Too Soon To Learn About Santa Claus? August 3, 2010

Too Soon To Learn About Santa Claus?

Two days in a row dealing with one-year-old babies. Hmm….

Reader Jay and his friend are both atheists. The friend’s daughter is turning 1 and he plans to eventually teach his daughter to be skeptical of the world around her and to “not have religion blinders on” as she grows up.

Sounds like a plan, right? Jay approves and he has decided to give her a head start:

Too soon? 🙂

It raises a good question, though: Are you taking away a child’s joy if you tell them the truth about Santa Claus at an early age?

No doubt kids will eventually either figure it out for themselves or find out the truth from a friend, but that’s assuming they’d heard and believed the myth at some point.

For what it’s worth, variants of this question have been asked here a couple different times in the past.

(Thanks to Jay for the image!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Robin

    Although, given the age of the child, this is really a joke directed at the parents.

  • weas

    No. Not at all.

    I was never raised to believe in santa and I never felt like I was missing anything. It was all about the good food, family and PRESENTS as a kid.

    None of my siblings ever mentioned like they were missing out, although I recall my little sister was confused for a bit.

    I always just thought other people were weird – like the jewish kid who didn’t even celebrate christmas at all.

  • Tim

    I raised both of my sons to understand that Santa Claus is a myth. Of course, that was also back when I taught them about God’s existence and salvation from eternal torment (this has since been corrected). Regardless, despite the knowledge, they enjoyed Santa sightings and shows during the holiday season just as much as any child. They also fully appreciate other characters like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Simpsons, etc.

  • Karen

    Santa is fun. I never told them that he did or didn’t exist, they naturally gravitated to the fantasy because it is everywhere at Christmas and children have great imaginations. When they started to question it, they asked me if he was real and I always responded, What do you think?

    Eventually as their minds developed they let the fantasy go, but those were such fun years with the children. I think Santa existed a bit longer than he normally would have because he was such a good playmate to rediscover as the sun became scarce.

    Thinking on this… They had invisible friends, too, that I would never have dreamed of telling them they weren’t real.

  • I doubt that a one-year old can read XD

    It’s a pretty silly card, to be honest. I hope that Jay does teach his niece to be skeptical, but not destroy her imagination. I grew up with stories of Santa and dragons and space aliens, and it grew me into who I am today (I’m working on finishing my first novel.) Teach her to question everything, don’t give her the answers, but let her figure them out for herself.

    The joy of skepticism isn’t in knowing you’re right, it’s figuring out you’re right.

  • Adam

    I was never raised to believe in Santa and both my parents were christian. All my presents were from “mom and dad”. I did get presents from “santa” from my grandparents though. My mom always told me she didn’t want to lie to me, which looking back is amusing since we went to church 3x a week. I’m pretty sure I was the kid telling the others in grade school that santa wasn’t real.

  • Thundergod

    I plan to use Santa to point out how we believe things that are not true and it’s an important part of growing up to discard those beleifs when they become obviously false. I found that it made my understanding of how religion works much richer. We have a falsehood that is told to us by everyone around us, they all act like it is real but it just doesn’t make sense to us. Then at some point we just reject it as false and move on with life. I think my kids will benefit from that life lesson as they are faced with all the religions they will be exposed to.

  • I have some friends who are big into telling their kids the truth about Santa Claus.

    But they aren’t skeptics like Jay – no, no, they’re fundamentalist Christians. Wow, full circle.

  • llewelly

    As long as nobody tells her Cookie Monster is just a person in a suit …

  • Claudia

    I was never told Santa (or the 3 wise men, who are the ones who bring gifts in Spain) were real. I knew it was fake, just like the tooth fairy. What I remember is that my father and I would have a game where I would pretend it was Santa and then proceed to try to catch him in the act of getting the gifts to the tree, while he would try (with mixed results) to hide them in the house and then get them to the tree without my finding them first. I defy anyone to say that since the Santa Claus figure was never real to me then I didn’t experience joy at Christmas. I loved it.
    If I have children I’ll be going the Solstice route, but I think that as long as there is family, gifts and cakes there’s really not much you can do to ruin the holidays for a child.

  • Trace

    I am with Karen. It was fun while it lasted.

  • Karen

    My mom would always sign the tags on a few gifts from Santa, but I don’t remember a time when I actually believed in him. It was clearly Mom’s writing. I still was crazy in love with Christmas and the cookies, gifts, family time, etc. I remember at age seven writing a letter to Santa just to see if it was any fun (since other kids were doing it) and being really annoyed at the babysitter who thought I believed in him. I tried to convince her that I didn’t, but it was clear to me that a) she knew perfectly well there was no Santa, and b) there was no way she was going to admit it.

    With my first son, I never bothered to talk about Santa. I just didn’t see much point, since I’d never believed. But he eventually came home from preschool aware of him, and came home from public school having emailed Santa his requests! Fortunately he brought home copies of the emails, because Santa had rarely bought the right things. So I started to play along, signing a few tags from Santa. Now that my younger son is 11, I have to assume that they have both figured it out. But they’ve never actually asked me or informed me that they figured it out, so who knows?

