Should You Hide the Truth About Santa Claus? August 14, 2009

Should You Hide the Truth About Santa Claus?

A reader (K) recently had a conversation in which Santa Claus came up. K said that Santa Claus wasn’t real.

It wasn’t a big deal or anything at the time, but she worries about what would’ve happened if other parents were around, heard it, and complained. What if their children were present?

K writes:

My husband and I are not yet parents, but we have discussed many points of parenting, the first point being that we will not lie to our children. To us, upholding the fairy tale that Santa Claus exists would be the same as supporting the Jesus myth.

We’ve talked about how to handle the Santa situation here before,

But what do you say if other peoples’ children ask you about Santa Claus? Jesus?

Do you tell them your personal views (in a diplomatic way)? Do you tell them to ask their own parents?

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  • Ubi Dubium

    I’ve cautioned my kids not to spoil the fun of Santa for other kids. (I don’t care if they spill the beans about Jeebus.) But when a kid asks me about Santa, I usually turn it around with “What do you think?” I’d rather they be thinking about the answer for themselves than get the answer from me.

  • Andrew Morgan

    Woah, woah, wait a second. If you believe Jesus was a historical figure, Jesus and Santa literally have nothing in common. And if you don’t, then all that Jesus and Santa have in common is that they are both fictional. That’s it.

    The key difference is that people don’t worship Santa and live their lives based on his supposed teachings.

    Even as atheists, I think we can tell our children the story of Santa Claus (I plan to) because it’s a fun and harmless part of childhood everyone grows out of. Christianity — not so much.

    I extend this to other children. I have no problem telling other children that Santa exists (unless, of course, their parents object). I would never tell a child, mine or anyone else’s, to worship Jesus.

    Don’t slander Santa by lumping him with Jesus!

  • anthuswilliams

    There is a big difference between Santa Claus and Jesus, in that no one worships Santa Claus.

    I think it’s a good idea to tell kids about Santa Claus. They can learn a little bit about skepticism, and maybe even realize that not everything an adult tells them is The Truth.

  • My daughters know of the SC story, but the also know it’s for “entertainment only”.

  • Robby Friedman

    Yeah, leave Santa alone!

    I’m an atheist who was raised Jewish but my parent’s celebrated Christmas and told me about Santa just for the fun it can bring. I have nothing but wonderful memories about Christmas and Santa. I plan to do the same with my future child.

  • The legend of Santa actually started my road to skepticism. When I was seven or so I began trying to prove the existence of Santa, albeit by childish means.

    The only one I remember is leaving a note that Santa had to sign to prove he was real.

    There is such thing as harmless fantasy, too. If you’re not supposed to believe in Santa, should we keep our children from all forms of fiction or fantasy. No Wind in the Willows? No Harry Potter? No Star Wars? No searching for dragons in the backyard? no pretending that a dirtpile is Mount Everest? No putting a towel over your back and leaping tall buildings in a single bound?

    Let your (potential)kids dictate how you proceed. Don’t push a belief in Santa on them (especially if they show a skeptic streak), but let them if they do, they’ll come around and still have fun in the process.

  • Clippo

    My position has always been that it is not good to lie to children. If a kid is old enough to ask, she is old enough to hear the truth. You can frame it anyway you want, but don’t lie. And guess what, the kid can handle it. It always amazes me the way very young children can deal with some “big” concepts like death and sex and no Santa Claus.

  • I’ve cautioned my kids not to spoil the fun of Santa for other kids. (I don’t care if they spill the beans about Jeebus.) But when a kid asks me about Santa, I usually turn it around with “What do you think?” I’d rather they be thinking about the answer for themselves than get the answer from me.

    I was going to say the same thing. It’s fun for children, and is a good stepping stone into the real world and learning the difference between fiction and fantasy. Every child eventually figures it out, but if they ask if he is real on their own accord, of course I would tell them the truth.

