Santa Claus: Is he real?

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The ins and outs of creating (or not creating) the Santa Claus myth.

santa-claus

This question came up on the PSP lists again... Read the first discussion here about the secularism of Santa, and you can jump the more recent dialogue here that delves into the myth and mystery of him.

 

One:

Poster:

"We're a happily mixed non-religious family but having been raised Jewish myself I just don't feel entirely comfortable with the whole Santa thing as far as conveying to my 3-year old daughter that he, and the Easter bunny, are actually "real." I realize I am taking a risk of being run out of town for even mentioning Santa on the list so early in the year but it's a result of a family cousin mentioning him in August (!) in an unsuccessful threat that my daughter should behave or risk
being present-less.

I'm happy to go visit Santa with her when the time comes, and he already sends my daughter presents via the grandparents and I see no reason to undermine that. But can I say to her that he's a character or is pretend -- like Elmo or something? (And is there a "moral obligation" not to reveal the truth to a daughter who is then very likely to talk and contaminate the whole thing for her toddler friends?).

My husband thinks Santa would be a nice presence in her life – should I just go along an perpetuate the myth and lighten up? Any other parents deal with this issue in interfaithless marriages such as my own or simply out of backlash against the man in the red suit?"

 

Replies:

"Go along with the myth, she will figure it out fantasy vs. reality soon enough (we all did). I personally love christmas and think that Santa just makes it a little bit more fun for all involved."

 

"I see Santa as a cultural thing, not a religious thing. As a child I was told that Santa was "the spirit of giving", and I didn't need more specificity than that. With my own children I don't make a big deal out of it, or propagandize about him one way or the other. My kids are firm believers -- they turn 11 tomorrow! -- and the magic of it all seems to be meaningful to them. When at various times during their life they have asked me outright about him, I have just replied "hmmm, I don't know, what do you think?!" I enjoy their innocence, and yes, have gotten very annoyed at precocious kids who try to tell them otherwise! They must know on some level, but I can accept that it is something nice for them, without worrying about it. BTW, my kids also firmly believe in heaven, with angels and the whole spiel....I haven't a clue as to where they got that, but then who knows, maybe they're right! Same with Santa."

 

"My husband told our kids from the beginning that Santa was not real -- and they refused to believe him! Haha. They wanted to believe in Santa, so they did, until they were ready to stop believing."

 

"It's funny, I was just reminiscing with a friend yesterday about our kids' different experiences with Santa Claus. We're both non-religious families with part-Jewish and part-Christian backgrounds. In our family, we had Santa Claus for many years, until my younger son finally admitted that he understood that Santa was pretend. (For years, I think, he knew but didn't want to know, so he didn't ask.) My older son, developmentally disabled, still thinks Santa brings presents at Christmas. My friend's daughter -- a friend of my younger son -- was always freaked out by costumes. Adults dressed up as characters from tv or books, like Barney, always frightened her. She needed the reassurance that it was all pretend, so she was told from the beginning that Santa was a nice fantasy, but not real. She used to try to explain this to my son, but my son doggedly believed what he wanted to, for as long as he wanted! So -- not to worry. Whatever you and your husband decide upon will work out."

 

"All I can say is when I was a little girl, I told my Mama that the kids at school said that Santa Claus wasn't real... Her reply was simply, "If you don't believe, you won't receive!" I never mentioned it again. To this day, I still leave thank you notes by the fireplace, next to the stockings, thanking "HER" for all the wondrous things she still does for me and my family! The next morning is almost like when I was a child. Quite magical, I don't think it's something you have to outgrow, and I am 33 years old! (And of course, I recognize what's real vs. fantasy). Have fun with the spirit of the idea, and create your own Santa traditions!"

 

"This reminds me of the end of the tooth fairy myth for our older son. I kept denying that I was the tooth fairy until one day when he finally got me. He looked me in the eye and asked, "How can you believe in the tooth fairy when you don't believe in god?" LOL. He has sworn not to let my younger one in on the truth..."