    I like Dale McGowan’s take on it, that it is a lesson in being skeptical. A year or two ago, my Christian neighbor told me that her son found out the truth about Santa from a friend. He was devastated, and was sobbing when he asked her if it was true that Santa wasn’t real. She told him the truth. She said he then sobbed “what about the tooth fairy?” and she told him the truth about that, too. Then she said he asked “Well what about God?” and she said “Oh, honey, no, God is real.” But at least he’s thinking about it…

  • This needs to be submitted to passive aggressive notes. Oh my! (Although obviously it’s not actually passive-aggressive… but whatever 🙂

  • muggle

    Santa is the best lesson in free thought ever. Use the tools we have. And Santa is the best one we have for skeptical thinking. The best. Every kid figures it out by age 8, give or take. (Some play at it longer because they think they’ll get more presents or help mom and dad perpeuate the fraud on younger siblings.)

    I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with teaching your kid to be a skeptical thinker but your word is always to be trusted. Always. Like you’re perfect and can’t ever be mistaken and that they’ll have your opinions is a given. There’s something as unyielding and hard in that as there is in fundamentalism. Santa teaches also don’t believe it automatically because mommy and daddy say it’s so and I think the parents who have a bug up their ass about what is really a childhood game (c’mon, there’s no cult of Santa that’s gonna enslave them for life) have some serious issues with their kids having to take their words as if they were written in stone.

    And I certainly hope Jay asked the parents if it was okay to put that on baby’s card before egotistically doing so. Sure, baby can’t read now but many of us save these memoirs.

    But I admit my mother wouldn’t allow us to believe in Santa because she considered him a false idol and I felt gypped as hell of a whole lot of fun. I’m 52 and a grandmother but I still feel robbed and am still making up for lost time by going overboard. Likewise with the Easter Bunny.

  • L.Long

    I always find it amazing how someone can be told or find out that Santa isn’t real. Go thru the routine of finding all the reasons why, then go to church and pray to an invisible g0d, and not ask the same questions. I think that was when I started questioning my religion is when I realized Santa was BS.
    My kids were raised without the stress of it being a lie or true I waited for questions and helped them figure it out. Plan on the same for the G’Kids.

  • Steven

    The funny thing is, my daughters use observation to satisfy themselves that Santa and the Easter Bunny are real and (in the case of my oldest) that God is not. Just yesterday my five-year old confessed that she heard the Easter Bunny “hopping around” downstairs last Easter. For both of them, the presents and left-over cookie crumbs are solid evidence that Santa has visited. On the other hand, my eight-year old is just not buying an invisible “guy in the sky” – even though Grandma says he is real.

  • Ramon Caballero

    I never believed in Santa Claus, dunno why, all my little brothers believed, to me it was fun to make my parents believe I didn’t know, it was like a game.
    My kids all believed because their catholic mom want them to have “the fantasy”, it got difficult when then the oldest at 11 years old still believed (for real!) so she (mom) asked me to tell him (to avoid issues with school friends), the problem was that I had to tell all of them because they will tell each other (11, 10 and 5 years old). So I did a little experiment, I grab each one separately and told them the truth and ask them not to tell their siblings (even to the 5 years old). In less than one day, they told each other…it was so funny 🙂
    When I told them the truth, the oldest was the one with more difficulty to understand, I had to explain him everything, how we hide the presents and whatnot.
    The youngest girl got it really easy but then 2 years later she is the one complaining and asking why did I tell her “If I didn’t want to know!”
    In the future I will know how those different personalities will come to be. I just hope (and work a little) to make them question everything and be freethinkers.

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    I don’t have kids yet, but we will surely be doing the Santa thing.
    First of all: because its fun!
    And second: because like others have already said, its a great introduction to being skeptical. Once they start asking about Santa, I plan to encourage them to think for themselves on that matter: “What makes you think that Santa isn’t real?” Hopefully it’ll get them thinking and realize that not even the all-knowing Mom and Dad are always right.

  • littlejohn

    Good lord no! Here’s a community of folks who don’t want to lie to their children about god to entertain them, but are perfectly happy to lie to them about Santa?
    My parents lied to me about Santa. Several of my friends either weren’t lied to or figured it out earlier than I did. It was humiliating to have argued for Santa’s existence until I was 7, because I believed my parents would never lie.
    And no, it isn’t fun for the children. Be honest. It’s fun for the adults who are having a little laugh at the kids’ credulity.
    For letting me believe in Santa for seven years, I never fully trusted them again. What else were they lying about “just because it’s fun”?
    How can you hope to raise a skeptic while simultaneously telling that child a magical man in a sleigh brings them toys on Christmas morning?
    It’s perfectly fine to put gifts under the tree while explaining that Santa isn’t actually real. It doesn’t hurt the children in the slightest. It only disappoints parents who enjoy pulling a fast one on gullible children.
    How can this even be a debate among ahteists?

  • When people try to make you believe something they know is a lie, it’s called a “prank.” When everyone pretends a lie is true, it’s called “make believe.”

    In my option, it’s better to let Santa Claus be a game right from the beginning — without any pretense of being real.

    The game can still be fun for the child, even if they know you’re pretending.

  • Val

    My son has always known Santa was a myth. We still got him presents from Santa though. He just was in on the fun is all. I don’t think he’s missing anything.

