Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why We Never Lied to Our Kids About Santa

There are many things to dislike about Christmas: the bloated newspaper ads, the second-rate music repeated endlessly in shopping malls, the inane evangelical bleating that "Jesus is the reason for the season", and the pressure to conform lest you be labeled a Scrooge, or, even worse, a Grinch.

Of course, there are things to like about Christmas, too. Everybody enjoys giving presents, and some even like receiving them. A break from work is always appreciated -- even if, like me, you just use it to catch up on work left undone -- and a house that smells of roast turkey is one worth coming home to.

But there's one Christmas tradition that my wife and I have never shared: deceiving our kids about the real nature of Santa.

You know -- Santa Claus, Jolly St. Nick -- the man in the red suit who delivers the presents, as immortalized in the classic poem by Clement Clark Moore. (Shhh - don't tell the kids that Moore, a dour, humourless man who owned slaves and opposed abolition, probably stole the poem and its authorship from Henry Livingston.)

Ever year, Christmas offers adults the opportunity to participate in an absurd fraud against your own children: to pretend that Santa Claus is real, that he spookily monitors their behavior, that Santa won't bring them presents if they misbehave, and that he somehow manages to invade a billion houses in one night, aided by eight (or is it nine?) aviating ungulates.

I can already hear the howls of outrage. "It's a harmless fantasy," some will say. But it's not that harmless. Someday your Santa lie will be discovered. If you lied to them about Santa Claus, kids will wonder, what else did you lie to them about?

"It's only a little lie," others will say. But it's not so little. Once you lie about Santa's existence, you have to lie another time when your kids see Santa in two different stores. You have to lie once again when the kids leave Santa cookies before going to bed, and in the morning they're gone. It starts small, but it soon becomes an elaborate deception. We refused to play along.

I have nothing against fantasy stories. As a child, I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and read it over and over again. But it's important to know the difference between reality and fantasy. I never believed that Tolkien's Middle Earth was real, and my parents didn't lie to me that it was.

My wife and I never lied to our kids about Santa Claus. We treated him as a mythical figure, just like the the Easter Bunny and the Great Pumpkin.

Our kids don't seem to have been permanently harmed by our choice. Both like reading and telling stories, and they enjoy fantasy and role-playing games. The Narnia books are some of their favorites. They've even been known to wear Santa hats and play Christmas carols on their violins.

"You deprived them of a magical experience," some will say. I don't think so. Our kids know there is magic in the world, because they've looked through a microscope at a cell, and they've looked through a telescope at the rings of Saturn. They know that the tilt of the Earth's axis is the real reason for the season, but they also know the magic of their parents' love.

So no, Virginia -- Santa Claus isn't real. But there's nothing phony about human imagination, fantasy, the telling of tales, the complexity of our universe, the desire for a better world to live in, and our ability to achieve that world if we work hard enough and care about others. We told our kids the truth about those things, too.

97 comments:

Eamon Knight said...

It seems like many adults have a stronger attachment to the whole Santa schtick than the children do -- the latter manage quite happily with Santa Claus as a make-believe figure; it's their elders who insist that he must be treated as real. Our kids had Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and even a household sprite called the Lunch Bag Fairy (she slipped a candy and a friendly note into your lunch bag when you weren't looking) -- but always with the tacit or overt understanding that this was a game between the kids and us.

JasonSmith Atlanta said...

I find it ironic that the author of this self rightous screed has the cheek to refer to someone else as being dour and humorless!

Barry Cunningham said...

I applaud your decision.

I remember being scolded once when I was young when, against my father's orders, I wandered over to the store aisle where he was getting help from a clerk selecting an Erector set that was to be "from Santa". You know, I really didn't mind that it was from him and not Santa.

I rather enjoy L. Frank Baum's Santa Claus stories. Quite a bit different from the standard Moore fare.

In popular culture, Santa seems to be God on training wheels and a spoonful of sugar. You better watch out ...

Harold Fowler said...

Santa Claus is cool dude!

JT
www.privacy.de.tc

Anonymous said...

Do even celebrate Christmas?

Anonymous said...

You are going to good thing sir. I myself recall clear as yesterday what I felt when the santa lie was exposed when I was a child some 30 years ago. Him not being real was not a big deal. But the fact my mother (rest her soul) had deceived me stuck with me for a very long time. So long that in fact when I saw the title to this post I had to read it. no matter how good the intention. It's best to never lie to your children. You are the foundation and rock in their lives. When we violate that trust with them at such a young age.. It will likely teach them that is is ok to lie.

Anonymous said...

I asked my mom if Santa was real when I was three (or so I am told) and she told me the truth. I certainly don't feel like I lost out on anything. Rather, I was honored that my parents would trust me to be in on the secret all along and not tell the neighbor kids.
Good for you for encouraging their imaginations while keepin' it real.

Mark said...

Good for you. When my wife told me that she didn't want to lie to our kids about it, I was confused. I never saw it as a lie before. Then, after thinking about it for a while, I agreed. It is actually worked out to be very fun for our kids and us. For the past three years, I dress up as Santa for our borough's tree lighting ceremony. Since we have told them that Santa isn't real, I don't have to hide while I'm getting dressed and they get to help me. It has been a really great experience.

Ben McGaughey said...

It's all about the parent's response to the child finding out about Santa. When I found out, my Dad asked me to help him be Santa and put out presents for my sister. It was fun, I still remember it, and to this day I trust my father completely.

Anonymous said...

oh beejesus......Santa Claus is a REAL imaginary being...therefore, when you reveal the truth about Santa, he still stays real in the imagination.

it is no more lie than a statue of david being a lie about david. it is ART and STORY. and it lives on.

sheesh, don't be sooo stiff!

