In his piece “Snowed” that appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (December 24, 2006), novelist Walter Kirn relates the elaborate lengths he went to a year ago to deceive his two young children at Christmastime. Kirn purchased raw leather, a few tin bells and a bolt of red felt, which when strewn about the yard in the snow gave the appearance of a reindeer sleigh accident. He hatched this scheme “to dupe his children about the existence of magic in the world.”
Kirn began to have second thoughts about his deceptive plan on Christmas Eve. Instead of “staging a sleigh crash and forcing us all to dwell in falsehood,” Kirn thinks about giving his 4 and 7 year-old a talk on art: “Christmas is a work of art, and art is a lie that tells the truth.”
In the end Kirn went to bed, leaving the pieces of wreckage in the yard for his children to discover the next morning. When faced with the evidence at hand, his young son begins to vomit. His daughter reasons that there couldn’t have been an accident, because “there’d be blood and fur.”
Not only has Kirn deceived his children; he has also deceived himself. There is a magic at Christmastime, a palpable magic, and its name is love. Art is not a lie that reveals the truth, but rather truth that reflects the Truth.
“Our lies are like gifts we’ve put on hold at Macy’s: the day always comes to pick them up and pay for them.” Kirn’s words ring true. I wonder what payment the piper will extract from him on the day his children learn the truth.