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Christmas is an awesome event for children with lots of presents, but I've been thinking: Aren't the negative things it brings (telling them the truth eventually) worse than the good things? You can still give them presents at this given date without the children thinking the gifts are coming from Santa, right?

Questions:

  • How much effect does it have on children when they find out you've been lying to them about Santa for years?

  • What would the negative effects be if you never tell them Santa exists? Of course there is the risk that your kid will tell other kids that still do believe in Santa about it, but I think this could be easily handled. Could it?

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    I remember figuring out that Santa == Mom & Dad on my own. I think the negative effects were mostly for my parents: Now I knew who to pester for gifts. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 17:27
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    My parents played Santa, until I figured it out. Never felt lied to or deceived by my parents. Nothing negative whatsoever. – Jason Apr 30 '15 at 19:06
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    I consider the whole Santa thing to be like organising a surprise party. Do you feel bad because someone lured you to a location with a lie, or do you feel happy because someone used a false pretense to host an awesome party for you? – Erik May 1 '15 at 6:41
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    What truth? Lying? Are you suggesting that Santa does not exist? – Dr. Spock May 1 '15 at 20:07
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    I upvoted this question because the whole concept of deceiving kids like this does not seem at all appealing to me and I'm fascinated to see what the answers might be. :-) – R.. May 2 '15 at 1:46

20 Answers 20

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Is lying worse than the good aspects?

Aren't the negative things it brings (telling them the truth eventually) worse than the good things?

No. Children experience the world differently than adults, due to their incomplete knowledge. It may, in fact, be harder for some children to understand that my daily departure from home for many hours is what keeps a roof over their head. There's no need to make something up until they're older, but on the other hand it brings them a sense of joy and wonder to believe in a fairy tale, if only for a short few years.

As they gain understanding they learn new things that contradict their old world views. This doesn't harm them. I knew someone who didn't realize until they were an adult that when they were told that chirping street crossing indicators were for the blind, they assumed blind drivers as a child, and didn't re-examine that until much older.

It didn't harm them to have an incorrect belief, and in the meantime they were thinking, "Wow, disabilities really don't hold you back from anything!"

You still can give them presents at this certain date without them thinking it's Santa, right?

Of course. You can give presents at any time of the year without explanation. If the explanation or reasoning has meaning to your or them, then perhaps you can explain it. There's no need to, though.

How does this lie affect children?

How much effect does it have on children when they find out you've been lying to them about Santa for years?

You really seem concerned about the lie. Perhaps you've been told or believe that to lie will irreparably damage your relationship with a person or your child.

While this is true in general, as children learn and grow they eventually separate fantasy and myth from reality. Dr. Benjamin Siegel, Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine is quoted here:

What parents should assess is the values they are trying to impart and whether this myth encourages those morals. “Every culture has a fairy tale or myth that belongs to its historical identity,” Siegel says. “If the myths are good and talk about sharing and helping your neighbor, then that’s really nice.”

So as you approach a myth you want to present as reality to your children you should be asking yourself what it teaches your child. What values are you trying to promote? Does the myth help or hinder that?

Further in the same article:

Parents worry that they will have to break the news to their children and shatter their whole vision of Christmas. However, many children come to this realization on their own around age seven or eight, Siegel says. And when they do, they are basically unscathed. Siegel cites a study that revealed that children who learned the truth may have been upset, but not nearly as upset as the parents.

“Most kids do fine when they learn a myth is not real,” he says. “Sometimes parents feel very badly because they want their kids to continue to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe parents like the myth because it makes them feel good, or because kids get disappointed in them when they find out the truth. Kids realize that parents aren’t so powerful, but that happens in adolescence anyway.”

And from my personal experience* my children who have gone through this transition are perfectly fine, and trust me as much as I'd expect them to, given their developmental stage. They clearly understand the difference between myth and reality, and they continue to participate in the myth for a variety of reasons despite their disbelief.

What are the consequences of not playing santa?

What would the negative effects be if you never tell them Santa exists?

I have a friend whose parents did not present santa clause to them at all - they had to learn the story through movies and friends. As an adult they feel like they missed out - and as a result her children get perhaps an over-santa Christmas. They never had a time when they felt that believing joy, and they feel as though they lost out on a small part of childhood as experienced by most children in the US.

