Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Is Santa Claus Good Or Bad For Children?

Every year, a new group of children become initiated into the magic of Santa Claus.  But for every group of newcomers, there is also a batch that finds out that Santa doesn't actually exist…for those children, a mix of emotions ranging from disbelief to betrayal can wreak havoc on their worldview.  Make no mistake - for some children, finding out this truth is a traumatic experience - indeed, I have yet to meet a person who can actually recall when they were told this truth, or how they reacted to it, which in my medical opinion would suggest repressed memories due to a psychological implosion caused by perceptive dissociation, exacerbated by parental nostalgic projection, which when combined with a child's weight and age, and coupled with the fragility of a young developing mind, engenders intense trauma.  So the question becomes, does believing in Santa warrant the upheaval that results when children inevitably find out that he's not real?  

Well what exactly are the benefits?  I suppose for children, Santa represents a world full of enchantment… that there is more to reality than meets the eye, and that good things come to good people.  All compelling and desirable things in my opinion, which ironically enough, would seem to get undermined by the eventual disclosure of Santa's lack of reality.  Perhaps the pervasive bleakness in our society stems from this disclosure, as well as the cynicism held by so many…people who have been fooled once before and won't be fooled again; people who were taunted and jeered by their peers for believing in something so foolish, and who valiantly insisted upon Santa's veracity, championing his existence to the absolute end, until their parents had to step in and finally stop the charade, thus scarring the child with the severe embarrassment of being the last kid in his/her grade to finally learn the truth (no, I am not describing me for those that enjoy reading into everything).

I suppose parents also benefit from the leverage that Santa provides, in virtue of gift giving being contingent upon good behavior, which seems to be the only thing that can reign in Danny's terrorist behavior.  Of course, such leverage can obviously be maintained without Santa, but Santa does afford the luxury of the parent not having to be the bad guy when Tracy doesn't get that Power Wheels 6 Volt Volkswagon she's been begging for.

All in all, I can't help but question if this dog and pony show is worthwhile.  Maybe Danny is better off knowing that his parents don't negotiate with terrorists.  Maybe Tracy is better off knowing she didn't get the Power Wheels because her parents don't appreciate her attitude.  Maybe parents need to own their role as behavioral enforcer and just lay down the law for the sake of their children's growth and humanity.  Conversely, maybe parents need to take all the credit and praise for bestowing such generous gifts on their well-behaved offspring, making it clear that their children are receiving them because they are kind-hearted and considerate - fuck Santa.  And maybe if we really want our kids to grow up with a sense of wonder and awe at the world they find themselves in, we shouldn't sabotage that very effort by setting up such a masquerade.

Yet despite such considerations, in the end I come to the conclusion that it's in everyone's best interest to continue the myth of Santa…not because of the benefits, but precisely because of the detriments.  Because maybe it's good for our children to learn that not everything is as it seems.  That you shouldn't take everything given to you at face value.  That not all "facts" turn out to be true.  That you should question what you're told, be it from your parents, the government, the media, that gossipy neighbor, or your fluffer.  That it's okay to make mistakes and to have judged wrongly.  That there's no shame in taking a leap of faith.  And that sometimes our most fervent beliefs turn out to be fallacious.  Maybe this is the real benefit of Santa Claus, and maybe if parents take the time to responsibly guide their children through the transition from Santa's reality to mythology, we can get all of the benefits with none of the detriments.  But worst case scenario, hopefully the shock and incredulity of the truth will be mitigated by the knowledge that at least elves do actually exist.


  1. Good to see a new blog post Zack. Happy holidays to you.

    The "repressed memories due to a psychological implosion caused by perceptive dissociation" that you speak of, in my opinion, are likely to be more profound with advances in technology. I have a 3 year old nephew who sees Santa on his parents' iPad speaking to him, saying his name, showing him photos of himself in Santa's good book, and speaking about the different construction vehicles he's packaging for him (which he inevitably received on Christmas day). With the ability to make fantasy much more of a reality than we were once used to, I'd imagine that the audio and video evidence a child can now use to claim the tangible nature of a Santa Claus will make it much more difficult to them to accept the fallacy and move on. Could this cause an overquestioning? Trust issues with the parents? Maybe. Time will tell.

