should we tell our daughter the tryuth about santa?
December 17, 2005 11:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I lie to my three year old daughter about Santa Claus?

As a child, my wife and I were both taught that Santa "sees you when you are sleeping, knows when you are awake!' In addition, the santa mythologoy included the most bizzare cruelty of all... if you weren't a good child, Snata would actually go out of his way to put coal into your stocking.
Here's the question.... I want to be honest with my children, and I think this is a silly lie to perpetuate. We are not particularly religous... I consider myself agnostic and my wife spirtutal but not religous.
Should we lie to our child about Santa?
posted by crazyray to Religion & Philosophy (156 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Er, no. Can you actually think of any reasons why you'd even want to? Plus, telling them the truth now saves you from having to tell them later. If my parents had lied to me for decades about the origin of Christmas gifts, I'd have never trusted them again.
posted by hototogisu at 11:20 PM on December 17, 2005

Morally, you shouldn't lie to your kids about anything. The problem is that your three year old will, in a couple of years, show up at kindergarten and let the entire class know the big secret that mommy let her in on.

Why not just treat Santa as a symbol of Christmas like the tree and the presents? There's no need to perpetuate the elaborate story in any kind of holiday celebration, especially since you guys are casual about the whole thing.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:22 PM on December 17, 2005

Yes. And what does Santa have to do with religion?
posted by smackfu at 11:22 PM on December 17, 2005

Don't lie to kids.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:26 PM on December 17, 2005

You know, I can't remember ever believing in Santa Claus at all, even though we always got a lot of gifts labelled as "Love, Santa". We left out milk and cookies, but we knew our Dad was eating them. It was just a wide open family secret that we were perpetrating a myth, and we had fun with it. And I don't remember ever working to persuade other kids that he didn't exist.

So don't bother lying, but do bring Santa into the mix as a symbol, as Saucy Intruder and odinsdream say.
posted by maudlin at 11:38 PM on December 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Well why aren't you 'agnostic' about Santa?
posted by dgaicun at 11:38 PM on December 17, 2005

Best answer: My opinion may not be popular around here, but while I think you really shouldn't outright lie to her, a little misdirection couldn't hurt. If you give her a modified version of the "Yes, Virginia" line, although what you are telling her is accurate, chances are that she will come away without the entire reality of the situation, but with the idea that Santa is not quite real and is just part of the Christmas decorations.

As for the coal and the stalking thing, yeah, as far as I'm concerned it would be a good idea to leave those out of whatever you wind up telling her.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:39 PM on December 17, 2005

Young children are so innocent. They don't have enough knowledge of the world to know when you're pulling their leg and even the simplest jokes often go over their heads. This is one of the most charming things about them, of course, but it seems almost unsportsmanlike to take advantage of it. So of course you should tell the truth. Just make sure you know what that is first...
posted by Santa Claus at 11:41 PM on December 17, 2005 [4 favorites]

I'm going to disagree and say go ahead and let her believe if she already does- she'll be a cynical teenager soon enough. You don't have to bring up the be good or else part of the story if you don't want to and if she hears it elsewhere you can always tell her it's nonsense.

Part of the fun of kids is that they're so damn gullible. Once they get a little older they will know when you are telling preposterous stories but they may choose to believe in them and let their imaginations run wild for a bit longer. Kids love impossible magical stories, even when they know it's not "real".
posted by fshgrl at 11:50 PM on December 17, 2005

My mother never lied to me about it. I have always known that there wasn't a such thing. But I never told anyone because I thought that everyone knew anyway. I don't agree with how she raised me in that sense (or any other, but I digress), but I do recognize that that was her own belief and she was doing what she thought was right.

When I have my own child, I do plan on letting them believe in Santa until they show they're old enough to understand the whole thing. Sometimes, you just gotta let kids act like kids.
posted by damnjezebel at 11:51 PM on December 17, 2005 [3 favorites]

Color me a bad parent, but why would you give up one bit of socially-approved leverage you do have? If Santa's "omniscience" can help convince Li'l Raylette to eat her veggies or do her chores, I'm all for it! Why would she resent your white lie any more than she would when she finds out who brings Santa's gifts?
posted by rob511 at 11:51 PM on December 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Part of the fun of kids is that they're so damn gullible.

It's a child, not a hamster.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:17 AM on December 18, 2005

Best answer: My parents never told me that there was a Santa Claus. The gifts were never signed "From Santa" -- they just appeared under the tree. My parents explained that the Santa at the mall was a helper and not really Santa. When I asked if Santa was just an idea, my parents said most things in life were just an idea. However, they never said Santa didn't exist. When I got older, my mom made sure I was clear on the physical status of Santa, but she emphasized the intangible elements of Santa and the role of the story in modern society. She also tied this into the story of the Magi,as well as stories about Saint Nicholas and other relevant figures. I don't feel particularly scarred by this, but my atheism emerged at the same time that the tangible Santa was ruled out once and for all.

As for lying to your kids...I suppose it depends on how you go about it. One could say it's the error of omission. However, I don't feel like I'm lying when I make little voices for my son's teddy bear or when I pretend to talk on his toy phone. I also imagine my son will eventually realize that Peek-a-Boo is not actually a game most adults initiate. As he gets older, we plan to say, "It's fun to pretend" when we talk about Santa, just as we'll say that about all the games we play. We feel that games and mythology have important roles to play in child development, not to mention culture and society.
posted by acoutu at 12:19 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you break the news about Santa, are you going to set her straight about the Tooth Fairy, too? And the Easter Bunny? And that rainbows are just the result of light refraction caused by water droplets in the atmosphere, and have absolutely nothing to do with leprechauns, who are nothing but the figment of silly Irish mythology?

Kids are kids only once. I don't see the harm in playing a little make-believe.
posted by mattwatson at 12:25 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 3 year olds don't have any concept of lies and truth, but at some point they will understand, and they may react badly if they find out you've been lying to them. I remember just thinking that everyone around me was silly and deluded about the whole santa clause thing, since everyone else believed in something obviously false. Later I figured out that my parents were happier pretending I didn't know about santa claus, so I just didn't bring it up. I was a pretty cynical kindergartner.

The fact that you're asking if you should lie to your kid shows that you're uncomfortable doing this, and that's a good reason not to. I'd say if the kid is into it now just treat it like any other fantasy, but don't go out of your way to push it.
posted by JZig at 12:29 AM on December 18, 2005

Absolutely do not lie to your kid. Seriously, wtf? And let her ruin it for the other kids too, it's not good for them to believe this crap either.

There are plenty of ways to encourage your child's sense of wonder without intentionally misleading her, and if you wanna play make-believe that's cool but don't do it about this creepy God-proxy.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:30 AM on December 18, 2005

Best answer: Santa Claus is just a Jesus Christ whose message children can understand: "be good, get toys." If you're a Jesusy parent, I see no problem with it.

But I think we adults make too much of this question. Kids have wildy crazy imaginations and they're gonna use them. They practically live in imaginary worlds half the time, believing their own lies, entertaining the possibility that their favorite comic book is REAL, etc etc... There's nothing amiss with inserting imagery into their brains, just as material to chew on. As long as you're okay with any values represented thereby.

I firmly believed in the tooth fairy and easter bunny at some point - inasmuch as a crazy kid with a crazy imagination even cares about the difference between what's "real" and what's not. It didn't hurt me. Easter is a holiday thoroughly bereft of meaning: its about hiding candy, not getting up out of your tomb. And thank goodness for that.

Santa is a more loaded image. I never believed in it, actually. It just struck me wrong. Something about a rabbit that left colored eggs was plausible. But there was always something fishy about Santa. The adults tried too hard to make me believe, and they manipulated the process. "Be good and Santa will do XYZ..." Clearly parent mind-control bullshit, even to a kid.

The real question is whether you want your child to participate in this Christian American tradition. Even non-religious people are often afraid to let their child "miss out" on the Santa experience. But I say it doesn't have to be the only game in town. You can stimulate your kid's brain in a million ways, and train his/her moral sense through metaphor a thousand more. If your kid doesn't internalize the Santa shit, it's not like s/he will be some kind of freak. Go independent if you want.

Tell your kids that scientists in Sweden do a study each year to find the best behaved children in the world and send them gifts by mail. Have fun with it.
posted by scarabic at 12:32 AM on December 18, 2005 [2 favorites]

My third-generation agnostic parents had no trouble with that one.

"Some people think so, some people don't. I once thought I heard sleigh bells at night, but no one I know has actually seen him. I guess we'll never know for sure. In any case, it's a lot of fun to think about him at Christmas time. I'm about to put the icing on those cookies - want to help?"
posted by tangerine at 12:40 AM on December 18, 2005 [2 favorites]

I think we should teach children both the non-Santa theory and the "intelligent Christmas" theory of present arrival.
posted by Justinian at 12:41 AM on December 18, 2005

Santa Claus is just a Jesus Christ whose message children can understand: "be good, get toys."

Exactly, and that coal in the stocking is just a transparent stand-in for the burning coals of hell.
posted by dgaicun at 12:41 AM on December 18, 2005

Santa Claus is just a Jesus Christ whose message children can understand: "be good, get toys."
posted by scarabic at 12:32 AM PST on December 18

Okay I am going to confess something embarassing and that is: I never thought of that. Good lord. It's like when your buddy through high school never dated much and you were always trying to set him up with girls but he wasn't interested and then one day he tells you he's gay and although it's no big deal your mind is completely blown by how obvious it is in hindsight and you're ashamed for not realizing or even suspecting it and it's just a really raw memory because oh man
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:52 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Suddenly, I'm really glad Metafilter wasn't around when my parents made this decision.
posted by MadamM at 12:53 AM on December 18, 2005

It's a child, not a hamster.

Yeah, hamsters never believe anything fun.