Rebecca said...

I told my son about Santa so that he could learn to always question his sources of information because everyone has an agenda. I think it has helped him to develop his own ideas instead of just adopting mine.

Rocky1138 said...

I have to say I completely agree with the author's decision. I believe I will likely be doing the same thing when I have children. Good stuff!

Boomer said...

I do not feel that trust becomes an issue for most children after the myth of Santa Claus is revealed. I think that a child looks back at all the presents this supposed Santa figure has given him/her and realizes this and is able to transfers that association to that of their parents. I think in the long run a child has the ability to see the tradition in the holiday, and the overall positives it brings.

If anything the child is able to transfer the love Santa has for all children unto their parents for providing them with a shower of gifts.

I remember the overwhelming joy felt as a child during Christmas time when waiting for Santa to come, and I don't believe that children even have the cognitive processes to let this kind of misinformation disrupt their future image of the world. And furthermore I do not personally believe that there will be any irreversible damage to trust between a parent and a child in the case that Santa myth is not revealed, if any at all.

If you are being called a grinch or a scrooge prehaps your methods of conveying your point about the harmful effects of Santa Claus are coming too strongly. You have to be careful when going against an entirely religious holiday or else you might sound a bit arrogant. Going against the grain already makes one an outcast. In short your theory just might have an uphill battle.

Brian said...

I think Americans, on average, tend to oversentimentalize childhood, and when they become parents, they fixate on things like Santa Claus as a way of convincing themselves that thtey're good parents who aren't depriving their children of some allgedly amazing cultural experience. They become obsessed with kids' rites of passage. Same reason they have birthday parties for 1 year olds.

I think it's great that you are letting your kids appreciate Santa Claus as a creative myth from the get-go, just likes faeries and unicorns and gnomes and other things that most parents more readily admit are make-believe. And perhpas people will realize that this in no way stifles their creativity or imagination.

Chief said...

I've never mentioned Santa Claus to my son, now nearly five, and perhaps other people have because he's mentioned it recently, nor have I mentioned Jesus except in dismissal, and what he knows about gods comes from the PC game Age of Mythology which is his favorite strategy game. And my point is that I disagree about presents, I hate giving them and hate receiving them. All I've ever found in Christmas gifts is disappointment. I prefer to give gifts spontaneously, with no expectations attached, and have found that oh so much more rewarding.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have a kid whom is 1 now. I can't for the life of me see a reason to lying to your kid. Like you mentioned trust is important, if they can't rely on mom and dad to be honest with them who can they.

My wife is a bit hesitant I think b/c we will lose the magic of christmas. However I can't see it changing anything. It's still a special time, at least we will get cred for the gifts not some Dude in red.

It does seem like it's just a way to set you up to belive in god. Why else, be good get candy be bad coal. God says be good goto heaven bad hell. Being as I'm not religous we use as a time to celebrate the winter with family and friends.

Amy© said...

I completely agree with you on this one. I've never intentionally lied to my children about anything, Santa included. Thank you--I'll be sharing this! :)
--Amy

Anonymous said...

"They know that the tilt of the Earth's axis is the real reason for the season, but they also know the magic of their parents' love."

Wow, that's pretty dorky.

We use the fallacy of santa to control our kids. It worked when I was a kid, and it works with my kids. Soon after you learn the truth, you also learn why it is such a great tool. Kids don't have to grow up so fast.

Anonymous said...

I was skeptical very early on, as the width of the chimney was obviously too small for a person to fit. I wondered how my parents didn't realize that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, I completely agree.

As one of the commenters said above, I still remember finding out that Santa wasn't real as a kid and feeling deceived. The next few Christmases didn't quite feel the same.

I felt deceived by my parents and I suppose that's stuck with me. I would never do this to a child since raising them with honesty is the most important thing you can do.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I'm seventeen, so I think I'm close to the age group you're referring to. When I realized Santa wasn't real I didn't feel a great deal of sadness, that's true. But I felt a great appreciation that for a decade give or take I was able to think he was. It makes me happy to look back on those good memories, and I feel respect for my parents that they could give to me, knowing that I wouldn't thank them. It made Christmas (which seems to be a little less materialistic for my family than for yours) that much more special. I'm not saying what you you did was wrong at all. I just think you should enjoy your own traditions without criticizing others' traditions.

DaveR said...

Santa is a lie. If you lie to your kids about Santa then you RISK depriving you children of something more than a "harmless fantasy". The RISK (and I acknowledge that it a "risk" and not imminent peril)is that your kids grow distrustful of the only people in the world who should have only their very BEST interests at heart. Parents should be a child's benchmark for stability and reliability, not an object of additional (primary) distrust.

My parents lied to me about Santa (and the Toothfairy), and while I cannot point to either of these lies as "the" souce of my distrust of them, the fact that lying about Santa et al is SO UNNECESSARY, I grew MUCH more wary of the motivations behind ANY thing that they tried to tell me. This early state of parental distrust has hampered me in my life (and now that I am adult, I see how harmless it all was supposed to be...my parents are wonderful people, but that wasn't apparent when I was coping with teasing out lies at the age of 6)

Yes, plenty of people endure the Santa Years and come out unscathed. But SOME if us end up scarred, and that "some is all the reason to never start the lie. I think you would be hard-pressed to find an individual whose life is worse for not having ever believed in Santa.

Toh Gouttenoire said...

I've been throught this arguments so many times... You expressed my views so well I almost cry...

Anonymous said...