  • Joseph R.

    I told my son, when he was about 5 years old, that Santa wasn’t real. He took it in stride. He had no problems with it at all. However, my wife and mother-in-law were mad at me for a couple of years about it. As for a god belief, I have taught him to think rationally. So far, the mother-in-law hasn’t caught on to it.

  • MadameScarlet

    I grew up knowing Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were all pretend, and I don’t feel cheated. I still got presents, money for my teeth, and did egg hunts. I just knew it was my parents and grandparents instead of imaginary beings.

  • Matt

    I use to spread “reindeer feed” outside when I was a child. I can’t believe my parents use to go out in the middle of the night and clean it up so I thought the reindeer ate it. It was pretty magical though.

  • There are other sources of joy.

    One of them is the knowledge that our culture isn’t homogeneous. Every family and community is different. I don’t know why people assume that, aside from Jews and Muslims, every American practices the whole Santa Claus tradition with their children. We don’t. Some of us are perfectly content with reading The Night Before Christmas to our children and letting Santa Claus remain a fictional character from a book and a handful of songs.

    Nobody fusses over telling their children that Elmo, Clifford, and Eloise aren’t real. Being fictional is a perfectly respectable status for them. It’s good enough for Santa Claus too, AFAIC.

  • I found the Santa myth very useful. I didn’t confront my mom about it until I was about 8, and after she told me the truth I used the same logic to realize there probably was no God, either.

  • jen

    I don’t recall ever believing in Santa, or the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy. My mom wasn’t real gung-ho on lying to support a myth to start with, but it was probably helped along significantly by the fact that the first time she took me to a mall Santa, I was *terrified*. 😉

    And I certainly never felt like I was missing anything. In fact, given that my parents couldn’t afford much for Christmas when I was little, I would have felt hurt and betrayed if I thought some magical man was choosing not to give me what I wanted. Knowing it came from my parents let me appreciate what I got, rather than getting my hopes up for more expensive stuff.

  • I just spent some serious time examining this issue.

    Why does anyone have to tell a child that a mythical being doesn’t exist?

    Because we also spend a considerable amount of time telling him that it does.

    If you don’t teach your kids about Santa, you don’t have to UN-teach your kids about santa. It’s really pretty simple.

  • Well we have Father Christmas on this side of the pond and I know he’s real because I’ve seen him at the shops. 😉

    Actually I think that the whole Santa story and rite of passage in rejecting it is part of growing up. Sure you grow up without it but it is still fun to play along.

  • I think atheists can do what they like, but as I wrote in a series of Santa posts on my blog, the eventual disillusionment may be bad news for Christians trying to raise their children in their faith. They’ve already been caught in a lie once.

    For atheists, the Santa story could be a way of talking about noble lies when the kids are older.

    Fun fact, it turns out a lot of my blog readers tried to test the existence of Santa as children. With predictable results.

    –Leah @ Unequally Yoked

  • phira

    You know, you don’t have to be raised by skeptics/atheists to grow up without believing in Santa Claus. As one person mentioned, Jewish kids aren’t raised to believe in Santa (for the most part–Christianity is so mainstream that a lot of traditions and idiocies tend to leak in), and the same goes for plenty of kids who are raised by Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Ba’Hai parents, etc.

    I’m Jewish, and we never really cared about Santa. After all, we’re taught to ask lots of questions, and after asking things like, “How is it that Santa knows to get us what we asked YOU to get us?” and “How did Santa get down the chimney? I looked up and it’s really narrow!” and “If there are SO many kids in the world, how does Santa even have enough time?” it’s obvious that we’re being played.

    I’ve never understood the reason behind the Santa myth. Or the whole tooth fairy thing (although I used to believe in the tooth fairy; I’m not sure when I stopped, but I can assure you, it wasn’t traumatic). Gift-giving during the holidays is a nice thing, but can’t we give people credit for getting us nice gifts instead of believing in some fictional dude?

  • Jay

    Haha, fun comments.

    I’d never destroy a child’s imagination. The card was more of a joke to the parents but the mom did say she was going to keep it for her. I’m 24 and I still have imagination, but I know that’s what it is. I don’t believe it to be truth. Anyway, it was just a fun thing to do between two atheist friends. I’m not a dad yet so who knows what I’ll lie to my kids about!

  • BrianE

    Santa Claus is your child’s first chance at figuring out FOR THEMSELVES the myth vs. reality of this world. Skeptics parents should embrace this opportunity – not as an opportunity to spoon-feed your children the ‘right’ answers, but an opportunity for your child to stretch their skeptic wings.

    Remember, your job as a skeptic parent is to guide. Let them figure it out, and congratulate them when they do. They’ll be proud of themselves for figuring it out, and now they’ve started their journey of critical thinking!

  • Tom

    I was never brought up to believe in Santa Claus and I turned out normal… *eye twitch*

  • Bleatmop

    As someone who was raised knowing that Santa was fictional, I can say that it never once took away the magic of Christmas. Surprisingly (or not), I was told Santa was fake for religious reasons, that is not putting commercialism ahead of Christ. This didn’t stop there being presents under the tree however.

