Debunking Santa Is Just Practice for God December 14, 2011

Debunking Santa Is Just Practice for God

As Christmas approaches, many atheist parents might be wondering if they should tell their young children about the infamous obese man in a red velvet suit, who goes around the world (overnight) in a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer, slides down chimneys (or possibly picks the locks), and delivers presents (but only if you have been really well behaved).

Sounds plausible…

One of the major issues for parents is that they don’t want to encourage their children to believe in a fictitious male, with grandiose powers, who is always watching to see if you’ve been “naughty or nice,” and then decides whether you’ve made the cut… because let’s be honest, we’ve heard enough of those stories already.

There may be other reasons for not making Santa a part of your holiday, but I suspect that the desire for your children to be skeptics who think critically, aspire to facts, and don’t fall prey to delusional thinking, is a huge motivator! All that combined with the fact that some people find Santa a bit creepy and don’t want to support mass consumerism (but that’s another post).

It isn’t all bad news, though. Santa Claus is a great way to get your child to start using his/her critical thinking skills, a way to practice thinking their way to reality. As Dale McGowan points out in his book Parenting Beyond Belief:

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.

I plan to do the Santa thing with my children. In general, make believe is crucial to children’s development of creativity, empathy, learning, and problem-solving. I like to think of Santa as a make-believe game that may go on for a number of years. There may be nothing magical about Santa himself, but there is something “magical” in a child’s eyes on Christmas Eve and the anticipatory delight is truly contagious. I want my children to experience that as well as many other secular family traditions that we hope to create for them. For us, the holidays are about family, friends, fun, food, giving, being appreciative of what you have… and just a little of the frivolities of the commercialized Christmas, including decorated trees, stockings, tinsel, and (of course) Santa.

I will let my daughter be skeptical and ask questions, and will allow her to come to her own conclusions and to eventually discover the “truth.” I won’t push the story, telling her continuous lies and fabricating information just to prolong her belief. That would be too analogous to the indoctrination of children that I so despise within religion. Should she for some strange reason continue to believe in Santa well past an age that we think is “healthy,” we will then tell her the truth.

For many atheists — especially atheist parents — this time of year can cause great angst because it isn’t always easy to escape the pressures of family, friends, and society without sacrificing your own beliefs and values.

Parents are free to make their own choices, but I would encourage you to allow your children just a little room for myths and fantasy. Because, combined with a little skepticism and a whole lot of critical thinking, they should turn out just fine.

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  • Nazani14

    You could always tell them the story of St. Nicholas.  Kids will learn why pawn shops display 3 gold bags or balls, and  the story of how the Venetians stole his bones is a ripping yarn.

    I used to send my Baptist relatives old-timey cards with St. Nick dressed as a “papist” bishop, just to annoy them.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think it’s too important either way, honestly. I suppose it can serve as a valuable lesson IF, once a child has figured the matter out on their own you take the time to sit down with him or her and A- Congralutate them on finding out the truth through critical thinking and B- Remind them that critically examining the claims of other people is really important all the time.

    Still, a child brought up in a skeptical environment will likely be fine with or without Santa. I was brought up by atheists and Santa was always a joke. They never acted as if he was real, but since I knew making pretend Santa was real was part of the game, so I would happily try to “catch” my dad putting presents under the tree. Christmas can be fun with or without the mythology, really.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve noticed that children can become Clausphemers in a day, without experiencing despair, existential angst, nihilism and the other maladies which allegedly afflict atheists.

    In fact, if you met a newly enlightened kid who lamented that he had based his hopes on a lie, his life has lost meaning & purpose, and now he has nothing to live for, you’d find that pretty damn peculiar. It would sound like a situation from an episode of South Park or something.

  • Gburgatheist

    The pretending Santa is real is awesome, it adds fun to the season.  Everyone knows the reason for Christmas is family, friends, and (for us), helping out the less fortunate during this time.  When my daughter was 7, she said she didn’t believe in Santa, my wife and I responded with wink, “you better believe if you want presents”.  Then excitement in a childs eyes is wonderful.

    And there is much more evidence of Santa then there is of god.  If you want to talk to Santa, go to any mall and you will get a response too.  Santa is everywhere.  Same thing cannot be said for god.

