General Question

knittingandcanning's avatar

What is the advantage of telling children that Santa is real?

Asked by knittingandcanning (346points) October 8th, 2008

My parents told my brothers and me that Santa was real, but I wish they hadn’t. I would have enjoyed Christmas a lot more knowing that the gifts I was receiving were actually from my parents.

My partner and I have decided that we aren’t going to celebrate Christmas or tell our daughter that Santa exists (since he really does not). Instead we are celebrating New Years (not with fireworks!) but with personal gifts and quality time (outings, dinner, etc.).

My question is, why do parents choose to tell their children that Santa is real, especially when they aren’t religious?

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35 Answers

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Santa is not a religious figure, the birth of Jesus is the religious celebration. Santa is more an American cultural experience.

Kids like to pretend and believe in magic.

We had Santa bring one thing, unwrapped, and the rest of the gifts came from us. My kids “knew” there wasn’t a Santa, but they couldn’t figure out how the stuff got under the tree Christmas eve, while we were all out to dinner. One of the great preoccupations was to figure it out. They still love it.

I think what you’re planning sounds fine to adults, but if you look at it from the kid side, you may see some holes in what you’re proposing.

deaddolly's avatar

i never understood the need for Santa. i found out early…so did my daughter. do what you feel is best.

dalepetrie's avatar

Well, #1, Santa isn’t a religious concept so your last question doesn’t enter into it.

And though I get your point, when children are younger, it’s the only time in their lives that they are ever going to believe in magic. I’ve never met a child who doesn’t like to pretend that magic is real, or a child who doesn’t like to fantasize about things that are fanciful. Play and pretend is how we learn, how we grow…it’s what make childhood childhood!

Next, of course it’s part of the shared experience of childhood, it transcends any one religion, and when children are in school, they are going to share stories about what they got from Santa. It’s an EVENT in their lives, and denying the child the ability to believe in something that all the other children believe, and the ability to commiserate about a shared experience.

The way I was raised, and the way I am raising my son was that on Christmas Eve, we would open all the gifts from the family, leaving an empty tree. But then the next morning, there are all these new presents. It gives the child this sense of wonder.

I think there’s just a thrill factor there for the child that just doesn’t exist if we as parents just give him gifts. And for me it’s not about the appreciation I’d get from the child. I have to imagine that you are in the minority in your assessment that you would have enjoyed the presents more knowing they came from your parents, and I wonder if that is what you think now through the lens of your lifetime of experiences, while I’m not so sure that when you were a child you really would have felt this way. Maybe you really would have felt that way, I have no way of knowing.

My only caveat is when a child is ready to not believe any more, that’s when it needs to end. All children will come to a point where the logic just contradicts too much with the fantasy, it’s part of growing out of that youthful need to believe in things magical. When that happens, break it gently…don’t try to drag it out, and don’t be deceitful trying to hang onto it. I caution about that because that’s what my parents did.

I had tried to figure it out…OK, flying reindeer are bullshit, obviously, but maybe he’s got a high speed jet plane. When I figured out that no matter how fast his plane might be, one man couldn’t do it all, maybe there were a team of Santas….thousands of them, maybe that’s why you see them in the malls. But eventually in thinking about it, and in talking to the newly minted non-believers, I realized it had been my parents all along. But when I brought my evidence to them, what did they do? They showed me on the NEWS (and they NEVER lie on the NEWS) the radar of Santa flying over Canada. Of course, then I believed longer than the others and was the target of teasing because of it.

It’s a good thing for kids when it’s a shared fantasy….it does no harm, and it’s an experience they can only have during childhood.

Comedian's avatar


I didn’t find out till I was in the 7th grade lol. It was in Bible class and my Bible teacher said something, then I went home and asked my parents…then…they told me the burtal truth

Bri_L's avatar

Santa isn’t a religious figure. In fact the modern one we see was made up by cokes marketing company. Second, the benefit is make believe. What is so bad about that? What is the harm? It is fun.

