santa claus and fairy tales


I possess strong memories of the experience of awakening to these magical mornings in my childhood. But in addition to wishing to share that experience with my children, I also think that the experience of believing in Santa — and the eventual loss of that belief — can provide a powerful lesson, later in life, about supernatural and religious claims. It’s easier to understand how someone can believe in a god or gods when you’ve had the experience of strong belief yourself. It has certainly served as such a lesson for me.

As a first-time mother with a toddler, there are lots of questions looming on my horizon. At the moment, we’re dealing with emerging languages, which is loads of fun. But once language is established and the ability to communicate beyond the basics is within her grasp, I’m a bit confused about how I’m going to approach the allegedly child-friendly mythical characters promoted in our culture. What are the consequences of encouraging children to believe that a magic man flies through the sky dropping presents down the chimney once a year, oddly enough at the same time of year she’s likely to dress up as a sheep to re-tell the story of the birth of a man god?

Don’t get me wrong, Santa Claus is a figure of great memories for me. That Christmas sense of excitement didn’t disappoint. But did the magical, jolly man who makes no sense really add something vital to the holiday, food and gift festivities? Does encouraging children to disregard evidence and accept any random nonsense on faith do anything good for their developing minds? Can creativity and imagination be engaged along with facts and logic?

I have vague memories of being fascinated, but slightly confused and repelled, by traditional fairy tales, like Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood. Why was it okay that ugly little imp got double-crossed? Why was it okay that the grandmother was eaten by a wolf? I know that fairy tales are traditional ways to give children lessons about growing up and the dangers that may lurk outside. But surely there are smarter ways these days than houses made of sweeties, wicked witches and pretty princesses waiting for a perfect man to sort everything out.

In the end, I don’t want to be a killjoy. I also don’t want my kid to be a pre-programmed machine that spouts “Santa’s not real!” to a bunch of five-year-olds, because that would be just like me as a five-year-old spouting “God is real!”.  Another child parroting what her parents have told her.  I’m also only half of her parenting unit, and I’m quite sure my partner can’t be bothered to overthink any of these issues and will just do whatever comes naturally. And I know doing what comes naturally is often the best way to handle parenting dilemmas.  But I suspect that lying will not come naturally to me. Are fairy tales and Santa Claus good things for kids? Or are they unnecessary cultural relics that should be abandoned for sensible modern equivalents?

Lucky for me, I stumbled on a post the other day from someone who’s brave enough to take the logical route and who has this to say about how it affects their family:

Santa has actually become a perfect metaphor to demonstrate to our daughters what God is to adults.  Our approach has worked well for our family.  Now that our daughters are old enough to understand, they don’t seem to feel that they’re missing out on anything.  In fact, they enjoy being “in on the secret.”  They also understand that people have lots of different beliefs—we reinforce this fact by teaching them about many different religions.  They know that they can choose to believe whatever they want and that mom and dad will love and support them.  My middle daughter jokes now that she believes in “Santa God.”  And once again, this mom is grateful that she didn’t cave in to the pressure of conformity.