My parents lied to us as much as possible as little kids and we loved it. We had songs and stories about the wizard that lived in our chimney and the talking frogs in our pond and the evil trolls in the woods and even though we knew it wasn't real we were totally into it. Kids are pretty delusional: half the children in the western world harbor a secret hope that Harry Potter is a real wizard. telling them Santa is a Judeo-Christian myth designed to manipulate their behavior isn't going to make them all rational and smart, they'll just move on to fantasizing about something else.
posted by fshgrl at 1:03 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think tangerine said it best... that's a fantastic quote and it's not exactly a lie. I think it's a big part of our shared culture to believe in Santa and then eventually come to realize the truth -- either all of a sudden or gradually coming to terms with it. I'd hate to have been deprived that, even if my parents aren't especially religious (and Jewish when they are!) and even if they never went to great lengths to convince me of Santa (beyond eating the cookies and drinking the milk), they at least had a little fun with it. Matter of fact, we never actually "found out"; we just sort of outgrew it. I plan on letting my kids have the same experience.
posted by SuperNova at 1:05 AM on December 18, 2005

Me too, MadamM, next thing you'll know they'll be sending kids out to work and to get down to the homeless shelter to learn the harsh reality that life sucks big time.

Your kids are young; they'll spend years wondering as an adult and facing up to life as it really is.
posted by Navek Rednam at 1:07 AM on December 18, 2005

Best answer: Why not just go along with your kid? Let her lead; if she somehow develops a belief in Santa, you can play along. When she asks if he's real, you can admit the truth. If she asks whether Santa puts coal in stockings, ask her what she believes Santa would do, based on his character as a jolly, merry, gift-giving elf. And if she decides she does believe in coal, that doesn't mean you actually have to do it. Nor would you have to threaten that Santa might think she's being a bad girl.

Let Santa be entirely her own invention.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:10 AM on December 18, 2005

I was going to say something about how it's true that their's somebody watching you while you sleep to see if you've been good or bad, and his name is Alberto Gonzales.

But this got me thinking: the whole Santa thing sets up the entirely wrong basis for morality, that a child should do good and refrain from evil just because somebody is watching, ready to reward or punish.

Teach your child to do good and refrain from evil because it's the right thing to do,not because some omnipresent overseer is watching.
posted by orthogonality at 1:11 AM on December 18, 2005

There's a whole mythology for the under-5 set- it's a time of wonder and awe. I was encouraged to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and that little fairies lived in our garden. I think of those years of make-believe as enchanted times, before I was "too smart" or cynical. Today, we still get presents from Santa under the tree, though I'm pretty sure no one still believes.

I've watched more and more of my friends make the decision not "do" Santa with their kids, and I can't help but feel disappointed. As long as you still aren't encouraging belief in Santa at 13, it can be a part of giving your kid fond memories of being a kid.
posted by wallaby at 1:12 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

I don't have an opinion either way, but I was raised by parents to whom I don't think it ever really occurred to *try* to tell me Santa was real. As a result, I never believed, and I've never regretted not being duped for a minute.
posted by anildash at 1:13 AM on December 18, 2005

However, in return for allowing her to make Santa exactly what she wants Santa to be, you must do this: those big white bags of rolled hay you see in farmers' fields? Those are cow eggs.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:13 AM on December 18, 2005

But this got me thinking: the whole Santa thing sets up the entirely perfect basis for morality, that a child should do good and refrain from evil just because somebody is watching, ready to reward or punish because homeland security is gonna be watching you. Don't worry. Freedom is on the march.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:16 AM on December 18, 2005

Does anyone here actually resent their parents for "lying" to them about Santa? Does anyone remember thinking, "Well if Santa isn't real, maybe I am adopted, like cousin Jimmy said.." Really, a child's view of the world is selected by you, put in the things that will make them happy and give them some fond memories. Santa doesn't have to be anymore about Jesus than you make him-talk about the joy of giving, the magic of the season, whatever values you want to embrace. Like many others have said, children at three have a very tenuous grasp on reality as it is- I'm sure that this isn't the only thing that will be a "lie" in her world.
posted by slimslowslider at 1:44 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yes you should "lie" to your child about santa, of course your should. As a child, Christmas is fun, the idea of a benevolant fat man that leaves you presents is fun, the idea that you have to leave mince pies and sherry for him is fun. Growing up and realising you've been duped and thinking ways to disprove his existance is fun. If you want your child to have fun as a child, let them believe in Santa. If you don't want them to have fun, tell them the awful horrid truth.
posted by chill at 1:50 AM on December 18, 2005

What a bunch of scrooges. Let the poor child have her fun with Santa for a few years.
posted by caddis at 1:54 AM on December 18, 2005

I should also point out that when I found out I'd been lied to, a grabbed a kitchen knife and slit the throats of my parents and pissed on their bleeding bodies, to teach them not to fuck up my perception of what's right and what's wrong by perpetuating a white lie intended to generate excitement and wonderement in me. At no point did I just go, Oh you guys... still, this whole charade has been fun, thank you for injecting some magic into my middle class suburban childhood.
posted by chill at 1:54 AM on December 18, 2005

Some people seem to think that allowing your kid to believe in Santa Claus is wrong. Nonsense. Your kid is not going to be scarred when they eventually figure out what is really going on.

In today's age there are so few things left that aren't completed corrupted that it seems a shame to insist on destroying the myth of Santa at such a young age. Your child is not an adult, she is a little kid, let him be a little kid.
You'll have plenty of time to make them a properly upright citizen later.
posted by oddman at 1:56 AM on December 18, 2005

Best answer: I'm not from a Christian background, yet I still believe in Santa - I see him as the personification of giving and goodwill to all. Not necessarily a physical entity, but a representation of a concept that is easily understood.

Maybe that's an angle you can go with?
posted by divabat at 2:02 AM on December 18, 2005

the whole Santa thing sets up the entirely perfect basis for morality, that a child should do good and refrain from evil just because somebody is watching, ready to reward or punish because homeland security is gonna be watching you.

Santa Claus is just a homeland security whose message children can understand.

Oh, and I vote for not lying. I think you should present Santa as a fantasy that's fun to believe in. I prefer having parents and children pretend together instead of having one trick the other.
posted by martinrebas at 2:37 AM on December 18, 2005

My parents lied to me when I was younger and it was great.

Having said that, it had nothing to do with Santa aggressively spying on my and making judgements, more to do with the traditions of Christmas and how this nice man visited the house and left presents. It's nice to "have" Santa for the presents and the stories, I don't believe in using him as a behavioural tool or Jesus stooge.
posted by oxala at 2:47 AM on December 18, 2005

I favor telling children about the Invisible Hand, instead of Santa Claus. They're much better served by understanding rational-self interest than this mythical jibber-jabber, right?

Sheesh. Add my voice to those encouraging a bit of storytelling and magic. Without the spooky bits or outright lies if asked.
posted by weston at 2:50 AM on December 18, 2005

I don't remember ever believing in Santa Claus, but it was still a good game to pretend he existed, put out mince pies for him etc. You can count me in with the "be honest" crowd, there are so many magical things about childhood that don't have anything do do with lies that I can't really see the need for this one.
posted by teleskiving at 2:53 AM on December 18, 2005

Does anyone here actually resent their parents for "lying" to them about Santa?

I do, but they're already on the shitlist for 18 years of hypersaturation with fundamentalist evangelical dogma, so it's kind of small potatoes.

Ultimately, I think Santa isn't for the children, it's for their parents. Their parents have been socially conditioned to find joy in shaping said children to be the precious, gullible caricatures they see on television. Those parents accordingly inculcate their children with beliefs like Santa - and other insipid content like children's cartoons - with an eye towards (and despite the best of intentions) stunting the maturation of their children.

I think that there's a bigger question at work here than even the morality of lying to your child - because you'll do so eventually at one point or another - and that question is whether you're prepared to let your child mature at their own pace. I'm not a parent, but speaking as an outside observer . . . I'd hope so.
posted by Ryvar at 2:53 AM on December 18, 2005

Basically what five fresh fish and fshgrl said. Including (especially!) the cow eggs.

If you really do feel uncomfortable about the whole thing, by all means tell your daughter Santa isn't real. I highly doubt it'll make any real difference in how her life turns out. But as a lot of people here have pointed out, even if the physical reality of Santa isn't true, the Santa mythology is very real, and millions of kids everywhere have had no trouble jumping from one conception of Santa to the other.

In any case, I'll bet if you do tell your daughter Santa wasn't real, she'll probably still ask you if you would get rid of the monsters under her bed, or if Molly, her invisible friend, can go swimming with the family next Saturday. Kids are indomitable!
posted by chrominance at 3:03 AM on December 18, 2005

Do you lie to your child about Winnie the Pooh, or Dora the Explorer, or any of those other fictional characters that populate his or her world? Treat Santa the same as them. Personally, I wouldn't even address the whole "Santa keeps them in line" lump-of-coal business. There are enough scary things in a kid's world already. In my three-year-old's world, Santa happens to be one of them; he terrifies her.

He's just another Disney character.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:09 AM on December 18, 2005

Does anyone here actually resent their parents for "lying" to them about Santa?

Yes. My whole family lied to me about it (I was the youngest). When I finally found out, I felt humiliated. I was the butt of their big joke. Ha ha, joke's on me. I didn't like it one bit. It felt very belittling.

It taught me one of the more unpleasant lessons that life teaches - you can't *really* trust anyone. Not even those closest to you. A harsh, cruel lesson, to be sure. But when people turned on me later I couldn't say I had no idea they would breach the trust I had in them.

My daughter is 6. A couple years ago, she pinned me down with an unambiguous "Mommy, Santa isn't real is he?" and I couldn't lie or weasel my way out of it. I told her the truth, but that the *spirit* of Santa and generosity is real, yadda yadda. We never played up the punishment angle of Santa or anything with her.
posted by beth at 3:49 AM on December 18, 2005

I don't really have an opinion on the matter, but I just thought I'd share my experience.

My parents let me believe in Santa. They must've not talked about the myth of Santa that much to make everything clear- until I was about ten or eleven, I thought Jesus grew up to be Santa Claus.
posted by Monday at 4:10 AM on December 18, 2005

The other day I asked my two year old who santa claus was, he said "Mommy and Daddy." Guess that solved that problem for us.
posted by muddylemon at 4:35 AM on December 18, 2005

You can put me down firmly in the pro-Santa camp. My parents let me believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth fairy, and Little Elephant (my invisible friend); I was not scarred and my childhood would have been much less rich without them.

