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Ask the Patriarch 209
What about Santa Claus?

from: Mary S.

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My beautiful son has reached an age where he is taking real notice of Christmas and all that which goes along with it. I don't think the first two meant that much to him, but he is certainly aware of this one.

My family really like the various Christmas traditions, in a secular way, but I am bothered by the idea of Santa Claus. Do we have go along with the "Santa Claus is real" thing?

Hoping for an answer before the 25th, and I wish you a merry Agnostimas.

The Patriarch replies:


This is something I've recently changed my mind on. I think that we should probably treat Santa Claus as "make believe" right from the beginning. There may be times when it is absolutely necessary for parents to lie to their children, and those should be few. Santa Claus is not one of those exceptions.

There is no way to stop children from becoming aware of Santa; he's such a part of popular culture. However, there is no need for parents to treat him as real, or even to introduce children to the idea of Santa. Once a child becomes aware of Santa from others and asks questions, then you can let him or her know that he is "pretend." For older children who have been brought up to believe in Santa, you can arrive at this in a Socratic dialogue, and by talking about the characteristics of Santa, let the child determine that Santa is not real.

The trouble with treating Santa as "real" is that ultimately the child finds out that he is not. And then the child knows that the parents have lied. And it's not just the one initial lie - it's an entire chain of lies as over the years that you are maintaining the illusion, you have to invent answers for the child's questions, such as "How does Santa visit us - we don't have a fireplace?"; "How does Santa visit everyone?"; "Why did Santa give Tommy next door better gifts than I got?" etc.

As soon as the child asks about Santa Claus, find a way to gently dispel the illusion of reality. Don't add to it.

And it should be the same for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny - just make-believe characters for a bit of fun. You don't have to play the "Yes, they are real" game for any of them.

And in time, you can use the idea that others their age do believe these characters to be real as a starting point to question other beliefs that the overall culture instills.

I wish you and your family a great festive season