Santa Claus: Good Clean Fun or Pernicious Lie?

I know that many people think that the tradition of Santa Claus as the bearer of Christmas morning gifts is a fun thing to do with children, but I can’t help but see it as a dangerous tradition. Lying to children is commonplace. And bad. If you can ditch the Christmas lie, it might be a good first step to a healthy and honest relationship with your kids.

I call it a pernicious lie -- even as it seems like such a small thing, for two reasons. The practice adversely affects: 1) you and 2) the kids. Or more precisely, your relationship with your kids. The first, and least visible, is that it reinforces the notion (in your own mind) that lying to your kids is generally acceptable. Once you’ve told this little white lie, the next one won’t seem so bad. Eventually you’ll have a relationship built on a web of untruth -- ready to collapse. Remember, your kids will inevitably discover the true nature of Santa Claus as a myth and internalize the fact that you lied to them. Hopefully, this is their first experience discovering your deceit. But from the first time forward, the notion that whatever you’re saying might be a lie will hang out in the back of their head. It is unavoidable. And this is the opposite of what your kids need. They need to know that their relationship with you is rock-solid and founded on mutual respect.

In modern western culture, I expect the Santa lie to be second in prevalence only to lying about sex (also a mistake). And it’s such a trivial thing. By the same logic used to justify the deception, you can understand it to be a very small thing -- hardly worth lying to your kids and establishing a relationship of distrust. Am I over-dramatizing things by calling it that? I don’t think so.

Once your child knows that mommy and daddy are willing to lie about some things, there are two necessary repercussions. The first is that they will have some level of doubt about the purity of your motives and of your veracity. They will wonder why you lied to them. It’s good to question authority, but even better to find that your early authority figures are worthy of your trust. Of equal concern is that they will forever be able to justify their own prevarication based on your example. Kids will rebel if you feed them the ammo.

This really is a larger issue than Santa Claus. Lying to your kids about anything is a bad idea. But Santa is a common first misstep. An easy one to avoid.

As part of my research for this writeup, I encountered a coworker who told me “other parents will be angry when your child informs their children that Santa doesn’t exist.” She had grave misgivings about my lack of deceit at home based primarily on this effect that it might have on others. I hope it seems reasonable that I was not swayed. I don’t lie to my kids at all. But I’m especially not willing do so simply to make the lies of my neighbors easier.