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How do you explain the concept of Santa Claus (or other characters such as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, etc) to your kids? Do you tell them that he doesn't really exist?

asked Oct 15 '10 at 16:23

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦

retagged Oct 15 '10 at 21:19

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rationaljenn ♦

We play Santa at our house. We love him and enjoy him and talk about him and sing songs about him. We watch tv shows about him and talk about our gifts from him. We sometimes take our children to see the Santa at the mall and have their pictures taken with him.

But we do not lie about him.

My kids know that Santa is a legend, and they love the legend. It's fun and (generally) benevolent. And who doesn't love presents on Christmas?

I know some parents pretend Santa is real and then let their kids figure out the mystery. I don't do that because it would involve lying to my children, and lying only for the reason of tricking them so I can watch them think Santa is real. It seems unkind, and runs contrary to my policy of modeling the virtue of honesty for my kids by being honest with them.

There is lots of fun in Santa, and letting kids in on the truth doesn't make it any less fun for them. The magic of Santa is still there, even if you acknowledge that it is indeed . . . only magic.

answered Oct 15 '10 at 21:18

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rationaljenn ♦

edited Oct 24 '10 at 13:13

My parents left the question of Santa deliberately ambiguous -- not lying, just refusing to answer the question directly. I got my revenge, though: after I figured it out, I didn't tell them I had done so for a few more years because they seemed to enjoy the charade so much. Plus, presents!

There was a side-benefit to the way my parents did it. I mentally classified Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God together -- things adults said existed, but I never saw, and which had 'special powers'. Since Santa Claus wasn't real, that meant the others weren't either, ergo atheism!

(Oct 18 '10 at 17:07) Kyle Haight ♦ Kyle%20Haight's gravatar image

Similarly we've left it ambiguous, evading the question. Their senses tell them no, it can't exist that way. They will someday use their full rationality to figure it out; my oldest has, my nine year old is close. They ask questions like, "how is it possible for deer to fly and for a fat man to fit down a tiny chimney?" to which I challenge them with something like, "I don't know, how can that be possible?" Sooner or later, they realize it's not, and that they knew what their senses were telling them all along. It's a metaphysics-epistemology lesson for them.

(Oct 21 '10 at 16:22) chuckarama chuckarama's gravatar image

I like this take on things. People seem to want to believe in a false dichotomy regarding these childhood legends (perhaps due to being raised to believe such things in the conventional sense) that if the horrible truth were to come out about, for instance, dear old Santa, that all of the social positives from his potential presence in the child's life is all for not. In this way that is presented, Santa is what it is yet none of the beneficial aspects of the myth are lost. Its a fun "game".

(Oct 21 '10 at 16:35) capitalistswine ♦ capitalistswine's gravatar image

This doesn't really answer your question, but I have two personal anecdotes. I decided there was no Santa around age 4 (and became an atheist around 11, a few years before a read Ayn Rand). My mother and step-father were desperate for me to believe in Santa. I nagged them constantly about how I knew there was not a Santa. My family when to a very strict, purist, Protestant denomination that opposed "idolatry" and adding things to the Bible (e.g. no Madonnas, Christmas was not a Holy-day, etc). Around the same year the minister gave a sermon on how one should not teach kids about Santa.

(Oct 23 '10 at 17:11) Bruce Majors Bruce%20Majors's gravatar image

Anecdote two: my son and his mom came to visit and stayed with me over Christmas a few years ago (I am a donor dad to a woman who is a friend of a friend who only wanted an atheist donor). I asked her if she minded if I had a tree as I have always loved Xmas trees. She said OK so I did and saved the decorating to do with my son. I had Santas, and elves, and Kalis, and Shivas, and stars, and the cow that jumped over the moon etc. So my kid said he didn't believe in Santa and I said "really, I didn't know he wasn't real" and he said "it's like that other thing we don't believe in."

(Oct 23 '10 at 17:15) Bruce Majors Bruce%20Majors's gravatar image

Jenn, the sentence "There is lots of fun in Santa, and keeping the truth from children doesn't make it any less fun for them." doesn't make sense to me. Lying doesn't reduce the fun? Huh?

