Christmas cheer or lifetime fear? Dealing with the Santa myth. Part 1.

Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image from

Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image from

At this time of year around the world, if you had a vaguely Christian-associated upbringing, or live somewhere where celebrating Christmas is standard, you’re probably fully caught up in the madness of the Christmas rush: satisfyingly finished, in mid throes or even yet to start present buying in full dread of the traffic and the crowds that will elevate your cortisol levels; making arrangements for Christmas Day itself complete with anticipation of family dramas based on past prima donna performances; living through the never-ending gluttony of Christmas parties; and planning the packing for those of us in the southern hemisphere for the summer holiday away starting typically on Boxing Day if you don’t travel for Christmas itself. It’s always such a busy, frenetic finish to the year, particularly those also working like myself with much still to complete and it’s easy not to spend time contemplating what Christmas is all about.

Yet thinking about festive occasions and holidays and what they mean personally to you and your family should at some point be a priority. Somewhere in that Christmas lead-up: you may have relatively blindly bought  or are yet to buy secret presents to go in the Santa stocking or sack or pillowcase (my childhood); you might be taking the kids off to have photos taken with Santa in a department store or mall; be at events such as childcare parties where Santa makes a guest appearance; you may be letting your children ring Santa on the telephone to tell him what they want the jolly red gentleman to bring; and be spending time building up the idea of Santa’s imminent visitation with stories and songs and the concept of he’ll only come if you’re nice, not naughty. On Christmas Eve itself, you may have your children writing adorable letters to Santa with their wish list, leaving out milk, biscuits, a carrot for Rudolph. In the morning, stockings or alternatives full, children epicly excited, they may also discover milk drunk, biscuit crumbs, carrot half eaten, note back from Santa. You may go further and convince them of hoofprints in the grass, disturbed chimney. All of this sounds fun, doesn’t it, and harmless, right? What if it’s not?

Wherever we live, we are members of a society that has its own culture and traditions. Some of the finer detail may vary from family to family as families develop their own values and traditions that can get passed down from generation to generation. You may indeed not be aware of what hefty societal and family filters and values are pressing down on top of you, ostensibly shaping you who are, and even how you parent.  You may think that the values you hold and the decisions you make are entirely your own.

A theme though that you will see in my posts is my encouragement that you make yourself aware of these filters or values and spend time analysing their ‘fit’ to see whether they truly serve you. Just because something is tradition (whether that be tradition within your culture or tradition within your family) doesn’t mean that it is the right way for you and your family in the present right now and heading into the future. I feel privileged to be a scientist at times because it’s given me the space to never stop questioning. Having a bit of a contrary bent means I like to challenge the norm at times and fiercely independently forge my own path.

Knowledge is power. When we as individuals or as a society acquire more knowledge we all have the power to create a better and brighter future. Acquiring more knowledge also extends to learning more about our self.

Traditions are lovely but they also need to feel like they fit. So what then does Christmas mean to you and what in particular do you feel about the Santa myth? Once you’ve spent some time thinking about your own values you’re ready for Part 2.

In part 2, I explore who is Santa anyway? And my take on the Santa myth with some science around it.


5 thoughts on “Christmas cheer or lifetime fear? Dealing with the Santa myth. Part 1.

  1. Amy

    I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about Santa since you pointed out to me that we do not need to lie to our children. I don’t remember ever believing in Santa myself, and if I did, it certainly didn’t cause any feelings of distrust toward my parents. This is probably because they didn’t try to hide the truth from us, even wrapping the Santa presents in recycled paper from our celebration on Christmas Eve. For my non-religious parents, Christmas was all about love and giving, and we celebrated Santa until we were in our teens (despite not actually believing he was real)! My three-year-old son is very curious about the whole thing, but still has a very hard time understanding the difference between what is real and what is just a story. Hence, I am having a hard time broaching the subject with him, and look forward to reading your future posts. I know that I want him to take the lead and develop critical thinking, while we continue having fun with Santa, as in these other blog posts:

    1. icechick1 Post author

      Pleased I got you thinking based on our conversation and before I even wrote the blog. You are obviously a fantastic mum investing this much time into considerations around your children and it’s also probably a reflection of the way you were parented too :). I’ve been doing a mountain of reading in preparation for Part 2 and the second link in particular is an excellent one I was intending to use. Fostering critical thinking is important alongside having fun as you say and given the deficits I see at the university end in critical thinking, the more we encourage that in our children the better! It IS really hard to broach the subject but if you do you’ll be surprised by how easy it is once you start. It can help I think to talk about fairy stories or make believe play that your child understands first and then maybe talk about all the Santas you might have seen this year and asking whether your 3yo noticed that they looked a bit different to each other etc. With MissBB I keep reaffirming that Santa is a game and I choose to let her know it’s a game but that other parents choose not to for their own reasons.

  2. Amy

    Getting into it a bit deeper now! What do you think about this approach?… Basically, don’t lie to your children, but don’t tell them the truth either. This way you don’t close the door on them asking questions by telling them he’s not real. Rather, you encourage them at an early age to figure it out themselves (e.g. asking them questions, such as “how do you think reindeer fly?”; providing evidence, such as taking them to different malls to see the different Santas; etc.). This technique could be used throughout childhood in many situations. The trick is to maintain wonderment in children and help them appreciate fiction, while still exposing them to the truth:
    Full interview here:

    1. icechick1 Post author

      Hi Amy,
      Thanks for all the links. The don’t lie, don’t tell the truth is one approach that is put out there in some forums- if it’s ideal for you then use it but it’s not one that sits comfortably with me because it’s too much of a halfway measure. If you take all the emotional/cultural filters about Santa off and just look at what he is, he is just a story. When you tell other fairy stories like this to our children they are aware that that is what they are because we make that clear. When we engage in imaginative play with our children, it’s usually (and should be) by invitation- i.e. we invite them to engage in the magic/pretense. They are aware of (and they do the same when they create their own imaginative worlds) that it is a game. Hope that helps as a starting point – there’ll be a lot more in my post in the next few days.

  3. Pingback: Time out | Mothering by Instinct

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