So on the cultural side of things, Santa as a shared myth is a connecting influence rather than a disconnecting influence. In a very interesting article by Dwight Longnecker we read, "...in an increasingly global society, myth is a universal language. " The article goes on to show that shared myths connect people to society and learn societal truths in ways that cannot easily be done through simple rational thought.

Of course, you can share the santa myth as a myth from the beginning, but they will never experience that myth.

That might be right for you and your family, but I'd hesitate to use such absolute language and universally discourage every parent from allowing their children to experience the myth rather than simply learn of it.

Of course there is the risk that your kid will tell other kids that do believe in Santa about it, but I think this could be easily handled. Could it?

A lot of this depends on how you present it, and your child's temperament. If they already have a great deal of empathy, and you explain well that other children like to or are taught to believe that it's real, your child may show some restraint in offering corrections to other children.

It can be hard for some children, particularly those who value truth above all else and have a strong sense of justice, to allow others to believe in something they themselves don't believe in. It can be hard for even adults to do this, so we can hardly place the blame on children.

I don't think it can be easily handled. However, I do believe you can defend yourself with the simple fact that the truth is on your side, and thus you might not suffer any ill effects. Unfortunately that might not be true for other children or their families. I don't think there's any way you can spare them without strictly instructing your child that they are not allowed to spoil the other children's fun - and then hoping that they follow those instructions.

The more involved you are in the santa myth, though, the more easily your child will avoid these issues entirely. Reminding them every other day when they talk about santa that santa isn't real will prevent them from pretending. When they talk about Dora you don't continually remind them that dora isn't real - they already know. So you needn't offer corrections. You can leave out cookies and milk, or give them a present "from" santa and they will see that pretending is ok - and thus they might give others the choice and chance to pretend without constant correction and possible arguments.

Good effect of "playing" santa

Now, on to the good stuff. You never asked if playing santa has had any particularly good effects. It has, in fact.

Our children are more skeptical, and try to work things out for themselves a little more rather than blindly trusting an authority figure.

I can tell my children that they shouldn't blindly trust authority figures, but what I discovered is that if I didn't model the behavior of society to some degree, no matter what I told them they would believe me. And when I told them to trust someone else, they would blindly follow that person. This has a lot of risks in life. Sure, they would eventually figure things out on their own, but santa gives a relatively safe space for them to explore what truth is, how to discover false stories, and, most importantly, to seek out the truth even in the face of a supposed authority.

Yes, I want my children to trust me, but I also want them to understand that there are absolute truths, half truths, and myths or lies. Discerning the difference will be important for them as youth and adults.

And if I falter as a parent, they have the skills and ability to chalk it up to me being human, and discovering the truth themselves.

There are certainly other ways to do this, but the santa myth accomplishes several things with little to no disappointment or harm.

of course there are ways to present it that will ultimately damage your relationship. But if done thoughtfully, and with an air of fantasy, it can actually strengthen you relationship, and give your children skills they will need as adolescents and adults, and, helpfully, they'll have it by the time they reach the mental stage where it will most be needed.

* I have 8 children, 3 of which know the truth, one of which probably knows but hasn't let on, and the other four are still experiencing the myth as though true. Our only rule is that once you stop believing in santa, you no longer get gifts from him - they still receive what they would in either case, but none come from santa. This has presented a new challenge to the older crew - and so far they've chosen to continue the pretense. We've involved them more in the behind the scenes activities as well. But, honestly, we don't really get into it. We might leave cookies out once every few years, and presents from santa are typically smaller toys, they get the good stuff (and clothes) from us.

There was no big reveal, crying, or evident disappointment. As they grew and experienced others' beliefs they came to their own conclusion, and when pressed for an answer, we would simply state the rule. "I'm not going to tell you what to believe, you'll have to decide for yourself based on the best evidence you have. However, I should let you know that 'santa' gives gifts to those who at least appear to believe - so the fun isn't ruined for the younger children."

