In Defense of Santa Claus

Posted: Dec 24, 2002 12:00 AM
Every year, during Christmas week on my radio show, I devote an hour to defending Santa Claus. It may seem odd that I have to, but many parents in homes that celebrate Christmas have misgivings about allowing their children to believe in Santa. Their arguments against Santa go as follows: 1. Christian children should be taught to focus solely on the religious meaning of Christmas, and Santa Claus detracts from that. 2. It is hypocritical, if not dishonest, of parents to allow children to believe in something the parents know to be untrue. 3. Once children realize Santa doesn't exist, they will question everything else they were told to believe in, including God. If Santa turns out to be make-believe, maybe God is, too. 4. By having children give Santa lists of presents they want, children learn to be materialistic. 5. If the gifts they receive are attributed Santa Claus, children will not be grateful to their parents for those gifts. These arguments are all well-intentioned but wrong, as a response to each argument will show. 1. Belief in Santa does not necessarily detract from the sanctity of Christmas. It does so only if Santa is the only thing celebrated on that day. Any family that includes prayer, ideally with co-religionists at a house of prayer, and speaks of the deeper meaning of the holy day, has nothing to worry about. On the contrary, religious homes need to include enormous amounts of joy and fun in order to raise children who will love their religion and love God. 2. Parents are neither dishonest nor hypocritical when they allow their children to believe in Santa. Is a parent who tells a child that the Tooth Fairy left a dollar for the child's tooth dishonest? If a child meets Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, must an honest parent say to the child, "That's not really Mickey, he's just a paid employee in a Mickey Mouse outfit"? Of course not. God forbid parents should eliminate all pretend characters from a child's life. And as for truth, we tell children whole truths when they are old enough to understand them, which usually means once they ask. Otherwise parents would tell young children the anatomical details of sexual intercourse in order to explain how they were conceived. The issue of parental truth-telling only arises if you answer falsely to a question your child asks. If your child directly asks, "Is there really such a man as Santa Claus?" it is wrong to say yes with no further explanation. A parent should come as close to never lying to a child as possible. 3. It is pretty hard to imagine that anyone ever stopped believing in God solely because they discovered Santa Claus is a pretend character. You might as well argue that young people become atheists when they realize Barney isn't really a dinosaur or that no duck talks. Only if you, the parent, believe that God is no more real than Santa will your child ever link the two. 4. If you are worried about your child becoming materialistic, limit the number and price of gifts he or she can request of Santa. As one young woman told me, her mother used to tell her, "Jesus only got three gifts, why should you get more?" Or tell your child that Santa takes the most gifts to poor children who don't have nearly as much as he or she does. 5. No matter whom the gifts come from, kids have to be taught to be grateful for them. If your child is grateful to Santa, then gratitude has been learned, and that is what matters. Needing the gratitude to be directed to you is self-serving. Let your child learn to be grateful to you for all you do on the other 364 days of the year. If your family does not celebrate Christmas, none of this applies. But if it does, let your little children enjoy Santa. It is one more thing that contributes to their innocence. And the longer you enable your children to be innocent, the happier and healthier they will be as adults. They will have a whole lifetime to learn that Santa -- and a lot more -- isn't real. Why rush?