Perpetuating the Santa Claus Myth

Santa ClausWhen my daughter asked me about the veracity of Santa Claus, I told her that I like to pretend that Santa Claus is real because it is such a fun thing to imagine.  She seemed fine with that.  Although we continue the Santa tradition in my household, I sometimes question the wisdom of speaking untruths to my children, even if it is fun to pretend the magic is real. My husband and I have chosen to give our children their main Christmas presents as gifts from us, so that they understand that we parents are the ones who worked and saved to buy their presents, while Santa only delivers stocking stuffers.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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17 Responses

  1. jan says:

    My family always celebrated Christmas Eve which is the way it was done in the old country, so no problem of confusion at all. Family that night, Santa in the morning. No offense, but your post seems a tad whiny. If you don’t want your kids to enjoy the mystery of Santa, fine, but what’s wrong with letting them enjoy that particular mystery at Christmas time? Kids today figure things out very quickly and many older siblings tend to enjoy playing along with their parents for the sake of their younger siblings. Life for children should be populated with all kinds of things, both real and imaginary. Kids today also realize at a very young age that their parents worked hard to the earn the money to pay for Christmas. If getting credit is your big problem, why even celebrate Christmas at all?

  2. alice says:

    You want to be sure you are fully credited for the presents you give your children? You are front and center 364 days a year. You can’t let them have magic one day a year? You can’t give a gift without having the glory?

    Sorry. That doesn’t play at my house.

    • Emily U says:

      Kinda harsh there, Alice. I don’t think that’s what April is saying. There are many reasons why people distance themselves from the whole Santa thing.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I’m with April. It’s not about having the credit or the glory; it’s about having the focus of Christmas in the right place. The magic of Christmas is in the love that God has for us and in the love we share with one another. And it’s not like there’s no magic to be found in the rest of the year for kids. You should have heard my daughter’s gasp of awe when she saw my old luminescent moon wall decoration glowing on her wall.

  4. TopHat says:

    We let our kids help stuff the stockings. They are little, so they just put what we buy in them, but I think in the future we’ll assign each person a stocking to fill. That way we parents will actually get a surprise in our stockings instead of knowing beforehand because we stuffed them ourselves.

  5. Hedgehog says:

    As a child I remember feeling very frustrated at being unable to get a straight answer from my mother about Santa. With my own children I simply told them Santa is a game adults like to play with their children. And who wouldn’t want to play? I didn’t want to lie to them.
    We fill small stockings for them. All gifts around the tree are labelled with who they’re from, and opened Christmas morning after breakfast and reading the Christmas story.

  6. jen says:

    I believe it is wonderful to believe in things unseen, to believe in “magical” things. In a way this helps us to be able to believe in God and have faith in unseen but true things. It helps our imagination so we can believe that God wants to bless us, is looking forward to blessing us, loves to bless us. When I took a Christian Fantasy class at BYU we talked about this a lot- how “fantasy” (even though there was truly a man named Saint Nicholas) that promotes goodness can help us to see things and imagine things in ways that may not be “realistic”, but in eternal reality can truly be possibilities. I have always felt that Santa Claus is a good way to help children (and adults) feel that God has happy feelings towards us and is a positive figure (vs. hell, fire and damnation). I think parents can be flexible, and use their own imaginations in how to specifically “use” Santa Claus in their homes to most benefit. I believed mostly in Santa Claus until I was about in 3rd grade or so, then I caught on, but still had fun pretending that I believed. I never felt like my parents had decieved me or even felt like it was a “lie”. More like a myth story.

  7. santa atheist says:

    It was finding out at there was no literal Santa that turned me, at a young age, into an atheist. The reality of the fantasy of Santa, because it was Christmas, led to the reality that Jesus was also a fantasy.
    It’s going on fifty years and I still don’t like that I was lied to.
    As a parent, we still had Santa come to the house. But it was understood to be make believe and fictitious like the birth of Jesus stories.
    There is value in myth.

    • JayJay says:

      That is something I worried about with my kids, that when they found out Santa wasn’t real, how could you keep them believing in God, especially when they are kind of talked about similarly during Christmas time. I’m an agnostic now anyway, so these will be interesting discussions coming up in the next few years for our family.