For me, I certainly wasn't harmed when I found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. I took it as a mark of maturity- like I was a big kid and only little kids still believed in Santa.

That said, the best part of the Santa experience for me was always the evidence of his existence. Half finished cookies, carrots with reindeer bites, an ashy boot print. Things that my parents did to enhance the fantasy were pretty fun. So, nothing wrong with the Santa thing. It didn't hurt me at all, but I agree that had I missed that experience, it wouldn't have been a big deal.

Anonymous said...

But you still teach them about the Easter Platypus, right?

Anonymous said...

So I bet you pirate software, download music illegally and steal office supplies. I bet you lie in other circumstances with no compunction.
Give me a break. You're an arrogant hypocrite.

Santa is an abbreviation of Saint Nicholas who was a Catholic Bishop in Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey) around 270. The custom of giving presents was due to people imitating the Saint. European Catholic settlers brought the customs with them when they settled in America. Advertisers of the 20th century high jacked Saint Nick for marketing purposes and we're left with the bastardization of Santa today.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Anonymous:

So I bet you pirate software, download music illegally...

You lose. Never did either of those things.

You're an arrogant hypocrite.

Oh, so you know nothing about me, make false statements impugning my character, and you call me arrogant?

Let's see, do I have to be morally flawless in order to say that I refuse to participate in lying about Santa Claus? Do I have to be morally flawless to say anything critical about others?

NO ONE CARES said...

So you tell your kids Santa isn't real...





... what do you want, a cookie? No one cares, you self righteous prick.

Anonymous said...

There are positive sides too. Children will learn that they shouldn't believe everything people tell them; even what their parents tell them. It'll teach them how their minds will follow everything that is supported by the false belief and for the rest of their lives they would probably think twice what others want them to believe. Bottom line: come on. Growing up is already painful at times and life is just a play in which we sometimes even like to deceive ourselves... Children even make up their own fantasy friends (toys) which have to be given up... it's just growing up. Who feels he got scarred with the shattering of the Santa belief?

Anonymous said...

Oh my god Middle Earth isn't real?????????

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

Obviously you care, or you wouldn't have commented. I'm sorry my column has threatened your world view so much you have to resort to name-calling.

Elizabeth said...

I think making your decision sound like a "moral stand" is a little weak.

I agree with JasonSmith. You seem quite dour and humorless (and sickenly self-righteous).

Calis said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you. My children love Santa Claus, but they also know he is just pretend. We have a tree, music, movies just like everyone else, we just do it all without the lies about Jesus and Santa.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Elizabeth:

Sorry you didn't enjoy the piece. Can't please everyone!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. What a bunch of touchie-feely, overanalyzing, self important bunch of nerds. I cant believe I even read all these comments like "Oh my gosh! I agree with you so much I soiled myself!"

Get a friggen life.

Santa is as real as your family needs him to be. St. Nick lives on here, and always brings things our children's parents wouldn't bring.

And you know what? I still believe my parents, even though they "lied" to me for 10 years.

Get over it you jerks. If you open your eyes, you will find a lot of traditions that defy everyday logic.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

Sorry you feel so threatened by criticism of your tradition.

Becky said...

I think it says a lot more about the people who are clearly so upset that they are resorting to "internet violence" than it does about the author, who calmly points out his reasons for choosing not to encourage a disregard for logic in his children.

How many child molesters have dressed as santa? My kids will know better!

Vivek said...

Mission objective #1 accomplished!

The next question - Are you willing to expose the next big lie that most parents tell their kids?

Namely : Allah/Jesus/Krishna/Zarathustra/Yahweh is the only true god and if you follow what he said in the "book" then you get to goto heaven and play with Virgins/Baby Jesus/Angels etc. for all eternity.

Phil said...

My Santa experience seems to be quite unique so let me explain.

Just after starting grade 3 my parents got divorced. I went with my mom and we moved to rural area north of Toronto to be with her family. I ended up living on my aunt and uncle's farm for a year with my two younger cousins (I am the oldest of my mom's sibling's children).

I started attending a new school and made some new friends. When Christmas came around we had to make a diorama of the birth of Jesus. Being from a non-religious family and being in grade 3 I had never heard of the fellow. I felt left out, and I was teased for being the only kid to have never heard of him (even the concept of God alluded me).

Then came the discussion of why we celebrate Christmas. Everyone in the class said that it was because Dec 25th was the birthday of Jesus. Having never heard of Jesus and having watched Christmas specials on TV I had always thought it was because Dec. 25th was Santa Clauses birthday. The rest of the kids denied Santa was real and told me it was just my parent's act.

Let me tell you... this started quite the uproar. It was me versus all my class mates. No evidence except for what our parents had told us. Anyway, the subject was eventually dropped and I had the worst nativity scene in the class.

One night as my mom was putting me to sleep I asked her, "Is Santa real?" She asked me if I was a big boy and then revealed the truth about Santa, EB, and the TF. I felt quite privileged to have been let in on the secret, and to continue to help uphold it with my younger cousins.

Later on my mom asked me how I figured it out and told her how the other kids at school had ruined it for me. I asked her about that Jesus fellow and she explained what she knew. I was in shock that the kids that just finished telling me that Santa wasn't real had been duped again. I found the tale of Jesus to be LESS believable then that of Santa.

