Afternoon Inquisition 12.22

Back in July, I wrote a post about how we’re not doing the whole Santa thing in our house.  Some people think I’m right on; other people think I’m a cruel human being who has no business raising a child.  I’ve received phone calls from my dad begging me to please think about what I’m doing to Moose.

But I don’t doubt that I’m doing the right thing – especially now.  Our household is pretty tight on cash this year. From what I hear, money is tight in most households. Moose is too young to understand Santa/no Santa (really, if it’s not a dog or Spider-Man, he doesn’t care anyway) so it’s not a big deal yet, but I started wondering about other kids… would a kid whose parents have been laid-off or had their wages cut think that he was bad when he got fewer presents this year?

Parents: What are you telling your kids this year? If you are telling them that there is a Santa, how do you explain it when their friends and classmates get more/bigger or fewer/smaller gifts? If you’re telling them there is no Santa, how do you deal with the fact that other kids around them do believe?

Non-Parents: If you don’t have kids, what do you think you’d tell them if you did? What if your favorite kid (a niece or nephew or your friend’s kid) came up and asked you, “What’s the truth about Santa Claus?” What would you say or what would you want to say?


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. That’s a tough one. A lot of kids rely on the hope that there is a Santa. A lot of parents do too because for at least that last month before Xmas, their kids might behave a little better, haha. In atheist households if there’s no Santa and there’s no God/Jesus, is there still meaning behind Xmas? Does it then just become a holiday with weird practices (cutting down a tree & decorating it, hanging mistletoe, hanging socks/stockings at the fireplace, gross kisses from aunts you never see…) that people feel obligated to celebrate but aren’t quite sure why?

    I don’t know if our nieces still believe; they’re 8 and 4. I’d imagine the older one knows the truth now and has teased her sister into believing the same. I think I would have to follow whatever it is their parents tell them. If they’ve decided on their own that they definitely don’t believe in Santa, I would urge my brother and sister in law to not push the idea on them that they no longer cling to.

    For kids as young as Moose, I don’t think it’s necessary to bring Santa into the matter. Like you said, dogs & spiderman get attention; not some dude that possibly scares the crap out of them once a year. If you don’t tell your kids at a young age, it’s possible you won’t be obliged to tell them later on that there “is” a Santa. When they reach school age, their friends will believe, but that doesn’t mean that they have to believe too.

    Enough rambling… I don’t think it’s necessary to tell kids about Santa. And if they do ask, tell them the truth. Same with their questions about God.

  2. I wonder about this one a lot. I know that I believed in Santa Claus when I was young (and for, perhaps, an embarrassingly long time), but I also know that my transition from belief to non-belief was pretty seamless and non-traumatic.

    Overall, believing in Santa Claus was a) a positive experience and b) caused no apparent lasting damage.

  3. I don’t have kids, but I would never mess with anyone else’s. If my niece or nephew asked me about Santa I would ask what their parents said and go with that or just change the subject. Kids have short attention spans that you can use to your advantage.

    If I had kids I would make it clear right from the very beginning that Santa is a fictional character that we can have fun pretending exists at Christmas. This is the way I was brought up. Kids are so good at combining fantasy with reality that you don’t have to lie to them to introduce Santa into their lives if this is what you choose to do. One of my nieces has been playing with the Little Mermaid for years.

    As to the amount of presents I’ll go back to my childhood again. We were taught to be grateful for what we got. Ingratitude or telegraphing the idea that we deserved gifts was always met with bad consequences. And we never, ever asked for anything. A present was always a surprise. This is a tradition that my wife and I have carried on. Also a present at an unexpected time is always best. If I see a perfect gift for someone I’ll get it whether it be St. Swithin’s day or no holiday at all.

  4. @mrsepp:

    In atheist households if there’s no Santa and there’s no God/Jesus, is there still meaning behind Xmas?

    Sure there is. It’s still a time to be with family and exchange gifts with people you love just because you love them. It’s just a tradition at the end of the year. Besides, when you’re a kid, a holiday is about getting out of school and getting gifts.


    Is not causing apparent lasting damage a good enough reason to just go with the flow? I think the same could be said for kids who didn’t grow up with Santa.

    I grew up with Santa, too. I was very heartbroken when I found out he wasn’t real, but I wasn’t scarred for life.