    The other side of the coin is interesting as well: what is the perception of those who aren't practicing Christians, and who really don't hold any significance to Christmas, Santa and the rest of it? Speaking to Muslims and Sikhs that I'm close to after reading your post, they said that they never paid much mind to kids speaking about presents and whatnot while in public school; they were simply told from the start that none of it exists, no one receives presents, and it's nothing more than a celebration of religion aside from their own. Of course, they were able to perceive the marketing aspect once they were older.

    I believe this is a testament to how much of the fabrication of the Christmas holiday is a product of money, marketing and industry: children who aren't immersed in Christmas still learn to separate myth from reality (if anything, they do so earlier through observation of other children not so well informed), and are parented via other methods to act in an appropriate manner.

    In the end, as you said, the Santa myth serves a dual purpose - from the parenting aspect, and the children's experience. Not significantly on society, in my opinion, as much as it serves to $$$$$$$$$$$.

    1. Interesting points...advances in technology may indeed exacerbate the trauma.

      The Santa "experience" is obviously not necessary for a child to learn to separate myth from reality, but I wonder if the lesson resonates all the more deeply for those who do go through such a firsthand experience. Of course, myths and children's stories of one kind or another are plentiful throughout the world's cultures, so perhaps the Tooth Fairy and all the rest of the gang serve toward the same end to some degree (though surely not on the same level as Santa from a $$$ perspective).

      In truth, I don't even associate Santa with Christianity...feels like a separate thing to itself, that just so happens to coincide with a Christian holiday. Regardless, I wonder why there aren't more cases of non-Christian and/or Santa-disbelieving children spilling the beans...

  2. Wow, Zack. As always, it is great to hear from you. I have always admired your works (I was listening to your music as I read this) and have always seen your unique abilties to see two sides of everything as a gift. It's that gift that separates your work from any other.

    That being said, your point on santa is completely valid. However, to tell kids the truth is a hard thing. The problem lies in the vast commercalization of santa. Just look at any form of communication with commercial business during the weeks leading up to christmas. Kids learn about santa with no help from parents; commercials with santa, christmas movies, and even newspaper advertisments tell of the magical man in the suit that travels once a year simply to deliver the hottest product to every good kid in the world.

    But there is something more to santa: tradition. Some parents keep the secret of santa simply because of the joy they remember having while they wated for santa many christmas eves.

    I, however, place all my trust in the general public. If the cons of santa outweighed the pros, then less kids would be protected from the truth. This is not the case. Still the secret of satan lives on, not guarded by the parents of kids, but by the general public.

    Happy new year!

  3. Here's another perspective. I'm a Christian parent, and my primary concern was confusion. I don't want my son to confuse the imaginary characters like Santa (and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, etc.) with the real person of Jesus. We can't see, touch, or hear Santa because he isn't real. We also can't see, touch, or hear (audibly) Jesus, but for different reasons.

    If I promote the idea of Santa as being real, what happens when he realizes Santa is just a story? My concern was that he would jump to the conclusion that Jesus is also just a story.

    My wife and I never emphasized Santa. We also didn't try to "protect" him from the idea. I did clarify at some point that Santa doesn't really come down chimneys or fly in a sleigh, but that the real St. Nick was a man who loved Jesus and decided to make gifts for children as a way to share God's love. I hope we linked those two ideas in a healthy way. I'd love to see my son grow up with a desire to give and be generous as a way to share God's love with people. In that way, "St. Nick" can be a positive example of following Jesus.

    That's my contribution to the discussion. I hope you find it interesting.

    Thanks for making music, Zack!

    - Nate Hanson

  4. they were supposed to be inspirational charectors as well as fun things for kids...now marketing is ruining eveyrhting