Making a Santa-sized mountain out of a molehill?

Christmas is nearly here, and by now, many of us have encountered (in one way or another) that jolly, red-velvet-suited man more commonly known as Santa Claus. He showed up here in the church office today, actually, en route to the preschool Christmas program.

I grew up in a Santa household. Matt didn't.

We've had a few conversations about whether, when we have kids, we will do the Santa thing or not. But for all the reasons to do it and all the reasons not to - for all of the reasons that our parents made their decisions about it - never once did it enter our minds to frame the discussion in terms of whether or not we want to lie to our kids. I'm not sure that it occurred to us to think about parents who encourage belief in Santa to be terrible parents who lie to their children.

Chad Skeleton, "Curious Dad" columnist for the Vancouver Sun, certainly thinks of the problem of Santa in terms of lying, and turns the question of whether to perpetuate the Santa myth into a matter of the parental ethics of lying to their children. Not only is this a pretty extreme way to frame the question, but he really comes off sounding like a first-class grump in the three-part series he wrote to discuss the question:

Is the Santa Claus myth good or bad for children?
Is it wrong to lie to your children about Santa Claus?
Should Christians tell their children the truth about Santa Claus? Should athiests?

I think that I'm most troubled by two things in these articles.

First, I am frustrated by how quickly he dismisses the argument that Santa Claus is less a lie and more a fantasy - that Santa Claus has any relation to the other fictional, imaginary, mythic, playful characters that are a part of children's worlds. The first article confirmed that there is no psychological damage done to children by perpetuating the Santa myth. But I feel like we are damaging our children if we are too hasty to squelch their imaginations and discourage their fantasy lives. There are plenty of ways (not just the Santa question) that parents try to turn their children into little adults, rather than letting them act and think and believe in ways appropriate to their ages.

Second, I am actually pretty offended by his shallow caricature of belief in Santa vs. belief in God. Apparently, he believes that both types or parents (Christian and atheist) are stuck in a similar conundrum: Christian parents have to reconcile for their kids why it's okay to stop believing in Santa but not okay to stop believing in God, and atheist parents have to reconcile for their kids why it's okay to believe in Santa when it's not okay to believe in God.

I grew up in a faithful family...we believed in Santa...my sisters and I all outgrew our belief in Santa, but none of us outgrew our belief in God. So I'm not sure that I'm ready to agree with his overly-simplistic belief that Santa is necessarily damaging to either faith or non-faith.

Mostly, I am surprised that he's making a big issue out of this. Did this really warrant three different posts? Did we have to turn a conversation about Santa into a conversation about the ethics of parents lying to their children? Did we have to turn Santa into the #1 threat both to faith and to atheism? Mountain, 1; molehill, 0.

(Of much greater concern should be the creepy mall Santas that too many of us have encountered!)

How about all of you out there? Did you believe in Santa as a kid? If you have kids, are you going to encourage belief in Santa or not? What are your reasons?


  1. My parents never came right out and said there's no Santa Claus but we never received presents from him.

    We give presents to our kids (16, 14, 11, 7 years old) from ourselves and from Santa. A number of years ago our oldest asked "how long am I allowed to believe in Santa Claus?" It was adorable and heart breaking. She's 16 and doesn't want to drive, doesn't look forward to graduating from high school in a year and a half. She's trying to delay "growing up" as long as she can. I don't know which of our kids believes or doesn't believe. They don't talk about it nor do we. Maybe their afraid that if they stop believing then the presents from him will stop.

    Believing in Santa Claus is just plain fun and I don't see that it would do any harm, nor would I see our kids being upset with us because we "lied" to them.

  2. Coming back to this late, after Christmas and travels and holiday loot for W & T. My brother, sister and I grew up with Santa, and given the seven years between myself as the oldest and my sister as the youngest, I knew for many years where the Santa gifts come from, long before my sister understood the truth, such as it is.

    I never told her, and my middle brother never told her. In no small part, that's because my mom threatened us with no more Santa gifts if my sister found out from one of us. To this day, I assume Heather found out about it the same way the rest of us did - rumor and suspicious grows into realization and "truth."

    However, I personally am of the opinion that Santa represents the spirit of giving and a mystical nature that comes with the Christmas season. Both secural and religious. The focusing on the "lie" that is the story of Santa detracts from the greater "coolness" that is the Christmas spirit. That spirit is embodied in so many ways, whether it be the baby in the manger, the giving of gifts, the christmas tree, the songs of the season, the aid to the poor on Boxing Day, or a big fat man in a red suit.

    I end up coming back to the news article from the turn of the previous century. "Yes Virgina, there is a Santa Claus. Here's the link: http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/

    Santa does not have to be a lie. He represents something ethereal. He is Pierre Noel, Father Christmas, Santa, and all the others. Casting him as a big man in a red hat at the North Pole living with elves is just one way of characterizing the greater sense of what is Christmas. It's only a lie if you limit yourself to one incarnation of the greater picture. And even then, it's not that large a lie.