And you can also put me down in the take all parenting advice with a grain of salt camp. Do whatever will let you sleep best at night; in the long run you will have far more difficult issues to deal with.

Finally, those who say that lying is never acceptable must live in a far more ideal world than I do. Although I strive to be honest, I also tell my wife's 85 year old grandmother that I really liked the underwear and socks she got me for my birthday.
posted by TedW at 5:52 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

games and mythology have important roles to play in child development

Underlined. This is an important point. From a child development perspective, The Uses of Enchantment are many.

The process of reviewing and revising mistaken concepts is a completely normal part of cognitive development. Your child is going to confront the cold harsh reality of the world and have her childish conceptions about it destroyed one after the other, whether those conceptions are about the man that turns on the refrigerator light when you open the door, the sentient abilities of her stuffed animals, or that money doesn't just come out of a machine. Santa or no Santa, you can't protect her from the natural process of creating conceptions of the world, testing them against reality, and re-forming her conceptions. More than that, you wouldn't want to, since she would develop no reasoning ability and would live in some sort of magical-animism world for the rest of her life.

As many have pointed out, there is no difference in her mind between the Santa character and the many other fictional characters you read and talk about. I recommend following the sage advice of taking her lead and playing along with her conceptions of this character, just as you do with characters from books. It's just not as loaded as it seems. When she is capable of asking you about the Santa story, you can then answer with complete honesty and a clean conscience.

As for my own story - I clearly remember believing in Santa. My (agnostic) parents definitely went along with it, helping me write letters and leave cookies. I also remember that when I was five, I was sitting in the living room considering everything I knew about Santa. It just didn't add up. All around the world in one night? It just didn't accord with my ever-improving understanding of the nature of reality. It was a puzzle. So I asked my Mom "Is Santa a real person, or is it really the parents who get all the presents?" My Mom said "What do you think?" I told her that I thought it didn't make sense, and she responded with a version of the 'it's fun to pretend' statement. She may have also branded it as a grown-up understanding that I had reached. In any case, it's a great memory for me. I remember how straightforwardly and sensitively my mom handled it; I remember my feeling of pride that I had worked something out for myself; and I remember feeling a bit grown up, which was pleasant. It was no different than figuring out how other things work in the adult world -- just realizing that everything is more complex than it seemed when I was 3. So I have never quite understood the traumatic shock that others seem to have experienced.

Letting the child and her own thinking take the lead is the very best advice possible -- to 'instruct' her in either the existence or the non-existence of Santa is to insert yourself in her construction of the world in a way that is akin to micromanaging.
posted by Miko at 5:53 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Tell her the most fun (funny, exciting, peaceful, happy, scary, all combined) version you can think of. The supernatural is fun to imagine -- fairies, elves, goblins, gods, caves full of treasure, three wishes, flying animals, magic visitors -- so don't cheat her through a misguided attempt to be better than your parents were. Being scared is fun, too, so don't try too hard to make it all sugar. And it's no damned fun if Santa is guaranteed to give you every damned thing you see in the ads. There has to be risk, chance, fate, hope, and wishing involved. Santa should be a little bit genii, a little bit elf, a little bit trickster god. He or she or it can leave presents and, as a little shot across a little bow, also throw a giant lump of coal through the door with a note about something or other. Santa can leave cookies but take a little bit back for his reindeer. One of Santa's reindeer might lose a bell and ask the kid to leave it somewhere near the tree to be picked up again next year. There might be a noise in one room that distracts the kids long enough to let something magically appear in another room.
posted by pracowity at 6:01 AM on December 18, 2005

Lie to your kids. Seriously. Your job is to protect them, let them have fun and preserve the wonder of childhood.

You lie to them already - Do you tell your kid what you do to your wife behind the bedroom door? Do you tell your kid about what goes on in Iraq? How about murder on the news?

We live in a conspirarcy with kids. where we slowly reveal the truth to avoid bruising their psyche.

The key here, much like sex and drugs, is not to let her find out from somewhere else. Then they'll feel betrayed. Of course, from the examples above - many who were 'lied to' had greater issues with their parents.
posted by filmgeek at 6:12 AM on December 18, 2005

I agree with SuperNova. I have fond memories of "believing" in Santa. It's one of those things that you can only experience when you're a kid. If you want them to grow up quickly, then let them in on the myth.
I wasn't "mad" at my parents for lying to me. If anything I felt positive thoughts about learning the truth because it was them and not Santa going through all that work of wrapping presents, etc., and it was still special.
posted by starman at 6:29 AM on December 18, 2005

You lie to them already - Do you tell your kid what you do to your wife behind the bedroom door? Do you tell your kid about what goes on in Iraq? How about murder on the news?

That's pretty specious reasoning, dude. You can explain these things in a way appropriate for children without lying.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:43 AM on December 18, 2005

Oh, and for what it's worth, Mrs. Chyme was really upset about being lied to about Santa, and I remember being not so much angry as disappointed.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:44 AM on December 18, 2005

I think you could modify the Santa figure to something that is more suitable to you. If you live in western culture you're going to be hypersaturated with the imagery and she WILL ask, and she WILL be confused why some of her playmates believe a fake man leaves their presents if you tell her outright the myth isn't true. Is there some aspect of the Santa figure you could use? Spirit of giving/goodwill that lives in people? With the addition that other people like to give that feeling a name and a personality so they will remember? You don't have to have any of the morality attached to it, or threaten her with coal, that doesn't have to be part of it, he doesn't even need to be credited with presents, maybe he's just the motivator, the feeling of the season.

What do you what "Christmas" or the holidays, or whatever you call it, to mean for your child? A happy time with family? gift-giving and recieving? Reflection on what you have and giving to those that don't? I think you could start there, and build your own Santa myth from that, decide what the figure means for your family, and make your own tradition. I don't think not believing a big fat man comes down your chimney will hurt her psyche in any way, you can (and should!) still play pretend with your child, you can still let her imagine crazy things and read fairy tales and believe in magic. People get hung up on Santa as being the emblem of magic, of childhood, but when you find out the truth, doesn't that kill the magic a little? I know many people mark finding out the truth about Santa as being an end of innocence. Why attach so much meaning to one aspect of childhood imagination when there are so many other hopes and beliefs that should stay with you all your life? TFor one, the belief in the goodness of people and the love of one's family, that should be able stand on their own without some big guy watching and rewarding/punishing.

This is something I've been struggling with personally, although I don't have kids of my own yet and probably won't for a couple of years. Kids find out the truth a lot younger than most people realize, and you have to know at some point the child might lying for you too if you completely perpetuate the myth, because they don't want to hurt your feelings (I went through this exactly, partially because I knew before my younger siblings and because it seemed so important to my mom). So I too have been thinking alot about how I would treat Santa, and something like I've explained above is the best I've gotten to as yet. I do think Santa can be a good figure, without all the dogma.
posted by nelleish at 7:37 AM on December 18, 2005

I lied to my parents about Santa for a few years, but they caught on eventually.
posted by signal at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2005

Was there a point at which your parents were supposed to stop "lying" about Santa? We still have a gift or two under the tree from him. It's fun.
posted by smackfu at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2005

Santa made a visit to my son's preschool last week. The teachers had filled him in on specifics about each child beforehand, so when my son walked in, Santa asked him about his brother with a cold and his love of sharks. We thought he'd be thrilled, but he took it pretty much for granted.

I also debated whether or not I would tell my kids about Santa before I had them, but childhood is such a magical time that Santa fits right in.

if you weren't a good child, Snata would actually go out of his way to put coal into your stocking.

We've used this aspect of the myth to reinforce to our son the idea that he really is a good boy. No matter that he's gotten an increasing number of time-outs of late, or that his parents are cross with him occasionally - at heart, he's loved unconditionally, and Christmas morning reflects that (not by the sheer number of presents - we keep it modest - but simply that they're there) . On one hand, I can see the problems of equating good behavior and parental love with material gain, but on the other, presents are a very tangible, understandable reward for a small child.

We've talked about how Santa is an embodiment of the Christmas spirit. Since we're agnostic, said spirit translates to the desire to make other people happy and let them know that we care about them. And when I see my son excited about participating in a toy drive, getting presents for others, and thinking about what Santa would like, I feel like Santa provides a good model for this impulse.

He'll find out soon enough, but if he's like his parents, I imagine the excitement of the magic of Christmas will outweigh the experience of having been hoodwinked.
posted by bibliowench at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2005

My parents (mom mostly) had a rather elaborate tradition with Santa - they "hid" the Baby Jesus from our mantle-top manger scene, and Santa would find it and put the figurine in the scene. At six, I found the figurine, and re-hid it - Santa would know where it was, right? (Mostly, I was afraid my little sister would find it and try to eat it.) Anyway, "santa" couldn't find the figurine, and stayed up most of the night looking. THis little experiment proved to me that Santa didnt exist, and it really tore me up for a couple weeks. I think the biggest hurt came from how *elaborately* my parents tried to maintain the Santa story. YMMV.
posted by notsnot at 7:59 AM on December 18, 2005

I don't have kids, and really shouldn't be offering any child-raising advice. However, I do remember what it was like to be a kid believing in Santa. From that perspective:

You don't have to tell her anything. Just from TV, movies and books, she probably already has an image of what Santa is in her head. Some of it she may have invented on her own. If she's worried about Santa (e.g. she asks about coal in her stocking), assure her that no, he's not something to be afraid of. That's the kind of thing that can screw up a kid. But if she thinks her presents come from a jolly fat man who spreads joy, seriously, what's the harm in that? Especially since she's three years old. If she asks outright if Santa is real (which I doubt will even come up at that age), tangerine's answer is spot-on. That's exactly what I would have wanted to hear as a kid. Not "Sorry, kid, you and millions of others have been duped!"

