Is It Good or Bad to Tell Children That Santa Claus Is a Myth?
Don't Spoil the Fun of Childhood
What is to be gained from telling a child that Santa Claus is a myth?
After all, childhood is a time of discovery and learning for children and the existence of the unseen and unexplainable add spice to the mystery and wonder of life. What is to be gained by spoiling this?
As writer Frank Church wrote on the pages of the New York Sun in his classic 1897 response to eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon's question about whether Santa Claus was real:
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.
Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Myths and stories have been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time and have often been a means of transmitting values and culture to children.
What better way to instill the idea of generosity and selfless giving than by the example of a stranger from the distant North coming in the night and leaving gifts for children who have been good while asking for nothing of material value in return?
This is not only a perfect example of sharing and generosity but also an opportunity for children to reflect on their behavior and incentive to actively strive to practice good behavior for a few days or weeks.
St. Nicholas Was a Real Person
Technically, Santa Claus is not entirely a myth as he is the modern American personification of the real life fourth century bishop Nicholas of Myra (located in modern Turkey), who has long been recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches and whose feast day is celebrated on December 6th.
As a bishop, Nicholas was known for his kindness and generosity and, following his death, numerous stories sprung up about him reappearing and helping those in need.
For centuries, St. Nicholas Day has been a holiday in much of Europe and other parts of the world. It has also been a day in which St. Nicholas appears, sometimes in the form of an adult dressing as a fourth century bishop and dispensing little gifts to children and sometimes secretly in the night, leaving gifts for children.
As a Child I Not Only Believed in Santa Claus but the Easter Bunny & Tooth Fairy As Well
As one who was raised believing in Santa Claus and who continued the tradition with my own children, I fail to see any harm in this.
As very young children my brothers and sisters and I were strong believers of the existence of both Santa Claus as well as the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy.
As I got older I began to see some logical inconsistencies in the stories about these characters.
I questioned in my mind why it took my grandmother hours to fly from New York to Florida (and this was before the airlines used jets) while Santa Claus was able to get around the entire world in one evening on reindeer power and the Easter Bunny was able make the trip on his own by hopping?
What's more, how could Santa fit enough toys for every child in the world into a single sleigh?
Also, if Santa and his elves made his own toys in his North Pole workshop, why did he feel it necessary to put them in the same packages as similar toys in the stores?
For a while, as reason and logic caused me to doubt the existence of Santa Claus, et al, I continued to believe on the basis faith alone.
Santa Claus Remained a Part of Our Christmas Celebrations Even After I Learned the Truth About Him
However, there came a point when it was obvious that, no matter how much I wanted to believe, I had to accept the fact that Santa Claus,the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy did not exist.
My mother confirmed my discovery but encouraged me to continue to play along for the benefit of my younger siblings (I was the oldest) which I did.
Upon learning the truth about Santa and the others, I was neither devastated nor felt that I had been deceived by my parents with what I now knew to be a myth.
Quite the contrary. I realized that my Christmases and Easters past had been richer and more enjoyable as a result of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Further, I realized that, in using my intellect to see the truth behind this myth, I was becoming more mature.
When my mother saw that I had figured it out and invited me to join her and my father in perpetuating the mystery for the sake of my younger siblings, I didn't feel that I had been deceived, rather I felt that I had reached a milestone on my road to adulthood and was starting the long process of maturing and being accepted as an adult.
Even after my youngest sister, learned the truth about Santa Claus all of us continued to hang our stockings on Christmas Eve and to not only receive an orange and some candy in the stocking but also an age appropriate gift from Santa Claus under the tree on Christmas morning. This continued in my parent's home until each of us graduated from college and left home.
I Continued the Tradition With My Own Children
I continued the tradition when my children came along, even going so far as to throw in St. Nicholas Day as well.
Like me, my oldest son eventually figured out that Santa Claus and the others were not real but continued to enjoy the candy and gifts and helped to keep the myth alive for his younger brother. When my youngest figured out what was going on he simply switched from being the surprised little boy to my helper in keeping the custom alive in our home right down to the leaving of a plate with Christmas cookies and a glass of milk out for Santa who continued to consume each year after filling the stockings on Christmas Eve.
When I remarried four years ago and brought my new Russian wife and her two teenage children to our home, we introduced them to our St. Nicholas Day, Christmas and Easter customs which included St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
My two new children and wife enjoyed finding candy in their shoes on St. Nicholas morning, candy and an orange in their stockings on Christmas morning and a hidden basket of candy for each on Easter morning.
While my two new children knew that Santa Claus and the others were not real, they were wrong in their assumption that I was the one who left the candy in their shoes and stockings and hid their Easter baskets.
With a new wife awaiting me in the bedroom, I was not about to stay up late to fill stockings and indulge in Christmas cookies and milk.
Instead I choose to retire at my usual time and left the job of filling stockings and consuming the cookies and milk he had left out earlier to my then 17-year-old youngest son, who a few years before had made the smooth transition from believer in Santa Claus to accomplice in keeping the tradition and myths alive.
Questions & Answers
© 2007 Chuck Nugent