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Santa: My Children Didn't Myth Him PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kitty Mervine   

One subject sure to start a fight with any group of skeptics is the subject of Santa Claus.  The most diehard skeptic gets all soft and mushy when it comes to the subject of St. Nick, flying reindeer and slave labor elves.

People that will demand the expulsion of anyone at a skeptic conference that even hints at being an agnostic ("agnostics are just atheists that are to afraid to stand up for what they really don't believe!"), will explain in detail why they tell their children Santa Claus is real.

I don't always buy their arguments.  "The rest of the family tells their children Santa is real, while I'm willing to stand up for my atheism and skeptic beliefs, I don't want my young child to have to fight with her cousins about Santa.  It's not fair for a 3 year old to have to take this on."

People that gave their grandmothers strokes when they came out as atheists, will say "It would really kill grandmother, I mean not just cause her to lose all ability to move her left side, I mean KILL grandmother if she thought the kids did not believe in Santa.  I can't do that to her."

There is the peer pressure argument.  "Our child will not fit in at school if she doesn't believe in Santa.  The other children will shun her."  I like to point out that the Jewish children manage to survive.  Children of other religions that do not celebrate Christmas, and I am sure are not told Santa is real, manage to have friends and not be scarred for life.  As a former preschool teacher I can assure you Jewish children, as well as Buddhist and Sikhs do not sit down their children, read the "Night Before Christmas" and explain "Except the reindeer don't land here, and you don't get presents. It isn't that you are bad children, we're just not Christians."

Skeptic parents that teach Santa at least don't pull the stunts that other non-skeptic parents do.  Anyone that has been shopping at this pre holiday insanity time has probably seen a parent do the "Santa threat".  In my day it was "If you aren't good Santa won't bring you presents, you'll just get coal."  Today, it's not serious holiday shopping if I don't see at least one parent pull out their cell phone and threaten to call Santa to tell him how horrible the children are behaving.  I've seen parents dial Santa and carry on conversations with him about how little Max doesn't deserve the complete Lego Harry Potter set as he's screaming in the middle of Target. It works, but I wonder how these parents keep their children under control the rest of the year.

My own choice for my children was based on how the school where I used to teach dealt with the holiday season. Santa is just one of many mid-winter myths.  Children love to hear how different cultures celebrate Christmas and other holidays.  Santa has different names and different looks all around the world.  He has different helpers, and some cultures don't have Santa at all.  My children learned "There are many traditions and myths, let me tell you about other Santa myths and winter celebrations from around the world".  Our family loved to incorporate other holiday traditions.  We even once included wreaths with candles worn on the heads of my girls, as a nod to Swedish tradition.  Despite my worries, both girls managed not to catch their hair on fire, or burn down the house.  Christmas was a wonderful cultural and history lesson for my girls.

Santa wasn't "real" he was a "myth" like the Easter Bunny or Ronald McDonald.  We also, like all families, made up our own Christmas traditions. We put out carrots for the reindeer, the next morning the carrots were not there.  The children knew they had become a holiday snack for hungry wildlife in our yard. It was just fun to "remember" how hard working the reindeer were.  When dad suggested Santa might like a beer, the children just giggled and joined in the fun.  Every year Santa has a beer waiting for him, it's our tradition.  If Santa were real, he would want to stop at our house, reindeer snacks and a Sam Adams!

I also taught the children why there are so many holidays at this time of year.  Long ago, there would not be enough food for all the animals on the farm to make it through the winter. Rather than letting the animals slowly starve, the extras were eaten.  If you are having a feast, you might as well have a celebration of some sort.  Later, when agriculture improved and farmers were able to raise enough crops to feed all their animals through the winter, a mid winter holiday celebration became just a fun way to liven things up.

I in no way advocate that skeptics and atheists should not teach their children about Santa Claus.  Parenting is a very personal matter.  I myself was not shocked when told that Santa was not "real", though I had a very hard time believing it as my older brother had informed me had had stayed up late one Christmas Eve and seen Santa.  I actually went around for a few years feeling the adult that had broken the news to me about Santa was misinformed.

My now adult brother swears he really did see Santa, though we now understand he probably fell asleep while waiting and had a very realistic dream.  This is why eyewitness testimony is never enough!  If just seeing Bigfoot makes Bigfoot real, then Santa certainly should be real based on my brother's evidence.

My only problem with skeptics and atheists that teach their children Santa is real, is their lack of honesty about why they are doing it.  Very few admit, "I tell my children Santa is real, as it's a lot of fun for me.  I like Santa!"  If telling your child Santa is real, and comes with presents on a sleigh pulled by reindeer and eats cookies and milk (or beer) gives you and your child a lot of happiness, you don't need to defend your choice.  Part of parenting is about having fun with your child and also reliving happy childhood memories.  I enjoyed Christmas much more after I had children than before.  I get much greater joy watching my children open their stockings or unwrap that perfect gift they have been wanting, than in opening a gift for myself.

My children enjoyed the myths of Santa, and enjoyed the thought that around the world so many other children would also be waiting for St. Nick, or Pere Noel, or Grandfather Frost, or even the Christmas Brownie.  It was a way for them to feel connected to other children on that special eve and morning.

