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?
I think people always push the extremes on this one. When you're a kid, the things you imagine and make-believe can have quite a bit of dimension. Santa Clause was a fantasy I indulged in as a child, and that alone was satisfying enough. I didn't need there to actually be a jolly, rotund, gift-giving man living on the North Pole; the idea and the spirit of it was sufficient.
Probably more than half my existence as a child was make-believe. My friends and I lived in extensive fantasy worlds which, in some cases, were serious fucking business. There were politics, rules, and even consequences to our imaginary realms. That doesn't mean that we ever believed for a second that we were truly soldiers, veterinarians, ponies, married, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, knights, dragons, puppies, astronauts, various athlete celebrities, etc. Push come to shove, the line between reality and fantasy was clear, even if not highly valued.
I think the idea that kids need to believe Santa is real in order to enjoy him is largely the product of adults forgetting how to give in to their imaginations. I'd wager most children would be happy enough just to play along with the game if that's what they grew up with.
I love that kids have huge imaginations and I don't think there's anything wrong with them believing in Santa or Faeries or magical things. It's something that I treasure from my own childhood, and it didn't devastate me at all. Kids are always playing make-believe, and I think it's beautiful. When I have kids, I'll carry the tradition about Santa, because it's fun. I can't imagine a childhood without make believe.
I agree with each one of you about the point of a child's imagination. That is very important, but as was said by you also, it is not adult's place to intercede and reinforce such a belief.
In our lives we all have some imagination in our lives. I love scifi and horror. I watch True Blood, Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, Grim and I could on and on. It is fun, it is brillant in how each of these forms of entertainment are done. Our children also watch and read these things but at no point do we avocate the belief by reinforcing it with actions. Leave the kids to their own devices and we should stay out it.
I disagree. I think that adults should encourage imagination in children. I don't agree with the philosophy of individualism. Independence, yes, autonomy, yes, but I think that especially when it comes to young children, it's important for adults to encourage good things in children. Not forcefully, mind you. If my child ends up not being very imaginative, and doesn't care much for fairyland, then that's fine, I'll encourage him or her in whatever interests or talents that he/she has. But I think it's great when adults participate in their children's make believe. If a child wants to believe in Santa, what would you do? Tell them it's not real? I wouldn't. I would go along with it, and have fun with it.
That's not what I was saying. Like I said, I wouldn't force my child into believing in anything they didn't want to believe in, and if they were very curious and wanted to know the truth, I would tell them. But I don't like the idea that Richmond said above me, "Leave the kids to their own devices and we should stay out of it". I think it's great that you are taking your children's questions seriously and letting them decide if they want to believe in Santa. I just don't like the idea of letting the kids do their own thing while the grown ups do theirs. Especially in a family unit, especially with young kids, it's so important for parents to guide children in whichever direction is best for them. But I also don't like the idea of forcing a child to either believe or not believe. I guess it's a middle ground that I'm after. It sounds like that is what you are doing with your kids. :D
I have a three year old son. I have neither the desire nor the intention to instill the belief in Santa in my son. I prefer to teach my son the holiday is a time to do kind things for others and celebrate the love we have for our family members and make each other feel special. I do _not_ want him writing pages-long "Christmas Lists" and demanding high-cost doodads he'll forget about in a week, after the tree has been turned to mulch. Selfish materialism and entitlement are not traits I wish to instill in my son. In our family, we give gifts to each other out of love, not because some uninvolved person magically appeared in our living room just to give us stuff.
For that matter, I don't even get a tree every year. Sometimes I just go to tree stands and collect the cuttings and hang pine boughs on the walls. All the lovely pine scent, none of the furniture rearranging.
I'm not aware of any cases where a belief in Santa Claus by a child has caused serious harm. Children are engaged in such a fantasy world as it is, that that stifling their imagination might cause more harm than indulging it from time to time.
I still haven't decided how to handle the Santa situation, but I worry less and less about it as time goes. At the moment, I feel about Santa the same as I do about Elmo. She can enjoy it and I won't obsess over whether she thinks it is reality or not. She is not at an age to ask pointed questions about it.
And even if there is pressure by society to perpetuate falshoods to my child, my responsibility as a parent is to be immune to the wants of others and attend primarily to the needs of my child. Perhaps I am more comfortable being looked at as a contrarian than others might be. If she believes it to be real, I doubt that I would feel the need to set her straight. And if she begins to question the veracity of it all, instead of lying about it, it might be a good time to engage her skepticism and reward her scientific thinking on the matter (cause how CAN Santa go to billions of homes in a single night???).
In the end, the Santa story is like any other story we might share with our children. For some, it helps support the magical nature of a childhood Christmas. I don't believe that it is necessary to actively deceive children to have the same effect. These stories can join the food, festivities, lights, and music of the holdidays as decorative tinsel that adds some sparkle to the real magic of enjoying the company of family and friends.
Honestly I love the idea of the modern Santa where a complete stranger goes around and gives to people just for the enjoyment of giving. Yes it's not always fair to some kids who don't have much but if you have the ability to play Santa and have fun with your kids and use this as little lesson on giving for a while I don't see the harm in it. If you think of it Santa is the real first test of questioning faith in many people's lives in which in most cases the truth is discovered after some logical thought by the kid on their own. It teaches another lesson about the value of not always just accepting what you are told by the ones you are close to about faith and just believing. What better way for someone to realize they are better accepting reason, logic, and stone cold facts then finding out that Santa isn't real. It puts things into prospective for kids about the real world and makes the kids wiser about being skeptical. That and lets be honest... those photos with the kids posing with Santa crying are adorable :-)
That and in the big picture Santa is an unlikely ally against theism especially monotheism. Even though Christians will say Santa and Jesus are best buds really it's not true at all and can't be true if you are a real follower of the bible. Santa is the focus of major idol worship and puts the idea that Jesus is the only deity that can reward you on its head because remember God and Jesus don’t like any competition for popularity. The modern version of Santa rewards kids for being good in general where Jesus saving you etc is based on the absolute rules in the bible. There is no just being generally a good person clause in the bible you both conform and do gods bidding even when that bidding is cruel or you are shit out of luck. The idea of Santa has eroded the Christian hold on the holiday and made it into a more secular holiday over the years so less and less is the focus of the holiday on Jesus and the original act of superimposing a Christian holiday on a pagan celebration starts to back fire on the church in the long run.