    I was also one of the “haves” and not a “have not”, if you will. My parents worked very hard to make sure my sister and I got our top wish for Christmas. But what about the kids who didn’t get those things? I wonder if it’s different for them. Do they look the kid down the street who is a total jerk but got a Wii and an iPod and a trip to Disney World for Christmas and wonder why Santa thought they were so good? Do they wonder why they’ve gotten straight A’s and followed all the rules all year long only to get a board game and a pair of socks?

  5. I’m cool with it either way. I have absolutely no qualms about lying to my (future, potential) kids, so long as it’s always in the fantastical way. By which I mean, when we’re talking science and reality, no lying. When we’re playing, I will lie my pants off for my own (and maybe their) amusement. As they grow up, they’ll figure out the difference. Kids are remarkably good at having those two worlds completely separate from one another.

  6. Elyse,

    Whether Santa Claus or life — sometimes my kids have more than other kids, and sometimes less. In *this* area they often have less (and certainly with their cousins on my husband’s side). Of course, worldwide my family is in the top 2% income bracket. They never really have questioned why someone else has “more” and they have less. At least not when it comes to Santa. My daughter is a greedy little thing and would love to have IT ALL but that’s not going to happen.

    Something I figured out when my oldest was Moose’s age … no matter what you do you’re going to screw up somehow when raising your kids, and you’re not going to make everyone happy, so you need to do what works for you (even if you are denying my first great nephew Santa Claus LOL). So either your kid is going to be going into therapy because you denied him Santa Claus for the first 8-10 years of his life, or because you lied to him about Santa Claus for the first 8-10 years of his life. Either way you’re doing your part for the future therapists of America.

    As for what I’d say if a kid asked me — I (for one) would hope that I knew what line his parents used and go along with his (or her) parent’s wishes.

    For my son (12 years old) (who I’m sure is in the the secret) he knows that “if you don’t believe you don’t receive” (which means don’t spoil it for Mandy) and for Mandy (who is 7) I’d ask what she thinks.

    But in RETROSPECT I think it might be easier to go your way — because I have this check list for Christmas which involves a various number of certain types of presents AND there have to be presents from Santa AND cookies and milk have to be left out AND it has to be done within a budget — it would be a HECK of a lot easier if we weren’t still sticking with the Santa myth.

  7. One thing I would say about the whole Santa thing is to make sure all the adults in the house are on the same page. It wouldn’t seem like a big deal. But…

    Right now my daughter, who’s almost 7, is starting to ask questions about Santa. She’s figured out that the fat guy in the red suit at the mall isn’t “the real Santa”, but last week she asked whether or not there actually was a Santa. I started to tell her the truth the other night and my husband damn near had a meltdown. He just wasn’t ready, whether she was or not.

    We did talk about it alone later, and we agreed to tell her together. He says this week…we’ll see. He sees it as just another way that she’s growing up, and he’s not ready for that. At all.

    I guess I don’t have to mention (but I will) that Santa wasn’t really my idea from the start.

  8. @Elyse: Well, that’s why I was positing two things. Not only does it not do lasting damage, but the experience itself was a positive one.

    Given both positive consequences AND no damaging repercussions, then, yes, I think that is a pretty okay reason to do something.

  9. I’ll lay out in advance that I am not a parent.

    Like most people, I grew up with Santa, figured it out on my own, and was not traumatized.

    And I was a have-not growing up, but my parents made sure there was some stuff under the tree for us and it was fine. I didn’t think about other people getting more or less, I was pretty oblivious to the whole thing. I think most kids are.

    So I don’t think it’s a huge deal to pretend there was a Santa. Running out to see OMG SANTA PRESENTS was pretty awesome as a little kid. But if we didn’t have Santa, I bet we would’ve been just as excited.

    So if you’re not comfortable with the whole Santa thing, I doubt your kids will miss it. It’ll just be How Things Are and they’ll roll with it.

    However, doing the Santa thing but letting them know it’s make-believe is a nice compromise. That way they get to participate in the cultural aspect but you don’t have the ick of lying to them.

  10. We do Santa (and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy). The kids (7 and 5) believe in Santa.

    The thing is, Moose won’t be insulated forever. One of his friends, one year, will want to know what he asked Santa for, or what he got from Santa, or something.

    You do NOT want to be the parent of the kid that outs Santa for the rest of the class in school!

    Santa’s “variety” is even more than just quantity/quality, it’s also presentation. Is it presents PLUS stockings? Or just one or the other? Are the presents wrapped? Are they mingled in with the rest of the gifts beneath the tree? Does Santa bring the tree??? Are ALL presents from Santa? Is the stocking still hung by the chimney, or is it down on the hearth now, or is it in the child’s bedroom?