  • As if most current Christians didn’t walk the same route. But you go ahead and believe that your ingenious plan will work. As she puts it, allow the children a little room for myths and fantasy.

  • Wendy

    I was apprehensive about the Santa myth, but settled for lightheartedness and answering all questions about Santa with “what do you think?”  When they were ready, they knew the right answer–completely idiot proof for me (whew!). 

    Afterwards, playing along for the sake of younger sisters and classmates was like sitting at the grown-up table, illustrating the losses and gains of growing up.

    I think it’s interesting and a little subversive that the myth prevails in our Christian culture.  In the words of my (then) five-year-old daughter:  “So Jesus isn’t real, either, right?”

  • Mary

    I am having trouble with this!!! My child is just one, so I am trying to decide if we will “do Santa” or not. My issue is in the details. If we do it, we have to say enough about it so that she knows the story and understands. We have to lie several times in order to “set the scene” for the make believe. And she intrinsically trusts us to tell her the truth, so she will believe it fora while. I don’t think that is actually playing “make believe” at all – it is a false belief she has because she trusts us.

    Her questions are likely to be gradual, so when she asks the first one or two at a very young age, will we tell her the truth, therefore quickly poking holes in the story that we’ve just taught her, or do we add a little more lie-syrup to make the story last longer? Then at what point do we start telling the truth? [Isn’t that the trouble with most lies? They start out simple, and the protecting them gets so complicated.]

    And what does it look like to a child if we “reward” her for not believing what we tell her? I am all for teaching her how to question and think critically, but I want her to know that we will always strive to tell her the truth, and that she can trust us. We aren’t playing games when we tell her about history or culture. We want her to learn!

    I guess I can see what you’re saying here about sparkling eyes and joy and all that. Unfortunately, that sparkle is based on a lie, even if it is a “harmless” lie or some kind of experiment in the bigger issues of life. [I remember my own disappointment when I realized my mom had lied to me about santa and the bunny. I felt stupid for believing it and wished she had just told me it was a story. I also felt like there was some “adult world of knowledge” that I was not privy to because I was a lesser being. I’m serious! I couldn’t have told you those words then, but when I think about that feeling, I know how to describe it now.] 

    I’d rather my child’s eyes sparkle because she is loved by real people, and presents that weren’t there last night are waiting for her in the morning. I’d rather her eyes sparkle because the lights are so pretty, the food is delicious, and we do lots of kind and generous things during the holidays. I’d rather her be able to trust us. I’d rather tell her about a Santa “story” that some people think is true, but that we know is just a fun game. And we will have a lot of fun traditions too!

    What she will learn from this is a great life lesson. Some people tell their children lies in order to protect them or make their lives better. Some parents don’t, and instead focus on the wonders of the world just as it is. This goes for bunnies and fairies and angels and demon too.

    Thanks for giving me an opportunity to think that out. Now I know what we’ll do! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    An atheist friend of mine, who comes from a religiously fanatical family, has a six-year-old daughter. The family is always trying to drag the little girl to church whenever her dad can’t stop them.

    A couple of months ago, just as anticipation of Christmas was beginning for the year, she asked the big question: “Daddy, is Santa real?”

    He drew a deep breath and took the plunge: “No, honey, he isn’t. And Jesus isn’t either.”

    She considered this for a minute and said “Oh, OK.”

  • p4ul47

    I hated when my mujm “forced” us to believe in the three wise kings if we wanted our presents. It had some sense when my brother didn’t know they were fake but afterwards it was simply riddiculous especially since everybody in my family is atheist…

  • Nena

    My daughter knew the Santa story, and always got (actually, still gets) presents from Santa. I always maintained the truth: the person who left those presents knew whether she had behaved well that year, had read her wishlist, and knew when she was asleep in bed on Christmas Eve night. It didn’t take her long to figure out it was me.