@ SarahMacaulay – how old were you when you decided you wished they had not told you santa was real?

And he is real, just not in the sense that he flies around in one night. But he exists as an icon and can represent a great many good things. As well as a lot of wonderful things for kids to.

My kids love him and not because he brings presents. Because it means its christmas, and that means snow and lights and decorations and family and specials and stories.

That is my take.

AstroChuck's avatar

What do you mean? You’re talking as if Santa is some fictional character or something. Cut it out!

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I loved believing in Santa! As dale said, it was extremely magical and there is no other feeling in the world like it. I wasn’t letdown when I found out he didn’t exist… It just naturally seemed silly after a while. But I love the memories.

hoosier_banana's avatar

Here’s the real story of Santa, not for the kiddies.

As far as the advantages of telling your kids that Santa is real; you get to tell them the truth eventually, and telling the truth is a good lesson.

augustlan's avatar

I agree about the shared experience thing. Especially when everyone will be saying that all the “good” children get presents, while the bad will not. As each of my older children figured it out, they became part of the “club”, determined to keep the younger ones in the dark. They got to help pick out stocking stuffers for the younger one(s), and greatly enjoyed being in on the “secret”. My youngest just recently gave up on her belief (at 11 years old), and now they’ll all get to pick out stocking stuffers for each other.

fireside's avatar

I agree that the shared experiences are the biggest thing that your child would miss out on. If you do decide not to tell them, make sure that you sit down and really help them understand why other children DO believe in Santa. You want to make sure that they respect the other children in their beliefs and don’t try to lash out at others.

You can create that sense of wonder in any number of ways and should be sure to do so, whether you tell your child about Santa or not. Every child is different and you want to give them exposure to a wide variety of life experiences so that they can find what works best for them.

augustlan's avatar

You can certainly celebrate Christmas without Santa. That way they’d still get the shared experience of receiving gifts at that time of year. However, be very sure to explain that they should not go around telling other children that Santa isn’t real.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

My parents did the same thing as Alfreda, when I was really small we pretended there was a Santa, but I knew that there wasn’t. As I got older, it kind of faded. Well, I should say my mom did, my dad always looked really offended when I made a comment that belied the fact that I knew he didn’t exist.

My mom also emphasized that other children believed in him, and not to be mean and tell them he wasn’t real because that would make them sad. I never told a soul (except AstroChuck I guess). ;-)

aidje's avatar

I remember playing along with the Santa thing, leaving out cookies, writing letters, and knowing the whole time that it was my parents. I don’t remember ever thinking that it was actually some magical guy. But it was still fun, just as much (if not more than) any pretend game that my sister and I played. But this was cool because it was connected with a special event and my parents played right along with us, even instigating much of it. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence when Santa and my dad got their first laptops at the same time (as written about in one of his letters). Same with my dad and Santa both liking chess so much. I may have been five, but I wasn’t an idiot. And even though my sister and I knew it was all a game, we could still have speculative conversations about how Santa got into our high-level apartment with no chimney.

I also remember playing along with the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Pencil-Sharpener Fairy (okay, so that was probably specific to our family—but how else are kids supposed to sharpen those giant pencils? I do remember being baffled as to how my parents did it. It looked too clean to be simply whittled, and I knew we didn’t have a pencil sharpener that big lying around.)

I liked playing those games with my parents and my sister, but I’m glad that they never lied to us. It would have made it harder to trust them later on more important issues. But maybe that’s just me.

JackAdams's avatar

Imagine explaining to your kids that Santa has died.

Or worse, what happened last year.

Have you ever seen this photo?

SuperMouse's avatar

I never actually taught my kids about Santa, the culture did that for me.

DarkeSword's avatar

The advantage, of course, is giving your child a sense of wonder. The problem is when people place so much importance in the belief of Santa that they turn into crazy people. Case in point!