  • mike

    I’d have to tell my kids the truth. Santa Clause is a robot that lives on Neptune and tries to kill all the people on his naughty list. I can only imagine the calls I’ll get from other kids parents after I show that episode of futurama to my future kids. Realistically, I think the best thing to do is be honest, but you can do it like Ubi Dubium suggests. Ask the kid what they think.

    As for Jesus, I’d tell them the truth. I’d tell them I think he was a historical figure, just like George Washington and King Tut. I wouldn’t tell them “he’s not god” or anything like that. Just a passive statement that he’s just another historical man.

  • John L

    I think it’s important for parents to play up Santa like he’s just for pretend. Kids understand pretend. They can drink imaginary tea and still know its not real. When I have children I plan to promote Santa in the same manner by pretending with them and playing into the fantasy, but to never state his existence as fact. Though perhaps learning that your parents weren’t telling the truth about Santa is the first steps to becoming a skeptic.

  • It’s best not to lie to children on SC.

  • Rob T.

    I think Dale McGowan nails it on the Santa thing…

    Santa Claus — The Ultimate Dry Run

    Santa Claus, my secular friends, is the greatest gift a rational worldview ever had. Our culture has constructed a silly and temporary myth parallel to its silly and permanent one. They share a striking number of characteristics, yet the one is cast aside halfway through childhood.
    This culturally pervasive myth is meant to be figured out, designed with an expiration date, after which consumption is universally frowned upon.

    Read the entire article. He makes a great case for using Santa as a way to help kids think critically about the world — even if it’s something that their parents told them.

  • Santa is a vehicle used to suggest magic is real. Magic isn’t real.

    It should be avoided.

  • Rob T.

    Oh, one other point. “Kate” said:

    we will not lie to our children

    My first thought, honestly, was a smug, superior smirk thinking “Yes you will, you just don’t know it yet.” But I had the same thought before my kids were born, and it’s an admirable goal. But truthfully, the reality is not only that it’s not practical to always be honest, but it might actually be harmful… More Dale…

    Pants-on-fire parenting

    Many nonreligious parents, in the admirable name of high integrity, set themselves up as infallible authorities. And since (like it or not) we are the first and most potent authority figures in our kids’ lives, turning ourselves into benevolent oracles of truth can teach our kids to passively receive the pronouncements of authority. I would rather, in a low-key and fun fashion, encourage them to constantly take whatever I say and run it through the baloney meter. To that end, I sprinkle our conversations with fruitful errors, bursting with their own corrections.

    When my youngest asked, “How far away is the Sun?”, I said, “Twenty feet,” precisely so she would look at me and say, “Dad, you dork!!” When my kids ask what’s for dinner, I say “Monkey lungs, go wash up.” When the fifth grader doing her homework asks what seven times seven is, I say 47, because she should (a) know that on her own by now, and, equally important (b) know the wrong answer when she hears it.

    Yes, I make sure they end up with the right answer when it matters, and no, I don’t do this all the time. They’d kill me. But pulling our kids’ legs once in a while is more than just fun and games. For one thing, if every word from my mouth was a reliable pearl of factuality, they would get the unhelpful message that Authority Always Tells the Truth.

    Now don’t instantly whip over to the cartoon extreme of Dad lying about whether a car is coming as we cross the street ( “All clear!! Heh heh heh.”) I’m talking about fibs of the harmless-but-useful variety — and yes, I firmly include Santa in that.

    Knowing that Dad sometimes talks nonsense can prepare them to expect and challenge the occasional bit of nonsense, intentional or otherwise, from peers, ministers, and presidents. The result in our household is this: When I answer a question, my kids don’t swallow it without a thought. They take a moment to think about whether the answer makes sense. By seeing to it that their childhood includes nonsense, I’m building their immune systems for a lifetime swimming in the stuff.

    Uhh… Sorry Dale — I think I just quoted fully half of that article… It’s just so damned good!

    So, I’d lie to them about Santa so they can find their way out of it.

  • I think you need to balance honesty with letting parents raise their kids how they want to raise them. I like the approach of saying, “What do you think?” Children should learn to think for themselves.

