Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
We all know the big guy in the red suit who breaks into our homes this time of year, ever year. He parks a team of eight hoven creatures on our roof (probably trenching it with the sleigh rails) and comes down the chimney (whether we have one or not). He bites off the cookie, drinks the milk, and leaves half the cookie and the dirty milk glass for someone else to clean up. I hear he has been caught a time or two kissing the lady of the house. We put up with these antics because he (supposedly puts stuff under the tree to make us all have a Merry Christmas.
There is, and has been, a great deal of noisiness about our loving, sentimental, and elaborate Santa Claus story. With Christmas fast approaching, I thought I’d shed some light in the issues now. I’ll write the “When Children Give Up” article later. Some parents engage in the Santa Claus story to heighten the fun and magic of Christmas. For them, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and other fantasies as socially accepted forms entertainment. Other families are opposed to encouraging kids to believe in Santa Claus because they feel this is an outright lie that could break their children’s trust; for sooner of later children discover the Real Santa. But too many parents use this special kind of lying without considering the underlying messages and consequences that are lurking just beneath the surface.
Some experts in Child management believe forcing the Santa ritual serves no good purpose for child or parent. In fact, they run the risk of undermining credibility with the children if too much effort is made to counter doubts in their questioning minds. Also, sheltering children from the harsh realities of life may not be a good way of educating them. What about parents who have to work second jobs to help Santa out or those who have no jobs at all? Honesty about their family’s situation makes it possible for kids understand and participate in alternate holiday activities. Other experts argue that the damage is related to encouraging children to believe in all knowing and all powerful figure “who knows when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’re been bad of good.” The disappointment of finding out that Santa didn’t exist may lead them to believe that God doesn’t really exist either.
To perpetuate the Santa myth, parents must lie. This can cause a distrust of the parent because if they lie about one thing, what else in their lives might be fabricated? The criticism about this deception is not that it is a simple lie, but a complicated series of very large lies. The objections to the lie are that it is unethical for parents to lie to children without good cause, and that it confuses the store of information supplied by parents.
Many children are given mixed signals with the concept of Santa and his list of naughty and nice. Some kids strive very hard to make the nice list only to get what they want for Christmas. This teaches phoniness and game playing. When they discover the real Santa, they find their parents are using Santa to control their behavior. Most of these kids never knew their parents felt so powerless.
The lavish giving to children is believed to promote greed and selfishness because the emphasis is on asking and receiving rather than on the child as the giver. As for having fun and using imagination, parents can do that without lying to their kids.
So What’s a parent to do?
There are no absolutes but the suggested path is likely to yield the best long term results.
1. Discuss the real reason for the season. It’s a celebration of what Christians believe to be Jesus’s Birthday. In that vain, it should promote generosity, good cheer, and concern for others; especially those who are less fortunate.
2. Tell the many stories of St. Nicholas, the Babushkas, the Winter Solstice, and Pagan celebrations that gave root to the celebration of Jesus’s birthday. Here, the truth of the history is so much better and more fascinating than the fictional Santa. It also connects children to centuries of lives about which to learn.
3. Take the kids to the mall and tell them how the Santa story started and how it has evolved over the centuries.
4. Share stories about many of your family’s Christmases. This can acquaint the kids to generations of ancestors and customs that have long gone or become obsolete. This will help to give them roots. It’s better than any fantasy.
5. Do decorations together. There is a story in each ornament, tree or wrap; even if it were bought or made just last year. Very magical, wonderful, and with no obvious fabrication.
6. Let kids know that their parents are the ones who buy or influence the gift giving. Tell them the truth and encourage them to give to others. It is possible that kids would find even more pleasure in knowing that parents bought and paid for the presents rather than some sloppy supernatural creature.
So, is promoting a belief in Santa Claus harmful? I believe it can be. But even if it isn’t, do you really want to take to risk of tainting the absolute trust your children have in you?
Next month, I’ll write about When Children Give Up.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. October 27, 2012