My son Ben is at a wonderful age. He believes in fairytales where everything is possible: superheroes, talking trains, chubby honey bears and gold pots at the end of rainbows. When I read him a bedtime story, the characters of the books become real, and they come to fill his bedroom and populate his mind. Imagination is such a distinctive trait of childhood, and as parents, we like to encourage it and hope they will never completely let go of it.

I cannot recall when was the last time I believed blindly in flying people, or magic and illusion. I’m quite pragmatic, and I grow up in a world with little imagination in it. My parents always told me the truth about pretty much everything, and they had a scientific approach to all my questions. We used the have a 15 volumes encyclopaedia that contained all the knowledge I could ever seek, but no space for enchanted forests, fairies or Santa with his reindeers living at the North Pole with his helpful elves.

I’ve never wondered what to tell my son about Santa, because in my mind I already knew: “Santa was a man called St.Nicholas who was very kind and rich, and gave lots of gifts to his friends. The fat man in the red costume you are referring to, comes instead from a very popular advert from Coca-Cola”. That’s what make sense in my mind and it came to me as a big surprise that my always-rational husband Diego though instead we should tell Ben that Santa exists, and will bring him presents for Christmas.

It’s not telling my son a lie that worries me, I can condone one little white lie, but I’m struggling to understand which purpose the existence of Santa would serve. Wouldn’t be better for Ben to grown up knowing that us, the loving parents, are the ones buying the presents?

On the other end, there is something special about believing in magic. Can you imagine the possibilities? I wonder what the little confused and complicated mind of my son would think about flying reindeers: would he try to understand how they can fly? Would he stare at the sky hoping to spot one up there? Would he ask to go on the sleigh for a ride with Santa?

We get told by every expert how important imaginative play is for children. It’s such an important step in the development of their cognitive mind. It’s how they learn to solve problems and elaborate feelings, how they evolve language and assimilate culture, and develop their motor skills and social abilities.

So my question is: which one is actually imaginative play?
Is it telling my son that Father Christmas will come with his loyal flying reindeers to bring presents, or is it telling that Santa doesn’t exist but as a family we will be pretending he does to create a magical Christmas together?

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