Santa, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy: Good or Bad?

evilsantaI was discussing raising children with a coworker of mine today and he said he thought it was wrong to tell kids that Santa was real. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it but then he went on to explain that he thinks it hurts the trust factor we try so hard to build with our children.

For example, when your kid runs to you scared because he or she thinks there is a monster under the bed, some parents will make a show of looking and eventually tell them that there is no such thing as monsters. They’re safe. Nothing to worry about. Monsters are just make-believe.

But hey, there’s a flying little person that will put money under your pillow if you place your baby teeth there. That’s totally real.

Or there is a magic dude in red with magical reindeer who will drop presents under your tree at Christmas if you’re a good boy or girl, but monsters…hell no! They’re fake as fake can be!

To be honest, it made me wonder about our penchant to lie to our kids. It might be what we consider a harmless lie or a lie that leads to great fun (some of my fondest memories as a kid were of Christmas morning) but they’re lies nevertheless. I couldn’t come up with an argument to refute my coworker, even though a part of me wanted to tell him he was wrong; that telling these small fibs were forgivable – but deep down inside, I think he was right.

We try our best to foster trust in our children, but we often tell them fibs merely because we were told those same fibs when we were children. We tell ourselves we didn’t mind, but the truth of the matter is I don’t know if I mind. I wasn’t given a choice at the time. Would Christmas have been just as enjoyable if I knew it was my parents who had given me those presents?

Probably. I think so. In fact, I might have appreciated them more because it was the people I loved who had given me those presents and not some far away man in red. I really had no connection to Santa. I was just glad he was giving out free gifts.

Would Easter have been any less special if the magic bunny wasn’t given credit for the chocolate that appeared on the kitchen table?

I think Easter would have survived just fine. I’d still get the chocolate and be able to thank the real people in my life who had made it happen.

So I guess I’m leaning towards thinking that it’s unethical to tell our children these types of lies, even if we do it with good intentions.

Agree?

If not, feel free to change my mind and thanks for reading!

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29 Comments

  1. Kids love fantasy. We read poetry to them, fairy tales, make believe stuff. why do we balk at the idea of a santa story? I gave up santa when I was about nine, but didnt have the heart to tell my Dad, he so enjoyed the process. He outgrew it about three years later. Lol.
    I think we can be too rigid about something like this, frankly. And it does seem like overthinking.

    Im afraid I come down on the other side of ‘so what’ on this. And there really was a Saint Nicholas, way way back. Check him out. So he has a certain basis in actuality. Kids grow out of this stuff without any help from us, Id say let them have those small things for awhile.

    My mother made it easy, to distinguish what was from them and what was from Santa: anything unwrapped was understood to be from Santa, the rest was from family. Easy peasey.

    • Hi Judy!

      Excellent comment. I’m going to play devils advocate.

      I like fantasy too. Hell, I’m a regular old geek but people I trust aren’t telling me that dragons exist either. I know they’re fantasy.

      And yep, there was a saint nick but he wasn’t magic. And do we breach their trust by telling them such things and do you think your Christmas would have suffered had your parents not told you about Santa?

      Thanks for your comment. I would have said what you just did a few hours ago. Just thought this might be a light but thought provoking topic. 🙂

  2. i think id have felt left out, since Santa was a major deal in those days, in a lot less commercial sense. Everyone did the Santa thing, even to the point of Santa in the department store, and to be the only kid who Knew the Truth would have been painful. Trouble is, you can’t really say. I loved that shivery feeling of Waiting for Santa on Xmas Eve–and in the morning, there was the train, or the doll, or the building blocks…yay santa lol
    I love fantasy, always have, from comic books to Worlds of Warcraft. so Sanity Clause was just one more layer. and when he disappeared it was only because it was time..
    no, in retrospect, Xmas wouldnt have suffered, but the memory would have been different. And thats all we are, after the fact, isnt it. Just big sheets of memory. =)

    I promise not to break into “Memories”

  3. Judyt54 said it better than me, but I’ll chime in anyway. These aren’t “lies,” they’re fantasy. They’re make believe, they’re playing. I wonder if parents who insist on being “truth-tellers” go around telling their kids, “You know, you’re not really riding a motorcycle just because you’re running around making that ‘vroom!vroom!’ noise. It’s all a lie!” Or “You’re not really a teacher and your friends aren’t your students when you’re playing school. That’s another lie!”

    Childhood should be a place of fun and magic, where the impossible happens everyday.

    • that’s it, karen. that’s exactly what I meant. childhood is a to play cowboys and injuns, to dream, to work things out with fairy tales and the Velveteen Rabbit, not be told that you can’t do that, it’s fake.
      and yeah, if you’re the only kid in the class who “knows the truth’ about santa and you’re seven years old, oh my. what a burden. One slip and you have a lot of upset kids and parents to deal with.
      I was nine. I remember being in a line to go somewhere (it was after thanksgiving) and the girl ahead of me, apropos of nothing, said, “do you still believe in Santa?” and right then, I knew. I said, “no, not really.” And I took that cape off and put it away. I didnt have the heart, as I said, to let my dad know. He took it hard when he found out.

      I think the less said to one’s friend about it at that age the better. Leave it alone. Kids arent the best diplomats in the world (I think the word “blurt” should be redefined to mean “seven year old kid with a secret…”) and the first friend that says, why do you want to know, well…

  4. Lol. you were lucky. My whole life was a lie, if you will. Santa was the easy one. Not being cynical or smarmy: all im saying is some lies are harmless–including that jumped up Easter Bunny delivering eggs (can anyone say fertility symbols) and the tooth fairy–and sometimes we never know what really went on when we were asleep, or at camp, or at school.