  • J. Allen

    I would ask questions like ‘what do you think? and why do you think that?’ in hopes to spur critical thinking.

    If I personally had kids I probably wouldn’t do the Santa myth. I remember feeling really betrayed when I discovered the hidden presents a week before xmas.

  • I would tell other kids that their parents are lying to them, and that everything they say or have said is suspect.

    I never understood why people lie to their children about Santa Claus. You know that at some point you’ll have to tell them the truth and absolutely crush them.

    I haven’t trusted a single thing my parents have said since I found out that Santa Claus was just a lie they told me.

  • Nick Wallin

    I’m not sure if I heard it here or what, but I read an article saying that you should occasionally lie to your children, because if you always tell the truth, they’ll think that 1) adults always tell the truth, and 2) there could exist a father-like God who has ultimate truth.

    If you give them the occasional Santa Claus, 2+2=5, and “My name is robot, silly”, they’ll learn to critically think about things you, other adults, and other children say, and decide for themselves whether the advice/statement is worth believing.

    Or at least, that’s the hope 🙂

  • Brian C Posey

    I can’t believe you morons are denying Santa. Damned aclausists.

  • Nick Wallin

    Also, did people really feel betrayed when they found out about SC? I thought I was pretty smart when I discovered the handwriting on the tags was the same for gifts “From Santa” and “From Dad”. My dad even tried to keep the myth going for a while, at least playfully.

    I also think that it’s a sort of buffer for gratitude. My dad often gave us nice gifts, and saying “go see what Santa brought you” involves a lot less pressure than “go see what I got you”. You know? There’s less pressure to act like you like a gift, or show a certain amount of gratitude. Later, years after I had “figured it out”, saying “Santa” was really an inside joke between me and my father.

    And also, for a young freethinker, the parallel between Santa Claus and God is strong. I personally wouldn’t invoke Santa Claus in a serious debate, but for a child, figuring out Santa Claus is a lie from their parents is essentially a “proof” that God may not exist, either.

  • I think you should just tell the kid to ask his/her own parents. Never get into it between another kid and his/her parents. I have to keep that in mind with my nieces and nephews (some of whom have extremely religious parents).

  • mdcurler

    My seven year old daughter has figured out that Santa Claus is really mom and dad. And as long as she believes in us, she will believe in SC. We need some fun at christmas, I know it is hokey.

    Interestingly, we are letter her decide for herself upon religion. She knows I do not believe, my wife is a non-practicing christian, and I believe she is mostly keeping up the facade for the relatives.

    What is funny, is the way my daughter looks at me when grandma says a prayer or grace. The look is like “are you for real lady?” In a couple more years we will have that conversation.

    As for SC, let the belief continue, it is not like there is a way of life attached to it. Ok maybe a “be good or no presents” as that will ever happen. Just like don’t sin and no heaven, again, won’t happen.

    mdcurler (math teacher)

  • Erp

    Reading over, what are the different customs that families have with Santa and Christmas (those of you who celebrate or celebrated)?

    In my family when I was growing up, the stockings were from Santa (but no tag from Santa was attached). The presents under the tree were from real people. Stocking opened on Christmas morning plus, after the parents were up, one present under the tree. Rest of the presents opened after Christmas dinner in the evening. I can’t recall when I ceased to believe in Santa though I have no real firm memory of believing in him 100%.

    For the tooth fairy it was tooth under the pillow without telling the parents.

  • Richard P

    I read an article saying that you should occasionally lie to your children, because if you always tell the truth

    I would have say that if you just hold up the examples of others you will have enough evidence to show your child about lies and mythtruths with out going into lying yourself.