  • beckster

    I lie to my kids all the time. It’s great fun. The most rewarding part is when they call you on it. I think that teaches them to be skeptical just as much as straight out telling them the truth about everything does.

  • Brian Westley

    There’s no problem telling kids Santa is pretend. Kids like to pretend even when they know it’s pretend.

  • Rich Wilson

    I figured out Santa/Easterbunny/Mickey Mouse when I was 4.

    What’s interesting is that I don’t have a problem playing along with those myths for my 3 year old. But I have a real problem reading him religious stories. e.g. in the waiting room he brings me a Veggie Tales and it’s full of God talk. I feel compelled to replace “God” and “Jesus” with “Zeus” and “Thor”. So why does one set of fairy tales freak me out so much more? And am I being hypocritical? I kinda think so. Gut wise, it’s tough for me to not sell him on Santa, at least while he’s into it. But gut wise I can’t give him any myths that some people actually believe. And yes, changing the names of the main characters is pretty superficial.

  • Roxane

    My kids believed in Santa until they were 4 or 5, and they grew up to be atheists. In the first place, their father and I didn’t think it was that big a deal. In the second place, kids who don’t go to church have a bad enough time socially without being the ones running around on the playground and bursting other kids’ bubbles.

  • Jim H

    I would teach the version of Santa Claus in the late New York Sun (“Yes, Virginia…”). S.C. is a feeling that we create of ourselves, that all people are the same, and everyone is our neighbor. I think one mythical JHC once taught the same thing (with the example of a dirty Samaritan), and it’s true.

  • Carrie

    I did believe in Santa when I was young. But never believed in God.

    I’m not planning on having children, but if I did they would know that Santa was a fictional character from the start. And there is nothing wrong with that. I love many fictional characters to this day.

    I remember how much I hated it when I realized that everyone was lying to me. In truth, I found Christmas to be extremely stressful (yes, as a child) and am happy to not celebrate it now that I’m an adult. You could never get me to sit on some stranger’s lap in the mall (I did know that wasn’t Santa) and I hated the feeling of the needles on the tree and didn’t want to help decorate it and I hated how everyone would watch me while I opened presents.

    As an adult I now know I have Asperger’s, which might explain all of that. Perhaps Christmas and the Santa myth can be fun for people not on the autism spectrum, but not for me.

  • Nikki

    I don’t understand what’s the difference between believing in Santa and believing in other make-believe characters, like Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Spiderman, etc.

    Santa is as much fun as they are, and parents don’t grapple with the other characters. It seems like we’re making too big a deal about this.

  • Revyloution

    As I wrote in the other threads, I’m raising my daughter to be a freethinker. I’m not lying to her about anything, but I’m also taking the time to point out things that other people believe in. Her typical response is ‘thats weird’ when I describe others beliefs.

    At Christmas time, she treats the entire narrative as a fun mythology to accompany the season. She sets out cookies, writes a letter, etc. What I found really odd, was that she picked up these traditions from the world around her, not from us (her parents). She consciously knows that Santa doesn’t exist, but suspends reality for the night. When I tease her about Santa not being real, she scolds me with ‘dad, you have to respect my beliefs’ and then gives me a sidelong smirk. At 7 years old, this seems to be a very sophisticated approach to the holiday.

  • Dan

    It doesn’t take the child’s joy away, it takes the parents joy away.

    The kid will be happy to get presents on Christmas no matter who they’re from.

    The problem with telling them “Hey kid, I’m in charge of what you get, not Santa!” means the kid will now be bothering YOU all year for toys he wants for Christmas, in addition to the toys the kid will bug you about all year long anyway.

    With Santa, parents can blame not getting presents on someone else.

  • Jeff

    Are you taking away a child’s joy if you tell them the truth about Santa Claus at an early age?

    Are you taking away her joy by telling her she’s in imminent danger of eternal hellfire – and that even if she is saved, most of her friends will almost certainly end up there?

  • Revyloution

    Hey Dan, I have another suggestion. Try this:

    We buy our daughter one present at Christmas, and help her make donations to all the local charities. She looks forward to buying food, coats and toys for needy families. We’ve been doing this since the beginning, so she has no huge expectations of a pile of plastic crap every year.

    We also request that family and friends who buy for her get things like clothes, books, microscopes, or other educational materials.

    It seems to have been working well. Her request for her upcoming 8th birthday is a trip to the science museum in Portland, OR.


    Santa? here in PH, he is one of the famous Christmas figures right after Christ! almost all of the children here believes that Santa Claus exists and appears during christmas season!
    we cant blame christians.. they just want their kids to be happy! even if they know it’s not true!
    If we are going to condemn or question their beliefs….

    What are the differences between us and Christians?

    If we do, we are like them!
    So we must not! So that, we can say that the only difference between them and us is WE KNOW HOW TO RESPECT OTHER’S BELIEFS OR RELIGIONS!

    Am I RIGHT?


    Santa? here in PH, he is one of the famous Christmas figures right after Christ! almost all of the children here believes that Santa Claus exists and appears during christmas season!
    we cant blame christians.. they just want their kids to be happy! even if they know it’s not true!
    If we are going to condemn or question their beliefs….

    What are the differences between us and Christians?

