Christmas is an exciting time for children, and Santa is a key part of the magic! Amidst the gift-giving, and food, and sparkle and lights; along with snowmen, and eggnog, and parties and cheer; it is difficult to imagine Christmas without Santa Claus, and elves, and reindeer. They are integral to the Christmas season.
I know Jesus is the reason for the season, but in our culture the season also comes with all these forms of fun and excitement. However, there is one aspect that saddens me greatly—parents insisting to their children that the Santa Claus fantasy is real after the child begins to question it. Now, I am not trying to be judgmental or dictating to anyone—this is only my personal opinion; I’m just suggesting some possible negative consequences of taking this approach.
1. Insisting that Santa is real Can Breach Trust in the Parents’ Truthfulness
We never taught our son that Santa was real; we never actually contradicted the Santa myth, but I think he was aware that it was we who brought Santa’s presents. We enjoyed the Santa fantasy; we sang the Santa songs, had prominent Santa decorations, and one year when he was very young I dressed up in a Santa suit for him. Both he and we had great fun with Santa. I don’t think he missed anything by being aware that Santa wasn’t real.
I don’t think it is a problem for little children believe in Santa, but I think it is a significant problem for parents to insist that Santa is real after a child begins to question the myth. I have witnessed numerous times when parents challenged their doubting children by saying, ‘Do you believe in Santa now? There he is!’
My own extended family went to great lengths to perpetrate the reality of Santa. One day we heard Dad talking to ‘Santa’ at the door, ‘They’re not asleep yet, Santa, so you can come back later if you have the time.’ On another occasion, after I learned the truth, we heard Santa (my Uncle) outside ordering off his reindeer: ‘On Prancer, on Rudolf…’ And the kids were excited.
I believed my parents when they insisted Santa was real because I trusted them and believed anything they told me—because they said it was true. So I felt betrayed when they finally (when I was far too old) told me otherwise. It was a breach of my trust in our partnership of truthfulness.
2. Insisting Santa is Real Disrespects the Child’s Critical Thinking Process
When children begin to seriously question the reality of Santa, I think it is time to reward their critical thinking process and let them in on the secret of the Santa myth; I think this is a natural transition. Let them begin to enjoy the Santa fantasy from the other side—participating in the joy and excitement of watching younger children’s responses to Santa.
It is a good idea, at the same time, to let them know that they should not spoil the fantasy for other children by telling them Santa is not real. This is not their job but the kids’ parent’s job at the proper time. But what about those parents who continue to insist that Santa is real in face of the doubts expressed by their children? Is this done for the children or for the parents?
3. Insisting that Santa is real Leads to Embarrassment and Bullying by Peers at School
As I got older, Santa-believers my age were picked on and made fun of by other kids. I was not vocal about my belief in Santa, but bullies subjected other kids like me to ridicule BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED THEIR PARENTS.
Even when I began to have doubts, I believed what my parents told me.
4. Insisting Santa is Real Can Lead to Throwing God Out Along with Santa
The idea is, I guess, that believing in Santa is something we just grow out of. But how does that work differently than with what parents tell us about God; are we to grow out of that too? If parents tell us Santa is real, and he is not, then why assume that God is real? A friend at school demonstrated this very clearly. He said, ‘God isn’t real; he is just like Santa Claus’
And Santa and God do seem similar. They both know when we are sleeping or awake. They both reward us for being good and punish us for being bad. These parallels often lead to misguided views of God that often follow even into adulthood.
5. Some Parents Use Santa to Manipulate Behavior
I think parents often do a disservice by using Santa (and God) to manipulate children into behaving as the parents want by introducing rewards and punishment. Don’t we want to give gifts freely to our children? I think incentives are sometimes good—but isn’t Christmas about actually giving? And not rewarding?
Again, this parallels and reinforces the harmful belief in a God of reward and punishment. The concept is far too transferable from Santa to God, and neither should be used to manipulate a child’s behavior to receive rewards (presents/heaven) or avoid punishment (no favorite presents/hell).
My Conclusion Might not be Your Conclusion
Santa Claus is a lot of fun! And Santa can still be fun to a child who knows it is only a story—a fantasy. Parents should decide what they want to tell their children about Santa, and we talked some positive ways to do this in the previous post, but I think perpetrating falsehood on a questioning child can have very negative consequences.
- Be sure to follow this blog in the right-hand column of this page.
- Like Jesus without Baggage Page on Facebook.
- Follow @JesusWOB on Twitter