    That being said, There are times it does save a lot of hassle, avoiding the truth.
    I had a very unconventional parenting method.
    I came to believe my true Job as a parent was to prepare them to parent themselves. I challenged my kids with stupid stuff all the time to create in them the security to think and speak out when something is wrong.
    One day when they were all bored, I tried to get a group together to have street crossing races. It was my kids that brought up the stupidity of this and why we shouldn’t do it. It was a great learning lesson and it helped the kids to learn a great deal. It was also a good lesson for the other kids about how to confront authority figures when things were wrong. Some of the other parents weren’t to happy but, wow what a great time I had trying to convince them it was a good idea. I have to say I was very proud of how the kids banded together to stop the sheep that were willing to follow me and look for other means to entertain themselves. One that didn’t involve moving cars. We decided on a trip to the pool instead.

    My approach to Santa was in a similar vein, we treated it as a story, Like the ones we read at bed time. we talked about him, they received presents from him, at times I would tell him Santa won’t bring him presents, but it was always part of the Santa story, so it never became an issue of truth or not.

  • I think Kate should be commended for discussing these kinds of things with her partner ahead of time, because how you should handle something is often an “on the spot” thing. You don’t get to freeze time and pow-wow with the hubby real quick.

    Having said that, IMHO, the only people who say I’ll never lie to my children are the same ones who start the sentence with “My husband and I are not yet parents…”

    There are a million reasons why you will lie to your kids, or to put it another way, why you won’t tell your children the truth.

    For example:

    [insert question about a relative’s behavior]

    Truth: “Well my darling 7 year old, your Uncle Bill is a raging alcoholic”

    … and then there will be the answer you actually give her, which will be a lie or at best not the full truth.

    Think of Santa as “not the full truth”

  • I don’t know why I never felt ‘hurt’ or ‘betrayed’ or whatever when I found out with all certainty that Santa didn’t exist, but I’m glad I believed in Santa for a while and I certainly would never tell someone else’s kid that Santa isn’t real just like I don’t tell my own kid whether he’s real or not. I just don’t comment on it – I want him to figure it out for himself. I enjoy how excited my son gets at the times he thinks Santa is real just as much as I enjoy the times he’s being skeptical and questioning the Santa myth. I think it’s good for him to really consider the idea.

  • Ron in Houston

    I agree with arkonbey. Santa helped me become an atheist.

  • … or you could do what Richard P just said

  • Indigo

    I’m not a parent, but I’m exposed to short people on a semi-regular basis. I think I would probably go with some combination of “what do you think and why” and “go ask your parents”. Admittedly, this is specifically regarding Santa Claus – they’re going to find out the truth eventually no matter what I say, so I don’t mind not telling them. If a kid asks me something like, “Can you really get pregnant from kissing?” I might be more inclined to say, “What? No. Mommy and Daddy told you a big fat lie.”

  • I’m sure this makes me a hypocrite but I think Santa is one of those harmless things that makes childhood worthwhile. My husband and I have decided to do the Santa thing and encourage dialogue with our kid(s).

    My favourite part of Christmas as a child was leaving out mincemeat tarts and a glass of sherry for Santa and seeing a plate with crumbs on it and a half empty (half full?) sherry glass next to it on Christmas morning. (Of course my grandfather dressed as Santa drunk as a lord, falling “out of” the chimney and laughing his head off was also worthy).

    I think kids need a little bit of fun and magic in their lives and at least Santa doesn’t promote hatred and intolerance.

  • Nick Wallin

    Reading over, what are the different customs that families have with Santa and Christmas (those of you who celebrate or celebrated)?

    When younger, cookies left at night. Open presents next morning. Stockings initially from santa, then later from parents. Always some presents from “Santa”. Never ever a single Crucifix, manger scene, prayer, or mention of this “Jesus” fellow. Decorations were snowmen, santas, reindeer, snowflakes, etc. Nice dinner.

    My parents divorced when I was pretty young, so a good chunk of my Christmases were spent driving from house to house, and opening gifts. Not really much time to go into meanings and all that garbage lol.

    When I was in High School, I told some of my friends that “my family celebrates the day when Santa Claus brings everybody presents”. I don’t really recall how they took it 🙂

  • BruceH

    I am not a parent, so you might take my comment with a trailer-full of salt.