    If we do, we are like them!
    So we must not! So that, we can say that the only difference between them and us is WE KNOW HOW TO RESPECT OTHERS’ BELIEFS OR RELIGIONS!

    Am I RIGHT?

  • TychaBrahe

    At our house (secular Jewish) we did Christmas presents because my father had felt deprived as a child. Our presents came from George Washington, because early on in the marriage, my father had given my mother a present and signed it GW for Guess Who.

    I am childfree, but I support the suspension of skepticality required for a seasonal belief in Santa Claus. The world is full of stories that didn’t really happen, but believing in them temporarily is important for the appreciation of fiction in any form.

    Robert Heinlein said that a powerful fictional character is more real than most people. Who, after all, has had a greater effect on our understanding of Victorian London, Oliver Twist, or the thousands of faceless, nameless boys who actually lived in those circumstances?

    Santa Claus is the fictional embodiment of the loving and generous spirit associated with the secular aspects of Christmas. I support the belief in Santa Claus, for at least the duration of the classic version of Miracle on 34th Street.

    His Dark Materials and The Wizard of Earthsea Trilogy and Have Spacesuit–Will Travel are all fiction, too, but they teach us the importance of friendship, loyalty, hard work, and courage; the danger of hubris, and the honor of correcting one’s mistakes.

  • Ruru

    Santa challenges the imagination!
    How can he get around the world that fast?
    Oh, he can’t.
    But if he -were- real, he’d do this blah blah blah.
    Santa provides not only an outlet for skeptical discovery, he also helps to stretch out that creative muscle. Kids soak up everything you tell them, but they also start to create their own solutions and ideas about things.
    And I’m on the “no one makes a big deal about Elmo” boat. Parents tell their kids that he lives on Sesame Street. It could be argued that it still exists, but that’s a near lie, considering it’s a studio housing foam puppets, not a bustling active neighborhood where people spend all day counting.
    The look of wonder on a child’s face when they use their imagination is incredible. And it’s a rite of passage to figure out Santa isn’t real. And if you don’t want to teach your kid about him, don’t. Just because one person does and the other doesn’t doesn’t mean you’re either lying to your children just like christians do, or being a massive buzzkill super serious skeptic.

    And as a note, children still bother you about presents all year long even if they believe in Santa. And Santa creates MORE stress for parents. If you say Santa didn’t bring you presents (because mommy is poor!), it doesn’t become mommy’s fault, or Santa’s fault, the kid blames him or herself.

  • Ben

    I always knew something was up with the whole Santa Claus / Easter Bunny story when I was 5. I remember my older brother and I sneaking downstairs to confirm what we had suspected: Mom and Dad wrapping presents. We weren’t disappointed but just wanted to know the “truth.”
    I always felt weird about doing the whole Mass thing and being in the pews. It was boring. I’d rather been on the alter doing the Mass. At least I was active and I didn’t have to be around those weird people actually believing and praying. Ick!
    But what scared me about religion and Christianity in particular was the religious fundamentalists in town saying we Catholics we’re praying to the Anti-Christ. That we were all going to Hell. That we were possessed by demons and shit. That scared me so much! Hell, growing up Catholic, we didn’t even talk about Hell (odd sentence, huh?). My parents were pissed when they heard about that shit they were saying to us. I’m 32 now and I still have those nagging thoughts in my head about what those people said to me as a kid….I’m still a little pissed about it.
    So, I’ll be honest to my kids….if they ask, I’ll tell them the truth or ask them what they think. But any fundamentalist says that shit to my kid what was said to me and I swear I’ll find a way to harassment charges brought up or verbal assault or something.

  • Amelia

    I never believed in Santa Claus, and I don’t remember anyone telling me to – he was everywhere, of course (I grew up in NYC, land of a bajillion Xmas displays), but it was a non-issue in my home/family, where they assumed I’d pick it up from school/TV/books but didn’t push me one way or the other. I don’t recall asking if he was real because it seemed fairly obvious to me that he wasn’t. My parents are agnostic and do Christmas mostly as a cultural “it’s dark out, we should celebrate SOMETHING” ritual.

    I did fake it for awhile until maybe age 6 since I got that other adults really, really wanted me to believe in Santa Claus. My way of doing this was putting Santa ornaments on the side of the tree closest to the chimney, and explaining it to my parents, who thought, oh, how cute, she believes in Santa. My gifts from “Santa” obviously had my parents’ handwriting on them, so figuring out the fiction wasn’t exactly a tough nut to crack.

    I like the “what do you think?” answers to the “is Santa real?” questions. Let kids draw their own conclusions using their brains! I’m not so okay with pushing them to believe in Santa, though – they’ll get plenty of that from, uh, everyone else.


    A philosophy teacher from my college submitted an article about belief in Santa to the Baltimore Sun and was published.

  • Why tell you child that santa exists or doesn’t exist? Give you child the pleasure of using reasoning and logic for to find out for themselves.

  • Aaron

    I don’t have any kids, and probably never will , but I always planned to tell them that Santa was a game parents played so they could surprise their kids with more presents.
    I remember figuring out that Santa was fake when I was six or seven. I don’t remember any trauma from it, but I did fake it for a while to get more presents. 😉
    My parents used to say “Go to bed or Santa can’t come!” and I thought “The guy makes reindeer fly, but he can’t come into your house if you are awake? Really?” I figured out that they just didn’t want to be seen distributing gifts pretty quickly.