(Oct 24 '10 at 12:43) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Jenn, the sentence "There is lots of fun in Santa, and keeping the truth from children doesn't make it any less fun for them." doesn't make sense to me. Lying doesn't reduce the fun? Huh?

(Oct 24 '10 at 12:44) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Thanks John. I clarified that sentence. I appreciate the other comments, and am considering editing my answer further to address some of the other points raised.

(Oct 24 '10 at 13:15) rationaljenn ♦ rationaljenn's gravatar image

I always tell my children the truth as I know it. I talk with them about Santa the same way I talk about with them about God. When we encounter mysticism in our lives, I ask them questions, such as: "Do you think that is real?" "Do you think that could really happen?"

We celebrate a non-religious Christmas and give our children a gift and filled stocking from "Santa," and they know it is from us.

I remember asking my mom if Santa was real when I was about seven, and she told me the truth. I was hurt that she had lied to me all those years.

(Nov 05 '10 at 19:20) kim4liberty kim4liberty's gravatar image
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In 1897, Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the editor of The New York Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in the Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

And the Sun printed its famous "Dear Virginia" reply, the most-reprinted editorial of all time. I'm sure you've read it.

Unfortunately, that popular answer represents and advocates an utterly mystical worldview -- one where man is low, little, helpless -- one where the universe of science is barren, while what is really real and truly valuable is hidden behind the veil of the supernatural, accessible only by faith and feelings. It is a sustained attack on reality and reason, including the genuine spiritual values important to human life.

Several years back, after seeing the Sun's response printed yet again, I thought about my young nieces and nephews and wondered what better answer to Virginia I might send their way if the issue ever arose. Looking around the web, nothing I found fit the bill. Everything was either not focusing on the positive orientation to reason and reality that would be healthy, or was downright mean-spirited and sometimes even destructive (as with those that urge Virginia to nurture thoughts of Santa as a vicious myth and to sue her lying parents for deep psychic wounds caused by such child abuse).

So I decided to try my hand at an answer: Same length, similar style and language, equivalent unapologetic advocacy of a worldview (but a healthy one this time) -- ostensibly directed to a child in that age, but really designed to spark adult understanding in any age.

Dear Virginia,

Your eagerness to know is wonderful! Have you ever scooped up a lost nickel, only to discover that it is a quarter? Santa is like that, a thousand times over. No, there is no Santa outside imagination, but learning about him is greater than any gift he would bring were he really real.

Santa is a playful fantasy full of hope and happiness, inviting you down the challenging path to true adulthood. Yes, he embodies good will and generosity and inspires children everywhere to appreciate the difference between Naughty and Nice. But there is so much more that you and your friends are just now glimpsing, hidden behind the tale's knowing wink.

Santa helps us to learn the crucial lesson that sometimes what we are told just isn't so, no matter how splendid it sounds, who says it, or how tightly we might cling to the idea. He invites us to push through the veil of a child's blind acceptance to join the grown-up world of facts, thought, and independent understanding. Just as nobody can breathe for us, nobody can think for us -- not even The New York Sun. You have to see the truth of something to really know.

Now, do not let slip fantasy and imagination, for even grown-ups love to play! There will always be costumes and paintings and stories to delight. But we have to distinguish between make-believe and reality, and use our intelligence and creativity to understand the world and make our place in it. This is how we sustain all those things that motivate and fulfill us: love, art, play, hope, romance, achievement, joy.

The most exciting thing you can discover is that reality itself is infinitely more rich and interesting than our wildest fantasies. And Santa brings each of us a priceless gift: help in learning to face the vast wonder and glory of the universe like a hero, seeing by a light that is brighter than the brightest star, shaping and reshaping our world with a boundless engine of creation.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. But important lessons and a sweet tale that makes glad the heart of childhood live on, at least until our imagination creates something even better. So celebrate the flowering of your intellect and pass Santa forward to the next generation with love -- and a wink.

answered Oct 15 '10 at 17:15

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Oct 15 '10 at 17:16

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Asked: Oct 15 '10 at 16:23

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Last updated: Nov 05 '10 at 19:20