Most of us have grown up and believed in the existence of Santa Claus in our very early years. I have been coming around to the view that maybe this belief is harmful to children.
In listening to Public Radio this weekend there was a story about a man in NYC who for some reason was getting tons of mail from children writing to Santa Claus. No one knows why he receives this mail but it comes to him. In reading the letters he realized a high percentage of the mail was coming from needy children asking for some of the basic things from Santa.
This man has gone about setting up a foundation to get people to take ownership of a letter where the origins is known and try to fulfill these wishes.
At first I thought this was very noble of him but then as I analyzed it doubts have crept in.
Here we are teaching children to perpetuate a belief in another deity type figure that doesn't exist. This might be the cruelest one because we are telling them this figure will solve some of their most pressing problems. They don't have boots, food, dad is beating mom and the like. I remember myself as a youth in a poor family coming to the conclusion Santa doesn't exist. It was painful and in no way helped me to cope with the challenges in my home. Not only does it put pressure on the children but it puts parents in such situations under undo pressure to perpuate this lie because society says, "Don't take away their youth." People end up doing stupid things because of this.
What do you think?
Well, maybe the real question is whether beliefs in general are harmful.
I personally think there’s nothing wrong with a belief in Santa. Other than brief disappointment, once a child lets go of this belief there are no societal constraints telling them that they must go on believing… or else! In this view of the subject it’s harmless. If this is the greatest sense of disappointment a child will experience in what I hope is a long life, then I would consider them to be extremely lucky.
It seems like parents are getting too protective of children these days. They want to shield their child from everything. Children won’t get to experience the same joys that most of us did when growing up. It’s like childhood has become a prescription that must be carefully administered to a child. Now with this whole Santa thing, we’re trying to rob the children of perhaps the one thing they have left, their sense of imagination. If there’s one belief, out of all the stupid beliefs in the world, that is worth believing in it’s the idea that there is a man out there who is willing to reward you for being a decent human being. There are no other stipulations. One doesn’t need to worship him or give praise or really alter one’s life at all. What a beautiful and simple message that isn’t tainted by any of the trappings of religion.
When reality sets in that there is no Santa, I think it’s a wonderful parallel to the idea of god and religion. If a child can let go of one myth, then perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned about being skeptical within reason about other such fantastic claims. No, I don’t think Santa is harmful and in fact, I see this belief to be an important part of every childhood experience.
Believing in Santa is fine. I think we need to take a collective breath here. This is a child's imagination we are talking about. Nothing more. Now what you choose to do with "Santa" is on you. I think those who use him as a "behave or Santa will not get you anything for xmas or giftmas or festivus or whatever" is wrong. But having them have Santa or any other make believe thing in their lives is fine. Our problem is with indoctrinating kids into religion which this does not have to be in any way. My 6 year old believes in Santa but has no concept of it being associated to religion in any way. Encouraging imagination is to encourage free thought which in my opinion is a precursor to reason and critical thinking. Ho ho ho!
Would you let your child believe that you were Cindarella/Batman for years? Why not? Isn't that fostering the child's imagination?
How is that any different than letting a child believe that Santa is someone else?
I have no children, but plan to have some one day. And the whole Christmas season but especially the "Santa Clause" game parents play on their children has left me confused and conflicted. Let's face it... in the US especially there it is absolutely impossible for an atheist family to avoid their children being bombarded with Christmas from early-mid November to January 1st. In order to avoid it you would have to hole up with your children in an underground bunker with no access to the outside world for two months. It's everywhere. On the radio, in the drug store, on TV, at the mall, on the internet, at the zoo, on your neighbor's front lawn, in the downtown square, etc etc etc. As a childless atheist, I have an easy time dealing with this... I ignore it when it annoys me and participate when I feel like it. But... knowing I will someday have children and will have to make a choice. Celebrate Christmas? Or not? Use Santa Clause? Or not? It's something I haven't resolved yet.
Is Santa harmful to children? I don't know. On the one hand, I have beautiful memories of being a child waiting for Santa to come each year... on the other... my "unquestioning" belief in things was never quite the same when I found out that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were not real. Did I feel betrayed by my parents? No. But I do remember initially being a little sad and some of the magic of Christmas vanished the next December.
But it is more complicated than a simple choice. Your children will be exposed to the Santa Clause game whether you want them to or not. Children's television is awash in Santa Clause myth during the holidays and pretty much every holiday movie is full of Santa. Every holiday trip to the mall will be featured prominently by a tacky "visit Santa" display with dozens of squirming children lined up to sit on his lap.
So... you can't pretend the game isn't there. Your kid will ask you about it. I don't have any and even I know this is obvious.
But there's another complication...
During this time of year, two major factors will present a risk to your child. 1. Christian Theists are on high alert during the season for any sign of "Non-believer 'Grinch' activities" to "ruin their fun." (You know... the annual "War on Christmas" that a lot of Christians make up every year just to feel persecuted. - Fox News is particularly fond of sporting stories of people that complain about overtly religious public school holiday concerts for example.)
Second... if your child is not homeschooled there will be boat loads of children in the elementary schools that will believe in Santa and if your child is not warned against arguing with other children about Santa's existence, expect your phone to be ringing off the hook with calls from angry parents saying your child has "ruined Christmas" for theirs by saying Santa doesn't exist.
It's hard enough for me to deal with my own confusion and discomfort during the holidays... I'm completely lost on how to deal with that of a non-theist child.
Advice on this would be awesome!
Oh yeah! Merry Solstice to one and all!
When you realize Santa is not true- you realize many thingsthat are taught are not true- it's a learning curve- the myths tahght by people are suspect- so goes ghosts, goblins, chocolate egg giving rabbits and jesus- but some hold on to childhood myths-
I have been before, and this year again Scepti- Claus- they know I'm not real- even the youngest- kids are not stupid- it's only the indoctrination of religion before and afterwards that really screws them up- Santa, Easter Bunnies and all may be make believe, but belief in Virgin Births, miracles, parting of seas of any color, stopping the sun, or any other BS, or believing that any other abraka pokus - is true - is just insanity.
Having a good time with friends and family is fine