All these "Fantasy is bad!" answers make me sad.
posted by Sibrax at 8:04 AM on December 18, 2005

when in doubt on such issues, I usually try to read up on what Bruno Bettleheim had to say: check him out about Santa Claus. (on the book is searchable)

Professor Bettelheim (page 366) writes about the ten year old girl who told him, "I know that there is no Santa. I hate reality". He goes on to write that forcing a child too early to give up her natural "wish-fulfilling fantasies" has the opposite effect "realist" parents intended -- it just makes her less capable of a healthy understanding of reality. it's not a paradox, even though it sounds like one.

because without what Battelheim calls "some fantasy relief", "unrelieved reality becomes just too unbearable". it's the importance of magical thinking, for the child: it makes her capable of dealing with reality as a whole, more alienated from it. that need is stronger until 6 years of age, and traces of it remain until the child is usually 10, or 11.

your child will outgrow Santa anyway, crazyray. please evaluate carefully professor Bettelheim's approach. thank you, and have a great holiday.
posted by matteo at 8:05 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

the correct spelling of his name, fuck me, is of course "BETTELHEIM"


posted by matteo at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2005

Yes. And what does Santa have to do with religion?

Oh man, that gave me a good laugh to start the day. But to the question... I'm torn. I remember the brief period of my young life when I believed in Santa and it was kinda exciting. It also led to genuine midnight misery when I couldn't get to sleep and so believed that Santa wouldn't come.

I had friends who were always told the truth about the origin of their Christmas presents and they seemed to be just as thrilled with the deal as I was, only they had the additional benefit of not having to feel like gullible asses when they were a little older. So on balance I'd say tell 'em the truth. Kids are usually pretty good at inventing their own make-believe fantasies when they need that stuff.
posted by Decani at 8:10 AM on December 18, 2005

"it makes her capable of dealing with reality as a whole, NOT more alienated from it".

OK, I'm done, thanks.
posted by matteo at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2005

My dad said something like, "Santa exists, but he has a lot of help from all the parents in the world.'

I knew what he meant.
posted by DickStock at 8:32 AM on December 18, 2005

When I was little I thought Santa was real. I thrived on my imagination and creativity, though, and the Santa myth made for a lot of great memories and experiences for a few Christmases. There was no big letdown or resentment, and it wasn't a "finding out" but just a gradual outgrowth of it all. My main concern nowadays is that a kid believing in the myth might be ostracized. Santa (and exercising of imagination) was more socially acceptable years ago.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2005

What many others have said, in particular matteo, miko, and oxala. My lapsed Catholic/ semi agnostic childhood had Santa and even though I cried when the other kids told me in 2nd grade that he wasn't real, it was okay. I raised my own (pagan/Quaker/Buddhist/agnostic) kids with Santa and they have survived nicely. From what I've seen, kids tend to discover the truth at about age 7 - Piaget's onset of concrete thinking because that's when they begin to logically connect the dots: wow, Santa uses the same wrapping paper we do (my daughter's discovery), and his handwriting on the chalkboard I got last Christmas looks just like Dad's (when I began to understand), and he brings us the toys that Mom wants us to have, not necessarily what I asked for (my son) and so on.

I think it adds to the magic of the holiday and neither of my children was that upset when they discovered the truth - and we still have presents from Santa under the tree, even though my youngest is 14 now. And I'm reminded of a great line from the Mother's Almanac about a little girl who explained that her parents tried to pretend that there was no Santa, but of course she knew that they were wrong.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2005

My wife (a lapsed Catholic) and I (an atheist with a Jewish background) have taught our kids (3 and almost-5) that Santa isn't real, but is a character in a fun story about Christmas. They think of him in pretty much the same way they think of, say, Elmo or Bob the Builder. They might pretend that Santa's real, but if they do they're explicitly pretending.

We have warned their preschool teachers that they know Santa's not real, in case they should mention it to their fellow students.

We find this works very well. We decided to do this before our older child was born, when I informed my wife that I was perfectly fine lying to our kids if it was necessary for their safety or to avoid trying to explain things too complex for them to understand (e.g., war or politics), but I refuse to lie to them about things that have no useful purpose, and Santa is certainly included in that category.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

As I think back on it, I think maybe my coming to terms with Santa's nonexistance helped pave the way for me to become an atheist. My mom tried to perpetuate the lie way past the necessary point.
posted by matkline at 8:54 AM on December 18, 2005

this question kinda gets to me. It's not lying, it's a fucking story!.

Do you take your kids to the theatre? Do they watch TV? Do they play games or read books? Do you read books to them? Do they play dress up or pretend or anything like that?

You are mixing up the disclosure of concrete facts with the spinning of a yarn for entertainment. Maybe, as I suggested in that last thread, you are not very good at playing game anymore, and you are presenting Santa as if he is equivalent to your accountant rather than equivalent to the wizard of Oz or Snow White. So switch gears. He's not meant to be literal. He's meant to be fun.
posted by mdn at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2005

I was going to say something about how it's true that their's somebody watching you while you sleep to see if you've been good or bad, and his name is Alberto Gonzales.

I thought it was Al Sharpton.
posted by jikel_morten at 9:07 AM on December 18, 2005

oh, and if you don't like elements of the traditional story - change them! It's a story. You can add to or take away from the story as you like, just like movies and TV shows over the years have done. If you think the version you were told made him sound like a mean spirited CIA spy, then rework it. You can even create your own traditions about Santa that play on or hint at the fact that santa is really you, or whatever.
posted by mdn at 9:08 AM on December 18, 2005

The way that I was raised was that Santa Claus, as an actual figure, did not exist, but that the "spirit" of Santa Claus - the entire Christmas feeling surrounding his name - was (and these are my parents' words) "in all of us." Hasn't really affected my feelings for Christmas, or my feelings about Santa Claus.
posted by itchie at 9:12 AM on December 18, 2005

If you tell your child that Santa Claus is real, I guess she'll probably never figure out the truth on her own when she gets older and wiser -- she'll probably end up believing this lie for ever and ever! Boy what an awful parent you'd be. Yup, better just end all this foolishness now. Nip this annoying "sense of wonder and imagination" in the bud before it gets out of control.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2005

My experience was like that of oxala's.

I totally believed in Santa, but my parents never got in to the "if you're good or bad" business. I was never threatened with coal and I really didn't think some guy was spying on me at all times.

It was just that suddenly on Christmas Eve this guy showed up and dropped a bunch of presents in the livingroom (unwrapped so nothing ever said "from Santa"). I believed so whole heartedly that I used to hear bells on the roof. When I started to doubt that he was real my parents would just say, "well, what do you think?" and slowly I figured it out.

Honestly I wasn't upset that they lied to me, I was more totally bummed out that I couldn't trick myself into believing for just one more year. It was so magical and innocent.
posted by jdl at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

For the love of all that is fun to kids... let them believe. There is nothing in my world sadder than an adult who had parents who were into full disclosure. They seem to have no sense of the "magic" of the season and are utter kill-joys about it.

You needn't lie or manipulate, but why would you take away the simple joy and wonderment of such a silly tradition? Flying reindeer, a fat man that can fit down a twelve inch chimney, etc.?

And as mdn says... change away. My favorite Santa story right now is David Sedaris' 6 to 8 Black Men. But that probably isn't the direction you want to take things.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:31 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I was kid, I "believed" in Santa Claus probably until I was about, oh, I'd say nine. After that, the whole Santa Claus thing became sort of a fun game between me and my mom. She told me, "As long as you believe in Santa Claus, he will continue to bring you presents." I'm 26. I still "believe" in Santa Claus. It's still a game.

The whole Santa Claus thing does not have to be a grand deception. I say let her beleive in Santa if she does, but don't give her all that lump of coal crap. There were enough smug little kids in my childhood who "knew" Santa didn't exist, and the only reason it mattered was because their parents used it as a brbe. Don't use Santa as a carrot and stick, and you avoid a lot of the problems that other people create for themselves.

Santa Claus is fun. Like itchie said above, "he" is about the spirit of giving. And if you disabuse her of the notion now she will miss out, arguably, on a lot of fun. It's like the holidays are a big game, and this is part of it. Just let it be.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:32 AM on December 18, 2005

Do you really want to push your cynical world-view on a three-year-old?
posted by smackfu at 9:39 AM on December 18, 2005

Sometimes you should lie to your kids. You shouldn't tell little Dweezil he was unplanned, unwanted and his arrival killed a promising relationship. You shouldn't tell little Twinkie that you wish you hadn't had kids, after all.

The culture is promoting Santa, and even if you tell little Cyndi-Lu-Who that Santa is a fantasy, she may not believe you. You don't have to buy in heavily to the myth, but I woulldn't worry about it. In my case, I have fond memories of the last Christmas that my family tried really hard to make me believe in Santa. I could keep my mouth shut that I knew they had assembled that 976 piece toy, not Santa, and enjoy being in on the secret, while letting them think they had fooled me.

Best advice I got: When your child asks about Santa, say "What do you think?" and respond accordingly. If you let her know the truth make sure she respects other children's/families' wish to believe.

And read Polar Express. Believing in something magical can be a gift.
posted by theora55 at 9:50 AM on December 18, 2005

Put coal in the stockings. Have some fun first.
posted by j-urb at 9:51 AM on December 18, 2005

Thanks to some of the most cynical cousins in the world and the fact that the Santa at the 4-H Christmas party was obviously my Grandpa, I must have grown out of it at a young age; I don't remember when, but I do remember my sister and I joking about leaving coffee and cigarettes for 'Santa' in lieu of cookies and milk when I was four or five.
But it's fun anyway. While children may not appreciate the truth - they can learn to accept it, though - they always appreciate fun.
Let her have her memories.
Santa is for the little ones. Without him, Christmas would be about as fun as an mandatory office gift exchange.
As for the whole Santa as behavior modification thing, no one takes it seriously. You don't see parents using the Santa Threat in the middle of June(No one normal, mind you. If anyone does use it to control their children, it's just a sign of far deeper issues). It's just a fun way to wind kids up and to get them more excited for the big day.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:04 AM on December 18, 2005

More succinctly:

"Should I actively deceive my child about Santa Claus?"