    I’ve heard of all of these variations in different families.

    We do gifts PLUS stockings. And until this year, the gifts have just been sitting there, in front of the tree, when the kids wake up (this is entirely different from how it was for me as a kid).

    And then, this year, our daughter (7) asked us if Santa could wrap the gifts this year, so that we could get up and do the stockings, then have breakfast and everything before we open the gifts.

    So now we have to get special wrapping paper that is Santa’s alone, wrap only those gifts in it, and get the paper out of the house before it’s accidentally discovered.

    All-in-all, I think it’s worthwhile, but I can appreciate that it’s definitely worth thinking carefully about.

  11. We did the whole Santa thing with our kids, even though we heard a lot of propaganda about how terrible it was. They eventually grew out of their Santa belief with no apparent consequences. If they had any problems with other kids that believed/didn’t believe, I don’t recall that we ever heard about it.

    They never asked about the difference in gifts or amounts of gifts that other kids got on Christmas. Apparently, it was a non-issue or they didn’t bring it up to us.

    Sorry to be so normal and boring.

  12. I have two boys: 5 and 11 years old. Things are complicated by their grandparents, who play up the whole Santa thing. To keep the peace, I use this strategy: I neither confirm nor deny Santa’s existence. Instead, I ask questions. “How’s that work, then?” “Everyone in the whole world, all in one night?” “My fireplace doesn’t have a chimney. How does that work, do you think?”

    This worked very well on the older of the two. He learned fairly early on that Grandma was playing make-believe. It wasn’t long before he was also questioning people’s beliefs in all sorts of fantastic ideas. He also understands that his younger brother needs to work all this out for himself.

  13. You might work through some of the physics of how santa claus would have to work. I think a little kid would really get a kick out of the part where the reindeer are heated to incandescence because of friction.

    I have a problem with christmas in general. First, it’s an outgrowth of a pagan celebration honouring Saturn. Secondly, it makes gift-giving something that is obligatory. When it becomes an obligation to give someone a gift, you strip the gift of all meaning. “I’m not giving you this because you mean something to me, I’m giving you this because you’ll get angry with me if I don’t.” Is that really something laudable in any context?

  14. My sister had a baby recently and i’ve sorta been wondering about what i’ll say if when she’s old enough she asks me about God or Santa Claus. I think that the first thing I’d do would be to ask her what SHE thinks about it. If she says she believes I’ll ask her why and try and get her to think through it.

  15. My kiddo’s are now 15 and 18. When they were small we had fun with the whole Santa thing and treated as just that, FUN. It was not serious, real or ever presented as real. It was part of the expectation, anticipation and good silly celebration of a cultural event and keeping some family traditions and history going. (And as with tarrkid we did tooth ferries and E-bunnies also and no critical thinking or cognitive thinking faculties were harmed as far as I can tell)

    And Santa always had some good dark chocolate and a wee dram of Scotch left on the hearth.

  16. My parents did the whole Santa thing and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy… I was not happy when I figured out the truth. It taught me to distrust authority figures, something that has served me well over the years.

  17. @wackyvorlon: I dunno… I give the gifts I do at Christmas because those people mean something to me. And the people who don’t mean anything to me get nothing. Christmas doesn’t change that.

    It just consolidates it into a huge orgy of ribbons, tags, packages, boxes, and bags!

  18. @Elyse “I love the idea of random and deserved gift giving!”

    It also solves the problem of having the recipient wonder if you were truly thinking about them or just following through on a social obligation. To me nothing says “just following through on a social obligation” more than a gift card on a holiday. “Oooh. Something sort of like money. You’re so thoughtful!” Oy, veh.

  19. Two years ago when my daughter was 3, my ex-wife and I cooperated on doing a fantasy for our daughter where Santa brought all the presents to Daddy’s house and had candy canes appear around all over the place, and she really got a kick out of seeing this stuff appear when she woke up. Then last year, Daddy came over after she woke up at her mom’s house and I think she was still in to it. This year she is again going to be at her mom’s for Christmas, and I believe my ex-wife is going to keep the Santa myth going this year.

    I have noticed over the past year that my daughter clearly knows the difference between fantasy and reality since she plays with her stuffed animals, but she says it’s ok for them to stay in the car with the windows up by themselves since they’re not real (as in, alive) So, I have the feeling that this year she is probably going to catch on to the Santa thing. I know she recognizes at least some of the wrapping paper I used this year for a work holiday party gift, so I’m going to use different warpping paper for her presents which is down in the laundry room.