Two years later and at another new school I had my first atheist friend. Together we raised a little bit of hell. During the national anthem we would both stand tall and would not budge an inch out of respect for our country; however, we refused to stand for a moment of silence after the anthem feeling it was for religious purposes (we did remain silent out of respect for the others though). We openly questioned the existence of God amongst our friends, and we developed our critical thinking skills. One time my friend stood up during an assembly of the whole school and denounced the principles "Jesus is the reason of the season." When I realized he was going to be removed from the assembly I stood up and said I agree. We were both escorted from the auditorium and just as one of the teachers was about to lay into us about how wrong we were the principle came out of the auditorium. He took us off to the side where none of the other kids (or teachers) would see us and shook both our hands. He said that what we both did took a lot of courage. He also explained that it was wrong of us to have disturbed the assembly, but also added that we were right in the fact that he should not have mentioned his personal beliefs in such an environment.

Anyway, long story short. I never felt betrayed by my mom with respect to the whole Santa tradition. I did, however, develop a strong dislike for Christian arrogance, and I think it started me down a path of critical thinking. Anyway, long post. I hope it wasn't to long winded.

JS said...

Find me a single instance of kids who lost all confidence in their parents over Santa.

A single (documented) incidence.

You are placing your kids at the same levels than you would place an adult, and this is a bigger mistake than telling them than Santa exists.

Kids are kids, and if they put your word in doubt on every subjects after learning the truth about Santa, you have bigger problems than just Santa.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Vivek asks, "The next question - Are you willing to expose the next big lie that most parents tell their kids?

Namely : Allah/Jesus/Krishna/Zarathustra/Yahweh is the only true god and if you follow what he said in the "book" then you get to goto heaven and play with Virgins/Baby Jesus/Angels etc. for all eternity."


Yeah, my kids are as skeptical about that one as they are about Santa.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

JS:

You make the mistake of extrapolating to a foolish conclusion. I never said that a kid would "lose all confidence" in their parents over the Santa lie.

But if you want some examples of kids who were seriously disturbed when they found out the truth, go read the thread on reddit where this post was discussed:

http://tinyurl.com/7twn7u

There you'll find comments like:
"When you're a kid, you trust your parents implicitly, because they keep you alive, they've been around longer, and they presumably know more about the world than you. So here I am questioning myself, questioning my parents to a small degree but dismissing it because "they swore they weren't lying", and one day after about a week of intense questioning, my mom finally admits Santa isn't real. So my parents have been lying to me since I was I was a baby, they were dishonest when I questioned them directly, everything really congealed at that moment, and it has had a lasting impact. Now, this isn't the only untrustworthy thing my mom has done, but this incident was really what set the wheel in motion, so I honestly have very little faith in anything she says. Has it effected me otherwise? Beats me, I've never looked at the thing any deeper than "I really hate what she did/dislike her for that", and it seems a little complex to get into now, but I'd bet it has."

Satisfied, JS?

Jake Kerr said...

As an atheist, I can't say I agree with your decision, but I can respect it. My daughter believed in Santa Claus until she was 9. She is now 12 and an incredibly rational and critical thinker. To her it was a game that was played when she was younger. It was make believe. It was fun. She enjoyed the fantasy of it.

Actually, watching her budding critical eye evolve to where she could call bullshit on the whole thing was a joy to perceive. So in this way I find it not just a fun exercise but an incredible learning experience.

Some may say, "But your children caught you in a lie," but in my experience that's not the perception. My daughter had a much more loving response of "you were playing a game with me, and I really enjoyed it, but now I'm old enough to know that the game isn't real."

I had a similar experience with my middle daughter. She believed she could control the windows in our car because as she would tell them to move up or down, I would surreptitiously make them move up or down via the automatic controls at my fingertips. She finally figured it out and was a little upset. Not at me for lying to her, but because she had lost the power over the windows. Today, she tells her younger sister that SHE can control the windows and makes me do the same thing with her. It is, as with Santa Claus, a game and a fantasy, and I find nothing wrong with encouraging imagination to such a degree.

At a certain point atheists have to be less sensitive to the imaginations and interests of the young. If you teach them to think and to do so critically, they will grow up with a healthy mind, even if they do keep telling your friends that heaven is in the sky.

The young do childlike things. It is when the childlike things become adult self-delusion that you have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Why do some of the people leaving comments get upset? They feel a need to lash out at you for simple describing what you do with your kids and why you think it is the right thing. This is clearly a sign that you have hit a nerve.

Somewhere deep down they must feel ashamed of what they have done perpetuating a falsehood. Otherwise the response would be why it is a good thing to tell your kids about Santa Clause. If you disagree with someone you state why the contrary position is better. Attacking the messenger signals that you have no valid argument against what he says.

Think of all the non-Christian children. They actually know the truth. There is no Santa Claus. Christian children are brought up to believe in imaginary supernatural beings. Demi-gods if you will. Is this what Jesus would have wanted? It simply makes no sense withing the context of Christianity yet there it is.

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

I found your blog here interesting, but there is something important to remember. You never know how a child will react to anything you do. My parents took the same approach that you have chosen to take. Santa was never real, just a story. Now that I am older and I hear the stories of my friends from when they were young and I see the joy in children's faces when they think that Santa is coming or when they are writing him a letter, I know my parents robbed me of an experience that I will never be able to duplicate. For this, I am angry with them. I guess, bottom line, as parents we do what we can and hope that the child reacts favorably as he or she ages.

conan said...

Congratulations. It's nice to know we're not alone. Our 4-year-old is beginning to wonder about the reality of Santa, and we explain to him that of course he's real, just like dragons, The Cat with The Hat, and talking animals. We're hoping to re-use this approach later. "Yes, Jesus is real, just like Santa. Remember Santa?"

We don't do gifts, so that undermines Santa somewhat anyway. Our house is already full of junk. And we don't want to sell our children to the god of commerce just yet. On top of that, it turns out that our children seem to prefer time with their parents over anything they can get in a box. I wish we had more of it to give them, the few toys we get them feel like a poor alternative.