"No, but allow her imagination and powers of reasoning to take her down the road of discovery naturally, and make Christmas fun."
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:07 AM on December 18, 2005

Interesting side question: how do those who practice another faith deal with Santa around their kids? I still remember some friendly back and forth in elementary school about Christmas versus Hanukkah (mostly of the "we get eight days' worth of gifts!" variety), but I don't remember my Jewish friends claiming that Santa didn't exist. How do parents who practice a non-Christian religion deal with their kids asking about Santa?
posted by chrominance at 10:16 AM on December 18, 2005

Santa is fun. Sitting on Santa's lap in the local hardware store, talking about toys and getting a candy cane? Setting out milk and cookies? Lying in bed on Christmas Eve, trying to stay awake to hear the reindeer on the roof? It's fun.

The kid is three. Bunch of goddamned grinches.
posted by cribcage at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2005

My cousin believed in Santa until he was 11. As a mature 13 year old, I found it necessary to tell him the "truth." His parents had explained to him that every year, they had to pay a "Santa Claus Tax" and that's why there was little to no extra money around the holidays.

I called bullshit on this and set him straight. I told him (and his siblings: ages 9, 7, and...Santa forgive me, 4) that there was no Santa and that it was all their parents' doing. They were crushed, and I was proud to have brought them to reality.

My cousin went straight to my aunt and called her on her lie.

I still remember the heartbreak in her voice when she looked at me and told me sadly that I had killed part of their childhood. I've never felt worse.

As a new parent, I've thought a lot about the "Santa" question. My little girl has four older cousins, who I assume will spill the beans while she's still young. But until then, I plan to go "Santa" full throttle. I'm talking about sleighbells outside of her bedroom window, half eaten cookies by the fireplace, and my brother dressed as Santa coming to see us on Christmas eve.

I love messing with a kid's perception of reality. It's really the only reason I wanted to have kids.
posted by ColdChef at 11:04 AM on December 18, 2005

My parents were/are ultraconservative Christians who didn't celebrate Christmas due to the pagan traditions surrounding it.

My mom very gently told me that other kids believed in Santa Claus and that it was very important that I did NOT tell them otherwise because it would make them (the kids) sad. It was no big deal -- I didn't say a word to the kids in my class and always enjoyed the school festivities. No overweening pride in "knowing", either.

I feel like I missed out, though, and now that I have my own baby am not sure what we'll do about St. Nick.

posted by mdiskin at 11:40 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Remember, the tenor of Mefi is different than that of the rest of the world. The vast majority of the general populus would tell you the opposite.

That said, I'll put another vote in for not lying.
posted by abcde at 12:33 PM on December 18, 2005

This isn't a moral question. Let's face it: you lie to your kids all the time. If you didn't, you couldn't get them to do anything. Your kids also lie to themselves half the time. Three year olds aren't rational creatures with any sort of suprahistorical interest in the "truth." Don't approach this like it's a question of right and wrong. It's not.

Take a more cynical point of view. What do you have to gain by lying to her? Do you think she'll enjoy Christmas more believing there's a fat man and a bunch of elves hidden away in the North Pole working to get presents to her? Or will she enjoy it more knowing her parents got her the gifts? Maybe now is indeed the right time to focus Christmas away from the gift getting and more on the being with your family and gift giving. Obviously, lying to her about this makes you uncomfortable so take that into account. At the end of the day, this is about her. Do just what you think is best for her and yourself and don't worry about it so much. She will have a wonderful time no matter what you decide.
posted by nixerman at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2005

I never once felt that my parents "lied" to me about Santa. Instead, I saw it as a lesson on the joys of anonymous giving. My folks did all that work for years and never took any of the credit. How nice of them!

Once I figured it out, it was fun to do the same for my younger siblings. And I still do it. Last year, for example, my mom mentioned a book she had really wanted to read. I bought it and gave it to my dad to give to her. She was so touched at what a "thoughtful" gift it was. It meant more coming from him and it made her really happy. It's fun to play Santa.

I hope my kid believes in him as long as possible.
posted by jrossi4r at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Myths and stories are great ways to entertain children. If the child actually asks if Santa is for real, then tell them the same thing you would about the Minotaur or Rumplestiltskin.
posted by furtive at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2005

Too lazy to read the whole thread but interestingly enough I had this discussion with my 21 year old son last night. My kids were never taught to believe in Santa, for the very reason I never ever wanted to lie to them about anything, ever. Now he tells me he is glad he was raised that way. He runs into people who pity him but he thinks they are ridiculous.

What we did do is say that Santa was pretend and that it is fun to pretend. We did have one awkward Christmas eve when my kids talked to my cousins' children without authorization...but other than that they understood that other children and other parents saw it differently and that it was not up to them (my kids) to set anyone straight on the topic.
posted by konolia at 2:02 PM on December 18, 2005

St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in the fourth Century was a real person whose charity and gift giving unfortunately morphed into the irreligious commercial excess of Santa Claus today. December 6th is his Feast day.
Santa Claus could be explained to a child as the love and care of one person for others, a spirit of giving.
posted by Cranberry at 2:23 PM on December 18, 2005

I never really believed any of it, but when I found out my parents were lying about Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, Jesus, and all that other bullshit, I was pissed.

Your kids look up to you, is lying to them for your own amusement a respectable action? Is deceiving someone for their own good an acceptable action?
posted by phrontist at 2:46 PM on December 18, 2005

Just wanted to pop back in to give a couple of props to konolia for being true to her word and proving that there is plenty of common ground to go around.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 3:00 PM on December 18, 2005

I find it bizarre that so many people view this as lying. I never felt lied to. I felt like my mom and dad busted their butts furthering this silly fantasy that I had, and in retrospect it was fun and I thank them for it. But then again, for my not-so-religious and not-concerned-about-it-at-all family, the holiday season wasn't an occasion to minutely check out our massive ontological insecurities.

I guess everyone's parents are different, but none of the pretend personalities (Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, etc) wer e "outed" to me and I just figured it out on my own. Trust me, you don't have to actively lie to your kids for them to believe in Santa Claus. They typically just do, particularly if there isn't some reason for them not to (as in, they are Jewish and recognize that Santa is part of a Christian tradition, therefore, Santa is not an option for that kid), and then they just grow out of it on their own. If you, as a parent, choose to attach bizzaro stuff to it such as seriously leaving "bad" kids lumps of coal, that's your particular perversion. Plenty of people just have fun with it. If you aren't religious, this holiday does not have to be some philosophical exercise in debunking the Xtians. Give some gifts, have fun, and loosen up for crissakes.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:03 PM on December 18, 2005

If the child actually asks if Santa is for real, then tell them the same thing you would about the Minotaur or Rumplestiltskin.

Tell your kids that the Minotaur is real. That way, if they later ask why they saw you wrap the Christmas gifts that Santa was supposed to bring, you can look sad and say "Oh, we have to, because Santa was killed by the Minotaur".
posted by martinrebas at 3:03 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Your child will only get one chance to be a child, don't ruin it for them. You can never replicate the magic of Santa or of Christmas as a child. If you didn't have the experience, of course you don't understand.

Its not an issue of trust or distrust. Oh no, my parents lied to me about giving me presents and trying to make my childhood magical.

And no, you can't expect a young child not to spoil the work of many, many parents/grandparents/great grandparents for another child.
posted by mhuckaba at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2005

Please take into account that most of the people here arguing that telling your child about Santa is somehow "lying" are a bunch of punk kids who have yet to take on the responsibilities for raising another human being, or nurturing a child's wonder. It's like listening to your plumber give you medical advice, or worse, listening to your doctor give you plumbing advice.
posted by caddis at 3:45 PM on December 18, 2005

Plus if you always insist on being straight with your kids they will just grow up believing everything anyone tells them. I credit my fine powers of discernment (and ability to use an encyclopedia by age 6) to my Dad's compulsive lying. Just don't tell them about vampires- that'll mess them up.

Cow Eggs? That's awesome.
posted by fshgrl at 4:06 PM on December 18, 2005

Please take into account that most of the people here arguing that telling your child about Santa is somehow "lying" are a bunch of punk kids who have yet to take on the responsibilities for raising another human being, or nurturing a child's wonder. It's like listening to your plumber give you medical advice, or worse, listening to your doctor give you plumbing advice.

What am I, chopped liver?

Look, you can nurture a child's wonder just fine without lying to them. The world is filled with wonderful things, and I fail to see why believing in Santa is so superior to simply pretending and having fun with it. In fact one of the funniest Christmas moments we had was when previously mentioned son made the comment (when he was small) that we had no chimney-whereupon hubby simply told him that in such cases Santa would have to come up the toilet.

We still laugh over that one.
posted by konolia at 4:43 PM on December 18, 2005

Let's face it: you lie to your kids all the time. If you didn't, you couldn't get them to do anything.

This is not true for me and my daughter. I think it's very sad that some people think lying to children is necessary or a good thing. And then they wonder why their teenagers are alienated and defiant. Gee.
posted by beth at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2005

Please take into account that most of the people here arguing that telling your child about Santa is somehow "lying" are a bunch of punk kids who have yet to take on the responsibilities for raising another human being, or nurturing a child's wonder.
posted by caddis at 3:45 PM PST on December 18

Some of us childless punk kids have younger relatives - nieces, nephews, brothers- and sisters-in-law with whom we have frank and honest conversations despite their youth. Not yet multiplying doesn't mean we live in a magical adult-only world with all the scoots separated from us by impregnable walls. Your comment reminds me of the woman who told me that I'd convert to Christianity upon having children.

As for wonder, I'd rather be teaching them about the kickass things you can do with chemicals, magnets, and bugs* rather than insisting that this particular fictional character is flesh and blood.

*uh not necessarily at the same time
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:17 PM on December 18, 2005

I think it's very sad that some people think lying to children is necessary or a good thing.

That depends on how old and how mature the children in question are. If your three-year-old sees a picture of a soldier carrying an M-16 on the front page of the newspaper that's sitting on the table, and asks you why that man is carrying a gun, would you tell him the truth? How much detail would you go into?