 

"Here's the thing. Neither Santa Claus, nor the "Easter Bunny" are Christian. They are pagan symbols that have come to be associated with Christian holidays because of the messy evolution of Christianity in Western Europe. Some Christian holy days were actually moved to coincide with significant times of the year for the pagan religions. Take Easter. Christ didn't rise for the dead and hunt for eggs. Eggs? Rabbits? It's a throw back to pagan fertility rites. It's a similar story with Santa. So in that sense, Santa and the Easter bunny are like Elmo or the tooth fairy.
We are atheists but we go the whole hog with Christmas, Easter, Halloween.
For us it's secular and it's fun. We'll let them believe for now and tell them the truth about them when the time comes. There's only a short time in our lives when we really believe in magic, we're going to make the most of it, whether. My son thinks TIVO lives in out TV and finds him programs about trucks to watch. I don't see the harm.
I also think a lot of this is down to adult preoccupations and that the faith our children eventually find as adults, whether it is in deities or humanity, will be the faith they find, regardless of Santa or his imaginary friends.

 

"Good point! Thank you! I actually raise my son with all sort of stories and beliefs about the god of thunder, the goddess of grass etc etc. I tell him all my childhood stories about St Francis talking to animals and he remembers each and every character, and mentions the Greek and Roman gods very much a propos! I agree with you that believing in magic is a privilege kids have for a short time and the only reason why we do not go crazy full blast about Santa is the extreme commercialization of the entire thing. But he gets presents from Santa on Dec 25 and Mrs. Claus on January 6th, and he hasn't complained yet :-) !"

 

"Our family is decidedly mixed, since my husband is a devout Catholic and I am a devout ex-Catholic atheist. We respect each other's views, and neither one of us tries to "convert" the other one. However, having kids makes it trickier, because we have to decide how to celebrate religious holidays together.... For Christmas, we decided to tell our kids that there is a fantastic story about how Saint Nicholas brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and that it's REALLY FUN to pretend that Santa exists, although the presents are really from Mommy and Daddy. On Christmas Eve, we put out cookies for "Santa" and the whole nine yards, and the kids love it, even though they know we are pretending. We do it that way for a number of reasons, but mostly because my husband wanted to emphasize the whole birth-of-the-Savior thing (oh yeah, that), and we both wanted to de-emphasize the gift-greediness aspect.
We also told them that some kids believe that Santa is real, and those kids would be REALLY sad if you told them otherwise, so don't say anything to ruin their fun!
So, I think it is possible to enjoy the fun of the Santa story, without necessarily telling your kids that Santa is real. I'm not necessarily advocating that for everyone, but it works for us."

 

"My son (at age 10 or 11) logically explained, "Santa Claus MUST be real. Otherwise, it would mean that there was some GIANT conspiracy, and EVERYONE got together and agreed to lie to all their children that there is a Santa Claus. And sing songs on the radio about him, and decorate all the stores, and play movies on TV, and put up a tree in your house. It's just not possible that EVERYONE would be lying.
"What, and you become a grownup, they pull you aside, and say "Oh, also, Santa doesn't really exist, but don't tell the kids! Keep playing along and pretend he's real!" It just doesn't make any sense that a lie that big, that massive, could possibly be pulled off. So there must really be a Santa Claus."
You're absolutely right, I told him.
(P.S. - Mixed faith & "interfaithless" (great word!) families: you might be comfortable with the Unitarian's Festival of Lights, where children celebrate Solstice, Channukah, Eid (the end of Ramadan), Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Wonderful music, in many languages!)"

 

Two:

Poster:

"My 4 year old has been asking if certain things like witches and astronauts are real or make believe. It's a matter of time before she will ask us the same about Santa Claus, and I'm curious how others have handled this. It hasn't been an issue yet, but now that she's in school and is more aware of him, I want to be prepared for when it comes up.  My husband and I both would feel bad lying to her - we want to be truthful - but I also don't want her to miss out on the "magic" of Santa. I've sought out ideas on Google, but wondering if anyone here has creative ways to handle this."