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    Like the answer, and did similar. When our son learned "the truth" we helped ensure that he didn't pass it on to his younger sister by including him into the back stage. After she went to bed he got to stay up with us, helped us wrap some presents, got to be the one to drink the milk and eat the cookies left for Santa. So he saw the effort that we put in to making Christmas morning special, and wound up still appreciating it all, just in a different way. – Michael Broughton Apr 30 '15 at 18:01
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    I really disagree with the last part of this answer. As human beings, we will always make mistakes as a natural course of things, and don't always have the right answers. I want my children to learn that I'm human in that way, and that's why the shouldn't always take my words and actions as infallible. I'm definitely not so perfect that I have to intentionally deceive to teach this lesson — and I do think that doing so undermines the honesty I try to always demonstrate. Sure, Santa isn't important, but I want my children to know that they can count on my trustworthiness. – mattdm May 1 '15 at 17:38
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    "Children experience the world differently than adults, due to their incomplete knowledge." Incorrect statement based on false premise that "adults" have "complete" knowledge. – bjb568 May 1 '15 at 22:34
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    @AdamDavis Your post is only from the POV of a parent. From my experience as a former child, there are several cases of a lie being told to me that, upon learning the truth, eroded my trust in my parents. Although I can't speak specifically to this case, since my parents didn't do Santa, I can speak with confidence that my trust in my parents is low because of the lies they told me when I was a child. They thought it was good or fun for me. But ultimately I decided it wasn't good for me, and clearly not good for my relationship with them. – r12 May 4 '15 at 23:16
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    Interesting and obviously popular answer, but I'm really not seeing any "benefits" from teaching children that Santa should be thanked for gifts instead of their hard working parents and family. I don't see any hard detriments either, but honestly the worst part about not believing in Santa is keeping up the facade for your 2nd grade classmates who were absolutely convinced that your disbelief will kill Santa and prevent gifts for all of eternity. – Gorchestopher H May 5 '15 at 18:29
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It's absolutely possible to give kids presents on Christmas without bringing Santa into the picture. (Indeed, even in families whose holiday tradition includes Santa, there are almost always presents where the tag says "From Grandma" or "From Uncle Tim", not "From Santa".)

Interestingly, even if you don't tell your kids about Santa, it's possible they will pick it up from other sources. From a very young age, my daughter could coolly explain to strangers that she didn't believe in Santa. My sons, on the other hand, have wholeheartedly embraced the concept (thanks to friends, various adults, and inescapable marketing throughout the season) and get angry that I "don't let" Santa visit.

This question isn't really just isolated to Santa, though. There are many imaginary characters that populate different family traditions. Some are common and widely known/used (e.g., the Tooth Fairy). Some may be unique to a particular family — our household has "Thunder Bear," a large growly animal who drives his loud motorcycle around during thunderstorms, who was invented when one child insisted that thunder was a bear and wouldn't accept any other explanation. Sometimes kids believe in something (e.g. my son wants to go to Hogwarts, even though I explain we aren't districted for it) without any parental pushing.

I personally think that some imagination and "magic" is useful and healthy for children. Telling them stories gives them inspiration to be creative. Whether it's common mythology like Santa Claus and his reindeer, a picture book about fairies putting dewdrops on flowers every night, or a new invention like Thunder Bear's magical motorcycle, stories are a way that humans explain the world around them.

I've taken an approach of allowing a fair amount of leeway in the imaginary things my children choose to embrace. I give an explanation for what's really happening (it's your parents buying presents, dew comes from condensation, thunder is the noise of lightning), but don't push it if they object. Sometimes kids want to hold on to that magic. Eventually they will reconcile the contradictory evidence once enough reality piles up, but in the meantime we can enjoy making up stories together. (Encouraging a child to explain how Santa flies around the world, fits down chimneys, eats all those cookies? Great creativity fuel, even in a household that doesn't teach that Santa's real!)

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    Exactly this. This is largely how my family handles this - mostly because of my opinions on the matter - and while we're not old enough to have some of the more creative things above, we definitely have lots of fun at christmas and even with Santa type things without any supposition of real-ness. – Joe Apr 30 '15 at 14:33
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    Love the thunder bear and Hogwart's stories. – anongoodnurse Apr 30 '15 at 14:35
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    You know you're not allowed to talk to muggles about Hogwarts. I'll be reporting you to the headmaster shortly. – corsiKa Apr 30 '15 at 15:11
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    I had to explain the district issue about Hogwart's, too. When asked what the local school was, I told him to wait until his 11th birthday to see if he gets a letter. See, he doesn't know yet if he's a wizard or not, and I won't (can't?) tell him. – Geobits Apr 30 '15 at 17:35
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    I think there is a difference between playing along if your kid insists that a bear causes thunder and making it believe that a bearded guy brings presents. I had a great deal of imagination as a kid, but slowly discovering the truth about Christmas presents made me feel lied to and give up on Christianism altogether at a very young age. – Dennis May 1 '15 at 4:57
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There is no need to lie. Telling the "Jedi truth" is a different matter.