  • Anonymous

    Santa, Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny teach kids an important life lesson. Just at the time when they are out on their own and learning to be a member of a larger group.  When the truth comes out you learn the fact that people, including those you trust the most, will group together and conspire to deceive you.  You have three real life examples of how they did it to you for your entire life.  The point made is, don’t blindly trust the group. You’ll also notice that each lie was easy to believe because you really wanted the candy, money and gifts that rewarded you for your belief.  Beware of myths bearing gifts!
    Contrast this with Halloween.  Here the kids are now the deceivers.  They pretend to be somebody else and then just right out ask for/ take the candy.  
    If you’re lucky and learned the above lesson you may be able to ward off the religion virus.  But that’s much harder because there is no proof or disproof for a god.  It’s easy to believe if you really want that heaven candy.  And they are terrified of those devils and goblins that want to trick them out of their candy.

  • Tim

    Mary,  I do get where you are coming from but want to tell you to lighten up a bit on the Santa question whatever you decide to do with your children.

    My children are 5 and almost 3 and Santa visits our house.  I have avioded being dragged into more and more lies.  When my son askes “do reindeer really fly?” or whatever, I tend to answer with “what do you think?” or “I don’t know”.  I think he has actually reached somehere where he is somewhat believing and somewhat skeptical – he has Santa as a working hypothesis but isn’t blind to the condraditions and inconsistances.  That stands him in good stead for making his own mind up later.   I think we both want our kids to grow up skeptically minded, but telling them it is false is just as much an “appeal to authority” as telling them it is true. 

    Having said all that, I would really advise against (over)using the “you need to be good or Santa won’t come” argument.  Pretending to phone Santa to report a misdeeaner, got me into terrible problems with my 2 year old daughter (why would her daddy betray her like that? ) and ended up really upsetting her and making me feel rather ashamed and of my actions and rather shitty.

    Enjoy your kids.  Bringing them up is never easy, you will not get it ALL right, but hopefully Santa will be the least of your worries (wait until they are teenagers and you have to broach the subjects of sex and drugs and you will wish that Santa was your biggest worry) 

    Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/festive Greetings/etc/etc (delete as applicable)

  • Tim

    I would aviod making presents a reward for belief.  Try and make out that the presents will come regardless of belief and it is up to the child to figure out who brings them. 

  • Anonymous

    I really like the way figuring out Santa can become a “rite of passage”. You get to learn “special knowledge” that marks your maturity and becomes something to be proud of. My parents never foisted the Santa thing on me because they were Christian and they didn’t want to create a false idol for their child or have to compare Santa to God/Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    My children say that Santa isn’t real but I like to maintain the joke with outrageous claims and questions like “well who delivers the presents if it isn’t Father Christmas” or “we saw Santa in the supermarket yesterday and he looked real to me.”  I get to have fun coming up with more and more outrageous claims and they get to treat each one sceptically. 

    My favourite is the shot of brandy and mince pie for Santa and a carrot and water for Rudolph that we leave out on Giftmas Eve.  The empty glass and crumbs are proof that Santa visited in the night.

    In this way I promote open scepticism and a willingness to defy authority figures (me) who are in the wrong.

  • Liz Heywood

    My daughters are ten years apart. I never encouraged the older one to believe in Santa. My younger daughter was led down the Santa-garden-path by her dad’s family, but one Christmas when she was 3 0r 4 she told me, “Mom, I pray to Santa every night!” That was when I sat her down for a discussion about Santa being a fun fiction and nothing more. (Then I sat her dad down for the same talk.) Now she’s grown into the middle school’s finest skeptic.
    My favorite holiday slogan now is EVERYONE’S PAGAN AT CHRISTMASTIME! Gotta love those trees in the house. Happy solstice!

  • I  have never understood how parents can bluntly tell their children that Santa Claus is a fact, and then smile indulgently at childhood fantasies.  Look, if you want to play Santa at your house, that’s fine.  And maybe it’s even a good exercise in learning to be skeptical.  But don’t pretend it has anything to do with childhood imagination.

  • T-Rex

    Been doing the Santa thing since day 1 with my children. My 12 year old found out the truth last year, so she says, but I think she’s had a pretty good idea of what really happens Xmas night for a year or 2 now. My 9 year olds still believe but are starting to question the existance of Santa. Inevitibly, one of their friends will spill the beans sooner or later and then they will start asking trickier questions for my wife and I to respond to. I’ve found it best to turn the question around on them and ask them what they think. My 12 year old survived and I have no doubt the other 2 will also. I’ve found that most kids could care less as long as nothing else changes and they are still receiving and giving presents and enjoying all of the other holiday festivities. I’ve never met a child that ended up emotionally damaged because they found out Santa isn’t real. Some people just blow it all out of proportion.