  • Wait…Cookie Monster is just a puppet? Son of a bitch.

    As to the Santa issue, I’ve gotta go with my childhood on this one. Santa was fun for me, and I want my kids to have that fun as well. And Santa doesn’t hate gay folks or brown people or give kids the baggage that Santa died for their sins. I’m inclined to go with the “Well, what do you think?” sentiment that others have proposed. Kids figure it out on their own, and really, presents are what matter when you’re eight anyway.

  • We do Santa for our kids. It’s fun and harmless make-believe. When they start to ask skeptical questions, I won’t fill them full of BS trying to convince them he’s real. I’ll just guide them through their own thought process, i.e. “well, what do YOU think?” There’s an awesome point-counterpoint essay on this in Parenting Beyond Belief. I side with Dale McGowan in the idea that Santa is a great “dry run” for the God myth. He wrote:

    By allowing our children to participate in the Santa myth and find their own way out of it through skeptical inquiry, we give them a priceless opportunity to see a mass cultural illusion first from the inside, then from the outside. A very casual line of post-Santa questioning can lead kids to recognize how completely we all can snow ourselves if the enticements are attractive enough. Such a lesson, viewed from the top of the hill after exiting a belief system under their own power, can gird kids against the best efforts of the evangelists -– and far better than secondhand knowledge could ever hope to do.

    Besides…there are some days, at my wits’ end, when it’s just handy to revert to the old, “You know Santa doesn’t bring toys to naughty little boys. Maybe you’d better re-think what you’re doing!” 😉

  • Here is the Dale McGowan piece that a couple posters have referenced: Santa Claus – the Ultimate Dry Run, as well as a more recent follow-up about the last of his children to solve the Santa puzzle.

    If you haven’t read these already, I highly recommend them!

    I recommend the rest of Parenting Beyond Belief, as well; even if you’re not a parent (I’m not) I think you can appreciate the brilliant and thoughtful things Dale has to say about raising freethinkers and communicating with religious relatives.

  • Trace

    “Wait…Cookie Monster is just a puppet? Son of a bitch.”

    Thanks Keith, I needed that 😉

  • Happy atheist here, raised by happy atheists. When I was a kid, we did the Santa thing. My only negative feeling about the whole experience is that it took me so long to figure out it was BS. I plan to do the Santa thing with my own kids.

  • Bob

    If you MUST lay bare the Santa myth, then it follows that you’ll never ‘pull’ a quarter out of a child’s ear, or pretend to slide the tip of your thumb off its base.

    While you can argue that Santa is a placeholder for belief in a fictional being who rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior, for some reason, children outgrow Santa. We also begin to doubt our favorite uncle when he pulls a quarter out of our ear for the umpteenth time, and finally figure out the detachable thumb gag.

    Santa can be used to secure non-theistic, rational thought more than it becomes a step down the slippery slope to religiosity. A child can be taught that being skeptical is not, in fact, being a party pooper or dullard, but that a healthy skepticism and working to hone one’s observational and critical thinking skills will stand them in good stead.

  • Jessica

    I do Santa with my kids, but we don’t drill it into their heads. We do it because it’s there, basically, and fun, but I also want them to understand where their x-mas presents come from and be appreciative of the right people, not some mythical fairy. I figured it out pretty early and I figure my kids will too. We also just dealt with the tooth fairy for the first time as well. My son isn’t much of a magical thinker, so I’m pretty sure this won’t last long, but it’s fun while it lasts. I got inappropriately angry at a friend’s kid when he tried to tell my son that the tooth fairy was his mom and dad. Was that wrong? It was his first lost tooth, I wanted it to be fun for him…

  • Canadiannalberta

    My parents were very firm on the reality of God, Christ, heaven and the like, but strangely, they were also firm on the fact that Santa, the Easter Bunny, Gnomes, Unicorns and all of that were fake – just stories for our amusement, as Dad says.

    Knowing Santa wasn’t real didn’t make my Christmas’s any fun filled. We sang. We had presents. We ate all the wonderful foods my Dad insisted on only making at Christmas time. We have since figured out how to duplicate his mashed potatoes, and in the face of us just making them all year round, he now makes them whenever we ask him too.

    It all sums up to: Santa is real? Why is that necessarily for a good childhood? To paraphrase someone, I love gardens without having to imagine fairies are making them beautiful.

  • Canadiannalberta

    That’s suppose to be “Knowing Santa wasn’t real didn’t make my Christmas’s any LESS fun filled”

    It is Santa, you see, he’s mad I don’t take him seriously. 😀

  • hippiefemme

    I’m surprised that so many people mentioned letting kids figure it out for themselves as a lesson in skeptical thinking. I don’t know many people who actually used reason to figure it out; most of us were told by someone. My older sister slipped up one Christmas by thanking my mom for a gift that “Santa” gave, and then kids at school started talking about it. I didn’t use reason on the Santa myth because my parents told me he was real, and I believed them.