I remember, back in college, turning on the TV and listening to some bible-thumper tell me that we shouldn't tell our children about Santa Claus, because we're eventually going to have to tell them that he's fake. And then...maybe Jesus is fake?!?

I'm Christian, so this really got into my head. I decided to turn the televangelist's view upside-down. It's not that Jesus is fake like Santa is fake, it's that Santa is real in the same way that Jesus is real.

When my daughter was four or five years old, she asked me flat-out if Santa Claus was real. I started talking about Jesus for a minute (stay with me here). Jesus is real, but He's not particularly walking around on Earth like the rest of us. Instead, he uses His church to do his work for him; that's why Christians are called "the body of Christ". It's human beings out there feeding the poor in the soup kitchens, healing the sick in the hospitals, and performing little miracles.

Once she got that, I explained a little bit about St. Nicholas, who was no doubt a real human being. Then I explained to her that, just like we are the hands of Jesus doing His work, her mom and I are doing the same as the hands of St. Nicholas, AKA Santa Claus. No, there's no fat guy jumping down chimneys, but the spirit is there and our actions turn it into reality.

My daughter jumped up excitedly and asked "Does that mean that I get to be Santa too?" I couldn't have asked for a better response.

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    In the part of Germany where I live, we have The Christ Child instead of Santa. As we realized rather quickly that the tale of the gift-bearing figure wouldn't hold because we have a very bright and observant child (We buy gifts for others? We craft in preschool?), we explained that the humans are responsible for the worldly gifts, but the Christkind will add a special blessing: something that can't be bought, crafted or seen but carries the essence of Christmas. Works great for us and even some other families have successfully adopted this aproach. – Stephie Apr 30 '15 at 21:16
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    OT: 34 years living in Italy, in the shadow of the Vatican, churches everywhere, priests everywhere, Pope everywhere… and this is the first time someone managed to explain christianity in a way that it make it look nice instead of just oppressive and senseless. – o0'. May 1 '15 at 13:25
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    @CaptainCodeman he realised it's a metaphor, and lives by it. Seems fine to me. Much better than actually believing it at face value. – o0'. May 1 '15 at 13:27
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    I'm not a Christian, but this answer is exactly how I will explain Christians to my children when they ask. Thank you! – dotancohen May 4 '15 at 7:00
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I somewhat like Pratchett's take on the question

"You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"

MY POINT EXACTLY.”

― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

I'm sure some kids react badly to finding out the truth but I don't recall finding out santa wasn't real ever being a traumatic thing for me or even really something you so much "found out" as just gradually came to know. At the age of 4 I was running round the house as one of my sisters jingled some bells and a few years later I knew santa wasn't real and that it was a game that had been played entirely for my enjoyment at the time.

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    Since you're mentioning Pratchett, I can strongly recommend The Science of Discworld which introduces the curious notion of Lies to children as an almost necessary prequel to a truth that might be too difficult to grasp without preparation. – Tobias Kienzler Apr 30 '15 at 18:31
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    RIP terry pratchett :( +1 for the quote, excellent answer – nurgle May 1 '15 at 8:08
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My experience was a bit different from most.

I found out, at age seven, on a bus full of other kids on the way to school the day after Christmas vacation ended. I remember a burning sense of shame, and of betrayal. Shame for being so "stupid" as to have believed a lie, and betrayal toward parents who had put me in the situation where I had half a bus full of kids jeering at me for believing in Santa. The situation was worse than it might have been because I was a newcomer to the school and didn't have any friends there.

It made an indelible impression on me, and I don't know that I've ever completely gotten over it, even though as an adult I realize that my parents meant only the best for me and it certainly isn't fair to blame anything but the situation itself. Since that time I've never been able to look on Christmas without a certain degree of detachment and cynicism. I doubt all of that can be blamed on one bad Christmas experience but it did plant the first seeds.

I realize that my bad experience was situational and that for most, discovering that Santa isn't real is a more gradual and gentle process, but be aware that there is a potential for a bad experience.