My sister is a 5th grade teacher in a fairly upper-class neighborhood. She and I are American-born Muslims of Indian descent (i.e. we don’t celebrate Christmas, have never believed in Santa Claus, but we know all about it and the American Christmas customs :P).

A few years ago, two girls in her class were arguing about the existence of Santa Claus. One girl believed, the other didn’t. They decided to ask Teacher: “Miss A, is Santa Claus real?” My sister is the science teacher, and is no fool. Rather than answering the question and crushing a little girl’s dreams, she did what any good teacher would do: she told them to get back to work.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks later at the Holiday Concert. The irate mother of the little girl who believed in Santa stomps up to my sister and proceeds to berate her. Apparently her daughter came home and said, “Miss A said that Santa’s not real.” She apparently lectured my sister for something like 10 minutes and ended up calling the principal the next day.

My sister was called into her principal’s office (fortunately for my sister, this woman has her head on straight). She asked, smiling, “Did you tell this little girl that Santa is not real?” My sister, at this point, was so bewildered by the entire ordeal. She answered, “No, I didn’t. I told both of those girls to get back to work.” The principle smiled and said, “Okay, case closed. Don’t worry about it, some parents get really crazy about this kind of thing.”

Clearly some people feel that a belief in Santa is an extremely important part of childhood. They want to protect that sense of wonder and magic at any cost, sometimes to their own chagrin. Nothing too wrong with that, but I personally believe that we can derive wonder and magic from things and still know that it’s all fiction.

Bri_L's avatar

I would propose the issue there was 99.99% the mother and .01% Santa.

Sounds like the type to get angry if her daughter is a shepperd in the play.

cooksalot's avatar

Hey it is fun while they are little. One year a dad dressed as Santa and peeked in windows, and when the kids ran outside he would tell them “What are you doing up? Go to bed or I’ll have to skip your house.” Worked like a charm! Haha!
Then we hid a large roll of wrapping paper so we all had “Santa’s gift” wrapped in the same paper. So we parents have fun too.

jca's avatar

i feel like why not let them have that. most of the other kids have it and it seems kind of like no fun if all the other kids believe it and there’s a kid left out who knows the truth. to me it was such a special part of childhood. i remember santa (and the easter bunny at easter) would leave notes to me about how i was a good girl this year and it was so exciting. the whole thing about santa coming after i went to sleep, waking up and finding all the presents under the tree was so nice. i think that whole magical idea would be lost of the child knew it was their parent. i mean, do what you want, of course, but think of it like this – this is the only time in the child’s life that they will believe in something magical like this, and once it’s over, it’s over forever.

Bri_L's avatar

How about this, what are the reasons, other than religion ( which Santa is not a symbol of), to not bring your kids in on the fun?

jca's avatar

i guess another way to word your question would be “what is the advantage of telling your kids that santa is not real?”

you had some reasons, but was there an advantage?

aidje's avatar

To avoid setting up a precedent of lying to your children. Trust is good.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Building off aidje’s comment, how could you ever ask them to be honest with you, if you had been dishonest with them since before they could remember?

That seems incredibly hypocritical to me.

augustlan's avatar

When my children informed me that they no longer believed, not one of them was in the least upset, or accused us of lying to them. We explained that the idea of Santa is very much alive and well, the spirit of giving, blah blah blah. All 3 of them understood.

Bri_L's avatar

@ aidje and La chica- I differentiate make believe and lying.

I don’t know if either of you have children but your kids will lie to you constantly at an early age. You will be teaching them that it is wrong for quite a while. But they will also play make believe. You will hopefully encourage them to hold on to that sense of wonder for all it is worth.

Also, I some of us are lamenting the activities of our youth and judging the value systems applied with adult’s eyes, but applying them as if we knew them back when we were children.

