The Santa Mythos

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Justin_Case001

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I am a big proponent of honesty.  I believe that honesty is the bedrock foundation for all relationships--the "master virtue", if you will.  In fact, I believe that healthy personal relationships cannot exist if dishonesty is involved.  I am even opposed to so called "white lies", and believe that they are corrosive to personal relationships in subtle ways.  This doesn't mean that I think people should openly broadcast every thought they have to everyone, á la The Invention of Lying.  It's perfectly acceptable to choose not to share certain things.  Sometimes it's appropriate to do what I call "Vulcan lying", or the selective presenting and/or withholding of information without actually telling any falsehoods.  Another way to describe this would be not lying, but not showing all your cards, either.  Now, it's still wrong to deceive people in this way, but it's perfectly acceptable to simply decline to answer a question that you don't want to.  When it comes to personal relationships, I believe in complete transparency.  Essentially, I view lying as being on the same continuum as violence.  In other words, lying should only be done in defensive situations that might require violence if all else fails.  If you are in danger, you might try lying your way out before resorting to force.  If you are suspicious of someone and think they might mean you harm, then you obviously aren't going to give them honest answers that they could use to hurt you.  The colorful example I always like to give is if you're sheltering Anne Frank in your basement and the Nazis come a-knockin', you sure as hell aren't gonna tell 'em the truth.  Sometimes, lying is clearly the only ethical thing to do.  But under normal circumstances with people you trust and care about, I believe that lying should never have a place.

Now that you understand where I come down on the subject of lying, I'll get to the point.  I believe that we should stop telling our kids that Santa Claus is literally real when they are little.  I believe the myth of Santa is unnecessary at best, and downright harmful at worst.  It's something that we need to outgrow.

When I float this idea by people, the first counter-argument I hear is that by ending this myth, we would be robbing children of the joy and magic of Christmas, sucking the fun out of their lives, and killing their childhood.  This is demonstrably false.  Children do not need to think that Santa is real in order for Christmas to be fun and magical.  Children need no extra incentives beyond reality in order to get excited.  Children seem to do a pretty darn good job at getting excited by My Little Pony, Batman, Spider-Man, Transformers, Disney Princesses, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc, without thinking for a second that any of these things are real.  In fact, parents typically take great care to make sure that their children know the difference between reality and what they see on TV and in movies.  It's universally agreed upon that to be confused in this regard can be dangerous and harmful to children.  We reassure our children that the monsters in movies can't really get them, and that they, our children, cannot fly like they see superheroes doing.  Then we turn around and tell them that one jolly fat man can defy the laws of time and physics and do the things they see in movies.  Surely I can't be the only one to see a problem here.

Circling back, children need no extra help to get excited about these fictional characters.  In fact, children tend to get head-over-heels obsessed with fictional characters, and the fun isn't sucked out just because the characters aren't literally real.  I can personally attest to the fact that I was far more excited about Batman, Ninja Turtles, and lightsabers as a kid than I was about Santa Claus, but I never thought that those other things were real.  Christmas needs no help to be fun.  It can stand on its own without supernatural aid.  Decorating, yummy treats, and piles of toys are more than enough to make any child excited.

More importantly, though, I believe that telling young children falsehoods about Santa can be harmful in a variety of ways.  I believe that it can prime young minds to be less skeptical, more gullible, and less apt to think critically.  Now, admittedly, this is just a hypothesis, and I have no specific evidence to back it up.  What I do have solid evidence for is the following: the Santa myth can actually be frightening to children, as well as cause their trust in their parents to be shaken.

When I was very young, and believed in Santa, I used to be scared at the thought of him creeping around our house.  It didn't matter to me that he was just supposed to be the jolly gift-giver.  To me, he was a stranger, and I didn't like the idea of a stranger in my home.  In our house, it was traditional for stockings to be placed on the foot of our beds.  My parents would sneak into my room when I was asleep to do this, but what they didn't know is that I was often still awake.  They had told me that it was Santa that came into my room, and this idea scared me.  I would squeeze my eyes closed and tense with fear until the intruder had gone.  Why I never thought to approach them about this, I can't say.  Evidently, young children do not have the presence of mind to explain or interpret such things.  They simply accept what they're told.  Parents can be frightening their children with this myth without even realizing it.

When I reached the age of doubt, I asked my mother point blank, and she told me the truth.  I remember this conversation very vividly.  It was in the car before she dropped me off at school.  When I realized that they had lied to me about Santa and where the gifts came from, I was bewildered, confused, and frustrated.  I was actually angry with them.  And hurt.  I trusted them, and I felt like they had betrayed that trust.  Most people dismiss the entire Santa issue.  They just wave it away, claiming that it's harmless fun.  But for some kids, it's not so harmless.  I actually felt hurt.  I couldn't believe that my parents had lied to me.  I felt confused, and began to reevaluate other things they had told me.  Could I be absolutely sure that there hadn't been any other lies?  My trust in them had been shaken, and it took me a little while to fully get over it.  How long, I couldn't say.  More than a month, less than a couple of years.  I can't be any more accurate than that.  I just don't remember.  But I do remember feeling very upset for awhile.  And let me be clear: I wasn't upset that Santa wasn't real--I was upset that I had been lied to by the people I trusted the most.

Now, looking back on it at 33 years old, it seems rather silly, of course.  I know my parents are honest and trustworthy, and I have a great relationship with them.  I know they weren't being unethical, deceitful people; they were just going along with the cultural tradition because it's what their parents did, and it seemed fun and harmless.  But we need to wake up and realize that a child's perspective is different, and some children don't handle it as well as others.

It may surprise some readers to hear that every single one of my friends had similarly unpleasant experiences regarding Santa Claus, and their learning of the truth.  None of them, not one, remembers it fondly.  They all have negative stories to tell, just like me.  One friend of mine was a very interesting case--he was actually relieved when he found out that Santa wasn't real.  This was because he thought that Santa watched him all year long (as the song goes), and that if he did something wrong, even accidentally, Santa wouldn't bring him any presents.  He was scared and paranoid all year because of this.  When he learned that it was his parents that bought the gifts, he was relieved because he knew that his parents' love was unconditional, and they would forgive him for mistakes, and still bring him presents.  People might not realize that children think this deeply about things.  Well, live and learn.

I simply see no upside to filling children's heads with this confusing nonsense.  It can be harmful, and I guarantee that children will have all the fun in the world without it.  I am given to understand that the Santa myth is not commonplace in other parts of the world as it is here in the U.S.  I know someone from Europe who said that no one ever thought Santa was real in her home country.  Parents just didn't do that where she grew up.  But Christmas was still fun and figuratively magical for them.  She moved to the U.S. when she was still a child and was completely blindsided when she found that her schoolmates literally believe in this dude with flying reindeer and elves from the north pole.  Her parents had to sit her down and explain how some cultures do this nutty stuff.  As usual, the United States, while seemingly ahead in certain ways, such as having freedom of speech enshrined in our constitution, is also sorely lacking in reason, rationality, and logic.  To be blunt, America is bat crap crazy in some regards.

Let's stop telling our children that Santa is real.  Just let it be a fun fantasy--a fairly tale, just like any movie they'd watch or book they'd read.  The same goes for the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, or any other made up nonsense we tell kids.  If you are a new parent, or plan on becoming one, I highly encourage you to be honest with your children.  And telling yourself that it's harmless because you're giving them the gift of fun and magic is just self-delusion; it's still lying, and it's still wrong.  Together, let's end the Santa mythos.

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