    There is a school of thought that says we should lie to our kids about some harmless things such as Santa Claus. The idea is to demonstrate to them that they should apply skepticism to the claims people make: that not everyone will tell them the truth. I think this makes sense.

  • J B Tait

    @Nick Wallin : Yes I felt betrayed. After I was pretty sure I had evidence that Santa wasn’t what we were being told, and they kept assuring me he was, and that he knew when I was bad, I felt like they were getting some perverse pleasure out of fooling the little kid. So then I was left trying to figure out if the evidence I had was right and my parents were liars, or my parents were right, and I was crazy.
    I never lied to my kids but we did enjoy the Santa concept. In our house Santa was the spirit of giving anonymously. When they were tiny, “spirit” meant ghost, sprite, elf, resurrected Jesus, dead relative, and the like so they could believe in a real white bearded old man who got pleasure from having kiddies sit on his lap and stealthed into millions of houses all in one evening, and as they came to see the impossibility of the myths, they could enjoy the fun and the anonymous giving the way costumes and extortion (trick or treat) on Halloween are a game and not Devil worship.

  • öddäer

    I never believed in Santa, that I remember. My sister says we sort of worked it out together when I was only about 3, and after that there was no pretence. We still had Christmas, and I did enjoy it when I was young.

    I don’t feel hard done by, and don’t understand what I could possibly have gained by believing in such a daft story.

  • öddäer

    I do remember being taken aback by a child at primary school – about 7 years old, who believed in Santa. I shame-facedly admit that I not only corrected him, but made him feel pretty stupid for it. The only saving grace was that I was not sure if he was really being serious: – could anyone be that stupid? – was what I thought: and said.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Your answers to 10 tricky children’s questions
    Only #7 involves God, and Santa Claus didn’t make the list.

  • Clair

    I, too, could only tell the truth about Santa. If only we could live up to the Dr Zoidberg standard.

  • Kaylya

    It would seem easiest to go along with it. As with many others here, it really was around the time I sorted out that Santa and the Tooth Fairy & co weren’t real that I started doubting Jesus and God too (I don’t really remember believing in any of them, but I know I did). And I do think it’s good for kids to sort out that it’s not real through means other than being directly told by an adult or older child. If a kid does come up and say “Bobby told me Santa isn’t real, that’s not true is it?”, the “What do you think?” response is a good one.

    I know when I sorted it out the conversation wound up talking about the “spirit of Santa”.. the idea of giving and such. My mom still labels some of the gifts under the tree as being from Santa 😛

  • flatlander100

    You know, sometimes my fellow skeptics seem like stuffy pc-driven nit-picking pains in the patoot, every bit as “holier than thou” in their way as a fundie Christian. Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster,people, there is nothing wrong with small children believing Santa is coming on Christmas night to bring them presents. It’s fun. It harms no one. They’ll grow out of it at around seven or so, and the growing out of it itself teaches [without preaching] a lesson about questioning and not accepting all by itself, and at an age when they’ll be able to understand what the lesson is. [They won’t at three or four or five.]

    So, take a pill. Chill out. And if the neighbor’s five year old says he’s excited about Santa coming to his house, smile and say you hope he comes to yours too.

  • KeithLM

    I guess it’s a matter of how much you despise the kids asking you. If you hate them, tell them you know Santa and he doesn’t like them and won’t be bringing them any more presents. If you only mildly dislike them, tell them there is no Santa and enjoy watching them break down in tears. If you like them, go along with the fun and enjoy it, children see the world differently than adults and sometimes that’s a joy to share in.

    Seriously, some of you are jerks. It’s Santa, it’s harmless. They’ll figure it out in time. If you actually felt betrayed when you found out about Santa there’s something else seriously wrong about your childhood. It’s the imaginary stuff that some people take seriously that you need to concern yourselves with.