I wonder if there really are children who prefer toys from an imaginary bearded flying dude over authentic time with their parents. Would such parents consider themselves fortunate or unfortunate?

Teahaus said...

I grew up believing in santa claus. I also grew up believing in Jesus. Some would say that *both* are fantasy.

Regardless, I believe that fantasy is a rich and important part of childhood. It is a time to believe and wonder, for one time in your life, that all things are possible. Adulthood and brutal truth can wait.

My daughter believes in fairies, Santa Claus, Jesus, and that our poor deceased cat is running with the angels. We can only hope that one day she will discover the truths of the world for herself. But for now, in her mind, it is a richer, more wondrous place.

I wouldn't rob her off that for the world.

Anonymous said...

being selfish like some of the other people on here I told my kids that I bought the presents for them...why should someone else get the credit...oh yeah and I publish it in the newspaper when I give money to charities...what a bunch of pathetic individuals...oh yeah and go ahead and remove my post I could care less you pathetic individual...

my somatic learning path said...

: ) Glad to see your post today (found on reddit) because we do not lie to our 5 year old about santa, and never have. We celebrate the solstice. But, since some of the santa parts are fun, we do some of the activities of x-mas, including cookies for 'pretend-santa' (her dad, and I am mrs. claus).

I have promised my daughter she could trust everything I say, always. And so I am unwilling to deceive her about santa because I want her to trust in me, and hopefully she'll think I was great for leaving in the fun parts and finding ways to incorporate. : )

Happy Solstice : )

Anonymous said...

Children grow up so fast these days.
All of the money spent on crap this christmas cannot replace the wonderment and joy that "Santa" brings.
This dude wants his kids to be adults before they leave the birth canal.
Very Sad.

lovenhate said...

I think it's dumb that you make such a freaking big deal out of it. So Santa isn't a real person, but to me (and I'm 23 yeard old) Santa is a real figment. He is a symbol of Christmas and the goodness of the Holidays. When I found out, I wasn't surprised nor was I devastated. It's kinda one of those "who gives a damn" whether he's real of not. Quit acting like you are so better than everyone else and that you made the better decision. Some people just like to have fun with their kids in different ways.

Anonymous said...

Jeffery is 100% right in this article.

I agree with him that we need to find Santa Claus, and publicly execute him for his heinous crimes.

cody said...

You mean the easter bunny isn't real!!!
Actually, my parents treated Santa the same way, which I think was great. Though I do slightly object to not lying to your kids. If I ever get the chance to have children, my plan is to be as honest as is reasonable for some number of years, then sometime maybe around age 8-10, construct a grand lie that will embarrass them greatly. It's half a joke, but the intent would be to burn into their brains the questioning of authority. Right before that golden age of believing everything their parents say begins to fade, I want to really drive home the point that no one is infallible.

Regedanzter said...

Thanks a lot for this info. Now that i know this I am going upstairs and confronting my mom and dad right NOW. Boy am I mad.

Anonymous said...

I believed in Santa when I was very very little; one night I saw my dad getting dressed in the Santa suit. I cried and accused him of lying; the day after I got over it. What kind of vindictive and zealous monsters do you think kids are that they can't get over the Santa lie?

Besides, learning that something like Santa is make-believe gives you playground-cred when you boast to the other kids that you know something they don't! ;)

Also, making kids discover that their parents are just as fallible as their peers is a huge bonus.

Alex Webster said...

Disagreed...I think it's a great realization and most children realize that their parents created the lie for their benefit. They went to great lengths to hide the truth, but the child soon learns that it was the right kind of lie. All this crap about your kids liking and appreciating fantasy and role-playing is your proof that your theory is correct?

No no no. You simply robbed them of something that makes being a kid so much more fun that being adult. It's no big deal either way, but don't lay down the developmental psychology on a tiny non-issue. It's parents like the father in Calvin and Hobbes that lies constantly to Calvin about everything that messes children up...So many parents make up things all the time to see what they can get their kids to believe, that's the real issue.

Over-analysis for sure...and you're so proud of your little scheme too. Shame

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Alex Webster:

We didn't create a "scheme"; we simply refused to participate in the grand scheme - noble or not - that many other Americans do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dude!

I'm a professor so I deal with lots of extremely smart people who screw themselves over with their own logic. I am guessing you are one of those people.

Believing in Santa, only to find out he isn't real is a fantastic way to teach kids to challenge their assumptions.

You kids won't be popular in high school. If you are looking for a reason, there's a little JPEG in the upper left corner of your blog that shows the reason why! You need to chill out, big time. Just because you are smart doesn't mean you have to use logic to inflict misery on yourself. Christmas is fun, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Professor:

I am curious why you think "being popular in high school" is a desirable goal that my kids should aspire to.

Jonathan Stewart said...

When children are young they don't entirely differentiate between whats real and whats not - they don't ponder it that deeply, they just motor through life touching things and asking questions when things intrigue them. There's a million things they don't know and don't understand and it does them zero harm. Also they wont give a damn that you 'lied' to them - they will thank you for the loving childhood memory. When they are old enough to ask then fine tell them but until then allow them to be children and enjoy a little exciting mystery.

I'm not religious and I believed in Santa until I was old enough to question it, then my parents told me the truth. I never trusted my parents less because of it and they would have to have made a thoroughly bad job of raising us if something like that caused us to question their honesty with us.