    I didn’t start questioning god after I realized that Santa (along with the tooth fairy and Easter bunny) wasn’t real because all the adults in my life agreed that god was real but the others weren’t. I was taught to trust adults, and I couldn’t imagine that they might lie to me about something so important. I felt a little betrayed over the Santa ordeal, too.

  • hippiefemme says:

    I’m surprised that so many people mentioned letting kids figure it out for themselves as a lesson in skeptical thinking.

    Something that is important to remember is that there is more to doing “the Santa thing” than just perpetuating the myth or delivering the straightforward truth – kids are also going to ask questions.

    Before they ask THE question of whether or not Santa is real, they’ll likely be curious about the details of Santa’s presumed existence: where exactly in the North Pole does he live, how old is he, how does he get around the world in one night, how does he get presents to kids without chimneys, etc. And I think what Dale McGowan argues in his piece that I linked to above if that the way you answer these questions will greatly affect the takeaway of the whole Santa experience.

    Those who want to make-believe Santa is real for their kids and hope they figure it out for themselves don’t have to just let the game stand alone – you can frame it in a way that helps them along the path to discovering the truth.

    I assume that most skeptical/atheist parents would be interested in encouraging their kids to be inquisitive and not to just assume things are true because “I said so.” Why should the Santa game be any different?

  • Of course I can’t teach my kids about Santa! Do you know what the Santa turns into when you rearrange the letters? Satan!


    I will probably take the approach that many others seem to have taken, that is, letting the child decide for herself.

  • Dan


    Good to hear how you’re raising your child!

    My comment should have a note that I never plan to have children, so it would never be a problem for me.

  • JB Tait

    I told my kids that Santa was the spirit of giving anonymously.

    That let them have gratitude-free gifts, the adventure of guys in suits at malls, happy pictures on cards, the fun of wishing and asking, and no need to contradict their friends. I never burdened them with the deal about being good or bad, or told them he knew when they were sleeping. Creepy, that.

    While they were little, they could believe he was a Spirit, and magic, then as they acquired the ability to reason, there needed to be only a subtle shift in point of view.

    They got the fun, and I got to be honest.

    I always felt cheated that my parents had willingly lied to me as if there were some value in deceiving someone as naive as a child. They even tried to perpetuate my belief after I figured it out, which is weird because they never tried to get me to believe the same nonsense about God (Santa with ‘tude?) and the equivalent magic there.

  • Jenda

    I’m surprised that so many people mentioned letting kids figure it out for themselves as a lesson in skeptical thinking.

    I don’t think my parents intended this to happen, but I distinctly remember, at about 6 years old, looking at the new chalkboard easel from Santa, with a personal message from Santa, and comparing it to my Mom’s writing. I also looked at all the gifts from Santa and found that some of the paper was the same as the ones from my parents. I questioned my parents on both of these, and they said Santa borrowed paper for the last gifts he picked out…

    I always felt cheated that my parents had willingly lied to me as if there were some value in deceiving someone as naive as a child.

    And when I confronted them around 7 years old, and they told me the truth – I wasn’t upset that Santa didn’t exist. I was upset that my parents had lied to me for so long.

    I love my parents, but I always wondered if anybody else had the same reaction I had.

  • flatlander100

    There are many things worth getting up in arms about. Kids believing in Santa Claus until they’re six or seven or so is not one of them.

  • kat

    Jenda, I had the same reaction you did.

    I remember when I was about 4 or 5 I stood at my window waaay past my bedtime on Christmas Eve because I wanted to see Santa. My dad came in because I guess he realized I hadn’t gone to bed and told me that if I was watching Santa wouldn’t come. I remember thinking “well, if Santa doesn’t know I’m watching, then maybe I can see him”, so I snuck out to the den (across from where the tree was located) and hid under a pile of coats on the floor. I ended up seeing my parents bringing out the presents.

    I distinctly remember confronting them later and asking them why they brought the presents out and if that means Santa wasn’t real, and they admitted it. I got really angry because they had always taught me not to lie and here they were, they had been lying to me. I felt very betrayed about it for a while and didn’t really feel like I could trust my parents after that.

    While it is good to teach children to be skeptical through experience, do you want their first big experience of skepticism to be finding out that their parents are willful deceivers? The difference between Elmo or Batman and Santa is that no one is actively trying to convince your children that Batman is a real, breathing person that will come and save them. They know Elmo is just this creature on TV. Humans are adept at enjoying fiction without thinking it’s actually real. Children pick up on what we treat as fictional vs. what we treat as real; they know that parents don’t treat Cinderella like they do Santa.

    I don’t have a problem with people enjoying the Christmas symbolism and mythology, but actively trying to convince your children that Santa is this guy that ACTUALLY comes to the house and ACTUALLY hands out presents and ACTUALLY watches them all year is I think ludicrous. I will nth all the people who have said that children usually don’t figure out by themselves that he isn’t a real breathing being; someone usually has to tell them later. I know people who believed in Santa until 11-12 years old.