    The way I see it, it’s a harmless fantasy for her to indulge in. I think it can be used to teach a lesson that people will lie to you, even people that you trust (for example, your parents). It’s a harmless, pleasant lie, so it makes it a good one to learn from. There are other lies out there that can be really harmful to you, so it is useful to know that people will lie to you.

  20. Santa Claus is one of my hot button issues. I raised 3 children and told them the truth from the beginning. Admittedly it was a “modified” truth . .that Santa was a sort of A”spirit” like “hope” that made people want to be nice at Christmas time and sometimes people would dress up and pretend they were a person called Santa.

    But I never lied and said he existed as a real being. I can’t imagine perpetuating those sorts of lies and then expecting your children to believe you about other stuff. To me it seems heinous to do that. And to create in kids a sense of “entitlement” because they were “good”. Total mystery to me why people do that.

    My kids never noticed or missed the myth. If we had the money, we got gifts. If money was tight, they understood and did not equate their own worthiness with the value of gifts. Now they are all adults and mostly we just get each other stuff when it strikes our fancy and our only Xmas Day tradition is to go out to a Chinese buffet.

  21. Movie Trivia : Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the new Star Trek film, was on UK TV the other night and said on Christmas morning he likes to get up early, make himself a full lard platter English breakfast, and watch Myth Busters. Now there’s a quality engineer.

    You might like to think how you go about teaching children how to resist temptation. You do not do this by removing all sweets from their environment. Understanding the loss of belief in Santa is a useful parable for wider issues. Let them eat all the chocolate they want and once they’ve puked they might have learnt something!

    I recall reading a paper ~20 years ago on the subject of magic in ‘traditional’, particularly pre-agricultural, societies, from an anthropological viewpoint. Belief in magical things (spirits, objects etc.) varied in society, with low status people (children, women) generally regarding the magic as being literally true, while higher status people (adults, esp men, shamen) regarding them as symbolic.

    There was a nice series of programs made by some French anthropologists about the pygmies living on the margins of the Cameroon rainforest. The religion was animist with forest spirits etc. Each year they had a festival. Some men would dress up completely covered in leaves and at night would come out of the dense forest and dance through the village, while the others stood and watched. It was clear that the small children saw these figures as the real spirits, and were a bit scared, hiding behind their mother’s legs. The older children were trying to look cool but seem quite tense, and I thought if you crept up behind them and said ‘boo’ they would have jumped out of their skins! The adults just seemed to enjoy the show. Looking at the mothers smiling reassurance at their children it reminded me of a Christmas parade, with a Santa on a float.

  22. When my older daughter was in 3rd grade, she and my wife entered the room, and my wife said, “She wants to know the truth about Santa Claus.” (Apparently, it had been discussed at school.)
    I asked my daughter, “What do YOU think?”
    She responded, “I think it’s you guys.”
    I said, “You’re right.”
    And she burst into tears, saying, “I wish there WAS a Santa Claus!”
    I felt about 2 inches tall.
    We finally consoled her, saying she was now one of the secret keepers (she had a 6 yr. old sister at the time.)
    So I think she suspected the truth, but wasn’t quite ready to hear it confirmed yet.
    Never admitted to the younger one that there wasn’t a Santa, although she figured it out on her own.
    That was about 10-11 years ago, and they grew up fine. We never told them there was no god or that we were atheists, but they both became atheists on their own.
    Personally, I don’t think it’s going to warp them either way, Santa or no Santa. (But I still remember that sinking feeling when my eldest burst into tears way back then…)

  23. We do the Santa thing, the kids really like it and I fail to see how it’s bad. My son still fully accepts it though my daughter is starting to figure it out. I like watching her realize that something she’s always believed, because everyone told her to, is not right because it makes no logical sense. I also like seeing her respect that my son (as well as all of her friends) still does believe.

    I often wonder about the issue that some of you have with it. It can’t just be the fact that you are lying to your kid, can it? I don’t mean to insult anyone’s parenting styles (I’m sure I’m far from perfect) but the idea of never lying to your kids has always struck me a lot like the school of thought of never telling your kids “no”. It sounds good in concept but not practical or realistic. Like Rebecca stated I always am truthful when describing the real world or explaining concepts to them, but questions like “what were you and mommy doing last night?” don’t warrant full honesty nor do I tell them exactly what I think of Miley Cyrus. It’s just not necessary. And like teasing I think it’s good for your kids to experience some of life’s negatives at your hand before life drops it cruelly and uncaringly upon them.

