Why is Santa still alive?

Christmas is a surprisingly controversial subject. You would think that a time that is about good cheer would provide more of it. But you have nostalgists on one hand and anti-capitalists on another and your hands will quickly fill with all of the different opinions of the different facets of Christmas.

I guess I need to first say that I’m Jewish. Enough so that we never came close to celebrating Christmas as a holiday. So I won’t be surprised if you discredit me as some sort of an uninitiated outsider.

I’m not a parent, either, but I don’t see how that would invalidate my opinion. I have worked with kids and have put a lot of thought into what I would or wouldn’t teach my own children someday.

This post is focused. Not anti-presents or anti-decoration or, by any stretch of the imagination, anti-Christmas.

It is anti-Santa.

Why do we perpetuate a lie? The only other circumstance I can think of (other than perhaps the Easter Bunny, which is pretty much the same thing), wherein a large portion of the public has the same lie to their kids is when children are told that the stork delivers babies. I am not someone who thinks that there are never situations where lying is handy/useful/a good option, but why in this case?

What message is sent to kids when we spend years deceiving them about the existence of someone that we know to not be real? How does this benefit them? What is gained by telling children that someone gave them presents other than the person that actually did? How would this not affect their sense of appreciation?

When we tell kids that whether they get presents or not depends on if they are good or not, then give them presents anyway, does that send the right message?

I’ve tried to understand the other side, but none of the pro arguments have seemed valid to me.

One defense is that Santa is an allegory; he represents giving. If so, treat it as just a story, not as a literal person that will be delivering presents while children sleep. Kids are certainly not seeing the allegory therein when they stay up waiting for sleigh sounds.

Another person said that she thought it was important for kids to believe in ‘magic’. This branches off into where I did not want to go, which is the religious/faith aspect. But there is a very clear distinction. If a parent truly believes that there is a Santa Claus, I would not begrudge them for teaching that to their kid. But when they know that there isn’t, what kind of a parent goes out of their way to plant an idea in their kid’s head that they know to not be true? How is this good parenting, as opposed to thoughtless nostalgia?

Parents can choose what to tell or not tell their kid in regard to issues that reduce innocence. But I have yet to see any defense that I respect in regard to blatantly lying about something that everyone of a certain age knows to not be the case. After I posted my status regarding this, a friend told me that just this year, her 8 year old sister bawled when their mother told her that there was no Santa.

I find it very difficult to stomach the arguments that a) this just isn’t a big deal or b) that there isn’t something inherently wrong with lying for no real reason.

Whatever messages that can be taught via Christmas are generally lost via its current culturally accepted incarnation.


17 Responses to Why is Santa still alive?

  1. Sabina says:

    It is a little bit amazing that the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny myth have lived on for so many decades (centuries?). Maybe it’s because when we’re kids the myth and the surrounding gifts and goodies create such happy memories for us, that we want to pass them on to our own children. I don’t feel any sense of conscious betrayal for being told these imaginery figures exist by people I was supposed to have been able to trust. But you’re right – maybe it does do some type of minute damage. I still have happy memories of the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny days, though :)

  2. Jordan says:

    Eh, it’s a harmless custom. Like fairy tales, ghost stories, and movies, kids eventually figure out it isn’t real.

    Would I propagate the Santa myth if I were raising children? Probably not.

  3. roniweiss says:

    @Sabina: I really don’t see how being told someone exists and having an emotional connection to them, then finding out they were never real cannot have an effect.

    @Jordan: I don’t see how years of lying balances out to “harmless custom”.

  4. Jordan says:

    When people ask how I’m doing, I answer “fine” even when I’m not. I’ve been lying this way for years. It isn’t a big deal, just like Santa.

    Even science teachers lie when they teach Newtonian physics. Heck, even relativistic and quantum physics are a lie in that they are not consistent with each other.

    Indulging a kid in a cultural-wide make believe custom isn’t really malicious, particularly when said custom involves getting presents.

  5. roniweiss says:

    I don’t think saying you’re fine to adults when you might not be and deliberately getting a child emotionally connected to an imaginary figure are the same thing.

    And just because it isn’t malicious, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

    At the very least, it loses a perfectly reasonable learning opportunity and creates a middleman to stand between a parent’s gift(s) to their child.

  6. Jordan says:

    Well saying your fine to an adult and telling a child about Santa Claus are both lies. You suggested that “years of lying” could not make for a harmless custom but it can.