  • Hilaryh

    Good story.  My parents were very religious and unknowingly raised me as a critical thinker towards religion from the get-go.  They did not lie to me about Santa; my mother told me at the age of 3 and yes, I remember that day well as the day I found out adults lie.  I remember many times at school being angrily pulled aside by teachers and parents who didn’t like when I made reference to Santa not being real, in one case when I asked why I shouldn’t tell the truth, my second grade teacher stated, “Because some parents want their children to believe.”  I feel that this is more of a game for parents than for children and always have; I still always enjoyed Xmas, I just knew the truth.  I was more upset that Kermit the Frog wasn’t real than Santa.  And now I’m an atheist; I could always see the path of lies presented to people and their willingness to follow made-up stories.

  • Gunstargreen

    I think this is being over thought. Life isn’t a Christmas special and your kids aren’t going to be devastated when they discover you were lying about Santa. Believing in Santa is fun, I don’t think it’s too horrible to afford kids a little bit of magical thinking and allow them to be children.

    And kids are smart, they’ll figure it out. They always have.

  • Briarlane

    Our children are now 28 and 22.  We didn’t press the Santa story at all – it was all around them without being told ‘lies’ by their parents.  Yes, there were always presents ‘From Santa’ under the tree.  As per my childhood memories of family Christmases, there were also gifts from family pets,  ‘the Elf that runs the clock’, Rudolph… we sang Christmas carols about the baby Jesus but it was all the general ‘magic of Christmas’.  Anytime we talked about Santa, it was said with a wink and a smile.  I never had to be told Santa was just pretend, and neither did my children – but we enjoyed the fantasy just the same. 

  • Uly

    It’s not “make-believe” if you tell your child “Santa came!” and give them presents labelled from Santa, and generally expect them to believe in Santa for a few years. Make-believe is when you go “Let’s pretend we’re pirates looking for buried treasure” or when you say “I’ll be the mermaid, and you can be the shark”.

    Telling them “You ARE a pirate” and sticking to that story until they figure it out on their own is just lying.

  • Anonymous

    Much the same in my family, although we haven’t had anyone young enough to  poke fun with for a few years. There’s a nearly-two-year-old (my cousin’s son) to start fresh with soon though.

    When the last young’uns started doubting (how do they believe in that creepy fakeyfake mask in the first place?), we got a Santa look-alike coming to our house on Christmas Eve*, horse-drawn carriage and all, juuust to keep them on their toes a little longer. :3 (We know where to draw the line, though; one cousin was off-limits for “santa sees you” scares, he took it way too seriously. He got pretty worked up, to the point of throwing up, just about the whole excitement of it (presents and all the other hullabaloo). Sensitive little guy.)

    *We open presents on Christmas Eve where I’m from. It annoys me me when people get mathematical about Santa (time zones, reindeer speed, number of chimneys) and assume that everyone who celebrates Christmas gets their presents by the morning of the 25th. What? Just because he doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it isn’t Serious Business! D:

  • Ubi Dubium

    I have a Fundie brother-in-law who downplays Santa for his kids for that very reason.  He doesn’t want them getting Santa muddled up with Jesus.  When they found out that Santa wasn’t real, he couldn’t have them wondering the same thing about Jesus, oh no!

    My oldest daughter figured out the Tooth Fairy through an empirical experiment (she put a tooth under her pillow without telling anybody, and noted that the Tooth Fairy didn’t show).  She naturally extrapolated this to Santa and the Easter Bunny.   Our response to her question of “Is Santa real?” was always “What do you think?”  And once she said “I think he’s not” then we confirmed that for her right away.  I think this was a good experience in critical thinking for her.

  • My son is smart. So smart that I think he’s humoring me about Santa. I haven’t forced the myth on him. I have let the kids at school convince him. But I haven’t denied it either. My wife and I waited until late Christmas Eve to put the presents out last year, and said one of them was from Santa and the rest were from family. I ate the cookies and drank the milk left out. He never asks questions. Well, not about this. He requires evidence when I say we’re out of his favorite snack, but this one he’s staying quiet about. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to burst my bubble.

