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It has become as much a part of Christmas as over-eating - a school teacher drops a clanger by suggesting to a bunch of doe-eyed pupils that Santa Claus doesn't actually exist writes Ros Dodd.

For a class of nine-year-olds at Calcot Junior School in Berkshire, the jingle bells have already been removed from this year's Festive Season thanks to teacher Jane Woodley's honesty.

According to parent Mel Barefield, whose son was in the lesson, Ms Woodfield said that Father Christmas wasn't real, Rudolph was a cartoon character and that Christmas trees come from Germany.

Er, well, she's right, isn't she?

And herein lies a moral dilemma for both teachers and parents who believe in telling the truth. But honesty - particularly where children are concerned - is about more than ethics. Lying to or deceiving youngsters, even for the ‘right' reasons, can lead to confusion, disappointment and heartache in the future.

Since my daughter Aprilhas beenable to converse and understand, in however limited a fashion, I have been resolute in my determination to tell her the truth, even when the truth is complicated or unpalatable.

It is not always easy - even at the age of three she comes out with questions that would need a degree in physics to be able to explain correctly. More often, though, the questions are difficult because I know she won't be able to grasp the significance of the replies I give. What I tend to do, then, is to give her a truthful response, but explain that while it probably doesn't make much sense to her at the moment, it will do when she gets a bit older. So far she has seemed comfortable with that.

What I don't do is couch any reply in euphemistic language - one of the scourges of today's linguistic desert - as this is a sure-fire way of confusing the socks off her. So when, for example, a friend of the family died recently, I didn't talk of him having ‘gone to heaven' or ‘going to sleep for a long time', I told her he'd died. And I explained, as far as I thought she could understand, what that meant.

I realise that being a parent is about wanting to protect your child from the harsh realities of life, but feeding them misinformation out of kindness is counter-productive. They have to learn sooner or later, so why not tell them straight up?

But when it comes to Father Christmas, what do you do? If I told April he didn't exist, now that she's old enough to understand that, yet equally just old enough to take great joy in believing he gallops across the sky on his sleigh laden with the presents she's asked him for, what kind of a mother would I be? I'd be robbing her of one of the biggest delights of childhood and alienating her from the starry-eyed mindset of her peers. It would be too cruel.

Yet how cruel it will also be when I have to tell her, one day, that Father Christmas isn't in fact real - that I and her Dad were the ones who drank the sherry, ate the mince pies and piled mountains of toys into her stocking.

I still remember my own mother reluctantly confirming Santa Claus's non-existence when a friend at school had gleefully imparted the unbelievable news and my feelings of emptiness and deep disappointment.

I got over it, of course, and if I consider the many years of happiness believing in a man with a white beard afforded me, then no doubt the final crushing disappointment was a price worth paying.

Still, however, I baulk slightly at having to spin April a yarn this Christmas. Maybe there is a subtle way of doing it that leaves the question of Santa's ‘realness' hanging in the starry sky while not taking away from her any of the magical excitement. In today's self-help culture, there must be a book on the subject: maybe I should write to Mr Claus and ask him to give it me for Christmas.


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