Suppose your young child sees a picture of Michael Jackson and asks you who he is?
posted by cerebus19 at 5:23 PM on December 18, 2005

A child's perspective
posted by Decani at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2005

If your three-year-old sees a picture of a soldier carrying an M-16 on the front page of the newspaper that's sitting on the table, and asks you why that man is carrying a gun, would you tell him the truth? How much detail would you go into?

Suppose your young child sees a picture of Michael Jackson and asks you who he is?
posted by cerebus19 6 minutes ago

"He's carrying a gun because he's in a war."

"He's a musician."

I don't see how these are difficult questions. It's not like anyone is going to say to their kid "he's carrying a gun because he's a pawn of the Bu$h imperial war machine NO BLOOD FOR OIL FUCK BU$$$$$H" or "he's a musician who wants to touch your private area."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:34 PM on December 18, 2005

Santa is cool, and so are little kids. Tell them whatever it takes to get them to eat their peas.
If they were so sophisticated to resent the fantasy of santa they would be grown up enough to clean their room and eat their vegetables.
Quite apart from that, I think there is a cultural reason for the deception, in that is teaches anyone can decieve you and you should maintain some skepticism.
I'd rather a 6yro find out I didn't really ring Santa to threaten no gifts when she was misbehaving than a 16yro gullible to some cult's manipulation because "people who love you wouldn't lie".
From reading the comments, a lot of posters seem to think little kids are little adults, which is far from true, and will react the same way an adult would to being decieved.
I remember the kids who got no Santa presents as growing up in a pretty boring and ascetic environment, very sensible.
So I guess if you must eliminate Santa from your kids lives, please do so in a way that leaves the fantasy alive for my kids.
I suggest saying you don't believe in Santa because he never brought gifts, but admitting it just might be you never made the good list.
posted by bystander at 5:38 PM on December 18, 2005

I first sorted out that this Santa stuff was bunk when I was about 7. "Santa" at the volunteer fire house Christmas party was played by my Uncle Jug, who needed the red suit but not the fat suit. I felt really silly sitting on his lap and telling him what I wanted for Christmas. *He* wasn't going to get it for me, and plainly this "Santa" fellow wasn't, either, since he wasn't real.

Similar to what someone said way the hell up this thread, I made the instant and intuitive leap (!) to realize that this God fellow probably wasn't all he was cracked up to be, either.

I also think this somehow ties in to my weirdly weepy and inconsolable feelings about themes or stories of redemption. With no God and no Santa, how are any of us redeemed?
posted by ersatzkat at 5:40 PM on December 18, 2005

Having said the above, I never told my son there was a Santa, he picked it up on the street. When he asked me outright, I told him that it's a nice story, that some kids believe and some don't, and if you don't, you shouldn't piss all over anyone who does. Words to that effect.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:42 PM on December 18, 2005

Along with many posters upthread, I'm a little baffled by your use of the term "lying" in this context.

A few years ago, a friend's then four-year-old asked, "Mommy, you're not ever going to die, are you?" (To provide context: we live in NY, this was shortly after 9/11, several of his friends at nursery school had lost a parent.) She flat-out lied. She told him some version of, "Honey, your daddy and I will always be around to take care of you, no matter what, I promise." She figured that's what he needed to hear, rather than a statement that was factually honest but emotionally cruel, and beyond useful comprehension anyway. If he asked the same thing now, at age eight, she'd give a different answer.

Pay attention to what your daughter's asking, and asking for. Don't load her down with info she doesn't need and can't truly understand, in the name of honesty or anything else. Prepare yourself for several bazillion similar decisions down the road.
posted by vetiver at 6:10 PM on December 18, 2005

"He's carrying a gun because he's in a war."

Don't have kids, do you, Optimus? Do you think that would actually be enough of an answer? The next question would be "Why is he in a war?" or "Who is he fighting," and after the answers to those there would be more questions.

Here's an even more difficult situation: Suppose the child asks why Daddy can't get out of bed and cries a lot. Do you tell her that Daddy is clinically depressed?
posted by cerebus19 at 6:35 PM on December 18, 2005

The next question would be "Why is he in a war?" or "Who is he fighting," and after the answers to those there would be more questions.

If you'd like to pretend to be the child and ask me difficult questions, please email me because I think you and I are getting off track.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2005

Optimus Chyme writes 'It's not like anyone is going to say to their kid "he's carrying a gun because he's a pawn of the Bu$h imperial war machine NO BLOOD FOR OIL FUCK BU$$$$$H"'

Actually, that's pretty close to exactly what I'd say, sans the slogans, of course.
posted by signal at 7:04 PM on December 18, 2005

I was raised Jewish, and the question of Santa Claus never came up. My parents never said anything (since, well, he wasn't involved in our holiday). I think I had just assumed he didn't exist. Some of my friends believed otherwise but I never said anything because Santa was part of their holiday.

The myth of the toothfairy, on the otherhand, was perpetuated for far too long, and my brother and I tried several times to catch my parents in the act of exchanging the tooth so that they'd stop pretending.
posted by hopeless romantique at 7:42 PM on December 18, 2005

I'm with cribcage.
Let the kids be kids.
A little make-believe never hurt anyone.
posted by madajb at 8:17 PM on December 18, 2005

Well, except Ryvar, beth, and Mrs. Chyme.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:27 PM on December 18, 2005

LIsten, my five-year old wonder of a blue=eyed son thinks I am the greatest magician in the world. He still hasn't caught me pulling candy coins from his ears or palming coins. You don't have to lie. You only have to go along. A child's imagination needs no fuel. It is the perfect engine using exactly the same amount of energy it produces. I can't imagine why anyone but a totalitarian would want to quash the wonder of childhood. It is akin to forcing the eyes of puppies open. It will happen on its own. Reality Bites everyone eventually.

I have a very good friend whose parents converted to one-or-another odd religions that shunned holidays and celebrations. Because of this he never experienced Xmas or even Birthday parties. Gifts? Never. At some point, the fundy veil lifted and, as a teenager, he and his younger siblings were allowed to participate. He still, to this day, feels cheated. I will say though, that the experience turned him into the most giving person-even to excess. Christmas, birthdays, any excuse to give and he makes sure everyone is involved and gifted.

Don't make Rankin-Bass cry!
posted by HyperBlue at 10:36 PM on December 18, 2005

posted by HyperBlue at 10:40 PM on December 18, 2005


What do you mean, lying?

posted by ottereroticist at 11:52 PM on December 18, 2005

I'm not going to pass judgement on someone who wants to play along with the Santa legend for the benefit of very young kids.

But realize that they may be smarter than you think, and if they begin to express doubts or ask questions, maybe they've already figured out that no human can fit down a goddam chimney, reindeer can't fly, and no one lives at the North Pole. Or maybe they've opened presents "from Santa" that they actually found stashed in your closet weeks before the holiday.

You don't have to be very old or sophisticated to realize that it doesn't all add up. I have no memory of ever really believing in Santa, but I kept up an uneasy facade for years to avoid hurting my parents' feelings. I found the whole thing creepy and I was relieved to have it end.

But what's pissing me off in this thread is the notion that the Santa fabrication is somehow vital to the childhood experience, that opting out will deprive children of something crucial, and that they'll miss out on a sense of wonder and the spirit of giving. I guess I'm one of the "cynics" referred to in some postings here, but I call B.S. on this idea. It seems to me the height of cynicism to think that the only way to instill a sense of wonder and spirit of giving in a child is through perpetuating the Santa myth.
posted by Tubes at 11:55 PM on December 18, 2005

Just make sure your kid has Jewish friends...we'll set your kid straight, and teach them that Santa, if he even does exist, doesn't come to everyone's house, even if they've been really good.

I'm with the folks that say you should teach them to be good all the time and that all humans should be, not just to get toys from Santa. While fantasy is important to little kids, guilt isn't.
posted by amberglow at 5:00 AM on December 19, 2005

Best answer: I have to admit to tearing up a little as I read the 100 answers plus written here.

I can't believe that so very few of you still believes in Santa Claus. And I'm completely serious about that.

Its this kind of rationalist crap that leads to so much selfishness and evil in the world. Santa is the spirit of karma. He's the eternal idea that if you do good deeds, then good (and sometimes unexpected) things will happen to you. He's the personification of an ideal that (I hope) we'd all like to reach -- selfless giving. Santa gives gifts to people not because they're beatiful or rich or cool, but simply because they do good deeds, and he wants to reward them.

Do I believe that Santa drives a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer and lives at the North Pole with his wife and a bunch of elves? No. But do I believe in Santa, even, today, at age 38? You're damn right I do. I believe that when I do good deeds, the universe knows it, and that someday those good deed will be returned to me tenfold. I also believe that the Santa-myth as we repeat it to our children is a story designed to teach them exactly that lesson, and that (as with all myths) failure to pass on the story and the tradition will eventually lead to a failure to pass on the message.

If you have, in any way, to believe that allowing your child to believe in the myth-figure of Santa Claus is lying, then I feel very badly for you, because you've lost the ability to imagine magic in your life. You've lost the ability to see faries in the garden or hippoes in the clouds.

So, if by asking "Should I lie to my three year old daughter about Santa Claus?" you mean should we allow her to believe, then yes, please, allow her to believe. She'll have lots of time to be cynical later. And also take a moment to think about what you, yourself, believe. If you can't look at her, asleep in her bed on Christmas Eve, and wish for her to believe in magic and goodness and selflessness and the spirit of giving, then what would you prefer that she did believe?

The world exists for each of us through the eyes of the child that first saw it.
posted by anastasiav at 6:15 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

I believe in Santa just the same way you do anastasiav. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
posted by caddis at 6:42 AM on December 19, 2005

The world exists for each of us through the eyes of the child that first saw it.
posted by anastasiav at 6:15 AM PST on December 19

This is a good example of something that sounds nice but means absolutely nothing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2005

My brother and I both thought that his small son's Polar Express Santa said, "Christmas -- lies in your heart," and snickered to ourselves.

