The Season of Fibbing: 16 Holiday Lies We Tell the People We Love

Christmas Fantasies


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Elf on the Shelf

Christmas Fantasies

The holidays are a time of love and giving, but not necessarily of honesty. In fact, when home for the holidays, it’s often expected that we refrain from telling the whole truth for the sake of playing into seasonal fairy tales and staying civil with our more disagreeable loved ones. The following are some of the most common white lies most all of us have probably been guilty of telling around this time of year, including a newer tradition — Elf on the Shelf — that some privacy watchdogs say is downright sinister.  

Related: Surprising Holiday Traditions From Around the World

The Elf on the Shelf Moves Itself

1. The Elf on the Shelf Moves Itself

"Elf on the Shelf," stemming from a 2005 children's book of the same name, has exploded in popularity in recent years, rivaling Santa himself in some households. Essentially, parents place an elf doll in various locations throughout their home, convincing children they move on their own and observe behavior to report back to Santa Claus. One mother told Parents magazine she goes even further by telling her child the elf won’t move unless their room is clean. If the lying doesn't put you off this new-age Christmas tradition, maybe this will: Privacy watchdogs say the doll is teaching kids some rather dubious lessons about accepting surveillance as part of their lives and "being monitored by a police state."

Related: Holiday Houseguest Horror Stories

Santa Is Real

2. Santa Is Real

Part of the magic of Christmas for young children is believing that an immortal bearded fat man — not their parents — is the one placing toys under the tree on Christmas Eve night. With all the strange details of flying reindeer and North Pole-dwelling elves, the tall tale about Santa Claus can add a lot to the seasonal wonder for kids from 3 to 4 up to age 8, when their belief in Santa typically drops off

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We Love Holiday Songs

3. We Love Holiday Songs

There's a huge variety of holiday songs that play more or less on repeat this time of year, and most everyone has at least a few that drive them crazy that they'll still have to bite their tongue and suffer through when it comes on at a relative's house or department store. A survey of radio listeners from 2007 found the most widely reviled Christmas songs included Madonna's "Santa Baby," Barbra Streisand's "Jingle Bells," and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Related: 20 Christmas Songs We Love to Hate

We Love Subpar Gifts

4. We Love Subpar Gifts

Not every holiday gift is going to blow you away, but it’s common courtesy to play up your appreciation for the sake of not hurting the giver's feelings — it is the thought that counts, after all. A DirecTV survey on the most common white lies found 80% of respondents were guilty of saying they loved a gift when that wasn't necessarily true, with often only children honest (or impolite?) enough to show their disinterest when they receive socks or something similarly unexciting. 

Let’s Not Exchange Gifts This Year

5. Let’s Not Exchange Gifts This Year

Sometimes, this request is made in good faith to save money and avoid receiving excessive gifts that'll just go to waste. That just makes it all the more bothersome when people say they're abstaining from gift-giving without really meaning it, so you feel all the worse for taking them seriously and showing up empty-handed when they bought a present anyway. 


6. Fruitcake Is Delicious

Many baked goods are traditionally associated with the holidays, but not all are exactly beloved. Fruitcake is the prototypical undesirable Christmas dessert that often goes to waste, with other questionable seasonal sweets including mincemeat pie and fig pudding. As with other kinds of gifts though, we’ve all probably feigned gratitude upon receiving them anyway. 

The Meal Was Delicious

7. The Meal Was Delicious

Not every family has a gourmet chef among their ranks, but even when a holiday feast goes awry, we'll usually say it was delicious anyway to spare the cook's feelings. This was another of the most common white lies according to the same DirecTV survey, with 70% admitting to telling it in the past.

We’re on the Way/Almost Ready

8. We’re on the Way/Almost Ready

There's a lot to plan and many family appointments to be made around the holidays, so it's only natural we become strapped for time even more than usual. The lying starts if we exaggerate our own preparedness when running late, essentially holding ourselves to commitments we can't keep. Three of the most commonly told lies are closely related to this tendency — that we're "leaving in five minutes" (which 69% of respondents admitted to telling); that we're "on the way" (66%); or that we'll "be ready in 15 minutes" (65%).

Let’s Keep In Touch

9. Let’s Keep in Touch

In the same survey, 70% of respondents admitted they've also lied about intending to keep in touch with another person. The holidays must be a prime time for this sort of untruth, since they tend to entail more reunions with old friends and family than any other time of year. 

We Can’t Stay With Relatives

10. We Can’t Stay With Relatives

Just over half of Americans have made up excuses to avoid an uncomfortable holiday sleeping situation at a relative's house, according to a 2017 survey by air mattress company Intex. The high ratio of people who lie to stay home or book a hotel rather than staying with family is probably attributable to the 81% of respondents who said they'd had subpar bedding accommodations in the past, including 62% who have had to crash on a relative's couch.

We’re Going to Cut Back on Eating

11. We’re Going to Cut Back on Eating

With so many traditionally decadent dishes, desserts, and drinks to go around, the holidays make it difficult to be on a diet. No matter how many commitments we make to ourselves about eating less beforehand, we can easily succumb to temptation when the food is right in front of us, with our weight reaching its peak on average 10 days after Christmas. The good news is that the average American gains only about 1 pound during the holiday season, which is usually only a problem if you don’t make up for it during other parts of the year. The bad news is that that extra poundage can take as long as five months to fully work off. 

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12. It’s Too Late to Cut Back on Eating

Conversely, some will go too far in the opposite direction and let themselves indulge in fattening holiday foods without any boundaries, reasoning that they're going to give in to temptation anyway, so why limit oneself? The best solution is to set realistic goals for yourself and avoid stress-eating on a daily basis, thus allowing more room to indulge with everyone else during holiday parties and other special occasions.


13. New Year’s Resolutions

On the same note of setting unrealistic expectations, this tendency to ask too much of ourselves helps explain why only 12 percent of New Year's resolutions are fulfilled, according to a 2007 study tracking 3,000 people's success in achieving what they set out to for that year. British psychologist Richard Wiseman, who conducted the study, offers 10 tips to stay true to your resolutions in the future, including making only one resolution that’s in line with what you want (not just what’s trendy), breaking it up into smaller parts with intermediate deadlines, and telling others about it to hold yourself accountable.

The Scale Doesn't Matter

14. You Don’t Need to Lose Weight

When we're not lying to ourselves about our own holiday calorie consumption, we may be lying to others that they don't need to worry about their weight so much. When a friend or loved one says something self-conscious about needing to lose weight — like after a hearty Christmas feast, for example — it's quite common to refute their claim whether or not we really believe it, with 63% of DirecTV survey respondents saying they've told such a lie.

We Don’t Have Anything To Say About Politics

15. We Don’t Have Anything to Say About Politics

If you know there's a subject on which you and a loved one strongly disagree, you'll probably do all you can to avoid bringing it up or bite your tongue even when the opportunity arises this holiday season. Whether you have to flat-out lie or simply hold back your unedited opinion, this sort of dishonesty has undoubtedly become more common in recent decades as Americans have become significantly more polarized politically and geographically.

It’s Up to Us to Make the Holiday Perfect

16. It’s Up to Us to Make the Holiday Perfect

This is an unfair pressure many well-meaning parents and elders will put upon themselves in trying to make their family’s holiday the best it can be — think Clark Griswold in "Christmas Vacation." But as that movie goes to show, no holiday season can ever go perfectly, and it’s more enjoyable for everyone to focus on the seasonal spirit of love and giving over our preconceptions of how everything should go.