which might be unexpected, while some might need to be handled delicately.

Going back to the question of whether Santa is still coming to town: the world is already full of bad news and hard truths. So, I think it’s still justifiable for us to leave some room (even a tiny bit) for something magical to restore hope for all ages. Santa Claus is definitely coming to town this year, pandemic or not.

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts Cantonese-language video tutorials that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: There’s room for one little lie in a world full of hard truths