The little guy doesn't parse it that way, and I wouldn't say anything to make him.
posted by Sallyfur at 11:27 AM on December 19, 2005

I remember feeling as though I were the butt of a huge joke at my expense when I found out there wasn't a Santa.

But I got over it, pretty much the same day, because my parents turned the disclosure into a way to include me in the mythmaking in a different way: it was my job now to help the adults make sure the younger kids in the neighborhood got as much enjoyment from the whole thing as I had. They made it feel like a rite of passage.
posted by jesourie at 4:58 PM on December 19, 2005

anastasiav, that was beautifully put, it's just what i needed to hear to get back into the spirit of the season with renewed vigour. thanks!
posted by elphTeq at 6:18 PM on December 19, 2005

Santa is the spirit of karma. He's the eternal idea that if you do good deeds, then good (and sometimes unexpected) things will happen to you.
posted by anastasiav

While this is an inspiring idea that can be very encouraging at times, I think it is one of the most damaging parts of the Santa mythology and much related mythology and cultural ideals (i.e. the "power of prayer", or the "american dream" that hard work = success).

It's easy to think only of the happy side of karma. That good acts are rewarded by some mystical force. But there are two much less pleasant sides to that belief.

First, it's not always true. When your kid does what is right and sticks up for "the gay kid" who gets made fun of all the time he's not going to understand why the thanks he gets is to be included in the abuse. He did a good thing... why did life only get harder because of it? Was it really not a good thing he did? Sure, good things may, and probably will, come to him from his good acts, especially if he keeps it up over time. But there is no reason to be confident that the personal benefits will outweigh the pains. Goodness is often punished by others. Kids especially need to understand that doing the right thing is important even when it does not result in some personal benefit. If they aren't prepared for the real-life consequences of taking a stand for good, they will not stand for long.

Second, this belief in karma entails the opposite conclusion. When bad (especially unexpected) things happen, you are in some way to blame. A sense of responsibility is a good thing to instill in your kid, but it should be an accurate sense of responsibility. Karma isn't a matter of logical consequences, but rather mystical rewards and punishments not logically connected to the acts that prompted them. So when your kid gets sexually abused, she thinks she must have done something to deserve it and she blames herself. The karmic justice of the world wouldn't allow such a horrible thing to happen to a good person, would it?

Some might claim these are far-fetched applications that have little to do with the ideal of Santa. I still claim that these abstract ideals do have real long-term harms, but if you'd rather, we don't even need to go beyond the world of Santa and Christmas.

Lets consider the year daddy got laid off and your kid tried extra hard to be good because everyone was so sad and worried. How is he going to process the fact that he got less presents that year than any year before? What message does that send? Or how about when your kid goes to school and finds out that the poor kids got less/worse presents? That's because they weren't as good, right? They didn't deserve the Xbox 360 like you did. Or your kid hears about the the mean, spoiled, selfish kid who got everything he could possibly want. Where's the sense of reward for goodness that Santa is supposed to be inspiring?

Forgive me for going off so extensively about this, but I believe this sense of karma or mystical reward is one of the most widespread myths of our culture. I think people typically believe it to be beneficial, and harmless at worst, but I think its damages are much more substantial than people realize or admit.
posted by Wingy at 9:36 PM on December 19, 2005

I must be missing the point here. Santa exists so why lie about it?
posted by cassbrown1 at 4:07 AM on December 20, 2005

What is so horrible about santa? Not only that, what is with the need to tell kids that, "hey, life sucks". I spent most of my childhood as a child. I believed in santa and that the world was, all around, a good place. I'm not scarred from it or had problems believing my parents when I found out it wasn't for real. Is everyone really so cynical these days that this is really a problem. Just let kids be kids. And go watch "A Christmas Story" ya bunch of ba humbugs.
posted by chrisroberts at 11:40 AM on December 20, 2005

I blame Karl Rove.
posted by caddis at 2:33 PM on December 20, 2005

By way of response, I'll post a letter that my eight-year old daughter wrote to Santa this past October, detailing a "Christmas Wish" she'd been thinking about all year:

Dear Santa,

I would like only one thing this year. It is a big thing not like little thing/big thing not like that, but like it is a big thing to me. It's this: I would like a life, a life for someone, someone who means a lot to me, someone who is special to me and very thoughtful: my Bear. I would like him to talk and express himself in the way he chooses. He will have a mind of his own. And think for himself. And be kind to others and the environment, but still look the same and have his own personality. I would like him to be bright and alive not dull and dead but alive. This is the only thing I would like from you. I'm giving this to you earlier so you can give my bear a life, because it might take some time. I've wanted this to happen ever since last Christmas, but it was already after Christmas so I'd really like this one thing even though it is so big and if you can't do it please send me back a letter before Christmas. THANK YOU!

She's had this stuffed bear since she was two and a half. Loves it with all her heart, has brought it with her to school every day since kindergarten, shares secrets with it when she's feeling down.

Now, she's a bright kid. Very logical -- the product of two generations of engineers, accountants, and software developers. She KNOWS that this sort of thing is not possible, but she wants to BELIEVE in it anyway.

Whether it's this specific belief in Santa Claus, or the belief that she might someday be an accomplished ballerina, or a famous writer, or even the President of the United States, I will ALWAYS want to encourage her to believe in the seemingly impossible.
posted by RKB at 10:34 PM on December 20, 2005

If any parents are still reading this...

I gotta say, when I confronted my mom and dad about the reality of Santa, they gave me that whole "Yes Virginia" bullshit. Not only did I see through the paper-thin sentiment, but the obvious cop-out answer made me more bitter about the Santa-lie then I probably would have been otherwise.

Not that I think you should tell your kids the truth about Santa. But when they're ready for the truth, don't half-ass it.
posted by samh23 at 11:09 PM on December 20, 2005

Santa Tract
posted by caddis at 11:36 PM on December 20, 2005

For what it's worth, I think santa is an excellent way to teach children about skepticism and comforting lies.
posted by es_de_bah at 12:12 AM on December 21, 2005

RKB: From a child development perspective, your story about your daughter is especially instructive, not to mention quite moving. She has actually articulated for you (in writing!) her new awareness of the problem of consciousness. Her mind has entered a new developmental stage, one in which she recognizes a difference in her thinking and understanding of the world as compared with the one she used to have.

In this letter, she is actually saying goodbye to her younger conceptions of an animistic world in which everything is alive in some way. By acknowledging that her bear is not alive, and that it would take a magical miracle to create a life for him, she signals her understanding of the difference between a conscious entity with agency, like a sentient human being, and the inert world.

This is why a belief in Santa can be useful, and should not be considered an adult "lie" to children. When children are in Piaget's pre-operational stage, they can't and don't recognize that bears are not alive, imaginary friends are not real, magic doesn't take place. That's why it hardly makes a difference whether people 'do Santa' with their children or not -- before children enter the concrete operational stage (somewhere around your daughter's age, usually the range 7-11 is given), there are no clear boundaries between what is alive or 'real' and what isn't. As this summary says, children who have not yet entered the concrete operational stage find it "easy to believe in magical increase, decrease, disappearance. Reality not firm. Perceptions dominate judgment."

This is why the decision on whether or not to participate in the Santa myth should not be based on a fear of "lying" to children. You cannot teach a child whose mind is not able to think concretely to be rational. You can't remove their childish misconceptions of what exists and doesn't, or their mistaken explanations of natural phenomena. The human brain is designed to work this way, and only by progressing through the natural stages of development does one prepare for the next level of life's challenges. I now believe that when people remember feeling betrayed by discovering the truth about Santa, they are really feeling betrayed not by being lied to by parents, but by the naturally sad sensation of passing from the magical world of early childhood into a world of more abstract thought and self-consciousness. Children who don't believe in Santa will also experience this jarring sadness -- it is inevitable -- but it is likely to be caused by something else, such as the death of a pet or person, the betrayal of a friend, or other distresses of childhood. Growing up ain't easy, and again I'd say that there is no way to protect your child from coming to terms with the reality of the world they must live in, when it's time. And before it's time, there is no way to prepare them for it. Just help them live the stages of development fully. An important part of that is helping them explore the world of fantasy and animism that they are ready for as young children, doing this through literature and storytelling, pretend play, art and music, and the discovery of the physical world. Santa can be one element of this, just as Cinderella or Dora the Explorer can. Bettelheim argues that being exposed to archetypal characters who are all good or all evil (like Cinderella's stepmother) help us develop clear conceptions about what good and evil are, and teach us that we have choices about which to be. That's pretty important in human development, and I'd argue that a belief in Santa is important for developing an archetype for what an all-good, giving person would be. We could do much worse than to love and emulate Santa.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on December 21, 2005 [2 favorites]

wow. There seem to be a lot of different ways to think about thiis I think I can distinguish four threads...
a)yes, it's a lie, and lying is wrong - stop deceiving your kid.
b)yes, it's a lie, and it's disappointing when they discover the truth, but let them enjoy the belief while they can.
c)it's not a lie, it's a metaphor of a deeper "spirit of christmas" / karma / archetype / yes virginia, etc.
and then my view,
d)it's a story / game, no more a lie than Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

People can interpret & find symbolism in all fiction, but surely that's not the reason a kid reads, to "learn life lessons" - you read because it's fun to imagine stuff. Is it okay to take your kid to see "The Santa Clause" or is that perpetuating a cruel myth?

I dunno, I'm surprised how many people take it so seriously. I really don't think I ever believed santa as factual - I mean, I knew it was my mother who made the stockings so much fun, who followed the family tradition from her side of the family - I knew my cousins had similar stockings, while other friends had different experiences, or didn't do santa at all - but that didn't diminish it for me at all. it was just a great ritual, one my sister and I took up for each other as teenagers (when we spent xmas with mom, we would all three end up with two stockings each from the other two - best part of christmas).