    I think my biggest fear is making him the one that spills the beans at school. He’s already one of the smartest kids in class, so being Mr. Smarty Know-it-all-Pants would just be too much. I want him to confront me when he hears it from a kid at school.

  • Anonymous

    I told my daughter that Santa was “the spirit of giving anonymously” and let the culture lie to her.  As long as she wanted to believe, she saw the elf on TV and in malls, and believed in a spirit as an embodiment of a mystical being with magical powers, but when the truth started to show through the cracks, the word “spirit” took on a less corporeal meaning and she didn’t have to feel I had lied to her.   Now she is an adult, Santa is still the concept of giving without taking credit it for it, and receiving without the need for guilt or gratitude.  And a reminder that Coca Cola is a treat.

  • Luc

    You don’t have to lie to your kids in order to allow them to be children 🙂 kids enjoy making up stories as they go and role-playing them even knowing they’re not real (after all, they are making them up).

    If you really want to “do Santa”, frame it as a game. They will enjoy it as much as any other game because writting the letter and leaving food and all that stuff is a lot of fun.

  • MichelleC

    My husband and I downplayed Santa until last year, when our older son turned three.  Then we presented it to him as a “fun story” and another kind of winter celebration, since we celebrate Christmas alongside Hanukkah, Festivus, and the Solstice.  He listened intently, but you could see the wheels turning in his head… when I was done telling the story, he looked at me with utter disdain and said with as much condescension as his toddler voice could muster, “Mommy, reindeers can’t fly.  And NOBODY’s gonna fit down our chimney.”  This year, he shocked his elderly great-grandmother by scoffing at her questions about Santa and bluntly telling her that Santa isn’t real; it’s all just grown-ups pretending.  Things should get interesting when our little skeptic starts talking to his still-believing 7 and 8 year-old cousins on Christmas…

  • mike

    My son Age 9 figured out the truth on his own this year.  I’m proud of this deductive reasoning and skeptical mind.  The  reasoning that brought him around to the truth and the reward of being correct are going to stick with him better than any lesson I could have dreamed up.   I didn’t plan it this way but the whole Santa thing has been an excellent lesson in skepticism, and frankly just fun for everyone involved. If I had to do it again I’d do the same thing.  

  • Anonymous

    My parents operated under the same theory as brother-in-law. It didn’t work.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad to read this. There are way too many people talking about 8 and 9 year-olds just catching on.  

  • Gwenny Todd

    I raised three children, the oldest of whom is now 31.  Although I’ve been trying to recall how I did it, I did not raise them thinking that all the presents came from Santa.  I had not believed in Santa at a very young age, because of my grandfather, and had not suffered.  But I had seen my youngest sister fly into a rage in her teens when someone finally convinced her that Santa wasn’t real . . when she was in her teens.  I wanted to avoid that . . and, honestly, I felt lying to children is bad.  

    And you know what, they seem just fine.  They are mostly atheists, as I am (I was Mormon at the time and they were raised Mormon)  And . . they just didn’t seem to be traumatized about it.  We talked about Santa and watched Christmas shows.  But always with the understanding that it was a story and the gifts came from me.  (Did this with the Tooth Fairy as well and remember with a laugh my daughter losing a tooth and my saying that the Tooth Fairy was broke and her saying she’d take a food stamp.  We were very poor at the time.)   So it’s totally possible to do it without any fuss.  Just be honest.  It means they will never have to look back and realize you lied to them for years.

  • T-Rex

    Your point being?

  • beijingrrl

    I’d think most kids aren’t too upset once they figure out Santa isn’t real.  Some are.  It’s up to you as a parent to figure out which category your kid falls into.  I will say that the one child I know who freaked is from a Catholic family.  And maybe it was a good thing.  This girl is just all too willing to swallow hook, line and sinker anything that an authority figure tells her and is utterly shocked when someone believes something different.  Hopefully it’ll make her more skeptical in the future.  I think it’s good for our kids to know we’re not perfect and don’t have all the answers.  I didn’t lie to my kids, but did do the “What do you think?” thing.  I don’t want them to look on anyone as unerring and always truthful.  It’s just not a realistic view of humanity.  We all blur the lines sometimes.  Just like when they ask me what their dad and are doing in our locked bedroom.  They know what sex is and at some point they’ll figure out that’s what we’re doing, but I don’t feel the need to spell it out for them.  I’m sure they’ll prefer that I didn’t and let them believe my vague dismissals.

