Australian author Dr Joanne Faulkner created a stir worldwide recently when she advocated for parents to not tell their children the Santa Claus story.
“[Parents] should not create a fantasy where children are not given any basis for knowing what’s real and what’s pretend.” She said that she regretting telling her children about Santa, telling the Herald Sun newspaper, “My oldest daughter was extremely upset when she found out about Santa. She felt like she had been lied to and it’s an awful feeling.” Apparently she regretted it so much she couldn’t even come to terms with the fact that her child HAD been lied to (as opposed to saying her daughter merely “felt like” she had been lied to.)
I agree, I think it creates a certain insecurity in children. First, because there’s sort of this wink/nod thing going on with the adults, so you suspect you’re being lied to, but these are the people you’re supposed to trust. Santa’s a great story when the kids fall for it hook, line, and sinker, but sooner or later they realize their parents are lying. How is that a good thing? We want to raise children who know we will always be honest with them, even if that honest answer on the harder issues of life is, “This isn’t something you need to worry about, mom and dad will take care of it.”
I like to think that even though my kids might have liked to believe in Santa when they were young, the fact that they know we won’t lie to them, even on something like Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy, it pays off in the long run with their trust in us. Now that they’re beginning their journey as teenagers, that trust means even more to me now as peer groups become more important and communication between us slows.
Secondly because kids are already over-exposed to violence and crime on TV shows and the news, telling them that someone can get into their house at night doesn’t seem like a soothing bedtime story. Maybe it’s just because we had one child who was scared to go to bed at night because he was afraid of someone breaking into the house, but Santa would NOT have gone over well with him.
But there’s another problem with the Santa story that lies at the heart of what compels massive donations to Toys For Tots, and similar programs, without ever being addressed directly: Santa plays favorites.
So I’ll say it. I don’t like Santa. Haven’t since at least 2nd grade. Most of the kids in our class were from similar socio-economic backgrounds. But there were two students that stood out, one who was either more well off, or just very materially spoiled, and one who was visibly poor, or perhaps just neglected. As it so happens, the one who was very spoiled was the one bully of the class. The one who was poor was a very sweet and extremely shy girl.
I never remember believing in Santa, and even as a eight-year old, I remember it making me so angry that these kids were told that Santa brought toys based on who was “good,” knowing very well the kid who was going to get the most toys under the tree was the one kid in the class who deserved coal, and the sweet girl who appeared neglected might not get anything.
Another friend of mine, Tammy Nelson, reflected on her childhood to me, “I always loved Santa, but was baffled every year when the neighbor brats got a ton of cool stuff from Santa, and I got much less, and I was really, really good! …I always felt like somehow, I had done something wrong.”
It seems it still reflects in how we view the world as adults. We see rich people as more talented, intelligent, and generally deserving of their wealth, even if they acquired their wealth on the backs of people they mistreated. We’re grown-ups who still believe that those who are most deserving get the most toys, and if we don’t have everything we want, we must be at fault. And that is perhaps even more sad than an unanswered letter to Santa.
Amy Doering is a peace and justice activist and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. She works as a tax-preparer and hypnotherapist, and lives in the Olympia area with her husband and three children.