  • My husband and I were all about the “we won’t ever lie to our kids about anything EVER!” business before we had kids. It’s admirable, yes. But not practical, and not realistic, and it doesn’t do your kids any favors. I’m with Dale McGowan on this. My four-year-old twins love Santa Claus and his ilk. But they’ve already asked whether the Easter Bunny is real (yeah, we do that one, too), and I said, “What do you think?” They’ll figure it out soon enough, and I see no reason to deny them that magic and wonder while they’re little. Come on, it’s fun!

  • Sackbut

    I told my children that some people like to pretend about SC, and that it’s not nice to tell people that their pretending isn’t real. It’s much simpler given that we didn’t celebrate Christmas in the first place.

    I also have said I wouldn’t lie to my kids. I think I’ve kept to that pretty well, and my youngest is entering his final year of high school. I also think I’ve encouraged them to think for themselves, and not to take something I say as factually true just because I say it (or because anyone else said it). However, they should expect me to believe that what I say is true; a lie, after all, is not a false statement, but a statement that the speaker believes to be false.

  • My 6-year-old still believes in Santa, though I don’t know how real the idea is to him. He can quote all sorts of details about the story, but he also seems to get that we’re the ones buying and wrapping the presents. Plus he’s also seen parodies like the Futurama version of Santa (yes, we are those parents). Mostly I think he likes the idea, but is moving away from it as literal truth.

    I don’t think I could have avoided the Santa myth since my in-laws have loved perpetuating it. I could, however, just about throttle them and his great-grandmother for talking him back into believing in the Easter Bunny after he announced there wasn’t one. I’ll be talking to them about that before the next one rolls around.

  • Santa is fun and it does show kids that grown ups don’t always tell the truth. If I had a kid I’d go the “What do you think?” route and fess up if they said he doesn’t exist. There’s a good lesson in it.

    As for other people’s kids. I use either “what do you think?” or say to ask their parents. It’s not my job to decide when someone else’s kid needs to know Santa doesn’t exist. Besides I don’t like making little kids cry.

  • Sandra

    I am another parent who doesn’t want to lie to my son. When there is a subject that I feel is too mature for him (he’s 8yo) I give him a very simplistic answer…or tell him that I’m not ready to answer that so he will need to ask again later. There are times he asks again as soon as we are alone, and I give him the simplest (not to mention boring) answer.

    As far as the whole Santa thing, I refused to lie to him…even though I was being pressured by family to do so. What I did instead was to let them (the family who wanted to perpetuate this) lie to him, all I did to allow him his fun was to not put name tags on presents…this has it’s advantages imagine the look on grandpa’s face when he opens your love’s bottle of warming massage oil. 😛
    When my son figured out the truth about Santa he started to get angry at me, because I am working to impress on him the value of being honest with me. This was the best soulution for us, because I could honestly remind him that I never told him Santa was real…I would only ask what he thought about it. He has chosen to let his grandparents continue to think he believes… so as not to “spoil their fun”, but also for the extra gifts. 😉

    When it comes to other people and their kids, then my son knows that he is not to spoil things for them…but when they ask if he believes he does as I did and turn the tables to what they believe. When someone is persistent about if he believes or not he will tell them that he thinks Santa is just as real as Jesus. Smart kiddo (imho).

  • I generally go with a diplomatic answer that is probably consistent with what they’ve already seen, like “different people think different things”, and see how the conversation develops.

    If I can move the conversation to what people can think and how they come to decide what they think, and then ask the child what they think, that usually seems to be satisfactory to them without puncturing their own beliefs just yet… and at the same time, possibly plants a seed of thinking more deeply about the process of how beliefs come about.

  • Laina

    This story kind of parallels the Santa debate:

    I was at my mother-in-law’s house a few weeks ago – she was babysitting for my sister-in-law’s three kids. They were talking about superheroes, and somehow my MIL told the 7-year-old that superheroes aren’t real. She didn’t think it was a big deal – why would he believe that they are real in the first place? She told him that there are real heroes in the world, but not superheroes. But when his mother found out she was shocked and did all she could to rebuild the fantasy that Batman and Superman are real and are out there helping people. The boy was confused and upset.

    I was shocked to witness this – why would anyone want to teach their kid that superheroes are real?