  • T-Rex

    Jesus F’ing Christ! It’s amazing how many of you over think something as simple and innocent as Santa Claus. You are so concerned about how and at what age the child will find out he’s not real, or how it might damage the kid once he finds out Santa is a myth. “Gawd” forbid you let the kid be a kid and enjoy the whole holiday ritual for a few years.  Once they do figure it out, I guarantee that while you may appreciate that your child has critical thinking skills and was able to reason out the truth, you will also be somewhat disappointed as that innocence and magic are now gone. Kids grow up fast enough these days. I’ll gladly play Santa as long as I am allowed to. 

  • Anonymous

    when can’t a father “stop” his child from being taken to a house of delusion and potentially child rape (RCC)? that makes no sense to me.

    but yeah, thanks for that. kids are far less fragile than we like to think. i would never lie to a child (i have none, but if i did) in this way. it just seems so wrong and unethical to me. give them gifts, let them know they come from real, loving friends and family. what’s wrong with that? oh, it means not participating in ritual and myth designed to support organized religion. right. 

  • Anonymous

    i was deeply traumatized by the realization that my parents lied to me. it didn’t “feel good” nor did the many gifts i’d received make me feel better. a holiday/ritual is one thing, but knowing that your own parents would lie to you, their own child? heartbreaking. for me at least. maybe the kids in your life are different. my parents raised me to be ethical and moral and honest, and it was a blow that to this day i can hardly describe.

  • Lucilius

    They’re not Catholic. And the churchgoing occurs when the girl spends a few days at her grandparents’. Nothing forcible, just sneaky.

  • Anonymous

    It takes all kinds, I guess. 

    Personally, in my Christian upbringing, I did not know anyone who still believed in Santa past age 6. It had to do at least in part with the hierarchy of superstitions (Jesus was on top). But I was beginning to wonder from reading these comments if secular/skeptical parents were somehow more likely to keep the Santa thing going past what I previously thought was the expiration date. Evidence from this comment thread is anecdotal at best, of course.

    Seeing a story about a 3 year-old rejecting this stuff out of hand made me think that there’s more diversity in how the children of FA readers are being raised than I thought before reading this comment.. 

  • Anonymous

    Not having been raised Christian, and never having had any belief in Santa myself, it would have been extreme hypocrisy for me to encourage a belief in Santa for my son. I don’t see any reason to lie to children at all — and I think this Santa lie does nothing but harm. Children need to know where their gifts come from in order to develop their own sense of giving, and the naughty or nice business is really hypocritical, because all children do naughty things from time to time during the year.

    I think this desire to give Santa to your children is just a leftover of your own Christian upbringing, and that you are loath to leave behind that little crystal of belief that seems to still lie within you. Teach your children to give all year round, and to enjoy each other and work for peace all year round; teach them to donate food to the poor, and support worthy causes all year round.

    I guess I resent all this fake fantasy and “good cheer” at the Christmas season, because hungry people are still hungry in July, and giving is a universal value and doesn’t need any Santa Claus.

  • Kristin

    I was devastated, actually. I believed longer than a lot of children, until I was 8 or 9. I had questioned before, but was always assured by my parents that he was real. I found out one Christmas Eve when I heard a guitar being played. I crept downstairs. The playing stopped, my mom ran out of the room, and ushered me back to bed. The next morning, my sister had a guitar from “Santa.” I told my mom this, and she admitted that Santa wasn’t real. I bawled hysterically and asked her why she would lie to me all these years. Honesty was something that had been so ingrained in me to the point where I was fearful of somehow “accidentally lying.” I had never lied to my parents (well, once, but I confessed 10 minutes later), and I took this as a huge betrayal. I don’t see it that way now, but I did not look  at my parents the same way for a while after that. Although I don’t think it scarred me for life by any means, it’s hard for me to look back at the Santa years fondly because of it, and I had trouble trusting what my parents said after that. It may sound silly, and I got over it, but that’s how I truly felt at that age. 

