My son was about five or six years old when he motioned for me to come to our front window. It was December and our front yard was blanketed with a fresh layer of snow. We lived on the edge of the city and wild life made regular forays into our front yard.
As I went to the window I saw a trail of rabbit tracks wandering through the snow. My son then explained those were the tracks of Santa’s reindeer. He must have been in our yard the night before.
My wife and I had decided to tell our children that Santa was not real, with the proviso that they were not to say anything about it to the other kids.
But my son saw Santa in the malls and on TV. At his Christian pre-school, many of the kids were talking about Santa and my son wanted to believe in Santa as well and now he was trying to convince me those tracks were evidence Santa existed.
I told him that those were rabbit tracks, but I am not sure he was convinced.
Like many Christian parents, we struggled with what to do about Santa, but finally concluded that we needed to tell our kids the truth.
We did this for a couple of reasons:
First in our modern folklore Santa has taken on almost god-like characteristics. He is omniscient (all-knowing — he knows if you have been bad or good), he is all-powerful and omnipresent (able to be everywhere at once in his ability to deliver presents to children in one night.)
Santa is in some respects like an Old Testament idol.
This kind of stuff is very real to children.
I remember reading a story about a pastor whose daughter was watching cartoons on TV downstairs. He felt the Holy Spirit warn him to check on her. He went down stairs and found her crying and terrified by this monster cartoon on TV. One we would laugh at but to her was life-like.
It’s for that reason, I labelled the TV cartoon show Bambi as one of the great horror flicks of all time. What is a five-year old child’s greatest fear? Would watching their mother being murdered be one of them?
My wife and I also did not want to confuse our children, telling them that Santa and Jesus were real and then as they grew older and realized Santa wasn’t — what would they think of God and Christ?
This was our choice on Santa and others may disagree. However, a recent article in the English newspaper, The Guardian, explains why parents should consider being truthful about Santa.
It talks about what Kathy McKay — a clinical psychologist at Australia’s University of New England — has to say on the subject. She warns parents against telling children Santa is real because it could create distrust when they find out he is make-believe and parents knew it all along.
She made these comments in an article co-authored with University of Exeter psychologist Chris Boyle recently published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.
“The Santa myth is such an involved lie, such a long-lasting one, between parents and children, that if a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw. If parents can lie convincingly and over such a long time, what else can they lie about.”
McKay says she has a three-year old god-daughter who believes in Santa. Though McKay has not gone out of her way to tell her Santa is not real, if asked McKay says she will be truthful.
Co-author Chris Boyle is not as hard-line on his stance, but he is concerned that parents use Santa’s all-knowing ability to control their kids’ behavior during the stressful Christmas season.
However, perhaps the most convincing argument about telling the truth about Santa comes from atheist Richard Dawkins. The Guardian writes that he believes parents promoting Santa as real will eventually help children reject ideas about God later in life.