    Though it was her grandchild, she had no idea that she was “ruining” this belief that he had. The whole incident reinforced my decision not to perpetuate the Santa myth with my own kids, when I have them. Let them believe it’s a fun story, just like a superhero.

  • Meg McG

    Dale McGowan, ‘nough said.

  • Dan W

    I’d ask the kid what they think. Unlike believe in an invisible sky-daddy, belief in Santa is pretty harmless, and kids usually grow out of it.

  • santa

    My online moniker of Santa is old and not done for this discussion…but the way I see it, Both Santa and the Tooth Fairy brought me presents when I was young. It’s possible it was only my parents pretending….but all I can tell you is that Jesus never answered any prayers and both Santa and the Tooth Fairy came through regularly. 😉

  • grneyedmonster

    I let my older kids believe in Santa for a while after their grandparents introduced the idea and gifted in Santa’s name. I made it clear that the gifts they got in our house were from their parents. The 2nd oldest figured it out first and I told him to keep it to himself until his sister asked about it. Once they started questioning Santa’s existence,I told them it’s just for fun and that they were smart to figure it out.

    My hubby and I decided not to bring up Santa at all with the younger two, but they still hear about Santa in school. We just tell them Santa’s not real – mommy and daddy buy all of the presents – but that it’s fun to pretend sometimes. We also tell them that they shouldn’t spoil the other kids’ fun by telling them Santa doesn’t exist.

    We explain that Christmas is a day when families get together, a tradition, and that we give each other gifts for fun and to show our love. Religion never enters into it. The old folks on both sides of the family have been warned not to spew religious horseshit at my kids on pain of not seeing them again until the youngest one is in his teens and able to understand abstract concepts.

    I don’t think I would ever give my views to someone else’s kids, unless they’re teenagers. If they’re younger, I would just tell them that some people don’t believe in Santa/Jesus and some people do, and they should talk to their parents about it. I’d be pretty pissed if someone tried to indoctrinate my kids into their religion, so I wouldn’t step on the other parents’ toes, although I think it’s despicable to brainwash little kids into a religion before they have the capacity for independent, rational thought. You just have to hope that subtly letting them know that other views exist will open their eyes a bit.

  • stephanie

    But if we don’t lie to our children then they’ll just go out and find someone on the street who will… ;P

    It’s probably for the best I have no kids.

  • My suggestion is to tell them to ask their parents.

  • K

    K (aka Kate, in Hemant’s post — briefly) here.

    Here’s the context of the situation:
    Hubby and I were at a 4th of July picnic. We were chatting with another atheist couple when I too loudly made the analogy that something that had been mentioned was, “…like believing santa were real.” Thankfully, none of the nearby parents with kids in tow confronted me with scowling faces and crying children. But I wondered, what would I have said if they had? What would other atheists do?
    So I wrote Hemant asking what his readers thought. And you all had many answers regarding variations of the question.
    My father-in-law is an atheist (and single parent) who raised my husband and brothers-in-law without religion. He also made a point not to lie to his boys about santa, jesus, or the tooth fairy.
    My parents, on the other hand, are christians who actively lied to me about santa, jesus, and the tooth fairy. My parents didn’t encourage free thought. I was 5 when my dad broke the news about santa and I did feel betrayed. I do wish he would have held back and allowed me to figure it out on my own like I did with the easter bunny, jesus, zeus, etc.
    @Kelly, et al: As stated, we aren’t parents yet, but we do discuss it often because we hope to be parents in the next few years. We won’t hide the truth from our kids because it’s not in our nature, but we can’t be positive of that until the situation arises. Yet I can’t imagine myself or my mister saying to our offspring, “look what santa brought you!” Even if my parents want to perpetuate the myth, their “santa” gifts will be presented with the knowledge that they are really from Oma and Opa not SC.
    As for kids who ask about the existence of SC or any other mythical being, I can imagine my response will be along the lines of, “what do you think?”


