The Santa Claus conundrum, part 2

by Jay Stevens

As many of you may recall, last year I did an in-depth analysis on the perpetuation of the Santa Myth and wondered if I should pass it on to my kids. After all, I reasoned, it is a lie.

You may recall I interviewed pro- and anti-Santa-ists, talked to my pro-Santa mom, interviewed an anthropologist, referred to child psychology, and eventually settled on this solution:

Why push them? Santa believers and non-believers alike seemed to suffer no apparent harm from their interactions with the Santa myth, unless their parents had used their authority to delay the child’s natural questioning of Santa’s existence. Everything I had seen pointed me toward an inescapable conclusion: the whole Santa thing was about the parents, not the kids.

And that’s why we have decided to let [Mr. Proud and Ms. Marvelous] believe. We’ll let them believe in whatever they want, in the way they want, until they seek us out and ask for the truth. And then we’ll tell them.

So. They asked. First, Ms. Marvelous several months ago, and just this week, Mr. Proud. We told them the truth.

Ms. Marvelous handled it without skipping a beat. I even told her we had to keep it secret from Mr. Proud, who still believed. She instantly handled that fact that Santa is a story, and maybe a necessary story for Mr. Proud.

Mr. Proud, on the other hand, has struggled.

Here’s how it went down.

Mr. Proud (to Mom): Is Santa a character?

Mom: Yes.

Ben: Who brings the toys on Christmas Eve?

Mom: Mommy and Daddy.

Then a few days later:

Ben (to Daddy): Do you slip down the chimney?

Daddy: No. We don’t have a chimney.

Ben: Can I see your red suit?

And so on. He hasn’t asked me yet where I keep the reindeer or where I stash Mrs. Claus. I’m half expecting him to wish me a nice journey when he climbs the stairs on Christmas Eve.

I can sincerely say that Mr. Proud’s vision of Santa and Christmas is now completely f*cked up.

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  1. petetalbot

    Ah, the Santa game. My eight-year-old granddaughter knows there isn’t a Santa but we both pretend there is — letters to the North Pole, cookies and milk laid out the night before Christmas, etc. I think we do it more for me than for her.

  2. Ed Childers

    Merry Christmas to all! :)

  3. Jedediah Redman

    At least it keep them from asking about God, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy for awhile.
    Distractions are valuable parenting tools…

  4. Stacy Rye

    How old are your kids? My daughter is barely 7 and although I suspect she suspects, we still keep up the myth. And why not? Why would you even consider kicking this one by the wayside? Listen to your Mom! My paternal grandparents played a big part in my sister’s and my raising and they went to elaborate measures one year to do Santa in the house with sleigh bells outside their farmhouse in the midwest and it is a magical memory of them I carry to this day. Reality is hard enough as adults, why would we want to inflict on our kids at home? They get enough of it at school (homework in 1st grade??).

    Besides that, our culture has few sacred myths and rituals that aren’t completely about capitalism. Yes, I know Santa delivers bought products, but it can be reasonable without complete spoilage and obscene behavior and spending. And having kids believe in a myth doesn’t cost a penny, as opposed to that darn pink Barbie whatever. But, this is one of those things that we relate to as a culture and the gradual realization that Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy don’t really exist. But didn’t we have all of that, and really, did it harm us looking back on it? It’s part of the social reproduction of our culture and goodness knows, we have less and less of it. For example: didn’t most of us walk to school and play in abandoned fields? How many now do?

    Social reproduction is essential to a culture handing down its values and traditions – let’s not abandoned more of them. We seem to have gotten out of hand with purchasing our way into those traditions for any number of reasons including marketing and when we don’t have the time to do it ourselves (store bought cake, anyone?) . I think most of us are pretty sentimental about the memories of being a kid and the traditions we had. It was mostly about being together as I can remember. With a cake someone made. But also those sleigh bells.

    An intact tradition with a little deceit that brings joy is better to me than some misplaced sense of honesty when it comes to kids. And believing in Santa doesn’t cost anything.

  5. Check out the article I wrote for the Indy, Stacy. My anthropologist’s take on Santa was that he allowed kids to consume material goods without any connection to the labor or money that purchased the gift. I.e., guilt- or responsibility-free materialism.

    As for the other stuff, I interviewed folks who were told from the beginning that there was no Santa, and they had as full and as rich a childhood experience with Christmas.

    I’m cool with either way of doing it, but the one thing that has scarred kids was perpetuating the myth too long, deliberately lying to your kids, trading their trust for Santa.

    The conclusion I came to was that when kids were old enough to ask, they were old enough to know. However….I’m not so sure now. Not because they can’t handle the truth, but because everyone around them is still living the lie and confusing the hell out of them.

    And, IMHO, you can have rituals and traditions that you realize aren’t literal…

  6. Jedediah Redman

    Those are sometimes called imaginary friends, too, aren’t they?

  7. Punky

    Hey Thanks Jay,
    Make sure you add – no telling cousin-

    When she asks if Santa is real – I say “I hope so” That’s not a lie. It’s too fun. She doesn’t want to leave cookies for him – he’ll get too fat. She’s leaving him cucumbers and carrots (for Rudolph too- who she loves even more)
    Oh and forget about using Santa to keep them”good” She says “let him watch me – I already have enough toys”

    Want another kid?

    Hey can you have a follow up about your Christmas without Santa? I’d be interested to see how it plays out.

    Love you – “Sis”

  8. Cristy

    I enjoyed reading your story as well as the other
    comments..I will stick by what my mom always told me and I have since told my own children (one is 22 and married, the other a 14 yr old boy at home) Which is “Once you stop believing in Santa, he stops coming” I hold this to be true and my kids have never told me that they don’t believe in him anymore.

    Happy Holidays!!

  9. Jedediah Redman

    Yeah. That’ll work…




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