City Desk

Santa Myths in Weekend in Review

Now, there are a lot good reasons to hammer the Washington Post. Of late, I've enjoyed obsessing about their terrible policy on linking to other/competing news outlets. They simply can't bring themselves to do it. Another example of this short-sighted selfishness surfaced over the holiday weekend, when the Post wrote a piece about the Gilbert Arenas gun drama that failed to link to a New York Post story that had broken significant news.

Another good reason is copy errors. Yet another is salons.

However, the list of reasons for slamming the preeminent regional daily is finite. You can't just throw rocks at it for no good reason, which is exactly what happened in perhaps the most outrageous letter to the editor that I've ever read in the Post. It was printed on Saturday, on the paper's always-outstanding Free for All page, on which readers tee off on everything from misplaced prepositions to gender discrimination and perceived pro-Obama slants.

If you've ever considered this page anything other than the first must-read of your weekend, you may want to toggle back to this past Saturday's edition, with a particular focus on this item. In it, one Janet Schiavone of Reston comes up with this complaint about the paper:

What were you thinking when you put an article and photograph about Santa with a caption reading, "Older children hold fast to their faith in Saint Nick, and to their innocence" on the Dec. 24 front page of the Post ["Under Santa's ageless spell"]? My 8-year-old daughter lost her innocence about Santa on Christmas Eve morning this year. We still had her convinced that there was a Santa at the North Pole working on gifts while his elves came to the malls; however, after she saw the photo, read the caption and then the article, there was no way to continue the pretense. Not all your readers are adults, and children often read more than just KidsPost.

Where to start here?

First off, the caption writer, I thought, did a nice job of soft-pedaling the issue. It's not as if the caption had read, "By the time they're eight years old, most children learn the cold fact that Santa is bullshit." I mean, if you're a parent that desperately wants to keep their kids believing this nonsense, you can override that caption with some smoke and mirrors, some persuasion, and perhaps a little luck. Lord knows, Tammie Parnell, hero of Hank Stuever's book Tinsel, would have made quick work of that caption, explaining it away as a typo or, in fact, the work of a grinch. Tammie's kids could win a national contest for oldest Americans who believe in Santa. That's Item No. 1.

Item No. 2: The question of whether kids are believing in Santa is a perfectly legit one for a daily newspaper. When you subscribe to a paper, you are paying for it to inform you. That's what it's doing when it puts that photo and caption right there, front and center. Don't complain when the paper does exactly what it's supposed to do.

Item No. 3: Hey Schiavone, your letter suggests that there's a crisis here in that your kid discovered there's no Santa via the Washington Post. I suggest that this is the greatest possible scenario for discovering there's no Santa, and here's why.

Item No. 3 Subitem No. 1: No shame or embarrassment. A lot of us learned about Santa's nonexistence from some asshole in homeroom, who shoved it down our throats and got a bunch of other kids to laugh along with him. What better backdrop for an otherwise traumatic revelation than the child's own hearth?

Item No. 3 Subitem No. 2: The kid may now flock to the paper in search of other mind-blowing facts. And here's my pat line for individuals who complain about the occasional corrupting effect that the newspaper can have on young ones: If the biggest problem facing your youngster is that he or she is carefully reading the Washington Post, that's a problem that you can live with—that we all can live with.

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