My husband and I argued over the Santa thing a lot while my kids were growing up. Same thing with the tooth fairy. Knowing my experience was the atypical one I let him have his way, but I've never felt comfortable about it. I guess he was probably right and allowing them to believe in magical beings and happenings adds joy to childhood, but that's something I can only process on an intellectual level, not an emotional one.

I have tried to break the news to my children more gradually, watching for signs that they had begun to doubt. When they asked about how there could be two Santas at the two malls that we went to while Christmas shopping I told them that there can be lots of Santas, all giving out gifts and trying to make people happy. When my son asked me point blank a couple of days later if Santa was real I told him that Santa could be as real as he wanted Santa to be and he was satisfied with that. I think he interpreted it as "we'll keep acting like Santa is real for as long as you want us to" and since it meant lots of presents to him he's never complained.

He and my husband watch for Santa every Christmas eve on the NORAD website. I'm glad they can enjoy the experience for what it is. Though my husband is still in denial about whether they actually still believe or not...I guess there are tiny pretenses we all hug to ourselves.

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Don't lie to your children about Santa. Just don't. You won't destroy the "magic of christmas". Kids can have lots of fun with make-pretend without being lied to that its real.

My brother and I were raised in a Christmas-lie free household. We got presents, and Easter eggs, and all the other fun parts, and we knew they came from our parents or assorted other relatives, just like people have done for hundreds of years. You know, like the actual spirit of Christmas, rather than the commercialised feeding frenzy it has become today. It never hurt our sense of imagination. My brother is an actor and playwright (no, you will never of heard of him) and while I'm often accused of being stodgy I've never been accused of being too unimaginative or literal-minded.

Part of the lie is that belief in Santa adds to the "magic". It doesn't. It just feeds the sense of entitlement. Believe me, your two year old doesn't care whether the toys have come from a jolly fat stranger or you, and unless you are raising a little greed-monster, your seven year old will be more grateful that mum and dad bought the gifts than some distant stranger for whom it is just a job. (Especially if you teach your kids the value of money from an early age, something I missed out on.)

The Santa lie is easy for parents -- it deflects any disappointments onto a distant figure. Oh you didn't get what you wanted? You must have been bad, or Santa ran out of that toy, or he thought you would like this better. Kids can be ungrateful, and having that ungrateful tantrum aimed at Santa instead of you makes it a little easier to live with. But if you want to do the right thing by your kids instead of the easy thing, you don't feed them full of soft drinks and lollies and potato chips no matter that everyone else swears that it's part of the magic of childhood (it isn't) or that it is harmless (it's not). Having a rich imagination and a good fantasy life is important for children -- but knowing the difference between fantasy and reality is even more important. Far too many adults have difficulty distinguishing between that they want to be true from what actually is true. Maybe they would be better balanced if they didn't have the most formative years of their life having their vulnerable minds stuffed full of lies and a sense of entitlement.

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    Steven, welcome to the site! You are giving some good points here and I'd love to upvote your answer. But you might re-read your last paragraph: The bit about chips and lollies is a bit of a rant, at least to my ears... I'm hesitating to edit, though, that's your decision. – Stephie May 2 '15 at 10:21
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    Your ideological argument seems to completely ignore all the rest of us who have experienced both the belief and subsequent disbelief in Santa, and view it as a fully positive experience. You just assume it is neutral or negative. I would also argue that there is no difference in the level of entitlement that happens when you get gifts regularly at a specified time of year, no matter who you say brings them. A kid will feel entitled to get gifts at Christmas, whether you share the Santa myth or not. It's up to you as a parent to counter this sense of entitlement in other aspects of life. – trlkly May 3 '15 at 21:25
  • @Stephie The bit about chips and lollies is not a rant, it is factually accurate (you don't need them and they are not harmless) and the comparison makes a lot of sense (you don't need to lie to your children about Santa and it may harm them if you do). – assylias Nov 10 '15 at 15:02
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Part of a child's reaction upon finding out that Santa isn't real depends on how you talk about him. If you talk about him with using a lot of fantasy and whimsey and a kind of wink in your eye, they'll figure it out soon enough, because in real life, reindeer don't fly any better than pigs. If you also read other mythological stories, for example, we read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy out loud to our children, as well as a lot of Greek and some other mythology, they'll recognize a myth when they hear one. We also played games at home where we parents took on fictional roles - one of my favorites was when we'd turn our home into a "café" for a couple of hours and let our kids order whatever they wanted.