    So yeah, although I haven’t ruled it out completely, as we live in a very Santa-heavy culture, I am hesitant about doing the Santa thing with my future children.

  • I’m fine with whatever choice parents make, but I must disagree that the desire to give children the Santa experience is left over from a Christian upbringing. I grew up atheist, and my family did Santa!

  • Jesse

    When I was growing up, the tradition every year was for me to attempt to photograph, or otherwise record Santa in ever more complicated and ingenious ways, which my parents would then respond to in an equally cheerful and creative spirit.  Sometimes there’d just be a gloved hand waving in one corner of the “photograph” or some such.  It was never a issue with being lied to, at least as far as I can remember — we’re a proudly secular family, and it was assumed that we all knew it was make-believe.  The whole idea of intentionally misleading your children continues to puzzle me.

  • Quesita

    Oh, I thought I was so prepared.  I told my daughter that on the darkest nights
    of the year, we put lights on the evergreen to remind us that both the light and
    the green would return.  I told her that
    many many years ago, a good man names St. Nick gave presents to poor people he didn’t
    know, and to honor his generosity, we give presents to the people we love on
    the darkest nights of the year.  Some people
    like to call him Santa Clause, and some people like to dress up like him.


    I NEVER told my daughter any of the Santa Clause mythology.


    At 5 years old, she is the Santa Clause EXPERT.  She is obsessing about leaving cookies and milk
    for Santa this year, and debating about whether the reindeer would prefer carrots
    or broccoli.  She wanted to write him a letter.
     She wants to see the North Pole on the globe. 


    I’ve given in.  It will
    be one more year?  Maybe two? 


    I have told her that some people think that the baby Jesus was
    born on Christmas.  I save most of my Jesus
    stuff for Easter, when I do my monologue about “Some people think that after he
    died, he came back to life.  But I think his
    friends loved him and missed him so much that they just thought he came back.”  

  • Jessica

    I’m just curious here. I’m Wiccan so I don’t celebrate Christmas (I celebrate Yule). However I have always figured that Athesists celebrate “The Holidays” in one form or another, such as just being with family and giving presents with out any presence of deity or their children. What I am curious about is if ya’ll celebrate on Christmas or if there is another date. Do you call it Christmas or something else? I’ve always wondered if Atheists have a title for the Christless Christmas. Again just curious :), and personally as a Wiccan I’m still deciding if I will let my children deal with the Santa myth when I do have them. On one side I am outright lying to my kid but on the other I agree that it does premote creativity.

  • Gregory Lynn

    I drove by a church sign today that read “Yes, Virginia, there is a Jesus.”

    I actually did laugh out loud. If they want to equate Jesus and Santa Claus, I’m totally okay with that.

  • I call it Christmas because that’s the name of the holiday in our culture, and I celebrate on the 25th because that’s when everyone else celebrates. For me, it’s like Halloween. I don’t believe in supernatural things like ghosts and spirits either, but it’s still fun to dress up in costumes and give out candy. You don’t have to believe that something is real to have a good time with it.

  • goober1223

    I went through a very similar experience. And to top it all off, I was ridiculed at school for standing up for the stupid things that I naively believed in long after the other kids had figured it out.

    Magic isn’t magic if it isn’t real.

  • Kristi

    Wow, so many SO serious posts about this.  Santa is now an American tradition, not a religious one anymore.  2 out of 3 of my kids believe and my oldest (8) takes  serious pride in being in the “grown up knowledge” circle and helps me play the game with my younger two.  They all knew presents didn’t come from *just* Santa though.  They went shopping with me to buy gifts for other people in our family and such…. and ironically enough, they thought it was rather cool of mom to help Santa and take a little off his list for him. 

    Get real people.  Santa is not damaging. Religion is damaging.  Santa is not a religion, it’s a family tradition to many.  Hell, Christmas is not even Christian… never was, but it’s turned into a massive shopping spree over 2 months time.  Simply, it’s fun, gives the kids something fun and festive to play games with and anyone who says they were “traumatized” as a child… well…. where are you now? Are you STILL traumatized by it?