    My kids seem too preoccupied with their own presents to really consider what others have gotten. There doesn’t seem to be much discrepancy between the value of the presents the kids get in our neighborhood so I don’t think there is much reason to for them to get upset about it. As a kid I remember some kids getting way spoiled but there was always Alphonso who got a nothing but a new pair of dress shoes (every year) to make you feel like you got off pretty good. I did feel bad for him but nothing a good Lego session couldn’t cure. Now that my daughter is free from Santa maybe I’ll ask her about this, it’s always interesting to get her take on things like this.

  24. To quote PrimevilKneivelNo ” but the idea of never lying to your kids has always struck me a lot like the school of thought of never telling your kids “no”. ”

    You SERIOUSLY see lying to your children to be the same thing as setting boundaries? I can’t fathom that lack of respect for another human being, let alone one’s own family. And are you going to allow them the same right, to lie to you?

    I guess we need to check back in 10 years and see what kind of teens you have raised.

  25. Nobody ever told me there wasn’t a Santa Claus–I was precocious enough to figure it out on my own. On the contrary, I actually remember being the one confessing to my parents that I knew everything was just a lie. It was then that my parents explained to me that it didn’t matter because Santa Claus is actually a representation of our generosity and kindness and that we create him through those actions.

    Looking back, I think this was a very important step in my development. I stopped being a literal-minded child and gained a new understanding of the world. It was now okay to doubt things like religion and tradition, because there are larger, more profound things to care about. It’s interesting to speculate that I might not have grown into the person I am today if I hadn’t at one time believed in something as demonstratively false as Santa Claus.

    My advice: Go along with the Santa Claus thing, then, when the kids are old enough, give them a copy of Terry Pratchett’s _Hogfather_ to read. I’m sure they’ll be fine.

  26. I never lied to my children about Santa (or about anything). I think it is actually the best policy to never lie to your children. Not that you tell them everything they want to know, but I think you should never lie. My reasoning is that they can tell that you are lying, and it screws up their ability to have honest relationships. They get the “message” that lying is ok. If you as a parent have so screwed up that you need to lie to your child to cover it up, then you truly are a lousy parent.

    When asked directly I would always answer a different question. “Is Santa real”? Well, some people think he is. I have never seen him, but then I have never been to the North Pole so I don’t know for sure. There are an infinite number of ways that one can make a true statement that is ambiguous. I think the goal should be to instill doubt when there is confidence that Santa exists and to strengthen reasoning skills by gently testing their confidence in their data sources and reasoning methods.

    I think this type of talking to a child is important in priming them to be a skeptic. They are not given an answer by an authority; they have to figure it out by themselves. They have to be able to question every authority including their parents.

    For things that are more important than Santa, such as religion one can take the same approach. Is there a God? Many people believe there is and get upset when others don’t share their beliefs, but many of them have mutually incompatible ideas of what God is like. Most of those ideas have to be wrong (all but one). I have never seen any compelling evidence that there is a God (for me, a start would be if the stars in the sky moved to spell out a message). That has never happened, God must “really” not want to send me a message.

  27. Like what has been said earlier I can go either way. If my niece/nephew is like three am I going to explain that there is no Santa? Of course not. Now if he is 12 I’ll start to wonder about them and wonder what else is going on in that fuzzy little head of thiers……. I would go that Santa route if I had kids. I think kids at a certain age need a little fantasy in their lives to make them healthy.

  28. My kids are 15 and 20 now, so obviously the issue is a thing of the past. I was raised in a Jewish household and though for decades I have been a fierce independent in many aspects of my life, because of these roots, I , at times, still culturally identify with the Jewish people. When it comes to the practice of religion itself though, I am simply against all organized religion because, in my opinion, the bad simply far outweighs the good. My wife was raised lutheran and ever since marriage has practiced as a lutheran-VERY lite. Thus , when the kids were little we sang Hannukah songs and did the Christmas thing.

    In our house Santa Claus wasn’t emphasized much at all. It wasn’t a conscious thing on my part; it was probably more influenced by my not being brought up with the legend rather than choosing, based on empiric data, to not include the big fella. But I have been the voice of Santa for all my nephews and nieces.

    Depending how one utilizes the myth I feel it’s fine. We did it as a form of play, as an extension of one’s imagination. I listened to my nieces and nephews. I reinforced deeds well done with a jolly ho-ho- ho and said I’d do the best I can with their list. Mostly, it made for lovely memories consisting of charming out-of -the-mouth-of -babe moments.