There are no real disadvantages to telling your child the truth, either. Christmas should be a special time of celebration: you get to pick the way it's celebrated and why. Sure they'll tell another kid there is no Santa; just ask them to please refrain from spreading this news in preschool (and why)!

  • The first part is what I was going to comment. It's also not just how you build up Santa, but each child is going to have a different response anyway. – user11394 Apr 30 '15 at 17:25
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My own childhood experience may illustrate a way that the figure of Father Christmas (as we would call him in the UK) can be introduced to children without the necessity of telling untruths (for any value of untruth).

In my family we have a tradition of leaving stockings (very large ones) at the end of the bed on Christmas Eve and then having them filled in the night. From the earliest, my parents taught me that people play a game where they pretend that Father Christmas comes in the night and fills the stockings.

As a child I was quite happy with the idea that we were playing a game. I am sure (though of course I don't know for certain) that I had as much fun out of it as if I had been told, for real, that there was a Father Christmas.

Children are perfectly capable of joining in imagination games and of understanding the difference between them and reality. So I think this should work fine.

I have no idea how many children really know that Father Christmas does not exist and it's all just a game or how many only discover this later on. But I have heard anecdotal accounts (and one example is in the answers to this question) that some children do believe it is really true and are then upset or unsettled on discovering otherwise. Given that there is a risk this may happen, I wonder if it is not simply better to explain that it is a game as my parents did.

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In addition to the great answers covering how you portray Santa, I'll add something related that's worth thinking about, regardless of when you address the reality.

How you handle the revelation is very important, also. Be aware of your child's personality, and be prepared for several different eventualities.

If your child is a "rules" child - teacher's pet, wants everyone to follow the rules of games, etc. - he or she will likely at some point discover the "truth", and decide it is his or her job to let everyone know the truth; siblings, friends, schoolmates. This will be frustrating for you as a parent - and the other parents and teachers.

On the other hand, if your child is very attached to Santa, it may lead to the child being very sad to learn Santa isn't real. He or she will need comforting, and an explanation that allows him or her to retain the magic - such as some of the explanations above.

Other personality types may have different reactions as well, so think about how your chld may react, and be prepared in advance.


I will add that I was the first type of child, and my parents did not think things through in advance. Around nine or ten, I accidentally stumbled onto the Santa present stash, then on Christmas Day found the same present, and announced it to my younger siblings. That led to a bad reaction from my parents, which while they eventually realized they handled it badly and corrected things, was definitely something they didn't think through in advance.

5

If you earnestly lie to your children about Santa, you are lieing. Don't lie to your kids.

If you have a make-believe game with them about Santa, you are playing with them in the way that they are perfectly accustomed to playing all the time. Let's play trucks, lets play cowboys and indians (OK, that's not PC anymore these days), let's play ... whatever.

Do you think your kids can't tell the difference between a make believe game and "the real world"?

We still play "Easter bunny", and my kids are teenagers now. It's fun. We only stopped the Santa game a year or so ago.


Footnote:

One way I've seen Santa done "wrong" (IMHO, YMMV etc) is introducing the idea that Santa brought all the presents that are under the tree, including the child's "main" present (which actually comes from the parents). This is a very hard idea to do as a make-believe game. The make-believe game works for "santa comes and fills the stockings". We make sure it is fun and not to serious by having Santa bring silly things too, like a potato for example.

HTH

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    Easter bunny; since my kids grew up and left, I gave up on bunnies and baskets. The next year I asked them if they were now too big for an Easter nest, and my daughter said NO. So she still gets one, anonymously in the post. And the son said, of course I am too big. But this year he came home at Easter and discovered he wasn't too big after all to go hunting for a nest in the garden. (The spouse and I still make little baskets for each other... ) – RedSonja May 7 '15 at 10:28
  • Spot on. I realised that the actual OP's question was why would you "lie" to your children. The actual answer is "because make-believe is fun". Maybe I should post a separate answer saying just that :) – GreenAsJade May 8 '15 at 2:24
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A dozen different answers an a dozen different opinions.

I have two kids who believed in Santa until about ages 8 and 7 (younger one got hints from the older one) and all I can say is that they were just thrilled with the idea when they believed and were not disappointed at all when they found out the truth. It was more like a funny teasing. There were absolutely no bad feelings on the part of either child.