  • Ty

    I have a one year old and I intend to do the whole Santa thing with him. It’s just a bit of fun for children and I think it will help develop my son’s critical/logical thinking as he grows.

    It would be another story if Santa was a religious figure that demanded worship and obedience. But he’s not. He’s just a jolly fat man that rides around with an evil goblin.

  • Dawn

    I loved the Santa myth growing up so I do it with my kids. I leave out the part about being good or santa won’t come, that’s just cruel.

    Once my kids start doubting I won’t lie or insist that santa is real. I personally believe that is where parents go wrong. To insist vehemently that something is real when you know it isn’t would naturally cause someone to be angry once they find out the truth.

    I’d say the same thing to any kid that asks that question whether it was mine or not: “What do you think?” No matter their answer I’d probably respond with “Hmmm, that’s interesting” or something non-committal.

  • zazazoom

    My parents told me there was no Santa and I’m really glad they did their best to not willfully lie to me. I still had a very vivid imagination and would play pretend a lot, and they also managed to teach me skepticism without lying to me. And really, how can you tell your children that they shouldn’t lie when you blatantly tell them a BS story and basically make fools of them. My parents told me not to tell the other kids at school because it would upset them. If kids were to ask me now I would also just ask them if they thought he existed, which is the same thing I would say if they asked me about god.

  • I think both my sons learned about Santa’s inexistence at school. I also think that by seing so many ‘different and fake looking’ Santas on TV commercials contributed to their skepticism.

    Anyway, we never really pushed the idea on them, specially not the moral “If you’re not good…” side so many use Santa for. So it was a rather natural process for them to get rid of the idea.

    As most people have commented: they eventually get over that concept by themselves, specially if no other myth is maintained in the family.

  • cat

    I think there is a huge difference between allowing your children to play with fantasy (transformers, ninja turtles, hobbits, etc) and actively decieving them so that they live in a fantasy.

    Rob T, I think the point of those tiny lies is that they are clearly a game, and the child knows that. If that guy actively spent years trying to convince his kids (along with aid from friends, relatives, and social pressure) that the sun was literally twenty feet away, I think you’d agree that’s pretty messed up. I do play those silly lie games with my neice (two but very bright). If I point to a tiger in a book and say ‘there’s a goat’, she laughs and corrects me and then teases me back by saying the swan is a cat. However, if she didn’t know what a tiger or a goat was, I would not have done it. I want her to grow up knowing that jokes are fun and that people sometimes say things that aren’t true, I don’t want her to grow up believing that tigers are goats. The point of the Santa case is that kids who are actively decieved aren’t in on the joke. There’s nothing wrong with a kid that knows Santa and Blues Clues has about the same level of reality but enjoys the game, but I don’t think that’s how most people approach the Santa Clause myth.

    That said, I do think the best way to approach the issue with other people’s kids is to either ask the kid what they think or tell them to ask their parents.

  • Rob T.

    Cat, I definitely see what your saying, but what about the people who actively spend years trying to convince their kids (along with aid from friends, relatives, and social pressure) that the Jesus myth is true?

    That’s the point of the first excerpt I stole from Dale. Sure, most kids will find their own way out of the “sun is 20 feet away” situation, and the game you’re playing with your niece is spot-on appropriate, but when well-intentioned believers start in, kids need to know that even when an authority figure is deadly serious about something (be it God, 9/11 truth, antivaccine, whatever), they need to think critically about it.

  • I taught my daughter about traditional Santa, then taught her about spiritual Santa through a little story written just for her. No harm done, and she loves being a part of something much bigger than before.
    The story is now being published, check it out. Tell me what you think.

  • kimberly

    as a christian, don’t anyone freak out, yeah i’m a christian and proud of it, i have been called narrow minded and a dreamer because i chose everlasting life, i feel there is nothing wrong with letting your children believe in santa or jesus. santa is a fictional man who takes toys to children all over the world, nothing wrong with letting your kids believe that in this dismal world good still exsists. i won’t get into a discussion about the true meaning of christmas unless anyone would like to hear it.

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