Since I am neither a parent nor plan to be one, it is merely my amateur opinion — based on personal observation — that teaching children to believe in Santa Claus is as close to child abuse without spanking them.
First and obvious, it is a lie. It ruins your trustworthiness as a parent. It promotes credulity. It is utterly devoid of imagination. What a strange and corrupt world this is, where lying to children is deemed beautiful and magical, encouraged by our cultural institutions and endorsed by a host of stop-motion animation films.
Teaching children the myth of Santa Claus is bribery. If the child is well-behaved, she will be rewarded. If the child is naughty — which could easily translate as nonconformist behavior — the she will not receive gifts on Christmas. Rarely do we teach universally preferable behavior simply for its own sake.
Can you imagine, a parent who doesn’t give their child gifts for Christmas because they were naughty? An impoverish family, surely, but a middle class household? It would be monstrously, unforgivably cruel.
Since Santa delivers toys to all middle class children, are all those the children nice? Did Santa quit writing up his naughty list? Are there too many moral ambiguities to enforce the punishments we promise upon our children?
“What a scrooge,” you’re likely thinking. “Next he’ll advise I stop telling stories to my children.”
I write fiction. My stories are published. More than most, I know that imaginative play is crucial to the development of a human mind. A story is not crafted to pose as the truth, but to convey truth. But children are taught to actually believe that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole.
We teach our children to blindly swallow astronomical truth claims contradictory to facts. If we assume Santa must travel 520,000,000 km on Christmas Eve and has 32 hours to do it, he would need to move 1,800 miles per second. Without stopping.
For a child to believe in Santa is not imaginative. It is delusion. If your child is running around the house in a towel and pretending to be a superhero, you’re glad he has found something fun to do instead of play video games. But if your child climbed up to the roof and prepared to jump, fully convinced that he wielded the power of flight, a parent who remotely cared about their child would seize the nearest ladder and call the local therapist.
Why is the myth of Santa Claus lavished with an exception?
For that matter, why is God given that exception?
If my memory isn’t rusty, I was probably eight or nine years old before I actually looked at the ISBN bar codes on my gifts and figured out the truth about Santa. It wasn’t until my early twenties before I confidently divorced myself from the Christian religion. I’m embarrassed these things take me so long.
Growing up into a teenager, I became a little sad when the “Christmas Spirit” was fading from my heart. The magic glow within the heart at the sight of precious lights, the scent of fresh pine pervading the dining room. I notice this has happened far more swiftly in my little sister, who is eight years younger than I.
Would you be taking away the magic of Christmas if you were honest with your child? Consider that, in centuries past, Santa delivered fruits and nuts to peasant children. How would an American child like to find nothing but trail mix in his stocking? It isn’t the arrival of Santa Claus that excites a child at Christmas. It’s that copy of Fallout 4 he’s sure to leave behind under the tree.
It’s disturbing the number of adults who believe that it is acceptable to believe something simply because they want to. Or because it makes them feel comfortable.
Teaching children the myth of Santa Claus stirs within me the same discomfort as raising children with religion, though belief in Santa is far less entrenched and damaging. Santa, like the Christian God Yahweh, is a heavenly dictator — he monitors your every action and thought. He is a judge — he divides the wheat from the chaff, casts rebels to the eternal flames and loyalists to eternal light. I raise the point again, Santa and Yahweh both bestow rewards for “good” behavior (orthodoxy, conformity) while punishing “naughty” behavior (deviance, rebellion).
But there is a difference between the lie of Santa and the lie of religion: children mature and grow out of believing in Santa Claus. Rarely do we mature out of blind faith in God.
If I find myself cradling a whipper-snapper who shares half of my genetic material, then I firmly intend to raise her as part of possibly the first generation of philosophical, critically thinking children in history. When December rolls around, I will not lie to my child. I will tell her the truth about Santa. He doesn’t exist.