But then... I still believe in Santa, and perhaps that makes a difference. When they were young and would ask if I believed, I'd always say "Yes, but differently than you do." Now that they're older, I explain it more as a "spirit of Christmas" -- not a person but an idea and a feeling of giving and good-will.

If my kids were to ever accuse me of having lied to them, I'd say something like, "I did not tell you the truth, you're correct. However, it wasn't done to deceive you but to give you a fun and joyous experience, a 'wonder' and a feeling of magic. And from the joy you displayed through those years, I cannot feel it was a bad thing."

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    The evolving perspective of "who is Santa" is a really great way to look at this question. – Acire Apr 30 '15 at 20:27
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At a high level, even though truthfulness is very important for ethics, there are certain situations where it is ethically expected, acceptable, better or necessary to intentionally deceive someone.

  • a ruse or feint in war
  • undercover detective work
  • a magic trick
  • a feint in most games or sports
  • a disguise or costume in a play
  • concealing a surprise party
  • playing a harmless trick on someone for fun, (look up Dinovember)
  • pretending along with an imaginary story
  • playing peek-a-boo

I think children are capable of understanding this ethical complexity quite early, so it's not unethical or harmful to pretend Santa exists.

We went lightly on the subject, not emphasizing Santa a whole lot but not trying to disillusion anyone, and 3 of our 4 kids have gracefully figured out what's going on. Their 3-year-old little sister is probably half-convinced Santa is real.

3

I have no idea of the actual magnitude of the effect of lying to offspring about Santa Claus. It's almost certainly impossible to figure, and to me the magnitude of any given lie was irrelevant.

What concerned me originally, within a few months after my daughter's birth, was the simple realization that a good portion of things commonly told to children by parents is lies. And nearly all of those lies were very important things to the children. I convinced myself that I would never lie to my daughter, and I convinced my wife to be the same.

Of everyone a child will ever come across in life, parents should be the ones who are implicitly and absolutely believed. If there are regular instances in childhood that demonstrate that parents can't be trusted, it comes back to interfere when the child becomes eight years old, ten years old, reaches teen-age. When something as magically important as "Santa Claus" turns out to be a deliberate falsehood, the faith is undermined. When many things important to the child are learned to be lies...?

This can be expanded to numerous other things, but I'll only stick specifically to "Santa Claus".

What we did was simply to explain 'the Santa Claus game' that everyone played to have fun. (And that's the truth, isn't it?) The game was that everyone always pretended that Santa Claus was real, even grownups. One part of the game was that we never admitted that we knew otherwise to anyone. Also, part of the fun was that a lot of children were young and really did believe. We would join in the game and help them believe.

Personally, my impression was that my daughter got more enjoyment out of the "game" than she ever would have gotten from possible belief. She always got a kick out of telling us, in secret, of course, about others that she thought were true believers. At one point, when she was somewhere around five years old, she privately told my wife "Grandma still believes in Santa Claus! We won't tell her, okay?" She was very happy to make that observation.

In college and later, she regularly came home for visits, almost always bringing friends whom she always to meet us. The friends often told us they wanted to see if her "great parents" were real. We asked why she spent so much of her school vacation times with us, and she told us that she liked to be with us and to bring friends. It was just 'what she wanted to do'.

IMO, deciding on and sticking to principles such as "Never lie to your child" was what allowed us to have such excellent results in a young adult. She has a great career, a great husband and (so far) two sons of her own who are turning out very much like her (and her husband). There was never a time when we worried about where she was, who her friends were, what she was doing. She simply never got into trouble of any kind.

2

Before I was born my parents decided to never lie to us children about anything. The only trust in my family I have ever lost is when my grandfather was dying his memory went and I quit trusting him to take messages. I know I can trust my family completely. I value this much more than anything santa may have brought.

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    This can be a valid answer if you actually address the questions directly rather than obliquely: "How much effect does it have on children when they find out you've been lying to them about Santa for years?" and "What would the negative effects be if you never tell them Santa exists?" Your answer would be much better if you fleshed it out. Thanks. – anongoodnurse May 4 '15 at 20:27
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What would the negative effects be if you never tell them Santa exists? Of course there is the risk that your kid will tell other kids that do believe in Santa about it, but I think this could be easily handled. Could it?

I didn't grow up with the myth of Santa in my house, although I did grow up in America.

