Should you lie to your children about Santa?

Should you keep your kids in the dark about Santa not being who he says he is?  Who you say he is?  Will Wilkinson says he will:

Well, we’re atheists. I don’t intend to proselytize atheism to my kid, because I’m not interested in getting him to believe anything in particular. What I’m interested in is teaching him how to reason in a way that maximizes his chances of hitting on the truth. Now, one of the most interesting truths about the empirical world is that there are all these powerful systems of myth that are kept afloat by a sort of mass conspiracy, and humans seem disposed to pick one from the ambient culture and take it very seriously. But it can be hard to get your head around the way it all works unless you participate in it. Santa is a perfect and relatively harmless way to introduce your child the socio-psychology of a collective delusion about the supernatural. The disillusionment that comes from the exposure to the truth about Santa breeds a general skepticism about similarly ill-founded popular beliefs in physics-defying creatures.

I say why not leave them guessing, hovering in a state of Bayesian Santa doubt?  My parents never told me Santa “was real,” but they didn’t tell me he “wasn’t real” either, so I slid rather gracefully into my Santa non-belief.  I don’t recall ever feeling disillusioned by a sense of loss and in fact those presents kept on coming.  I even had a clearer sense of the appropriate channel for making gift requests, what’s not to like about that?

Why not teach them some Walter Benjamin early on?:

The 99-cent App “Talking Santa,” in addition to allow children to talk to an animated St.Nick, allows them to run him over with a snowball and, when the “violence” setting is turned on, slap him.

Some sociologists and child-development experts warn the technology puts the magic of Christmas in jeopardy.  If children treat Santa as they would any classmate — constantly texting or calling or tweeting at him — then what makes Santa special?

Remember Smith’s diamond-water paradox, which in fact dates as far back as Galileo?

I recall sitting on Santa’s lap as a tot and being terrified by his rubber fingers (why oh why was he wearing rubber fingers?  Were his real fingers scarred?).  Thank goodness we have left those days behind, I would have preferred a simple text although I barely know how to do that either.


Just tell children that Santa is make believe and then play as make believe that Santa is real as you like. The fun of playing "The floor is lava!" disappears if you tell children that the floor isn't really lava.

Okay, I typed that out too quickly. Let's try again: Just tell children that Santa is make believe and then play as much make believe that Santa is real as you like. The fun of playing “The floor is lava!” doesn't disappear if you tell children that the floor isn’t really lava.

Wow. Did everyone play "The floor is lava!"?

Yes, everyone.

Shark-infested lava, yes.

That is what my wife and I did and it was just as great.

"Should you lie to your children about Santa?" How do you know Santa is a lie?

Wikipedia's source dates the diamond-water paradox back to Copernicus, who died before Galileo was born. Nothing new under the sun :(

I had hoped that Wilkinson had just faded away - no such luck.

I wrote a short paper on a "paradox" once. But I was just being euphemistic: a franker title would have been along the lines of "Stop making this stupid mistake, you twerps!".

Euphemism proved wise: even as it was a referee (American, I'd say from his constipated English) wanted the paper rejected because Professor X, one of those identified as guilty of the mutton-headedness, was a "scholar and a gentleman". For heaven's sake!

I forgot to finish with my point: there ain't no paradox in the diamond-water paradox.

I gather from your various comments that you're an Englishman, pucker as you do over the abuse of language. As an aside, I will never forget the proud Brit who told me, "I find it absolutely incredulous how uneducated Americans are." I refrained from laughing in her face, but have hardly ceased laughing since.

Anyway, I fail to see your complaint here. As I recall the lesson, there is indeed a paradox until you contemplate consumer surplus. Then it is resolved. If the availability of full information and reasoning means there is no paradox, then probably there is no paradox in the entire universe.

Englishman? Not on your nellie!

If one is going to do the play that Santa is real when a child is young, it works better if one is pretty upfront early about the fact that all those department store Santas are just a bunch of fakes.

That's the Santa paradox for you.

You really don't have to do it upfront. When kids start to wonder about the various mall Santas, that's when to let them in on the secret that those are just people hired to pretend to be Santa for the *little* kids. But wise older kids understand that the real Santa is much too far away and much too busy to be hanging out at the mall.

This post is hilarious :)

Have you ever "donned the robe" Tyler? I expect you would make a marvellous Santa.

"Now then son, help me derive some general gift properties with which we could hope to maximise your expected yuletide utility. Keep in mind that several models may be applicable here."

Oooh, I feel a hashtag coming on #santatylertweets

"avoid beautiful elves"

Screw that Santa; nothing beats the utility of CASH!!! The ultimate fungible resource.

Yes! That's it! Santa Tyler "just gives cash"!

Only to kids who are not expecting it.

Santa's not real???

"Well, we’re atheists. I don’t intend to proselytize atheism to my kid, because I’m not interested in getting him to believe anything in particular."

Hrmph. If his child grows up to be anything other than a whiny anarcho-pacifist like Wilkinson, I'd be shocked.

I'll bet you get shocked a lot.

I don't want him to believe anything in particular, but I do want to ensure that he maximizes his chance of hitting on "truth," i.e., those things that I believe.

God isn't real, lol

Krampus for true childhood trauma.

Funny, Krampus was just the subject to last week's Christmas NCIS episode. Never heard of it before.

Given the subject matter of this post,

It should be rated


LOL at the thought of precocious 10 year old who also happens to be an MR reader just now discovering that Santa wasn't real. Or, should I say, having his Santa-related priors updated.

Should say "loyal" MR reader, of course

Sometimes I feel like we are losing our ability to treat anything even incidentally related to children with the appropriate "seriously, it doesn't matter. What you do right here doesn't matter. At all."