  • wolfie

    Mine both had it figured out by Kindergarten at the latest, so 5 yo. We didn’t play it up at all, and at least one of them had pretty strong suspicions by age 4. It was the tooth fairy that threw the whole thing off for him and that was before he ever lost a tooth. I think the only reason the belief held on so long for them was that their preschool teachers were much more hardcore and active about it. They’d figured out things like that the chimney couldn’t be true for kids in apartments, so they made up their own explanations to go with that sort of stuff. I introduced the story to them at 2 yo, so before they were questioning much.

    You should’ve been here for the first tooth loss. Kid 1 had paid close attention to what his friends received from the Tooth Fairy and went into full-fledged negotiation mode.

  • Anonymous

    My parents told me and my two younger brothers that Santa was real. I would ask the normal questions (how does he travel all over the world? How does he fit down chimneys? ect). Eventually one year I stopped asking questions and that is when my parents knew that I had figured out the truth.

    A few years later, my brother found a box to one of his Christmas presents in the laundry room. He realized then that Santa wasn’t real. It only took a few days before he’d blabbed it to my youngest brother too.

  • wolfie

    Mary, for the most part I read a normal children’s book and then there was a present under the tree labeled as being from Santa. So…it’s not that different from attending a show or theme park where someone’s dressed up as a favorite character. Between 2 and 5 yo that line between what you read in a story or see on tv and reality just isn’t that strong for most kids, and it’s not like most parents sit their preschoolers down and tell them Barney isn’t a real dinosaur. I don’t exactly protect the information – I present a book about the same as any other, and after that questions get answered with learning research and thinking skills “How do you think we can find out?”, “So and so says that….does that sound right to you?” and “That’s a good question! What do you think?”

    I put this sort of “lie” on the same plane as putting the Fisher-Price alligators in front of the bedroom door “to protect you” when one of my kids convinced himself that invisible miniature astronauts were climbing up his nose and lighting fires in it while he slept. I could tell the kid it wasn’t really happening until I was blue in the face, but it didn’t shake his worries whereas the little plastic alligators guarding the door did.

  • Wow, I love this! I’ve never read anything that so perfectly encompassed my discomfort about Santa. Thanks for putting a voice to my feelings!

  • BonnieLB

    Best explanation I’ve read of the difference!

  • walkamungus

    We opened family gifts on Christmas Eve, and then Santa would visit overnight and leave a special gift. My sister and I both believed in Santa as children, which our parents encouraged, and eventually stopped believing without any trauma that I can remember. But the fiction was kept up, and is still fun today — my sister and I are both in our 40s, and those years that we’re able to get together for Christmas, “Santa” still leaves a special gift for each of us on the 25th. Of course, “Santa’s helpers” have to coordinate stocking stuffing and promise not to peek!

  • cl hanson

    I plan to do the Santa thing with my children. In general, make believe
    is crucial to children’s development of creativity, empathy, learning,
    and problem-solving.

    Fab, but “make believe” and creative, imaginative play do not imply ever presenting the fantasy as real.  This is the one point where I’m constantly frustrated by the Santa debate — this weird idea that making it clear from the outset that it’s just a fun game of pretend somehow spoils it.  Quite the contrary, I think it’s more fun — and gives more freedom for imagination! — if it’s clear that it’s pretend.

  • Tekkiefirst

    You don’t lie to her, maybe something in the lines of “What whould you like to believe?’ would be in order. Don’t “tell her” the story. She will find out enough on her own at school and in the media. When you start her into the “fantasy” or ” the truth” path she will find out on her own. You haven’t lied to her. When she asks … at whatever age you tell her only the truth answering only her question and don’t expand on “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. She (and most kids) will figure it out in her time with the truthful answers that you give. Just my thoughts anyway.

  • Duncs51

    Hey I remember being a kid and playing along with the Santa thing for YEARS after I figured out the truth for myself. I saw that my parents liked seeing me believe so I played along. There was never a conversation or confrontation about it, just a common understanding and to this day there is still a present from “Santa” and I give them one from “Santa”

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