You have effectively taken one of their precious childhood memories for a fairly cheesy reason - if they told other children then you should be ashamed of yourself.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jonathan Stewart:

I'm sorry you think not lying is "cheesy". Perhaps you could have gotten a good job in the Bush administration.

You do realize that at least 80% of the world doesn't share in this "precious childhood memory", don't you?

arieliondotcom said...

To equate belief in the fantasy of a being who comes into homes and delivers presents, a known lie, to belief in JESUS CHRIST, a documented historical figure if not accepted as GOD, is beyond absurd. To make that extrapolation and to say "It's good to lie to children so they learn that even their parents will screw them over" is again preposterous.

Frankly, I don't care what people believe if they are consistent. As I've posted on my blog here:
http://arieliondotcom.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/smiling-to-death/ the only problem I have is inconsistency of Bible-believing Christians who are warned against such lies and myths and insist in teaching them because they are "cute" or "magical" anyway.

cody said...

I see a lot of objections, ranging from 'precious childhood memory' to 'become adults too fast' and 'when old enough to question it'. I wonder, are you ever too young to learn truth? Is childhood innocence about fantasy, and false realities, or about not being burdened with the complications of adulthood? What makes a grand lie a more precious memory than a grand truth?

Jeff said...

There is no lie in our house, I am Santa. My heart goes out to those that cannot see that the Spirit of Santa is not just a fantasy, but a real part of us all when we give of ourselves. Who would disagree that when my grandchild sits on my lap and tells me what he would like under the tree Christmas morn, he IS talking to his Santa?

Anonymous said...

Let's see, the moral behind the story of Christmas and Christianity is to be good, and the whole Santa thing is to be good. Is lying good?

Anonymous said...

I think this was well put and I understand why you don't pretend that Santa is a real person. Personally I've never had a problem with being lied to about Santa, of course I've been described as a bit different than most. Santa's existence has never been questioned in my family, we went from believing in the myth of the man to accepting him as the image given to the Christmas spirit in everyone.

Anonymous said...

Like the Author, we have tried hard not to lie to our children. There are times you need to lie in order to protect them or to simplify topics that are too adult for them, but these are not outright lies. We have told our children the truth about Santa from day one and it has never spoiled Christmas. We are Christians so we celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday anyway (as opposed to a cultural one). Still the kids love Rudolph and Santa and all the make believe stories, and knowing the truth has not made Christmas any less fun. We have no guilt, and the kids still get all the joy.

It is interesting though to see that the kids want to believe in Santa, and ask every so often if we are sure he is not real. They would like to believe and pretend to believe. So they have their fantasy but also have reality too.

Merry Christmas BTW.

Junkster said...

My wife and I chose not to "do Santa" when our son (our only child) was born. We never said "Santa brought this", etc., so in the early years, Santa was never an issue. When he was old enough to notice or hear about Santa, we just causually remarked that some parents liked to play a game with their kids of pretending that Santa brought presents. That was pretty much the end of it. He is 15 now and doesn't seem to be the worse for our choice.

It wasn't that I felt that the fantasy was harmful to him or that I thought that parents were all wrong if they chose to tell their kids that Santa brought them presents. My wife did worry somewhat that deceiving our child about Santa might cause him to question us regarding other things we wanted him to trust and value. But my primary concern was just that I was not comfortable about lying, especialy the elaborate efforts some parents put into convincing their children that Santa is real, even after the children start questioning the Santa stories.

Small children often won't grasp the distinction between real and fantasy, so I don't think it would hurt if parents only said Santa brought presents until the child was old enough to ask if Santa was real, at which point the parents answered honestly. I think it is only likely to cause a problem when parents lie (and take efforts to perpetuate the lie) when specifically asked by their kids about Santa. I suspect that most of those efforts are for the benefit of the parents, not the children. The parents enjoy perpetuating the fantasy and project that enjoyment onto their children. The hostile reactions of those who think it is robbing a child of something special only serve to convince me more of this. (After all, by far most of the world's parents don't tell their kids there is a Santa, and I seriously doubt those children feel deprived about it.)

One commenter indicated that Santa is used to control children. I suppose that refers discouraging bad behavior by threatening children with no presents. ("He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.") I hope no one would really ever tell their kids in a serious way that Santa wouldn't bring them presents if they were bad. That just sounds mean and abusive, and completely contrary to the "spirit of the season".

I have one caveat, though, for parents considering honesty with their children about Santa. Although it was never a problem within our own household, it did stir up some trouble when our son took it upon himself in the 2nd grade to inform his classmates that Santa is just pretend. We had to deal with some angry parents and teachers. But it did give us an opportunity to explain to our son the importance of showing respect for others' beliefs and wishes, and that it isn't always necessary or beneficial to challenge the beliefs of others, even if they are wrong, and that, if it ever was necessary, there are good and bad ways to go about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not Christian, so I don't have an issue around what to tell my kids about Santa Claus. I do remember, growing up, being told my my parents to be respectful and not to tell my Christian friends Santa wasn't real. I remember I found it uncomfortable having to be part of the deception. It must also have been strange for them that Santa didn't come down my chimney, implying I was a bad little girl. I have been seeing that commercial "Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" on TV and it bothers me. On the other hand, I liked getting visits from the tooth fairy, and I don't really remember when I discovered that wasn't real.

Smiley said...

As some other have mentioned, your post wrongly characterizes Santa Claus as fiction as opposed to the non-fiction legend of Saint Nicholas.

I have nothing wrong with you not pretending that Santa Claus exists in the current day, but at the same time see no reason why it is incompatible with recognizing the true legend of St Nick.

Blogs typically like to increase knowledge and be logical and I feel like you need to correct the historical significances of your post to prevent from creating one more false, incomplete, and incorrect web page.

