Call me Ebenezer

I have never believed in Santa Claus. (Or, possibly more accurately, any belief I had in Santa Claus was so weak or brief as to be unremembered.) What I do remember of Santa Claus as a child was hearing the kids on the bus talk about things like sleigh marks on roofs and other evidence for his existence, and being wholly unconvinced. I was never particularly strident in my skepticism, but I remember the efforts of fellow bus riders to help me see the light. I seem to recall a combination of pity and fervor in their efforts. (A somewhat fey, hopelessly unathletic child, you can imagine the boost this gave my popularity.)

Despite my disbelief, I've always enjoyed Christmas. The period between Halloween and New Year's Day is my favorite time of year. While I would dearly love for America's retailers to refrain from foisting yuletide cheer upon us until after Thanksgiving, I love the trappings and trimmings once the time has arrived.

However, now there is the Critter. And thus, the eventual question of What To Say About Santa? Prudie, the advice columnist tackled a question of a similar nature today. A dismayed mother wrote about her ex-husband's choice to debunk Santa for their child. Prudie responds:
Gee, thanks, Dad. Maybe he also threw in that when he realized he was going to have a child, he ran for the hills and cursed himself for not using a condom—that's the truth, too. It's good your son has a relationship with his father, but it would have been nice if his father, before he unilaterally shot down Santa's sleigh, had discussed this with you first. After all, the boy already knows that when someone says, "Mommies and daddies love each other," that isn't necessarily true, either. But don't worry about being caught out in a lie. Telling your children about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy is not lying—it's sprinkling a little magic dust on childhood. While people have funny, even poignant stories about realizing none of it is true, I've never heard anyone rail against those elementary-school years of deceit.
Somehow "not lying" and "years of deceit" are meant to be compatible, and I'm not sure I buy the former assertion. While Santa may be a beloved shared myth, telling a kid something you know with certainty to be false certainly feels like a lie to me. Now, before I suddenly discover how many readers we actually have as I am inundated with angry comments from affronted parents who wonder how I can pump blood with the hunk of coal in my chest, let me make it absolutely clear that I know my feelings are:
1) Uncommon
2) Unpopular
3) A little on the airless, sterile, tight-lipped, blue-nosed side.
I also should hasten to add that I really have no beef with what anyone else tells their kid.

Perhaps my problem is this -- I have no memory of a cherished belief in Santa. (On a related note, the Tooth Fairy assigned to our house was absent-minded to a credulity-shaking degree.) Thus, my ability to invest in a long-term deception is just not there. All I can feel is downside, the knowledge that I am telling my kid something I don't believe. So, all you childhood Santa believers out there, would I be doing him a disservice by failing to play along? Am I a big, fat party-pooper? Is the joy you felt believing in Santa worth my discomfiture as an adult?

I'm all ears.


  1. You are not wrong. I never instilled a belief in Santa in my two sons. He was just part of the general Christmas landscape.


  2. Yes, children should always be told nothing but the clinical truth from birth onwards. The sooner they are disabused of any notion that the world can be a magical place, with cultural and religious symbols embodying abstract and cherished truths, the better. And that goes double for you, Virginia.

  3. The distinction between the "clinical truth" and the regular truth would be...?

  4. Clinical: ... 3) scientifically detached; strictly objective 4) plain, simple, and usually unattractive.

    Take your pick.

    Regular truth, OTOH, understands that all brides are beautiful on their wedding day. Regular truth encompasses childlike faith, beauty, love, poetry; a myriad of things that efface the dreariness of clinical existence.

  5. "Perhaps my problem is this -- I have no memory of a cherished belief in Santa."

    For heaven sakes DrDan, it had nothing to do with you and your long term memory, ask your parents how much they enjoyed your anticipation of Santa coming when you were 4 or 5.

    Parents do tons of special things with little kids that they know their children won't remember because seeing your child happy is a great joy. Why would you deprive yourself of this?

    By the way, when my son was 3 I took him to a store that had a Santa that I almost never shop at, 3 years later we happened to go there again and he told me that this was where he saw Santa. Now I know full well in 10 years he will have zero recollection of that but I wasn't aware it had such an impact on him them, otherwise I would have made it a point to go every year. As it was at 3 he seemed scared so I kind of let that aspect go.


  6. Perhaps it's not clear, but I had no anticipation of Santa coming because I was never told he existed in the first place. However, I don't think this has diminished my love of Christmas overall.

  7. There would be another person with a say in this matter, no? What are his thoughts?

  8. I'm with charo and Gadfly. although I also was raised as a Santa skeptic. Yes, it is a lie. But are all lies immoral? Only a crazed Kantian who thinks that lying is wrong under every single circumstance (such as when a murderer is looking for someone who is hiding in your house and you tell the murderer he's not there -- yes, Kant thought that was wrong).

    I just told my older son today that a stuffed animal was "from" our baby. I really think that is an acceptable lie. I plan on using monster repellent, etc.

    In the case of Santa Claus, of course no one should be compelled to tell their kid about it. And Christmas can be magical without it. But telling kids about Santa Claus can have a lot of benefits (joy, excitement, magic) and really has very little downside. Most people who were told Santa Claus existed still manage to come out the other side trusting their parents and having a stable metaphysics.

  9. Dan, Santa was at Slates lase evening, after the parade! We witnessed two little girls, (about 3 or 4 years old) who's eyes were huge and their look was one of astonishment when he came to their table and asked, "Have you been good"? Tell me there is no Santa also tell me you are not going to allow the Critter to believe.