So "To believe or not believe, that is the question!"  It's up to each parent, because this is a family choice, not a political or ethical or religious choice.  The holidays are about having fun, and I hope also making up new traditions and myths to be remembered and passed down in the family.  Trust me, the Santa gets a beer is one our family still practices.  (Sometimes even Mrs. Santa enjoys a beer)

When it comes to Santa, it's really just the business of you and your family.  Because the reason for the season is family.  (No matter what religious people say)


Kitty Mervine is a teacher, artist, and mother of 2 daughters. She is also a longtime volunteer with the JREF, helping staff the JREF forum table every year at TAM among other things. Kitty speaks on people who believe they have been abducted by UFOs and their experiences. She also blogs at
Comments (8)Add Comment
written by LovleAnjel, December 13, 2012
Children understand playing pretend to have fun. As they grow up and realize Santa's not real, however it happens, they will understand that it was fun to pretend. In college my brother and I still pretended for fun - we put out cookies and went to bed at 11:59 pm on the dot so we weren't up past midnight. Hell, I tell my cat that Santa brings him new toys for being such a good kitty. It's like going to Disney World and meeting Mickey. I know it's a person in a furry suit. It's just more fun to say hi and get a hug.
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I was a true believer and a skeptic!
written by kdv, December 13, 2012
My mother swears this story is true.

When I was naughty, she'd often say she was going to phone Santa and tell him not to bring me any xmas presents. It worked for quite a while, but one time I decided to challenge her, and I said "all right, ring him".

Rather than back down, my mother rang the Talking Clock. When it picked up, she started speaking into the phone, saying, "Santa Claus? Kenneth is being a very naughty boy and he doesn't deserve any xmas presents this year".

But even then, I had my skeptical instincts, so I said "Let me speak to him!". My mother was quick, I'll give her that, and she immediately came up with "All right, but Santa just got a new watch, and all he wants to do is tell people what time it is". And handed me the phone.

So, the conversation went:

Me: Hello? Santa?

Phone: On the third stroke, it will be three, fifty-two, and ten seconds....

I can't remember what happened after that. Wouldn't expect to really, it was almost 2 years ago smilies/cheesy.gif
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My son still believes
written by FrankH, December 13, 2012
I told him when he was about 10 that if he didn't believe in Father Christmas I wouldn't need to get him any presents. He's 33 now and he still tells me he believes. smilies/cheesy.gif
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It's, "Merry Christmas", not, "Happy Holidays"
written by kurtoli2, December 13, 2012
I was standing in front of my house with my neighbor last weekend and we were discussing the huge electric bill now that lights adorn the outside of our houses. A few minutes in to the conversation an older gentleman, seemed to be of Indian or Pakistani persuasion came up to us and was asking about some entirely unrelated thing. I'm not sure but I think he wanted to know if either of us knew where he could find a used, but small, garbage can for his plants. I don't know, maybe Orchard Supply? Anyway, he walked away and we both said, "Happy Holiday's"! He turned and said, "It's, Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays", and he laughed. Sorry! Just trying to be PC!
Anyway, I'm Atheist and I've never had a problem getting in to the 'Christmas' spirit. I enjoyed leading my kids to believe there was really a Santa Claus, and as they grew older they inevitably got suspicious and asked me if he were real. I asked what they thought. The response was always, 'no, I think he's not real'. And I went on to explain that even if he weren't real, the idea of him and the story we've come to know about his home being in the North Pole, the reindeer, the elves, have all taken on a life of their own. There may not actually be a Santa Claus, but the idea of him and the fun and joy of the holiday is real, so in a sense he's a real entity because we've brought him to life with folklore and stories. My kids have always been happy and satisfied with that answer and there's never been any doubt in their mind about what the holiday is really about. And all without any reference to religion! I'm so proud that both my kids have grown up skeptical, critical thinkers that still look forward to the Christmas holiday season with excited anticipation. They're ages 24 and 18 today. I love the holiday as much as I did as a child, and the same is true of Disneyland. I don't think there need be any religious connection to Christmas to enjoy all that the season brings with it. Charity, celebration of family, the bright decorations and colorfully lit trees, all bring out the best in people. Even those that believe the Jesus connection, I don't see how the stringing of electrical wire and lights all over homes and trees has anything to do with him.
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written by EarlyOut, December 13, 2012
It's like going to Disney World and meeting Mickey. I know it's a person in a furry suit.

NO!!!! Why was I not informed of this earlier?! I'm not sure I have the will to go on....
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"It works, but I wonder how these parents keep their children under control the rest of the year."
written by Brookston John, December 17, 2012
They also have Jeebus on speed dial... smilies/grin.gif
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I Don't Believe in Elves
written by Chunick, December 17, 2012
Just this very night my 4 1/2 yr. old daughter was in the car talking about Santa Claus. I'm not sure how the conversation came up while she was talking to her mother as I was busy driving, however I perked up when she stated, "... but I don't believe in elves." and I piped up, "Why don't you believe in elves?" and she states rather correctly, "Well, I've never seen an elf and they have pointed ears. I have never seen anyone with pointed ears." I couldn't have been more surprised and impressed with her line of reasoning and told her as much. I asked her about Santa, "So why do you believe in Santa?" and she replied, "I had my picture taken with him at the mall, remember Dad?" Which was absolutely correct. You cannot get any better evidence than that for 4 1/2 yrs. old, I would argue.
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Editor Available...
written by Stanfr, December 17, 2012
Great article; puts my mind at ease as I'm about to record my own version of a popular Christmas carol.
The lack of editing (no period at the end, "had had stayed up late...", "to afraid to stand up...", poor 'dad' not capitalized while myth Santa is...) is a disturbing trend in these Swift articles though. I aint an English whiz, but I'd be willing to edit some of these articles, since clearly no one else is reading these before they're published. Just drop me a note, Swift--consider it a one-time Christmas present offer. smilies/wink.gif
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