In defence of Santa

Tis the season for debating the existence of Santa Claus.
On one hand, parents who go to extensive lengths to 'prove' Santa Claus is real. On the other, parents who spout the evils of commercialism and 'lying' to children.
Now obviously Santa Claus is lying in some sense. It could even possibly be considered a manipulation, if you are attempting to alter their behaviour by the use of a statement that you know is not true 1. Children of an age to believe in Santa however are given to fantasy even when not encouraged by parents, many children of such an age have imaginary friends or believe in other fantasy objects unprovoked and studies of children of fundamentalist Christians who do not encourage the Santa story found that all but one still believed in Santa 2.  The process of stopping believing in Santa is considered almost a rite of passage that signals the adoption of an adult reality. The question is whether this is a beneficial lie.
I'll admit to a bias here, I love Christmas and I think Santa and all associated with it is a lot of fun. I am not alone in this, studies have shown that parents perceive the magic of the story as paramount over many other values 3 and that parents consider the story to transmit important values such as generosity, kindness and caring that educators do not consider 4.

But what are the possible benefits of believing in Santa:

  • Benefits in family bonding: Traditions such as those associated with Santa are considered beneficial to bonding. Christmas is a time of celebrating and affirming family bonds and sociability 5
  • An increase in pro-social behaviour, including sharing 5.
  • Enhanced fantastical thinking: Children's excitement towards Christmas arises from their ability to suspend belief and permit magical and fantastical thought 5
  • Expansion of the internal object world 5
  • Provision of a positive role model in Santa: Encouraging children to  believe in a benevolent Santa may encourage traits of kindness and cooperation 5
  • Helping children grasp symbolic lessons regarding charitable giving and consideration of others via stories about Santa and Santa rituals 5.
  • The image of Santa as nurturing and generosity can help some children feel loved and comforted 5.
  • Can be used to introduce the sense that society is safe and fun 5.

In comparison, the established downfalls are primarily about the encouragement materialism. This is a real concern with associated with the whole Santa and Christmas traditions. Obviously the practice of purchasing good behaviour from children is less than desirable, however the issue can be avoided with careful management and discussion by parents. Aside from this the other major issue is the ethical issues associated with lying. There have been many debates on the ethicality of the Santa myth and in its simplest form it is certainly lying and possibly manipulative.
Encouragement of materialism: Obviously it is not desirable to attempt to purchase good behaviour from children. This is an issue that must be carefully managed by parents.The question is whether this lie is considered beneficial overall is what parents should consider.


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