Is it right to lie to children about Santa Claus?
- The legend of Santa Claus has roots in a third-century Turkish monk, later canonized as Saint Nicholas, who became well known for helping the poor and sick. The name Santa Claus came from the “Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).”
- In 1881, acclaimed political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, popularized the modern-day depiction of Santa Claus as “a round, jolly man with a full, white beard, undersized longjohns with white trimming and a sack full of toys.”
- An ongoing University of Exeter study revealed that around age eight is when children generally stop believing in Santa Claus--although there is evidence to support that it could be much earlier.
- In 2018, a substitute teacher from Montville, NJ, was fired for telling a classroom of first-graders that Santa Claus was not real.
There is no doubt that many children who grew up believing in Santa did not sustain life-long emotional damage and ultimately became well-adjusted adults. However, others may have been deeply affected, felt betrayed, and become less trusting when they learned the truth.
Some children may even have begun to wonder what else their parents were lying about to them. Though the lie isn't meant to deceive, children may be unable to discern why this lie is okay, and others are not.
Children are often told that they better behave or Santa will leave coal in their stocking instead of gifts. But this is a form of bribery; youngsters need to learn that good behavior has its own rewards. Additionally, parenting experts stress the importance of following through on all threats and rarely has a parent been found who actually put coal in his or her child's stocking. Besides, the threat only works for a short time during the year.
Additionally, telling children that Santa and his reindeer fly around the world in one night teaches children that Santa can do things that only God can do, which might give them a distorted view of God.
Instead of teaching children that Santa and his elves are real and live in the North Pole, Dr. Kyle David Johnson, author of The Myths That Stole Christmas, suggests presenting it as a magical pretend story and making it a game to visit Santa at the mall. Another approach some parents use is to avoid participating in the lie but allowing a child to believe in Santa if he or she chooses to.
Parents who wish to commit to the Santa Claus myth are not wrong. Doing so ensures that their children are a part of the approximately 80% of kids who believe he exists. It also enables their children to participate in the culture in which Santa is deeply and passionately embedded.
Some parents may be concerned that the Santa story constitutes lying. However, many family therapists believe that some lies are harmless due to their intent. In this case, most parents wish to preserve a Christmas tradition and encourage their children's participation in a myth.
Myths are an essential part of children's lives, as their purpose is to transmit values and culture to little ones. They're also crucial for developing children's imagination, which, in turn, fosters creativity, problem-solving skills, and cognitive and social development.
Even if children do discover the truth, studies reveal their reactions are mainly positive. This is because children are 'rational, thoughtful consumers of information.' Therefore, they can distinguish fantasy from reality, just like adults. The only reason they believe in Santa is because of the great lengths their parents go to support his existence.
Finding out that Santa isn't real can further benefit a child's cognitive development. As children begin to doubt his existence, parents can start easing them into the truth through actions such as placing 'Santa's gifts' a little early. Upon making the discovery, children will feel as if they've become part of the adult world.
So, if a parent believes it would be fun having Santa Claus as part of Christmas, they should go for it. For their sake as well as for their children's.