Don't abuse your kid. Provide food and clothes, Check in on peers as they get older - the rest is emergent and you don't get particular credit or blame. The end.

By the way the real-world answer to this question is that your opinion barely matters. Grandparents and preschool teachers will introduce the world of Santa and elves whether you like it or not, at which point the horse is out of the barn. The idea that parents have some exclusive authority to mold the minds of their children is a fantasy existing entirely in the minds of people who don't have kids.

JasonL said this rather more eloquently.

And sometimes the grandparents put out presents from Santa days before Christmas, somehow not expecting a six year old to go through them all and read the cards.

I find it bizarre that anyone---let alone the vast majority of parents---actually tells their children Santa is real. Am I alone in this? You are lying to your children. Why not just say, "This is pretend..." and then explain the idea.

I never told my kids Santa was real. But, I didn't go out of my way to say he was fake either.

Don't forget, at a young age kids think Dora the Explorer is real. They think Thomas the Tank Engine is real. The line between real/imaginary is always more blurry for young children than it is for adults, and there is no real benefit in trying to impose an adult mindset on a 3 year old.

"Am I alone in this? "

Not "alone" but a small minority fortunately.

No one tells the full and absolute truth to small children about everything. Mother of atheist dies, does he tell his 4 year old that Grandma is rotting in the ground?

Reads "I Am A Strange Loop" to the child to help them understand that she sort of continues to live in them.

I have 4 year old. I told her Santa was pretend. Others are appalled.

I've also told her that lions eat other animals, there aren't fairy princesses, and Bambi is a good source of protein. I don't feel the need to misrepresent the world for "magic".

She also is aware that Dora and Thomas are stories.

I read Sci-Fi and Fantsy and my enjoyment isn't hampered by the knowledge that the stories aren't real.

What still befuddles me is not that just some parents explicitly encourage belief in Santa, but that SO MANY do.

You are a genuinely scarey mama, giving your kids nightmares like that.

"I recall sitting on Santa’s lap as a tot and being
terrified by his rubber fingers (why oh why was he wearing rubber fingers? Were his real fingers scarred?"

Sanitation, perhaps?

" I don’t intend to proselytize atheism to my kid, because I’m not interested in getting him to believe anything in particular."


"The disillusionment that comes from the exposure to the truth about Santa breeds a general skepticism about similarly ill-founded popular beliefs in physics-defying creatures."

I think the first statement is a bigger lie than Santa.

It's odd. My wife remembers betrayal when she found out Santa wasn't real and her parents had been in on the lie.

I remember the magic. The "capital M" Mystery. The feeling that there were things out there that could not quite be contained by the solid knowledge of day-to-day life. That there were some myths that just *might* have a touch of truth about them.

Of course mystery dies as one ages, but the memory of that magic is relived when I read certain books or see certain movies. I'd hate to have never have had it at all.

The purpose of Santa is to soften your mind up for the biggest lie of all -- that God exists.

Is it a lie, or is it just meaningless?

Well, my kids and I have just watched him flying over London, so some egg on faces around here I expect.

(Wife saying something about an "ISS" but I normally find it best to disregard her)

Never heard a better defense for lying about Santa. I grew up with Jesus, which is slightly more difficult to break out of due to its historical roles and continued transmission. Unless the story was made up by the Romans and Pharisees as threat to anyone who would stand up for themselves (they crucified him), he appears to have been a very real person.

I don't speak to dead people.

However, the ideals espoused are very conducive to generally decent society, in particular when they are NOT pursued with religious fervour.

Here's what you should tell your kids: Sorry to disappoint but the truth is,

Santa was born in Kenya, does not have US citizenship,

and therefore the Strategic Air Command has been authorized to shoot him down as a terrorist threat as he enters US airspace without the proper immigration papers.

Serves him right, as he is quite judgmental, asking who is naughty and nice,

And, moreover, he enlists parents to spy for him throughout the year, although he has become more technologically savvy by creating a National Santa Activity (NSA) monitoring program to tell him who is naughty or nice based on their Facebook pages.

If your kid were smart, he would say to you:

You can't prove the non-existence of Santa.

Let's say you had an incurable disease, and you prayed to Santa, and were cured. Or, what if the world were really complex, and you couldn't explain everything.

Wouldn't that be proof of Santa?

I was 4 when I informed my older brother that there was no Santa. Really, any child who believes the story, or at least believes it for long, can't be much helped, my own children included.

I never told my kids that Santa was real, and never told them he wasn't, except in the sense that I participated in the stories. I did embellish the story in hopes that the embellishment might bring them around. I'm not sure it did, but they found the embellishments entertaining enough, and what more could I ask for?

My sense is that many children participate in the stories in exactly the way that Tyler describes.

If your kids haven't figure it out by age 8, you need to break it to them one way or another. Finding out the truth from friends is apparently mortifying. Not because the parents have lied, but because a peer knows better.

Can transubstantiation rescue Santa Claus? Consider the proposition that, when a parent leaves a present under the tree, he or she is the transubstantiated Body of Santa Claus. By definition, such a claim cannot be proven false (nor true) scientifically. Theologically, does belief in transubstantiation in a non-Eucharist context contradict either Catholic or Protestant teachings? At the very least, it would appear that non-Christians (ironically) might have a way to "not lie" that Santa Claus is real.

Late to commenting but for what it's worth: my approach has been the noncommittal "what do you think?" because the kids learn the basics of the story from daycare and the world around them anyway. But I do have a beef with parents who determinedly try to maintain that belief into their children's grade school years. One kids realize that Santa doesn't make any logical sense, that's that. Move on to other Christmas fun instead and be grateful that you don't have to keep up the game (which can be pretty difficult when it means keeping secret not just the presents but the very idea of Christmas shopping).

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