I found out about Santa in 1st grade. It was quite confusing for me, because other kids would talk about it and I had no idea what they were talking about.

From my experience as a former child, that was the most negative effect I experienced: confusion throughout 1st grade when the subject of Santa came up.

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Christmas is a selfless holiday where we give presents to others and don't need to mention it's from us. Being that Christmas is a Christian holiday, Christianity teaches selflessness. When Jesus died on the cross, he spoke to the Father (God.) Jesus' death was a selfless sacrifice (God's will) for the greater good of humanity, and instead of ascribing the Glory to himself, he ascribed it to God.

Santa Claus is another name for Saint Nicholas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving. Saint Nicholas says it is not him he should thank, but God alone. That is why we Christians say the presents are from Santa, because we should be thanking God alone, and that when we say our presents are from Santa, we are saying the presents are from God.

It is not a lie to say presents are coming from Santa. We are doing the same thing Santa was doing. Secret gift-giving, but this time we are ascribing it to Santa, who ascribed his secret gift-giving from God.

"Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Honor the LORD for the glory of his name. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness." ~ Psalm 29:2

Plus it's super fun for the children to have Santa Clause give them presents. :)

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    Christmas is actually a pagan holiday hijacked by Christians. – RedSonja May 7 '15 at 10:31
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    And I find it is inappropriate to sneak religious evangelising into a question about Santa Claus. – RedSonja May 7 '15 at 10:33
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From the way that you phrased your opening statement, it sounds like you feel that the revelation of the truth of Santa Claus has to be a negative thing, that feelings of betrayal and distrust are an inevitability.

I think that it depends a lot upon the way your family celebrates Christmas and the level of deception.

For some families, Santa Claus is the main event: his presents are bigger and shinier than the others, and the night before is filled with excitement about when he is going to come and what you are going to receive.

We grew up with Santa Claus, but he was not the most important part of Christmas. The focus was always on family. The fiction was there, but it was not something that was oversold. My brother and I would each leave a merry looking pillow case out and the next day we would get a little treasure trove of curiosities.

I remember once asking my mother, "Do you believe in Santa Claus?" She gave me a very slippery, "I believe in the Christmas spirit!"

I never felt betrayed by the fact I was deceived. I enjoyed the idea of Santa Claus for a long time, and always loved opening the presents with my family. I think it was a lot of fun for them, too. Also when I found out he was not real, it was a relief. The thought of a being with that much power not using it to help the people who really needed them was a disheartening one.

1

Lying to children about Santa Claus, or anything else, teaches them an important truth: that their parents, grandparents, or other caregivers can't be trusted, and that trust is a thing to be given only to those who have proved worthy of it. However, I preferred to let others teach this lesson. The world is full of liars, so parents don't really have to do it.

  • This answer does not address the question at all. – Brian Robbins May 4 '15 at 19:57
  • This can be a valid answer if you actually address the questions: "How much effect does it have on children when they find out you've been lying to them about Santa for years?" and "What would the negative effects be if you never tell them Santa exists?" Your answer would be much better if you fleshed it out. Thanks. – anongoodnurse May 4 '15 at 20:24
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I don't think there are any consequences to having Santa in your christmas routine-but that's just my own experience. When I was young, my siblings and I all believed in santa. It never hurt any of us. In elementary school, it became sort of a 'rite of passage' in knowing wether or not Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairie, ect. were real or not. When we found out Santa wasn't real, we confronted my mother. She told us that Santa wasn't real, but told us the story of St. Nicholas as well. She explained it as sort of a custom to honor this kind man. I did the same thing when my child asked about Santa, and they were satisfied by the explanation.

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Initially parents say some kind of "innocent" lie to children and when children grow older parents become puzzled why children speak innocent lies to parents. For parents it's can be hard to understand that they taught their children to lie.

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    Exactly this is what I mean. Is there any research that backs this up? – Micha Sprengers May 6 '15 at 9:27
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    You're on the right track here Yura. If you can flesh out this answer a bit more it will be a good one. – Brian Robbins May 6 '15 at 13:59
  • Hi, Yura. Could you edit your answer to actually address the question? It only does so obliquely. As this is a Q&A site, this will be converted to a comment if it doesn't address the question directly. If you're new to the site, please take the tour or visit the help section. Thanks! – anongoodnurse May 6 '15 at 19:22

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