Like a lot of families, we will soon celebrate Christmas at my house.
On Christmas Eve, my children will carefully select which cookies to leave out on a plate for Santa Claus. We'll read The Night Before Christmas. They'll go to bed, and probably fight to stay awake as long as they can, in the hope that they might catch a glimpse of the jolly old man in the red suit.
At six and two, they both still believe in Santa, and fully expect that he will emerge from our chimney with a sack full of gifts...
Finally, they will fall fast asleep. Visions of sugarplums just might dance in their heads.
And that is when my husband and I will go to work, filling stockings, assembling toys, and eating those cookies.
Because, as we adults know, Santa Claus won't really be coming down that chimney at all. As fun as he is to believe in, he doesn't really exist.
So are we wrong to teach our children that he does?
The Anti-Santa Argument
Several bloggers have written recently about their decision NOT to let their children ever learn to believe in Santa Claus in the first place. These parents feel that perpetuating the myth of Santa Claus is the equivalent of blatantly lying to your kids, and suggest that children will never completely trust their parents once they realize that they have been less than honest about the mythical man from the North Pole.
Many of these parents also argue that the idea of Santa Claus places more emphasis on receiving rather than giving gifts, and that children should never be bribed into being "good" through the promise of presents from an imaginary character. And there are also those (with whom I kind of have to agree) who think that the idea of an old man who spends the night breaking into people's houses is just plain creepy.
My Argument in Favor of Santa Claus
Personally, though, I've always enjoyed Christmas and the myth of Santa Claus. I never felt lied to once I realized that he wasn't real, and I always enjoyed pretending that I still believed for the sake of my younger siblings. I see no harm in allowing my own children to revel in the existence of a mythical man who bestows gifts out of the goodness of his heart, even if it's only for a short while.
Sure, Santa isn't a necessary part of Christmas, and it's certainly possible to teach children about the spirit of hope and generosity without him. But a belief in Santa Claus allows children to use their imaginations to envision a world where anything is possible (and the laws of physics need not even apply). Imagination is important, as is the ability to believe in things we can't always see.
Santa Claus encompasses both.
Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, made an interesting point in an essay she contributed to The Truth About Santa, a discussion of the Santa Claus issue that was published by The New York Times in December of 2009:
"When children pretend, they are exercising the evolutionarily crucial human ability to envision alternative ways the world could be. In adults that ability is at the core of our very real capacities for invention and innovation."
Eventually, my children will figure it all out. They'll ask questions, and I won't lie to them. We'll talk honestly about the history of Saint Nicholas, and the evolution of Santa Claus as a character who symbolizes benevolence and joy. But I will never be the mom who sits her six-year-old down and tells her point blank that there is no such thing as Santa Claus, or the one who never wants to pretend that Santa is real in the first place.
Should we lie to our children? No. But I just don't see Santa Claus as a lie. If anything, I see him as a gift that we can give them, a gift that encourages imagination and pretend play and the ability to believe. And even, as they grow older and begin to realize that Santa isn't real in the most literal sense of the word, the gift of logical thinking and deductive reasoning.
All families are different, and we all have different values and belief systems that we want to impart to our children. I can certainly respect the decision made by parents who have chosen not to pretend about Santa Claus. But, for me, allowing my children to believe in Santa is harmless.
In fact, I believe that they just might grow up to be better people for it.
To find out what other parents have to say about what I've dubbed "The Great Santa Debate," check out the following links:
What do you think? If you celebrate Christmas, does Santa Claus visit your house? Do you see him as a lie we tell our children, or as a fun and valuable part of childhood?