The Santa Controversy

My first visit with Santa
My first visit with Santa

Why is lying to children acceptable?

I have two children and they both believe that Santa Clause is a real person. I understand that it is normal for children to believe in the magic of Santa and it is fun for them. I was fine letting the kids believe, but I never felt the need to put in any effort at making them believe.

Last year a friend’s child discovered that Santa was not real. He cried for a while and didn’t talk to his parents for two weeks. After that event I wondered why we intentionally cause our children pain. Is it really ok to lie to our children?

Define real

The first thing to consider is how real Santa is to children. My son loves Batman, but he has never thought Batman was real. I have never told him Batman is real. There is no Commissioner Gordon doll watching my children and reporting back to Batman.

In some homes, Santa is just a story and it adds to the merriment of the season. In my home, Santa is a real living and breathing person. The day after Thanksgiving the Elf returns to keep an eye on the kids. This elf reports directly to Santa, or so my children believe.

Pascal Emmanuel Gorby makes an excellent point, “Parents usually defend the Santa lie by saying that it's just a story, like Snow White. But there's a difference between fiction and lying. When you tell your kids a story, they know it's a story. They don't believe it's actually real.” Read his article here.

Santa is not the same thing as Batman. When I read comics to my children or when we watch movies they know it is not real. I tell them it is not real. Kids dress up as their favorite heroes; my daughter wears an Elsa dress while my son wears an Iron Man costume. If my daughter really believed she had ice powers or my son actually thought he could fly I would be more than a little concerned. But we have no problem hearing them talk about how reindeer fly. There is even a Reindeer Cam now.

I think it is important that we all understand that there is a distinct difference between fiction and fact. The Santa myth is not just a story to children, they perceive it as fact.

Why do we do it?

The most common response I have heard is, “Let kids be kids. They are only young once and then the harsh world will set in. What’s wrong with bringing a little joy and excitement to Christmas?” Anyone with kids can appreciate the excitement children have on Christmas morning, but should we assume that kids can not enjoy Christmas without the belief that Santa is real? I guarantee my kids would still love every minute of the season.

How harsh is the world? I think it is a sad path to follow to think that our children will be swallowed up by the evils of our society if they are not allowed to believe in the magic of Santa. For sure a lot of bad things are happening, but life is better now than it was in earlier generations. Here is quote from David Kyle Johnson Ph. D. from his article The Santa Claus Lie Debate; it also includes a link to a Ted Talk featuring Steven Pinker:

“And “especially in times like these”? It’s very common for people to believe that they live in times that are “worse than normal”—usually people believe they live in the worst time of all. This is why people have been predicting that we live “in the end times”—for the last 2000 years. This is because people are aware of the atrocities of their own times, but not those of others. In reality, the time in which we live has the least amount of disease, violence, war and crime than any time in history (link is external)—especially in the first world.”

It’s our job as parents to prepare our kids for life. I don’t think we should drop them off in the middle of the woods and tell them good luck, but I don’t think shielding them from the world will help them either. We must teach our children how to be adults. Convincing children Santa is real seems a bit selfish. Adults perceive time differently than children, for us our babies become adults very quickly. Absolutely I will miss the times I have with my children. I will miss the light saber battles, the pony parties, and the construction of Lego cities. Unfortunately, I cannot keep them young forever. I understand the fear of letting kids grow up, but I also understand that I cannot prevent it from happening.

They will grow up fine

A parent can justify the Santa Myth all they want, it is still a lie. I was told that all parents lie to their children. They tell them the park is closed, that their mismatched outfit looks good, or their artwork is a masterpiece. Truth is, when I tell my daughter that her crazy outfit looks good, I mean it. I think it’s awesome. I also love the drawings my kids make. I do my very best not to lie to my kids. When the kids ask me to take them to the park and I don’t want to, I tell them the truth. Sometimes it’s because it is too wet or too cold. Other times it is because I am just too tired. If my children want a soda and I don’t want them to have one I tell them the truth. I do not tell them we are out of soda; I tell them I don’t want them to have one because of the sugar.

Imagination is helpful for cognitive skills.  Unfortunately, the Santa myth’s appeal to the imagination is minimal. Kids do not have to put much thought into Santa; the myth is given to them in great detail. It is this universal knowledge of Santa that aids in its believability and makes it easy for parents to lie.

It is true that kids who believe in Santa grow up to be normal contributing citizens. As a child, I was never censored from television. I watched Death Wish with my father on HBO. I would stay up late and watch shows like Red Shoe Diary and Dream On. Although I believe that I grew up fine, I would not allow my children to watch those shows. I am not comparing Santa to Bronson, I am questioning the logic of ‘grow up fine’ as an argument.

There is a large amount of research that makes connections with early development.  Children absorb a large amount of information during their early years of development.  Most parents understand this and actively pursue ways to encourage healthy development.  Is it so hard to believe that the Santa Myth may lead to some psychological condition as an adult? It is hard to say for sure since many conditions are not diagnosed until adulthood. When adults seek treatment the doctor must rely on what they are told.

Santa is not going anywhere

If you are a Santa fan, do not worry he is not going anywhere. The commercial market fully embraces the demand for Santa. It is universally accepted that Santa Clause is coming to town, so much so that many may wonder who that other guy with the beard is.