 

Replies:

 

“I like to believe that Santa exists” is what we did about age 4.  If they wanted to believe too, they could. By about age 6 then there are those party pooper kids at school who tell them that it doesn’t exist.     The Polar Express is a good book about believing in Santa…"

 

"I LOVE that you posted this. I am not ALONE. I felt so awkward lying to kids about Santa, but the mere suggestion that I would tell my kids Santa was fake, to anyone I know, made them respond to me like I'm a foolish person for thinking about such things. And their response is... just let the kid have fun, how can you take away Santa. But the truth is, I think its weird to tell your kid the middle of the night and leaves presents. And I feel weird lying to my kids. And what about the lack of uniformity. Some kids get tons of presents, some kids get less, some kids get what they asked for, some kids don't. I personally don't like to buy a TON of presents (although what I do buy might look like a ton to someone else).
How do I explain why Santa gave Mary ten more presents? Or Santa didn't buy you the $1k toy robot you wanted.  Now that I have an 8 year old and a 4 year old, when my kids ask if I believe in Santa (note: they have never asked if he's real, only if I believe), I usually say "I'm not sure, and what do you think?"  And then I haven't labeled presents as being from me or Santa. I figured the kids can decide who they are from themselves. I'm not sure this is the best solution, but its seemed to work OK in our house, for now."

 

"We had this debate when our daughter turned 1, which was her first real Christmas. (Her actual first Christmas she was only a week old).  We decided to make it a fun Christmas tradition without including the "naughty or nice" aspect and without pushing the myth. I'm honest that the Macy's Santa is not the Santa who brings her gifts but we still go see him for the fun. If she ever questions his existence we will be honest no matter her age. We will then ask that she doesn't ruin it for others who might believe more strongly."

 

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???  SANTA CLAUS IS REAL!!!"

 

"One consideration that folks with very young children might not have experienced yet: You are not going to be the only (or possibly even the most important) source of info on Santa. Soon, if they haven’t already, your kids are going to be discussing this stuff with their peers, and forming ideas based on what they hear as well as what they see around them in the larger culture. The default position in the playgrounds and preschools of Park Slope seems to me to be that Santa Claus is real. I’ve never explicitly said to my daughters “Santa Claus is real”; I’ve just gone along with their assumption that he is. If you DON’T want your kids believing in Santa, for religious or any other reason, that’s where you really have to have a conversation with them (in my experience, anyway—not sure to what degree this is universal).  If you do want to incorporate Santa into your Christmas, I don’t think that two is too young. My younger daughter will turn 3 next month; she clearly remembers the concept of Santa from last Christmas, and has some pretty firm ideas about him (of course, she has firm opinions about everything, but that’s another story)."

 

"When my son was 4.5, he firmly told me that santa is not real. When I asked why he thinks that, he looked at me as if I was an absolute idiot and said "because he isn't!" When he was 5.5 and lost his first tooth, we talked up the tooth fairy, gave him my daughters old tooth fairy pillow and kissed him goodnight. Moments later, he called me in and he was crying because he did not want the tooth fairy to come in while he was sleeping. He was seriously panicked. I tried a few strategies (never admitting to a tooth fairy) to see if he wanted the pillow on the kitchen table or in the mail room. He didn't. He was still very anxious so I told him the truth. The relief in his whole body was very palpable.  We spent a long time talking about other people's beliefs and how we don't want to tell them that their beliefs are wrong. No one wants to be the kid that ruins Christmas.  Now, he kind of loves that we have our own private little (no santa, no tooth fairy).  Good luck with whatever you do but do what your gut tells you. I'm a big believer that is a child asks, they want to know. If they didn't want to know, they wouldn't ask so directly. They would sneakily try to get it out of you.

 

"One of the beautiful things about living in a diverse (or semi-diverse) community it that your kids will come into contact with kids of different religious, cultural or economic backgrounds.  They are going to find out Santa isn’t real at some point along the way. Maybe from a school friend, on the playground or from a cousin on Christmas eve. My kids clued in when they found a Lego receipt  They survived and still enjoy the holiday."

 

"Thought this article had a sweet idea on how to handle the situation..."

 

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Interfaith Holidays: Chrismukkah

What Does The Tooth Fairy Do With The Extra Teeth?