Anonymous said...

Oh, well since we're being so honest with kids, why don't we show them some people mutilated by a serial killer, or someone who stepped on a land mine, or show them pictures of an aborted baby.

Wise up, you slag fucker. Just because you couldn't find a spark of magic in your whole life, don't try to wrestle it away from others.

Anonymous said...

I think you're being pretty ridiculous here. Do you also belive that it is outright lying to throw someone a surprise party? All that deception to hide the horrible turth, that gasp! you care about them and have put all this effort for them.

Anonymous said...

This is silly. That's fine if you don't want to do the whole Santa thing, but don't think you're somehow better than other people because of it.

Mike said...

Do parents really think their children believe in Santa? It always baffled me as early as I can remember that adults thought I was that naive. I think we need to realize that this is a charade that kids play along with because there are presents involved. Come on.

Chandler said...

Fictional characters such as Santa, the tooth fairy, Mickey Mouse and others offer us as parents the opportunity to enter the pretend world of a child and share it with them.

In my opinion, if you call it a "lie" to pretend with your child that these characters exist in their world, then should a child that pretends to be a fireman, teacher, astronaut or doctor be referred to as a liar?

I think this is being taken far to seriously. I will continue to pretend alongside my children for as long as they will allow. Whether others choose to do so is up to them and I don't belive that either choice will injure them.

LotusBlossom said...

Various commenters: If you don't care about this article then why did you read it? And then take the time to read the comments and respond?

Jeffrey: Thanks for a well-written article discussing a non-standard way of handling the Christmas holiday.

I grew up in a Christian home and for my family, Christmas was a religious holiday which is why we also learned about Saint Nicholas and how he came to America. I remember being in a Phoenix, AZ mall and walking past the Mexican Santa, the Caucasian Santa, and the African-American Santa. My mother did not have to lie to me about why. I knew that Santa was loved by many different cultures and many nations and that Santa represented the goodness and caring and sharing that all people should aspire to all year long.

I find it interesting that goodness, caring, and sharing were not ideals present in so many of the comments that berated the author for not teaching his children to believe in Santa and other myths.

One issue I didn't see discussed, maybe I missed it, but children learn from watching adult behavior. What we do teaches with greater strength than what we say. When we say that lying is wrong, we have to model that behavior. When we explain that we sometimes tell stories to illustrate an idea or to entertain, we get to model that by enjoying plays, reading books, and celebrating Santa Claus.

luckytwelve said...

I have three kids, and we don't lie to them about real-world issues. We don't lie to them about things that impact them. We do, however, allow the lie of imagination to spread.

What is imagination but an elaborate lie that you are allowed to live in? Santa is imaginary and there is nothing wrong with feeding that playtime. Saying it is wrong is just like saying that pretending that your childs toy cars actually make sounds and have little people inside of them is deluding them.

Children under 6-8 have a very introspective view of their world, we visit them in their world, not in reverse. You can be as stiff as you want with your kids, but I know from experience that they will resent you for it later in life.

Ben Watson said...

Yes, I too remember that magical moment when I first learned about the tilt of the earth's axis! Or the weeks I would spend in irrepressible anticipation of peering at a cell through the lens of a microscope! Ahh, childhood memories...

Yeah, cause kids just LOVE learning about astrology - way more than they love Christmas. Seriously, that might be the dorkiest thing I've ever heard.

Pathogen's Quest said...

I knew Santa was a fraud the year my father was laid off from work. It was a pretty barren under the tree that year. Sure, he went back to work eventually and the Christmases got better. But I could never shake the feeling that if I got assed out one Christmas, what about the kids who were always poor?

I wish I could have told the truth to my girls, but I think my wife would have divorced me. And her family sure as hell wouldn't have wanted me around for the holidays. So I patiently wait for my daughters to figure it so I can finally throw myself at their mercy.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Ben Watson:

What's really "dorky" is that you don't seem to know the difference between astrology and astronomy.

I'm sorry you never got excited by science. For me, the structure of a cell and the majesty of the cosmos is far, far more enthralling than any religious or commercially-inspired icon.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Smiley:

My article is about the modern-day legend of Santa Claus -- the man with supernatural powers -- not the historical person. I'm sorry you didn't find it clear. Perhaps reading more carefully might help.

mac_1 said...

Well, first other kids at school speak about Santa in the same terms. So there's a social side to its existence that would set non-believers aside, left out. Second, it's good to awaken a child's sense of criticism and doubt. After they learn that he does not exist, they will sop taking everything at face value. It's part of the growing process and the first level of conscious awakening. From now on, I will doubt unless it is confirmed.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous @ 11:48 PM:

Surely you can see the difference between actively lying to kids about the existence of Santa Claus and not telling them everything about every ugly aspect of the world at every age?

Of course there are things I didn't tell my kids when they were 5. Now that they're older, they can learn about the ugliness of the Holocaust and other genocides.

Your mistake is that you think the opposite of actively lying is telling a kid everything.

Rainnie said...

Santa Claus is more about the embodiment of the spirit of happiness and giving. the wonder and excitement. I am not a religious person - in fact I find Santa to be just as real as Jesus. I have no proof either way that either one did or did not exist in reality somewhere. so I choose the fun myth with magic. My daughter knows that I am the one buying the gifts - it is more like a secret penpal than a lie.

Anonymous said...

@ arieliondotcom. You state that Jesus is a documented historical figure. Please cite some non-Biblical sources on that. I think you'll find that there are a lot fewer than you imagine there to be. There is still some debate as to whether Jesus, upon whom the Christian religious myths are bases, was a real human being. At least in the case of Santa Claus, Nicholas of Myra was a real, documented human being and there's no debate about his existence.