Maybe I am wrong on that. If I am then I am sorry.

aidje's avatar

As I described in my first post, I engaged the make believe aspect of Santa Claus quite heartily even though I don’t remember ever believing that he was real. I do make a distinction between make believe and lying. That is part of why I think it’s a bad idea to lie to kids about Santa Clause. I think it’s far better to not lie to them, but to still engage the myth. I think that helped me develop a healthy sense of make believe and suspension of disbelief when I was a kid.

Bri_L's avatar

@aidje-so when you recall now that when you were 3 or 4 you had enough knowledge to debunk Santa, or did your parents tell you that they didn’t challange your questions?

Bri_L's avatar

What I mean is, did you make believe and then they gradually debunked the idea or you figured it out and they just didn’t put forth the effort to convince you otherwise.

aidje's avatar

All I know is that from as early as I can remember, I knew it was a game, but that it had a certain sacredness in that I was not to mention that it was a game, especially to other children. But it’s not like I went around talking about how any other game of make believe wasn’t real. And it’s not like I had some special ability to debunk it, either. It didn’t need debunking any more than any other game of make believe. I knew and still know the difference between real and pretend, to the point that I usually don’t bother explicitly distinguishing between the two. People with poor SOD or poor imaginations are sometimes bothered by this habit.

It’s entirely possible that I thought Santa was real when I was younger than I can now remember. But I don’t remember such a time. Point is, I do not remember my parents ever trying to convince me that he was real. They just played the game with me.

Bri_L's avatar

What is SOD?

I see what you are saying. So is it possible when you were younger they did play santa and then as you got older and figured it out the went along with your discovery?

I have memory only of playing along for my sisters benefit. I know stories, but they are only because my parents told them to me. I have no memory of anger or mistrust toward my parents as a byproduct of Santa but I was young.

tocutetolive90's avatar

it helps to develop their imagination. and gives them something to look forward too.

jca's avatar

I have such fond memories of thinking how it seemed so magical. I remember being so excited before i fell asleep knowing that Santa would be coming sometime in the night. I remember one year, I was going to sleep in my mother’s bed in the middle of the night. I crossed the hallway, going from my room to her room, and i usually was not into peeking, but i decided to peek down the hall at the tree in the living room. Behind the tree was the big picture window with the street light illuminating it, back lit. I remember seeing the presents gleaming in the light, all piled up around the tree. It was such a great memory, and so exciting that Santa was there and he did it.

Why not let kids have that?

bythebay's avatar

Santa is a magical part of the joy of the holiday; not the basis for it. I’m of a certain age and I still believe ;) My kids are teenagers and still leave cookies out with big smiles on their faces. There’s enough crap in this world to be stressed about, I choose to keep the smiles going!! :)

tiffyandthewall's avatar

my take on santa is that parents want to continue the tradition (or see no reason not to), create a sense of whimsy in their kids (or gullibility, depending on the way you look at it i guess, haha), and especially if they’re not religious, it gives a reason for the holiday. if the parents aren’t religious and the kids don’t have ‘the birth of jesus christ’ to associate with the holiday, there’s really no point, so why not tell stories about an old, jolly, immortal, guy who fights for justice instead?
besides, i guess it could be fun to get them all excited about this dude – it adds a sense of mystery and magic to the day.

on the other hand – though i don’t think this is usually the case – i think the idea of santa can also be used to teach kids to believe in things that are just completely improbable. i’m not putting down religion, but if you can get your kid to believe in a guy who lives forever and travels the world in a single night without ever getting caught and has a colony of elves doing his work for him, it might be easier to get them to believe in a guy sent down by a bodiless, abstract power, and was killed and resurrected himself within the span of a few days.

i kind of feel like i could write a novel on the ethics of santa right now, but that’s probably just the caffeine talking. also, it would be filled with run on sentences like all of those up there, and i doubt that would make for pleasant reading for most folks (;

Pseudonym's avatar

I read once that everybody has a Santa, but there is no one man named Santa. In other words, everybody who gives something to someone else is that person’s Santa. So tell her that you and your partner are her Santas.

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