    GC, thank you for that. Be careful, Im torn right now between retaliating with “Tomorrow” or Alvin and the Chipmunks…

  5. We used those as an exercise in critical thinking. We never said “Santa is real” but we hung our stockings and they were filled, and chocolate appeared in baskets, etc. Kids will absorb Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy from the culture around them anyway, you don’t need to lie about it. When my kids would ask “Is Santa real?” my answer would be “What do you think?” followed up with “OK, and why do you think that?” Which is the same response we’d give when they asked “Is there a god?”

    Finally, my oldest did an empirical test. She didn’t tell anybody the next time she lost a tooth, put it under her pillow, and no money appeared. Her question the next day was “Mom, is the Tooth Fairy really just you and Dad?” And then we truthfully answered “Yes”. And that did it for belief Santa and the Easter Bunny too. Also god. She had seen the “man behind the curtain” and there was no going back.

    (My Fundamentalist brother-in-law downplayed Santa entirely with his kids, for that same reason. He didn’t want them to get Santa and god mixed up in their minds, and then possibly lose their faith in god when they learned the truth about Santa.)

    I think the experience of believing and then figuring it out for yourself is also valuable because it can allow you to connect with people with firm beliefs. How does a child raised in a secular home connect emotionally with a believer? They can remember back to how warm and how comforting it was to believe in Santa, and realize that the religious believer has a “Santa for grownups” that they feel much the same way about.

    • interesting that grownups think kids might mix Santa up with God…I was raised in a religious (but not stultifying) family, and no one seemed overly concerned about my belief system, it just was. Santa as God never entered into it, and you know, I dont believe any kid I knew ever said it did with them.
      then again there are/were those parents who also refused to allow their kids to see
      cartoons or comic books because they wanted them not to get the two mixed up with reality–how does one distinguish, if one is never exposed to them both?

      Its like never letting a kid eat ice cream, they might mix it up and think it was potatoes =)

  6. Ubi has raised an interesting point regarding fantasy and faith.( not that there is any real difference but don’t tell god believers)
    I grew up in a very laissez faire Church of England home so the idea of a truly real Santa soon went the same way as Tom and Jerry . We knew very early on it was really Mum and Dad.
    I Know there have been studies about children suffering trauma over Santa but I wnder if this has anything to do with a heavy religious upbringing? Jesus is watching you pee your going to Hell for nicking a biscuit/not eating your veggies etc?

    I got upset when Bambi’s mum got shot but I never ever believed a reindeer, or a bluebird or mice and rats could talk.

    • I think the fantasy angle isn’t a good comparison simply because no one tells you it’s real and you don’t later find out it isn’t. No one ever tried to convince me Harry Potter is real or that dragons really do fly and burn down cities with fiery breath. I think there’s a big distinction there.

      My loathing for hell doctrine continues to grow at a rapid pace. Such a cruel story to tell children.

      • My children were born in South Africa where it is between 28 -32 degrees over Christmas so snow would be a little incongruous and the notion of a bloke in thermal underwear and a bright red Arctic Suit wouldn’t fool anyone for five minutes out here!
        Although Santa appears in pictures and advertising it has never been a big deal with the kids – certainly never was with mine – and my wife and I never ”taught” Santa to our two.

        If Coca Cola want to push him, fine, but if the kids ask, just tell the truth.
        ”Nah …. it’s the assistant manager, Issie Rubenstein from the fruit and veg department. Go pull his beard, you’ll see.”

    • Disney was a weird man, I no longer watch his cute movies for kids. lol

      It may also be that the kids suffered trauma because they were a bit unstable themselves, and needed that belief, or the way mummy and daddy broke the news to them. Gently, if at all, is the way to go.

  7. Technically fiction is just open about its dishonesty. I suppose the distinction is solely because of intent. However, one doesn’t tell one of Aesop’s fables with the goal to convince a child that it’s real. Likewise, I don’t think it’s wise to tell people about fictional entities with the goal to convince them they are true.

    I remember being a Santa apologist growing up, and I remember feeling truly upset when I lost a tooth that I couldn’t put under my pillow. Instead of giving up on the fantasy, my parents just told me that the tooth fairy would know. Maybe my parents should have fessed up instead.

    If I ever had children, I think I’d tell them about Santa and the Easter Bunny in the context of Pagan celebrations and their heritage. Making it a learning moment would be important to me, while also letting them connect with their ancestors in a more realistic fashion.

  8. I’d agree that it’s not good to lie about these characters being real. The trouble is, in doing so you do have to be careful of cultural context if your kid knows the truth before the rest of them. I’m sure that can be a fine line to walk at times.

  9. I’ve heard this more and more since I became an atheist, and it has definitely made me question myself. I still tend to defend it though, if nothing else because I think it is indicative of the sense of wonder and imagination inherent in children. My daughter had an imaginary sister (her spin on the imaginary friend); she loved tea parties; she created all sorts of make believe adventures with her dolls. This is a necessary part of childhood development, and I’m not sure that tales of Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny et cetera, are much different. If anything, I think it can be a good segue into talks of logic and reason skills when they do start to have questions.

    • Very interesting. I agree about the imagination part and I think we lose some of that as adults. I’m not so sure Santa etc really fall under that. The imagination Parr has already been done. We tell them what Santa is and they believe us. We often answer their questions with the same answers we were given as children.

      Just my thoughts, since I’m unconvinced either way but am leaning towards the truth is better part. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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