    It is important for parents to teach to age appropriate, teachable moments. Teaching a 5 year old to not believe in Santa is not one of those times; it serves the parent, not the child. A young child who believes in Santa Clause can still grow up to be an engineer, a physicist, a physician, or anything he or she wants to be … even a skeptic. :)

  29. Addendum: If the child point blank asks, “is there a Santa Claus” it would be nice to know why they are asking. If another child is bullying them into disbelief and if I felt that was not to my child’s advantage, I’d dance a dance. But if it was because they simply wanted to know, I’d tell them the truth. My kids never specifically asked, but then again ,they were never immersed in the the tale.

  30. p.s. It’s interesting to see that there is a general and similar consensus on this topic. Methinks, when we were kids, we all either liked Santa or the concept of Santa ourselves.

  31. I have 2 kids, 6 and almost 4. I don’t push the Santa thing, but the great grandparents do so I just let it go. I will sometimes ask my 6 yr old if he thinks there is a Santa and he will usually say yes, but I think it’s because he wants to make sure he gets the goods. We try to stress the idea of family and giving to others who don’t have as much. I always let them put money in the Salvation Army buckets and we give old toys to a neighbor who has nothing.

    I just finished reading Parenting Beyond belief and Dale McGowan used the Santa issue as a critical thinking exercise for his kids. He used it to teach his kids how to think critically and skeptically about religion and other superstitions. If this causes mental problems for my kids, I’ll pay for the therapy.

  32. @gwenny: “You SERIOUSLY see lying to your children to be the same thing as setting boundaries? I can’t fathom that lack of respect for another human being, let alone one’s own family. And are you going to allow them the same right, to lie to you?”

    Do YOU seriously think your child is never going to lie to you? Everyone lies – it’s impossible to go through life being brutally honest. The context and reason for the lie is the important thing.
    “Do I look fat in these pants?” (No, dear, of course not.)
    “Daddy, do you like my picture?” (It’s great, honey – let me hang it on the fridge.)

    Totally honest, always – no lies? Give me a break…

  33. I’m a non-parent and in the unlikely event I ever have children I can’t see myself telling them Santa Claus actually existed. I can see the joy of the myth, but a story doesn’t have to be presented as true to be valuable. Personally I would like my hypothetical children to learn the joys of reality first and foremost.

  34. Since in Norway Santa comes on Christmas eve and gives out the gifts in person, rather than stealthily in the night, we don’t have the same opportunity for weird non-religious indoctrination here. If a future kid of mine is old enough and/or astute enough to ask if Santa is real, I’ll tell her/him straight: “No, but don’t ruin it for your brother/sister/cousin.”

  35. Good question.

    Growing up poor in Boston we only received one present a year (besides coloring books and crayons) so my image of Santa was at the VFW. I have a whole string of Polaroids of me sitting on “Drunk Santa’s” lap receiving my present. I know those experiences really made me want to make Christmas fun for my daughter. So yes there was a Santa and he was remarkably generous. When she began to question we were straight up with her. We always planned to tell the truth if she asked, and we did.
    Now that Joy, my daughter is 16 those Santa years are long past. We have Christmas out in the open with wish lists. I can’t say we ever pushed the religious end of the holiday, some I suppose because my wife is spiritual. Joy seems a bit agnostic to me. I would be on a beach in the Bahamas if I had my choice but compromise is the fuel of a good marraige.

  36. @braak: “Given both positive consequences AND no damaging repercussions, then, yes, I think that is a pretty okay reason to do something.

    I would have to disagree with this line of thinking as an excuse to continue with the practice.

    However, as many others have already said, there’s no substitute for the experience of figuring out you’ve been swindled all those years. That doesn’t mean you’ll be scarred for life, although in a way it does. But scarred in a good way. Scarred in the way that nobody’s going to sell you the Brooklin Bridge, or homeopathy, or Jesus.

    It’s important to learn that authority figures can be wrong, whether intentionally or not. The whole santa thing seems like the least harmful way to get that lesson across. And I’m sure your kids won’t hate you for having lied to them, because all the while, they were getting some good loot out of it.

    If a kid in my immediate vincinity would ask about santa, I would go the “neither confirm nor deny” route. This way, you’re not lying to them, nor dispelling cherished beliefs. They have to dispell those beliefs themselves. But that doesn’t mean you can’t test their conviction …

  37. @Soresport: “Joy seems a bit agnostic to me.” Shouldn’t comment on my own post but this strikes me as funny. Does she belive there is possibly a Dad?

