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Santa Claus: Should Parents Perpetuate the Santa Claus Myth?

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Problems with the Santa Claus Myth:


Although Santa Claus was originally based upon the Christian figure of Saint Nicholas, a patron saint of children, today Santa Claus is wholly secular. Some Christians object to him because he is secular rather than Christian; some non-Christians object to him because of his Christian roots. He is a powerful cultural symbol which is impossible to ignore, but this doesn’t mean that he should simply be accepted without question. There are good reasons to dispense with the tradition.

Parents Have to Lie About Santa Claus:


Perhaps the most serious objection to perpetuating belief in Santa Claus among children is also the simplest: in order to do so, parents have to lie to their children. You can’t encourage the belief without dishonesty, and it’s not a “little white lie” that is for their own good or that might protect them from harm. Parents should not persistently lie to children without overwhelmingly good reasons, so this puts supporters of the Santa Claus myth on the defensive.

Parents’ Lies About Santa Claus Have to Grow:


In order to get kids to believe in Santa Claus, it’s not enough to commit a couple of simple lies and move on. As with any lie, it’s necessary to construct more and more elaborate lies and defenses as time passes. Skeptical questions about Santa must be met with detailed lies about Santa’s powers. “Evidence” of Santa Claus must be created once mere stories of Santa prove insufficient. It’s unethical for parents to perpetuate elaborate deceptions on children unless it’s for a greater good.

Santa Claus Lies Discourage Healthy Skepticism:


Most children eventually become skeptical about Santa Claus and ask questions about him, for example how he could possibly travel around the whole world in such a short period of time. Instead of encouraging this skepticism and helping children come to a reasonable conclusion about whether Santa Claus is even possible, much less real, most parents discourage skepticism by telling tales about Santa’s supernatural powers.

The Reward & Punishment System of Santa Claus is Unjust:


There are a number of aspects to the whole Santa Claus “system” which children shouldn’t learn to internalize. It implies that the whole person can be judged as naughty or nice based upon a few acts. It requires belief that someone is constantly watching you, no matter what you are doing. It is based upon the premise that one should do good for the sake of reward and avoid doing wrong out of fear of punishment. It allows parents to try to control children via a powerful stranger.

The Santa Claus Myth Promotes Materialism:


The entire Santa Claus myth is based on the idea of children getting gifts. There’s nothing wrong with getting gifts, but Santa Claus makes it the focus on the entire holiday. Children are encouraged to conform their behavior to parental expectation in order to receive ever more presents rather than simply lumps of coal. In order to make Christmas lists, kids pay close attention to what advertisers tell them they should want, effectively encouraging unbridled consumerism.

Santa Claus is Too Similar to Jesus and God:


The parallels between Santa Claus and Jesus or God are numerous. Santa Claus is a nearly all-powerful, supernatural person who dispenses rewards and punishment to people all over the world based upon whether they adhere to a pre-defined code of conduct. His existence is implausible or impossible, but faith is expected if one is to receive the rewards. Believers should regard this as blasphemous; non-believers shouldn’t want their kids prepared in this way to adopt Christianity or theism.

The Santa Claus “Tradition” is Relatively Recent:


Some might think that because Santa Claus is such an old tradition, this alone is sufficient reason to continue it. They were taught to believe in Santa as children, so why not pass this along to their own? The role of Santa Claus in Christmas celebration is actually quite recent — the mid to late 19th century. The importance of Santa Claus is a creation of cultural elites and perpetuated by business interests and simple cultural momentum. It has little to no inherent value.

Santa Claus is More About Parents than Children:


Parental investment in Santa Claus is far larger than anything kids do, suggesting that parents’ defense of the Santa Claus myth is more about what they want than about what kids want. Their own memories about enjoying Santa may be heavily influenced by cultural assumptions about what they should have experienced. Is it not possible that kids would find at least as much pleasure in knowing that parents are responsible for Christmas, not a supernatural stranger?

The Future of Santa Claus:


Santa Claus symbolizes Christmas and perhaps the entire winter holiday season like nothing else. An argument can be made for the importance of the Christmas tree as a symbol for Christmas (notice that there are no Christian images which come close), but Santa Claus personifies Christmas in a way that trees cannot. Santa Claus is, furthermore, a very secular character by now which allows him to cross cultural and religious lines, placing him in an important position for the entire season rather than for Christmas alone.

Because of this, it’s plausible that giving up on Santa Claus will mean abandoning much of the Christmas holidays altogether — and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for Christians dismissing the consumerist, commercialized Christmas of America and focusing instead on the Nativity of Jesus. Ignoring Santa Claus would symbolize this choice. There’s a lot to be said for adherents of other religions refusing to allow Santa Claus to become part of their own traditions, representing an intrusion of Western culture into their own.

Finally, there’s also a lot to be said for nonbelievers of various sorts — humanists, atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers — refusing to be co-opted into a religious observance. Whether Santa Claus in particular or Christmas in general is treated as defined by Christian or pagan religious traditions, neither are religions which nonbelievers are part of. Christmas and Santa Claus have strong secular elements, but those are primarily commercial — and who is going to invest themselves in a holidayall about commerce and who can spend the most money on credit?

The future of Santa Claus will depend on whether people will care enough to do anything — if not, things will continue on the same course they have been on. If people care not to be taken over, borg-like, by America’s Christmas, resistance may reduce Santa’s status as a cultural icon.

See Tom Flynn's The Trouble with Chrismas for more on this.

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