    Playing the Santa “game” is fine as long as your children know it is a game. I don’t see any benefit in actively trying to convince your children that Santa exists, or being extra coy about “Well, what do you think?” Treating it as an exercise in skepticism is ok, as long as you don’t tell your kids that “oh, he comes in the front door” when they ask about the chimney, and as long as you acknowledge that they are getting a lot of Santa-is-real messages from everyone else [i.e. that the atmosphere is not neutral to begin with].

  • I have two little girls. They are 3 and 4. I am Atheist.

    We don’t actively do the Santa thing. Not that I am against it, nor do I judge others who do it. My girls know of Santa, but all the gifts are from mommy and daddy. They love watching ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ and all the great shows I loved from childhood, but I am not going to go out of my way to fuel a myth. I also don’t go out of my way to squelch their imagination. I mean, they thank Santa for snow… I think it’s sweet. I have explained the basic science behind snow, but I guess they think Santa decides when it happens.

    I want Christmas/Winter Solstice to be what it was for me growing up Mormon, a time of giving and gathering (without the whole Jesus bullshit). Santa is just an extra.

    They are at peace with their duality and I am okay with that. There will be plenty of time as they grow for them to realize what is real and what is not.

  • Deepak Shetty

    Well, as a kid I never thought that Superman was real , but I did have fun pretending he was or flying around with a towel as cape and a spit curl.
    Im not sure why saying Santa isn’t real stops any child from enjoying the occasion – but I guess you will have to explain some stuff about myths.

  • fritzy

    Atheists and free thinkers that are afraid that playing along with the Santa myth is going to have ill effects on their kid’s abilities to be skeptical thinkers later on in life, frankly, are “free thinking” too much. I mean really, you have a bug up your ass.

    Little kids are supposed to have imaginary friends. Don’t worry; unless they are told that they have to continue to believe in one of those friends in order to avoid eternal torment, they will do what sane and healthy people do after about the age of 7 or 8–move on and leave their imaginary friends, including Santa, in their past.

    Incidentally, I know xtians that don’t tell their kids about Santa, specifically because they are afraid their kids will eventually see little difference between St Nick and their favorite Sky Monster.

    Really; lighten up and let your kids have some kid fun for crying out loud.

  • Way, WAY too soon.

    C’mon, it’s barely August. The War on Xmas shouldn’t start until November at the EARLIEST.

    No, seriously, I see no harm in letting kids believe in Santa at an early age. And while the card is funny, it just seems dickish to seriously tell a child Santa doesn’t exist.

    But it could be really good for a kid to figure it out for themselves (as I did). And if they do, I don’t think they should be lied to in response, but rather having their critical thinking recognized and praised. And it could even be a teachable moment (“Who else do we know of who lots of people believe in, but who we never actually see…?”).

  • When our children were little we didn’t do santa, easter bunny, etc.. Presents were always from family and every holiday was a time of family togetherness.

    Once our children hit their teen years we started putting out presents from santa and baskets from the easter bunny. Because of the stresses our children faced with being teens, atheist teens, we felt a silliness was in order. They find it hysterical!

  • Bo Gardiner

    I’m really, really surprised that only 2 or 3 comments touch on what I consider the real heart of the matter.

    Which is… the confusion we create by teaching our children not to lie unless there’s an important reason… then lying to them…. “for fun.”

    It’s a complex and nuanced lesson enough as it is, without muddying the waters this much. You can’t tell me this sort of thing doesn’t dilute the effectiveness of these lessons.

    I’m not just a skeptic, I’m also a humanist, and my philosophy puts a high premium on honesty in a child’s character development. There’s a million ways to be creative about making Christmas fun that don’t require lying.

    I like the part about asking your child “What do you think?” and letting them figure out the stories they’ve heard elsewhere. But it crosses a line when you flat out lie to them.

  • I think the card is hilarious! Just don’t show it to the child until she’s much older, LOL.

    I grew up atheist, and while my parents never taught me to believe in a god, they did let me think that Santa existed. I was a skeptical kid, and although I wanted Santa to be real, I always had my doubts. By the time my parents finally confessed, I was already almost positive he didn’t exist. I remember being a little disappointed, but not terribly upset. I’m glad I had my experience with Santa. I enjoyed the fantasy, and like Dale McGowan says, it was a good “dry run” for skepticism. The Santa myth reinforced my atheism. It didn’t undermine it at all.

  • Thomas

    I never remember believing in Santa nor remember my parents trying to instill that belief in me.

    It’s funny even as a Christian I was opposed to teaching the lie of Santa. As a kid I even went around telling other kids Santa wasn’t real. I remember lots of times telling adults Santa wasn’t real.

    At least Santa can serve me as an appropriate metaphor for Yahweh and the disbelief in it.

  • I’m in the Santa as a lesson in skepticism camp. I can’t wait for the day of enlightenment.

    I also think the card is hilarious. I’m not one to criticize parents. Especially on such a silly issue.

  • lois

    Well, i’m jewish so i was never raised with santa. I turned out fine. I don’t think it is really a important topic, but it is just christmas spirit i guess.

  • Martha

    Santa is a good example of skeptic vs judgment. Skepticism is an approach to accepting, rejecting, or suspending judgment on new information that requires the new information to be well supported by evidence.
    Let the child approach the subject, information and allow them to choose. They may decide that Santa does exist in some form just not in a red suit with a white beard.

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