    The real question is, are you sure you really are her dad? :p

  38. Funny, My guy Bill and I were having the same conversation this morning (neither of us have kids). Bill wouldn’t want to lie to the kids and sleuthed out the “Santa truth” on his own (figured it was his folks and stayed up to catch him in the act, He needed proof).
    I think I am with Steve DeGroof (#13). Dr. Novella on SGU has the same strategy: ask questions and let them figure it out on their own. Honestly, I don’t even remember when I found out, so it must not have been a huge disappointment to me.
    As far as others’ kids go, I must admit I play along, but if asked outright, I think I would dance around the whole thing and revert to the “Steves’ strategy…”

  39. The Offspring are now 9 and almost 7. There’s enough ambient Santa and Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny and cetera that I’ve never had to say a word about them either way. For a good time, I like to ask the kids what *they* think. This year they’re cooperating on the idea that there are many different gift-giving Santa types, who visit the culturally-appropriate children.

    One year they theorized that there were separate Northern and Southern hemisphere Santas, one with elves, one with penguin toymakers. But they know enough now to consider a mere two insufficient to the task. Also, they think toy-making facilities at the poles unlikely. It’s so much easier to locate in major metropolitan areas.

    And the Tooth Fairy doesn’t take the teeth, she turns them into money.

  40. @xenu: I think kids at a certain age need a little fantasy in their lives to make them healthy.


    What? That doesn’t even make sense.

    First, the kids don’t know that its fantasy. Second, if you’re reading to them, they’re already introduced to several complex fantasy worlds. Third, little kids play pretend all the freakin’ time. Santa doesn’t add anything to their mental health except paranoia and the realization that adults will make up complicated bullshit to hide trivial things. And while I admit that’s a valuable lesson, it doesn’t have anything to do with kids having a little fantasy in their lives.

  41. This particular atheist household views Santa as a modern interloper into Old Father Winter’s spiel. Toys are given out around Christmas, but only so they can be thoroughly used (and likely broken) during the Christmas-New Year holidays.

    The reality of Santa / St Nicholas / Old Father Winter is left to the skeptic in the child. I tell them outright they can choose what to believe, in the same way as, for instance, Middle Earth is very real to me. I’ll wait a few years until I introduce them to the non-duality of objectivism vs. benefits of manipulating with people’s perceptions.

  42. @Ssteppe: Do YOU seriously think your child is never going to lie to you?


    This is not the same issue at all. The question is, is it okay for your kids to make up elaborate stories to hide trivial truths. Sure, everybody tells strategic lies. But Santa isn’t a strategic lie, its an elaborate hoax. I think we would all agree that these are not the same things at all.

  43. This is always a really fun topic to discuss with skeptics. Thanks everyone for all your input.

    As for whether or not kids know what other kids get, I don’t think I paid that much attention, but I don’t remember. I held onto Santa far longer than most kids. One reason I clung to him was because I knew that without Santa, poor kids did not get good presents. Naive enough to believe that this couldn’t be the case, Santa had to be real.

    I wonder if I would have had a greater appreciation for the things I got if I knew that not everyone else had it so good.

    I also remember one Christmas when I had a total meltdown because I didn’t get enough gifts. I felt I deserved them because I was good… or whatever… but I remember sitting in the middle of a room full of all my relatives, angry and crying because there were no more gifts. I’m still embarrassed about it to this day… I was probably 8 or so when it happened.


    A little fantasy is a good thing. But he gets that without Santa. Insisting that something that is fake is real, that’s not fantasy, that’s forcing him to believe in something that’s not real.

    In my opinion, fantasy comes from his mind, not from me feeding him false information and telling him it’s true.


    I’m not quarantining Moose during the holidays so he never finds out about Santa. By next year, I’m pretty confident that he’s going to be aware of it all.

    I’m certainly no expert, but I hope that by not making a big deal about it in our house, he’s not going to think it’s a big enough deal to run around “outing” Santa to his friends… of course, I could be wrong. I grew up with Jewish kids all around, some of them even got gifts on Christmas. I don’t remember any of them telling us there was no Santa (then again, if they did, we just probably assumed they were jealous.)

    It’s not like we’re going to wake up every morning in December and force Moose to look in the mirror and say “There is no Santa. There is no God. They are fake. The cake is a lie.” Santa is just going to be part of Christmas like Frosty the Snowman… it was never a big deal that he didn’t really come to life.

  44. @Ssteppe:

    I’m going to have to agree with the others. I don’t think Moose is never going to lie to me. Of course he is. But I shouldn’t be setting the precedent that it’s an acceptable behavior.