Rainnie said...

I was being generous I suppose. Trying not to be offensive to those who believe in Jesus. Personally I do not.

cody said...

I am astounded by how vehemently people defend lying to their children. I cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between the eagerness to endorse delusion in our children, and the bizarre pervasiveness of fantastical beliefs held by adults (religion, mysticism, supernaturalism, conspiracies, UFOs, etc.).

Pierre Boucher alias Le Citadin said...

Vivek asks, "The next question - Are you willing to expose the next big lie that most parents tell their kids?

Namely : Allah/Jesus/Krishna/Zarathustra/Yahweh is the only true god and if you follow what he said in the "book" then you get to goto heaven and play with Virgins/Baby Jesus/Angels etc. for all eternity."

Jeffrey Shallit: Yeah, my kids are as skeptical about that one as they are about Santa.

Good for you. While I respect your opinion about Santa, I do not share it. I respect even more that you show consistency with the religion subject. Again, good for you and your kids.

On the other hand, I do not believe lying to our kids about Santa will harm them for sure. As parents, we do enjoy the Santa's fantasy and my son does as well. Will I tell him the truth myself or let him discover it by himself? It all depends. Me and my wife will be the judge of that.

For my son, his teddy bear is as real as it can be. Will I tell him it's only made of tissue and stuffing? Why would I do that. When he discovers the truth, will he loose confidence in me? I don't think so. Why would this be different with Santa? Are we having fun? Yap! Is he having fun? You bet he is? It is that important? No! It is the magic of the moment that counts. As long as we do not emphasize it too much.

But I still respect your opinion!

Merry Christmas!

Pierre Boucher alias Le Citadin said...

I have been talking to a few friends including my wife about this and I was finally able to formulate the way I feel about Santa.

To me, Santa Clause is the human representation of the magic of Christmas (or the winter's holidays for non Christians).

When our kid will ask us if Santa is real, we will tell him that it is the way HE feels about it that counts.

The men in red is only a way to for kids (young and old) to get in touch with the true spirit of this festivity when we give and we receive just for the pleasure of being together.

Do I believe in Santa? No!

Do I believe in the spirit of the Christmas (as a pagan holiday)? Yes!

Am I bothered by the icon that is Santa? No!

Do I think I am lying to my son about Santa? No!

Merry Christmas or happy holidays if you prefer.

Erdos56 said...

Don't know how I missed this one, but a year back I wrote a "retraction" to the "Yes, Virginia..." piece:

Sorry, Virginia, we made a mistake...

Enjoy!

Janet Nathan said...

Hi Jeff,

I just read your holiday card to us and decided to read what you had to say about Santa. I will admit that I logged onto this site in a defensive posture, asking myself, "Why can't Jeff leave this subject alone? Doesn't he have any sense that children need illusions, rituals, especially the downtodden who need something they can count on once a year. Once I read your blog on this, I completely understood why you had chosen to write on this subject. You so eloquently expressed a critcial point and that is: the lie builds upon itself, so it's not just one tiny lie, but is repeated each year and can cause confusion within the same season when a child sees more than one Santa. I am sure there are countless awkward and uncomfortable moments between children and parents when the cat is let out of the bag, as children get older and are told the truth from the same trusting parents who perpetuated this innocent "white lie" throughout their formative years. Most importantly, you not only didn't attack people's need for fantasy, but provided great examples of our natural wonders of the world and ended with parental love.

Janet Nathan

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Hi, Janet, thanks for writing. I appreciated your comments very much.

What fascinates me about the many reactions to this piece is the large number of people who reacted almost viscerally, as if I was attacking them personally. It points to the strong power of shared rituals in a society, and how people react when you don't share those rituals, or question them.

Mel Noir said...

Wow dude, sounds like a barrel of laughs at your house(!)

Magus said...

Jeffery,

Well written. I can tell learning in your family is important. Learning about the world around you is not 'dorky', as some of your commentators have suggested. If you think learning is, you probably didn't finish grade school or go on to much else.

As a kid growing up with 'Santa' I was a bit devastated to find out he wasn't real when one of my best friends at school told me. When I told my parents they pretended like I was delusional to keep the fantasy going. I lol'd after reading the comments about parents wanting to keep the fantasy going more than the kids. I grew up to be fine with Santa and Christmas but I always thought my mom was a little delusional for wanting to play it out so long lol!

Looking back on it, I do feel that it would have been better to tell me the truth and somewhat explain the reasons. The same reasons as per LotusBlossom @ 1:38am on dec 21, "...that Santa was loved by many different cultures and many nations and that Santa represented the goodness and caring and sharing that all people should aspire to all year long."

Ann said...

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Analiese said...

My Mom never lied to me about Santa. It helped me trust her (my mother). I knew she would never lie to me no matter how accepted it was to society. My father (divorced) scolded me for thanking him for a present that was labeled from Santa. I think it is better to introduce your children to Christ his forgiveness and consequences for wrong behavior. I have seen many people trying to raise their kids Godlessly and they seem to feel completely OK with doing things as long as they are not caught.
Analiese - 14

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Analiese - all I can say is, my experience is different from yours. The headlines are full of Christians behaving badly. Do the names Allen West, Joseph Farah, Roy Moore, Franklin Graham, Bryan Fischer, Ken Ham, Todd Akin sound familiar?

All over the world many people behave kindly towards each other without Christianity, and many Christians are guilty of the worst behavior. So it is clear your proposed solution is not much of one.