As for perpetuating delusions, again I think you're holding scientific fact as more important than imagination, and that is ultimately only detrimental to scientific fact itself - you have to imagine beyond what's known to come up with new ideas. An adult who acted like Calvin (of & Hobbes) would be in trouble, but a kid who behaves that way is just exploring his own mind. As an adult you can channel that stuff into your art etc, but as a kid you give it free reign and that's healthy. And most kids who have imaginary friends etc can still distinguish between real reality and their own fantastic 'reality'...
posted by mdn at 9:19 AM on December 21, 2005

She KNOWS that this sort of thing is not possible, but she wants to BELIEVE in it anyway.

RKB, does she already have a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. If not, you should get her one for Christmas with a note from Santa (since its clear she believes in him).

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
posted by anastasiav at 9:40 AM on December 21, 2005

Here's a few of my thoughts, none of which are directed at anyone in particular.

I think a lot of the resentment that one might feel upon discovering the Santa is not an actual person (or elf, as it were) may have more to do with the degree to which one's parent(s) have built up the myth, and the abruptness with which the myth is taken away (i.e. being told point blank as opposed to figuring it out on one's own).

I remember figuring it out on my own when I was about six years old. IIRC, my reaction was something along the lines of, "Huh, so he's not real....Hey, who wants to go play?" But I can imagine the hurt feelings that might be caused by an insensitive relative or peer ripping away all the good Santa vibes -- intentionally or not.

My own stepdaughter is now almost ten, and is still excited about Christmas and still excited about Santa. I believe that she is actually harbouring some serious doubts about the whole thing, but it's like she doesn't want to wreck it for herself.

And her father and I don't play up the myth very much anymore but you know what? It will be sad in a way when she finally puts Santa aside.

Anyway, just my 2 cents.
posted by melimelo at 12:45 PM on December 21, 2005

Yes, anastasiav, we have read the book to her. Also Peef: The Christmas Bear (which is where she got the idea, I think). While not quoting directly from The Velveteen Rabbit, the response she received from Santa pointed out that her love for her bear makes him more alive than most people could ever understand.
posted by RKB at 9:09 AM on December 22, 2005

The problem with Santa is that he isn't a man, he really isn't. He is just an illusion.

The problem with illusion is that one can't teach they need to "behave well" otherwise an illusion will not bring them toys..and that's for at least two reasons.

First, it's too convenient to blame Santa, parents need to be reponsible for their decision to give the toy to the kid or not to give it. As parents are reference figures of the kid, if they need to excercise authority they must not use scapegoats : if you want to teach responsability you must be responsible to begin with, or you'll look out as incoherent to the kid and ultimately as hypocrite.

Second, the kid could really buy into the illusion and associate pleasure and joy with an illusion ; so when sooner or later he/she discovers that Santa is an illusion he will take it bad : parents LIED to me.

I can't think of others things more scary to a kid (and to adults) of breaking a bond of trust, expecially when parents are the most important beings in your child life.

Third and pardon my agnosticism, teaching a kid that illusory man can exist open the door to dangerous illusions as immaginary friends , supernatural entities like devils, the boo boo or God The White Bearded omnipotent being.
posted by elpapacito at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2005

Here's what my six-year-old (seven tomorrow!) has to say about it:

"Since they never heard about him, they should tell him or her (yes, she actually said "him or her") he exists and then let them find out on their own."

Which is to say that my six-year-old believes there is some value in a kid figuring out that Santa doesn't exist -- "because then he can say, 'they [the parents] were just trying to make me happy!" i.e., my six-year-old's theory is that kids don't resent their parents lying to them about Santa, and in fact they appreciate it as a nice thing. You are of course free to disagree with her, but remember that she is a lot closer to the issue than the rest of us are.

As you might be able to guess, my kid has figured out Santa doesn't exist. She picked up the idea of Santa existing from other family members (and the rest of the universe), and I was studiously non-committal about it until she came up to me this year and said she didn't believe. And then we talked about it a bit and I told her that it was fine for her not to believe in Santa but that she shouldn't tell other kids that Santa didn't exist -- that was something they needed to figure out on their own.

Interestingly, I just asked her what she would say if one of her classmates who believed in Santa asked her flat out if she thought Santa was real. She said that she would say 'yes.' "It's not one of those bad lies," she said. "And they would be sad if they thought I was right."
posted by jscalzi at 12:31 PM on December 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Perhaps this is not relevant to Santa as he doesn't quite fit as a scientific principle or a truth about the universe that requires simplification, but it's still Lies-To-Children.
posted by linux at 3:13 PM on December 22, 2005

What blows me away is that I seem to be the only one here who figures that he can let the child guide the process. Crickey! It doesn't get any freakin' easier.

If your kid comes home with the notion of Santa, all you gotta do is let your kid tell you what s/he believes. And that is all you ever have to do.

"Mom, who's Santa?"
"What have you heard, Sally?"
"The kids say yadda blabla."
"That's what I've heard, too.

"Dad, how come there's two Santas? There was a black one at Yadda, and this one is a white one!"
"What do you think, Jimmy?"
"They gotta be different. But then they aren't Santa!"
"I guess you're right. I wonder why he can't be in all the malls at once."
"Well he couldn't be everywhere all at once!"
"Yah. So they must be actors pretending to be him. It sure fools the little kids, hey!"
"Yah. They're lucky!"
"Well, let's be nice to them and keep the secret. It looks like fun."
"Yah. Can we get some frenchfries?"

I mean, really, people. Give your children some credibility for figuring out what they want for themselves. The only reason you might choose to not tell about Santa is that the process of learning to figure out what's fake is probably not conducive to religious stupidity.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:27 PM on December 22, 2005

My kids don't believe in Santa ... but I do, they chide me about it all the time. But I know when they grow up, they'll believe in him too. So, I'm content to let them live in their pre-teen cynical world for now, they'll outgrow it.
posted by forforf at 11:05 PM on December 22, 2005

the magic of watching three kids believe from age 3 to age 5. the beauty as they question their beliefs from age 6 to age 8 and revel in the accomplishment. the chance for all to be innocent.

Before the ice is in the pools,
Before the skaters go,
Or any cheek at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow,
Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me!

Emily Dickinson

I'll take wonder.
posted by vega5960 at 7:12 AM on December 23, 2005

Next on Ask Metafilter: How do you answer the dreaded question "Do these jeans make me look fat?"
posted by AccordionGuy at 1:40 PM on December 23, 2005

Unlikely though it may be, I've got to believe there's some danger of giving a child a sense of inadequacy if you let them believe the whole good behavior=santa brings presents thing. After all, they wrote a letter to santa indicating precisely what they wanted. Suppose it's something impossible, like granma's passed away and they want her back. Then no matter what you say, you could end up with a kid beating themselves up year after year thinking "if only I'd been good enough, santa would have given me what I'd asked for." I'm sure some parents would consider this a good thing (to have a kid trying their darndest to be "good" year round), but it's got to do some harm to the self esteem.
posted by juv3nal at 3:07 PM on December 23, 2005

five fresh fish:: What blows me away is that I seem to be the only one here who figures that he can let the child guide the process. I read your first answer and I totally agreed, but I didn't think a me-too would be a useful addition to the thread, because I could not say it any better.

FWIW: we always thought we would not lie to our child (now 2.5) about Sinterklaas (our version of Santa Claus). It was quite a shock when she started telling us that she got presents from Sinterklaas (we put them in her shoe, no idea how she got the idea that Sinterklaas did that). She loved the event. It was December 5th, and she still talks about it all day. So, what do you do? I cannot tell her that he doesn't exist, that's not a concept she understands at the moment. We are both literal minded geek parents, but still, I also do not tell her that the tissue box at which she talks to her imaginary friend really isn't a telephone, and that there is no friend. I actually think it is quite amazing to see how she makes sense of the world.
posted by davar at 3:12 PM on December 23, 2005

We always gave Santa a glass of milk and carrots. Maybe at first the carrots were for the reindeer, but I seem to remember my mom explaining how Santa couldn't eat cookies at everyone's house, and sometimes he liked to have vegetables so that he wouldn't gain too much weight.

I'm not at home, so I should remember to leave carrots for Santa this year.
posted by jb at 5:01 PM on December 23, 2005

fff wins. My parents did that with me -- and at the end it was great fun, with me and my best friend (aged 11) doing our best to catch our (co-operating) parents out, but being unable to conclusively prove there was no Santa. It was top, and if I ever have kids I'll be doing exactly that.

(The lengths they went to, btw, the different wrapping paper, the different handwriting, the friend in costume accidentally waking my sister -- leaving her huddled under the blankets all night, convinced for years and convincing all her friends -- were part of that delightful childhood dance between real and imagined. The lines are blurred anyway, give them a helping hand in the 'real world')
posted by bonaldi at 7:21 PM on December 23, 2005

Why not just go along with your kid?

After much hand wringing, in the end this is exactly what we did. Of course, at 5, he does believe in Santa. But it was great fun at 3 and 4 when he would point out the man with the beard in the red suit and say "look, the Christmas goblin!"

We still have no idea where he got that.
posted by sudama at 8:26 PM on December 23, 2005

fff wasn't the "only one". A lot of people on this thread have said to follow the child's lead -- odinsdream, myself, Sibrax, and Medieval Maiden, among others, have recommended taking cues from what the child thinks.
posted by Miko at 10:45 PM on December 23, 2005

To all you smarty pants here who keep wrongly asserting that there is no Santa Claus, I have proof. NORAD is tracking him and he is in Italy right now!
posted by caddis at 1:59 PM on December 24, 2005

3 year olds don't have any concept of lies and truth. . .

Well maybe you didn't!
posted by spock at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2006

"Should I actively deceive my child about Santa Claus?"

"No, but allow her imagination and powers of reasoning to take her down the road of discovery naturally, and make Christmas fun."
- Medieval Maven

This appraoch makes so much sense to me. Give kids some credit, let them take the lead.

most of the people here arguing that telling your child about Santa is somehow "lying" are a bunch of punk kids who have yet to take on the responsibilities for raising another human being - caddis

This may or may not be true. The childless usually have the strongest opinions on child rearing. On the other hand, I'm consistently suprised to discover how many MeFites are parents.
posted by raedyn at 9:07 AM on January 12, 2006

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