    And, if the pants look bad, you should tell her. You’re only compounding the embarrassment.

    And yes, I think everything Moose makes is amazing. I think everything he does is amazing. I am a sucker for that kid and that’s just the way it is.

    However, total honesty does not mean full disclosure. If the question is “What were you doing to Mom last night?” The answer is not, “I had her tied to the bed post and used the triple ripple butt plug on her while she was blindfolded and wearing nipple clamps.”

    You can be more nuanced than that. “None of your business” and variations thereof are also acceptable answers to questions.

  45. @SSteppe Do YOU seriously think your child is never going to lie to you?

    All of my children are adult. They know the one unforgivable “sin” for me is lying. The eldest found the need to lie to me one time when he was about 8. He came back later, told me the truth and we both cried. I told him that as much as I loved him, that lie made me lose respect for him and it would be a while before I regained it.

    Yes, I think my children will never have another occasion to lie to me. They know there is NOTHING they could do that would hurt me more than lie to me. I told them when they were small, if you want to drink, smoke, do drugs or have lots of meaningless sex, I will think you are stupid but I will respect your desire to try it. Just do it at home and don’t lie to me about it. Two of the three have never tried any of those, the oldest sowed a few wild oats and smoked and drank before he settled down.

    It’s amazing what sorts of adults you can raise when you respect them as much as you respect your adult friends. Maybe some day you will have the pleasure of putting on your headset and hearing one of your 2o something children (who thinks you are still in the kitchen) telling your guildmates you are the most awesome parent that ever walked the planet. LOL

  46. As a kid, I believed in Santa and it was a nice time. Although I’m a skeptic, I intend to have my son believe in Santa (he’s 6 weeks old so, I still have time to think about it). Thinking about it, maybe, believing in Santa and stopping to believe in him might be kinda like a rite of passage. In many cultures, you have a rite to pass which makes you go from child to adulthood. In a way… When you’re brain start analyzing more with age, you begin to understand more things. Maybe, stopping to believe in Santa is kinda the same. You realize that you are no longer a kid, that you are growing. It didn’t mess with my mind at all. On the contrary. Now, I remember fondly of those times when I used to believe. I think, the time for magic and fantasy is important for the construction of your brain. If you build only the logical part of it as a kid, you could have some problems later in life. Who knows, maybe the hemisphere of the brain with control your imagination is built during childhood and the logical part is built later in life.

  47. I have four kids, my oldest (13) has become aware there are no magical beings visiting her in the night (we have the great pumpkin visit at Halloween and she overheard me talking with her mother on Halloween morning about the presents). She is being a great sport about it and helping keep the magical fib a secret from her siblings. I have told my kids that Santa as well as everybody else is on a tight budget and that they need to be happy that I am still employed this year so they have food. My second oldest daughter wrote a letter to Santa explaining that it was ok if she didn’t get what was on her list because she understands everybody is tight on money this year (even Santa) and that she is just happy for Christmas because Daddy gets two days off and she can spend time with me.

    Awesome kids! Although I am not sure how my six year old is going to take a diminished amount of presents. Maybe we can cure an impending tantrum by going to a homeless shelter (there are many in southern California packed with people this year) and show them what giving really is by helping out.

  48. @Dan: Who knows, maybe the hemisphere of the brain with control your imagination is built during childhood and the logical part is built later in life.


    Again with this ridiculous red herring. Santa doesn’t have magic powers to build the imagination that freakin’ “Skippy Jon Jones” books do not. Not lying to your kids about the origin of Christmas presents doesn’t stunt their emotional growth. This stupid idea that Santa Claus is an essential part of building the imagination is starting to piss me off.

    The stupid. It burns.

  49. What bothers me most is this little line from the OP:
    Some people think I’m right on; other people think I’m a cruel human being who has no business raising a child.

    And I’m sure that’s not even hyperbole.
    I wonder if people who think this are the same kind of people who are deeply religious? Like the mere fact that you’re not indoctrinating your kids means there’s something wrong with you. You must make the kids believe! After all, if you don’t push them that way, maybe they’ll reject other fairy-tale-like beliefs such as religion.

    It’s one of those topics where the initial outrage might make some kind of sense in an emotional way, but upon further investigation, turns out to be diametrically opposed to what should really outrage people: A massive, collective, intricate lie we inflict on every kid, with no real apparent motive other than the fact that they’ll believe it, and the whishful thought that perhaps for a short while it will help us control their behavior (to be good).

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