    • EmilyCC says:

      My (believing) spouse has been trying to convince my 8 year old that Santa isn’t real, and my 8 year old refuses to believe him. At one point, my spouse said, “A, of course, Santa isn’t real–we can’t see him, just like God (pause)…no wait!” My 6 year old is getting frustrated that the 8 year old can’t be convinced (he hasn’t believed since he was 5.

      I think your point, Santa Atheist, is why we each need to do our best to figure out what kind of conversation, and how and when for each child.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking poll, April

  8. MB says:

    I remember when I was 4 years old asking my father if Santa was real. “Santa is people who love you,” he said with a smile.

    “Noooooo! He’s the guy who brings you presents on Christmas!” my little brother and I exclaimed, and ran to mom for reinforcements.

    Mom asked what dad had said and, when we explained, she said she thought he was right.

    Appalled, we raced back to our dad and tried to cajole him into admitting we were right. He simply smiled and pleasantly stuck to his story as he would for the next 35 years as he raised children. We gave up on him. And a few days later, under the tree, sure enough, there were presents from Santa.

    Every Christmas to this day we have received presents from Santa. What I realized later is that my dad had given us the gift of choosing when we would transition from delightful engagement in the Santa story to the even sweeter story of being given gifts by those who love us. My siblings and I could indulge in Santa imaginings for as long as we liked (which we continued to do for years) and could choose to transition out of that at our own pace in our own time.

    My father was always big on allowing his children to choose and also big on letting them know they were loved and that they could trust him to tell the truth. I didn’t realize until years later how deftly he had incorporated all three of these things into his Santa story.

  9. Emily U says:

    When my 4 year old straight up asked if Santa was real, I had to decide in the moment what to say. Knowing he wants the truth about everything I told him the story of St. Nicholas and how we remember what he did by playing pretend about Santa. I guess I figure it’s kind of like talking about sex – when they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to know (in an age-appropriate way).

    However, I have talked with my now 6-year-old about not telling his 3 year old sister there is no Santa. I told him she needs to have the space to ask her own questions about it. He gets it.

  10. anita says:

    My oldest has always been a truth seeker and as a very young girl was insistent on knowing about Santa. She wanted to know how he could be omniscient like God, and see all our actions, and I couldn’t lie to her. So we’ve never done Santa here with our kids (we give three gifts, a la Three Wise Men), and I feel that we have a magical, Christ-centered Christmas. We have a tree, stockings, and Christmas Eve pajamas, but focus on the nativities, the Luke 2 and 3 Nephi 1 accounts, and open our “gift” to baby Jesus (something we’ve been working on all month) as our first gift on Christmas morning. Even though my mother-in-law strongly disapproves of this approach, I actually have a hard time now seeing all those “believe” signs around Deseret Book and imagining the confusion some kids must have when they find out Santa isn’t real, and try to reconcile what they’ve been told about Heavenly Father as well.

  11. larryco_ says:

    We told our young children that Santa was a “pretend” person. After all, most the characters who bring delight to our young children – like Disney heroes – are pretend characters, so we sort of lumped Santa in with that wonderful bunch. It seemed to work for us. They had all of the joys and magic of the season without the awkward and sometimes painful transition…and we never had to backpedal on a lie.

  12. Patty says:

    When I told my mother that I didn’t think Santa was real, she didn’t try to argue about his existence. She just said that he brought the best gifts, so I would be wise not to start disbelieving in him. I thought the subtext of her message was that this was an adult conspiracy of which I was now a part. Kind of thrilling to join the adults in this benign conspiracy. I really dislike leaving milk and cookies. I was very irritated that my husband did this with the kids one year. I wasn’t lying about where the milk and cookies went. I maintained a miffed silence and let him tell the kids Santa ate them. I am horrified to see the mythical, semi-pagan Santa worshiping the Christ child. Mixed metaphor!! I don’t care for The Polar Express. Santa has a place in my Christmas, but that place has its limits.

  1. December 19, 2015

    […] (Oh! How I detest the “should” word!) The discussion of the Santa Claus myth has come up at the Exponent previously,  and it seems to be a popular discussion in a fair share of parenting magazines and was even a […]

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