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Parenting Advice

Santa Claus: Yay Or Nay?

Written by Kate MacLean

Photography by Photographed By James Kicinski-McCoy

The following content involves some frank talk about the world, particularly the magical world, that may not be appropriate for young children (and some adults).

As parents of young children, we have tremendous power to dictate the way our little humans see and experience the world. We pick the friends they can see, the clothes they can wear, the books they can read. We quickly turn off the radio or television when the news dives into the horrors of politics and terror and war. We keep the world as friendly and magical as we possibly can for these tiny creatures. We put off the difficulties and realities as long as we are able. But, where does the line exist between giving our children a magical childhood and overt deception? Some parents advocate for frankly explaining 9/11 to their young children and others are making their 10-year-old hunt for baskets left by the Easter Bunny. At this time of year, many moms and dads struggle to find balance between magic and reason when engaging in Santa Claus deception.

Santa is a great magical moment in many a former kid’s memory. Even if seen as creepy from an adult’s point of view—strange man coming into the house, while everyone is sleeping—children have a wonderfully innocent vision of the world, and the idea of mountains of presents magically appearing is a pleasant and comfortable reality for them. Kids up to seven years old live in what researchers refer to as the fantasy/magic years. They are eager to imagine characters coming to life from the books they read and the movies they watch. This is why Santa is such an easy and natural thing for them to believe. And, like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, he has become a quintessential part of early American childhood.

But, research shows that while children are receptive to fantasy and magic up until seven they, at the much younger age of four, can spot the differences between fact and fiction. Santa’s roots may have begun as festive fantasy, but with new additions to the holiday like Elf on the Shelf and santa letter campaigns, the fantasy has taken on elements of intentional manipulation. These new tactics make it harder for children to see the line between fact and fiction. On CNN, Jake Wallis Simmons opines, “Somehow, parents have gone beyond the light-hearted Santa of decades past, and are intent on manipulating their children into actually believing that he exists. The energy and forethought that some people expend on Santa propaganda is astonishing.”

There are many other big problems, of course, with the Santa story; there are five billion+ non-Christians in this world, and their children are thus left presentless? There is unkind stress put on parents in what is already a stressful, cold, and expensive time of year. And, children of poor families feel the gap of the Have Nots, especially poignant at Christmas.

But, despite the problems with Santa, many believing children and their parents find it to be a truly magical time of year (and of life). It is for this reason that the tradition has persisted for so many hundreds of years, and why parents are so divided over it.

How do you navigate or employ Santa in your holiday celebrations? What do you tell your young children? What tools do you use to help you with Santa? Parents of non-Christian children, how do you navigate Santa? Parents of older kids, have you had the Santa Reckoning? How did that go? Former children who are now adults, what was your take on your own experience?

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