What do I tell my daughter about Santa?

Great Show. Great Question

On the first, most recent and so far best episode of Tom Williamson’s splendid Skeptic Canary Blog Radio Show I mentioned Santa while answering a callers question about how to deal with relatives who believe in woo or pseudo-science.

I’d already made the point that I feel that any acceptance of things such as homeopathy could lead to direct harm and mentioned my posts on homeopathy for rape and homosexuality. I did concede that ‘end of life’ comfort situations could be one of the rare examples where you should let a belief slide but I feel that skepticism has failed a person if they go to their grave believing in such things.

My point to the caller was (and I wish I’d had a little more time to expand) that for the sake of family relations, sometimes it’s better to do what you can to explain the science and the reasons a belief maybe wrong, but not to fall out over it. I believe I said “you can lead them to the water, but you can’t make them drink”. I would expand that there is a balance to be made. You can’t just wash your hands of your Mum or Uncle, the best approach is to stay in their confidence and be understanding. It’s fairly hard to know if they’re getting involved in something dangerous or expensive if they won’t talk to you about it anymore! Gentle guidance, advice and reminding them that you care and love them are vital in treading these troubling situations.

Sense of Wonderment

Anyway, I really want some opinions. My daughter is now 21 months old and still too young to understand Christmas and the Santa thing. But by this coming Christmas she won’t be.

Neither I or my partner are religious, but like most who will read this we do enjoy the family togetherness that Christmas provides. I don’t really believe that ‘no Santa’ means that Christmas would be any less enjoyable or fun for her.

But there are other considerations beyond just continuing the social contract that passes unquestioned, from generation to generation. Like, for example, attending school. She wouldn’t be a popular 4 year old telling everyone that their parents are lying to them, in that tactless way kids do.

I have no doubt that I will lie to her during her life, for her own good and in honesty, on occasion for my own. I just don’t know if this is a myth I feel happy perpetuating.

I think I’ll quote Tim Minchin at this point,

… I face a dilemma: I had sold [my daughter] the myth of Father Christmas in the spirit of allowing a child a sense of wonderment, but I felt that lying to her face when she’d asked me point blank about the veracity of my claims was a step too far.

I fumbled around a bit before opting for: “Father Christmas is real . . . in the imaginary world.”

So what do you think? Am I being a heartless so and so, or do you wish you’d told your kids? What are your memories of when you found out? Any thoughts greatly appreciated!

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6 Responses

  1. Keri says:

    I agree with you. My daughter is 13 months and I dont think I will play along with the santa thing. We are not religious but we like the togetherness and concepts of giving that xmas brings. Plus I was so devistated when I found out santa wasn’t real and instead of telling me yea he isn’t real she continued the lie. I felt so betrayed. I can’t do that to my child I am still hurt today that she lied to me. I would have been happier if I was just told the truth in the first place instead of getting my hopes up for nothing.

  2. prairienymph says:

    I didn’t grow up with Santa (he competed with Jesus for Christmas attention and was therefore treated with suspicion). My oldest daughter didn’t grow up with Santa for different reasons but is a staunch believer in fairies. She is always demanding “how do you know” whenever I tell her something and when I asked it back of why fairies are real she said, “because I’ve seen them.”
    She has gotten in fights with kids in the playground over Santa’s existance. Apparently she told a girl her parents were lying to her about Santa and this girl told her that if parents don’t tell their kids about Santa they don’t love their kids.
    We had a talk about talking with other people about Santa and god.

  3. Christy Lawrance says:

    We were brought up being told that Father Christmas wasn’t real; our parents thought it would damage children’s trust. Although we knew he was made up, we insisted on leaving out a mince pie for him and carrots for the reindeer – and our parents were quite happy about this. As Bethany Baker puts it, it’s an imaginary game. Having the truth didn’t stop the magic one bit. I think we would have been upset had we not been allowed to leave the food out, though.

  4. Bethany Baker says:

    This is an interesting dilemma, but I truly believe most children will actually benefit from the ‘santa myth’ as a child i did all the letters to mr christmas and leaving out mince pies and sherry and I truly believe that doing all of this as a child has meant I still get excited about christmas even as a 22yr old (some may say too excited). I think we need to see something like this as more of an imaginary game rather than a lie to our children. In the same way we play dress up games and hold tea parties with invisible tea and cakes to develop a childs imagination, so too should we use Christmas. In many cases its the things that happen during this ‘belief’ period that create family memories, one thing that remains a continuing story in our house is of my mum drinking the sherry left for Santa and my brother eating the mince pies meanwhile my other brother was out in the garden in the cold creating Santa footprints and eating the carrot left for the reindeer. I think the benefits of things such as Father Christmas and the Easter bunny outweigh the thought that we are lying to children.

  5. Will G says:

    There maybe some developmental benefit to allowing children to have imaginary friends, father christmas, Jesus. When they are old enough they will question the rationality of their beliefs on their own as most of us who were raised as christians do at some point.

  6. Shaun Sellars says:

    Interesting subject, David.

    One of my friends has just had a falling out with his brother over Feng Shui, of all things. Said friend is staunchly rational about life, whereas his brother is a fan of the woo, and a bit of a conspiracy theorist (BIG PHARMA IS OUT TO KILL US ALL etc.)

    Of course, it’s my friend who’s in the wrong because he isn’t open minded enough to look at life and change his opinions… oh, wait a second.

    Is woo worth falling out with family about? Tricky question.

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