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Donna Fleming agonises over the morality of perpetuating the myth of the jolly fat guy in red.

Today I looked my 8-year-old daughter in the eye and told her a bare-faced lie. I did it without hesitating or flinching; this big fib just slid off my tongue as easily as sweat off a hot brow.

"Santa can't get you everything on your list," I told Ophelia, "because he has to stick to a budget and if he gives you all the Smiggle stuff you've asked for, other kids will get fewer presents - or none at all."

Of course most parents don't consider answering kids' questions about the jolly chap in the red suit to be "real" lying. With a few exceptions (usually for religious reasons) we all automatically buy into the great Christmas conspiracy because it's fun and harmless and it's just following a tradition of creating a magical childhood myth.

I, for one, have spun my only child lines about this bearded elderly bloke who sneaks into our house and leaves presents behind since she was old enough to understand what I was on about, without batting an eyelid.

Until now. Just lately I've started to feel uncomfortable about making up all this stuff. It's beginning to feel less like perpetuating a fantasy and more like telling whoppers. I think this is because the older Ophelia gets, the more searching the questions she asks, and the more elaborate my replies have to be to keep her happy.

Simple answers like, "Santa manages to squeeze all the presents on to his sleigh because it's magical," don't cut it any more. She wants details, logical explanations, technical drawings.

My husband and I have to reach deep into our imaginations to come up with replies that satisfy her curiosity.

I nearly got caught out when she asked me why, if Santa has elves to make Christmas presents at the North Pole, did most of the stuff she got last year say "Made in China"?

Off the top of my head I came up with this: big brand toys are in such demand and the elves are so busy with other stuff that it's easier for Santa to order things on the internet and get them sent up to the Pole than it is to try to replicate them in his workshop. Besides, elves aren't a patch on cheap Chinese labour when it comes to producing unnecessary plastic playthings.

Ophelia did seem to accept this, much to my relief. But it left me feeling slightly uneasy and wondering if it was time to drop the pretence.

A quick trawl of the internet uncovers lots of opinions on why we should stop spreading the Santa story. The naysayers claim it promotes materialism, discourages healthy scepticism, causes confusion about why we celebrate Christmas in the first place and the system of rewarding good kids and punishing bad ones is unjust. It also teaches them that lying is okay - and that's the bit I have a problem with.

My husband and I have relentlessly drummed into our daughter the importance of always telling the truth (in our household honesty is up there with polite manners and good dental hygiene) yet here we are, blatantly not practising what we preach.

I can't help wondering how she will respond when she finds out we - and every other adult she knows - have been part of an enormous global con job.

I'm taking some consolation from a study in which researchers at Cornell University in the United States interviewed 500 children about Santa and found none of them were angry at their parents for lying to them about him. The doctor in charge said the most common response among kids when they found out the truth was to report that they felt older and more mature. It raised their position in the pecking order because they were now privy to information younger children didn't know.

However, in the back of my mind is the case of one mum I know whose 6 and 8-year-olds refused to talk to her after they learned the truth about Santa. The manner in which they found out may have had something to do with it: an 11-year-old cousin - bitter and twisted because he thought the rest of the family got better gifts than him - spilled the beans on Christmas Day, telling the other kids they were stupid babies for still believing in Santa when everyone else knew he was a big, fat fake.

I hope the big reveal is not so traumatic for Ophelia. I hope it's not a smug older sibling of one of her friends who takes a sadistic delight in bursting her bubble. I'd like it if she comes to a gradual realisation herself and, instead of being cross with us for making it all up, she appreciates the effort we've put into making Christmas special.

It would also be nice if she is thankful for all those cool presents we've got her over the years, for which that fat old guy has taken the credit.

Maybe it will be a slip on my behalf that gives it all away. The penny dropped for my friend Sharon's eldest two kids when they unexpectedly opened the boot of her car and saw it was full of all the goodies they'd requested in their letters to Santa. Caught out, she blurted, "Er, Santa's been called away on an emergency so he's left your presents with me to put out for you on Christmas Eve."

What emergency? her kids wanted to know. Sharon said the first thing that came to mind: "Ah, he's had to go to a funeral." They weren't convinced.

I suspect this Christmas may well be the last when Ophelia believes in Santa, and as much as I've been struggling lately with duping her, I'm also not looking forward to letting go of the fun associated with Santa.

I've enjoyed the little rituals as much as she has: the letter-writing, hanging up stockings, leaving a beer and mince pie on the deck for Santa along with carrots for the reindeer. I've especially loved the squeals of delight on Christmas morning (as long as it's after 6am).

It adds a little bit of magic to an occasion that is barely celebrated for its true meaning and has these days basically become a frenzied fest of consumerism.

Saying goodbye to Santa will be closing the door on an innocent chapter of my daughter's childhood and I'm not sure if I'm ready for that. Maybe I'm just going to have to keep those fibs coming.

Now, where did I put that stocking for Santa to fill?