    To me it isn’t “right” and as I said, I wouldn’t promote the Santa Claus myth to my own children. It’s a recent custom and as a Catholic, the story of the life of St. Nicholas would fit better.

    However, it really isn’t a big deal to me if other parents want to indulge. Do you also feel strongly against parents letting their kids believe they are hugging Mickey Mouse in Disneyland?

  7. roniweiss says:

    I don’t think saying ‘fine’ when someone asks how you are is “harmless custom”. That’s “social nicety”. I think it was a poor analogy. I dunno why you’re still sticking to it.

    The Mickey Mouse question is a good one and something I’ve considered. I’m not sure what to make of it. But I do think there is less active lying in that case and more indulging a child’s fantasy. But yeah, I’m not sure on that count.

    Anyone else in my camp on Santa who has a take on the cartoon figures thing?

  8. Jordan says:

    I’m actually in your camp. I think lying to children, even if it is for a “good” purpose is not good parenting. Of course I’ve also never been a parent so I hesitate to take too strong a stand on the issue.

    As for saying “harmless custom” or “social nicety”, I think the distinction is meaningless. The common element in my analogy was the fact that both are lies people tend to think are worth telling on balance.

  9. roniweiss says:

    I don’t think you need to be a parent to have a valid opinion on this. Judging from some responses I’ve gotten, it seems like a lot of parents have it sorted out before they have kids how they will deal with this.

    The differences between the two are vast. The similarities are surface. As you know, I’m more than willing to concede when I’m wrong, but this was just a poor comparison.

  10. Jordan says:

    True, it isn’t necessary to be a parent to have a valid opinion in this case. All the same, I understand that my opinion has no basis in personal experience – unlike many others.

    Well I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree regarding the significance of the differences between the two. Everyone will have a different threshold as to what type of chronic lies are acceptable.

  11. roniweiss says:

    I’ll agree with that part, but the reasoning and types of lies are not analogous, in this case.

  12. Jordan says:

    Out of curiosity, what, in your opinion, is the quality that separates lying for years about Santa and lying for years about how one is doing that makes one acceptable and the other not?

  13. Marie-Pier Leduc says:

    It’s important for kids to believe in magic, not as a faith-based philosophy, but as an outlet for imagination and creativity. Children create fantasy worlds, and parents often participate in those by providing settings, telling stories, etc. They naturally grow out of it and develop normally, perhaps with a more open-mind about unusual ideas. I don’t think it hurts the trust relationship with the parents. It is an elaborate game, a pageant that’s being played out widely across the world. Lying is too strong a word for it, I think.

  14. Jeremy says:

    Short: It’s fun. Chill.

    Long: If you take away the anti-presents, anti-decoration, anti-Christmas and anti-capitalism arguments, I think you’re arguing against a tradition (or myth or legend or whatever you want to call it) that is silly at worst and fun at best. It’s quite literally a harmless lie because there isn’t (or at least I’ve never heard of) much harm done by Santa Claus. Or are there a bunch of traumatized adults in counseling for Santa withdrawal out there that I don’t know about? My impression is that people mostly have fond memories of Santa (I know I do), and by the time you’re old enough to really appreciate a gift (say, mid elementary school), Santa has been discarded (or is just a fun joke with your parents) and you know who the gifts are really coming from and can appreciate them (or not) accordingly.

  15. roniweiss says:

    @Jordan: One is generally to adults, the other to children. Any other reasons are much lower on the list.

    @Marie-Pier: I think there are other ways to foster this in kids. I don’t think telling a kid that something exists when it doesn’t is a way to foster imagination. Creating stories together would be. And as said before, if there is something to explicit to be learned, it’s undermined by the whole Santa myth.

    @Jeremy: Short: It’s not fun to the many stories I’ve heard of kids crying when they find out the truth.

    Also short: I don’t buy that being lied to about something for years has absolutely no effect on a human psyche.

  16. Roni's Mom says:

    Perhaps this Santa concept is a Darwinian test -> Survival of the mentally fittest.

    The kids who suspect this is nonsense and laugh it off when proof of the truth is presented are the stronger. The ones who don’t see any of the obvious clues to the truth, and take it way to seriously, or fall apart when they learn the truth, and worse, were basically shown to their faces that they did not have the intellectual capacity to surmise the truth, well, those kids are weak mentally, and will need therapy ever-after….

  17. roniweiss says:

    Neil seemed to like mocking the kids that didn’t know.

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