Should Parents Lie About Santa To Their Kids?

Should Parents Lie About Santa To Their Kids?
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, hacks and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Lifehacker Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a fix.

This is a tough time of year for parents who subscribe to the “always be honest” rule of parenting. Is perpetuating the Santa myth bad for kids or good?

You could argue both ways: By pretending Santa is real, parents have to lie to their kids (bad), although a kid figuring out that Santa Claus is really mum and dad is a rite of passage that can make the child feel more empowered (good).

What do you think? Are you going to help your kids believe in Santa?

Photo by jurvetson.


    • Wow, that was a truly repulsive article.

      —“(Santa) teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.
      It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family.”—


      Your Agent-Smith-Santa is an abysmal lesson plan for a child:
      “Believe in your friends despite that you have no reason to do so.”
      “Believe in your family despite that you have no reason to do so.”
      “Believe in your talents despite that you have no reason to do so.”

      How about this for a lesson plan:
      “Trust in your friends because you share acts of friendship.”
      “Trust in your family because they behave like family should.”
      “Trust in your talents because you have worked hard to hone them, and have confidence because that will lead you to tackle greater challenges and improve.”

      • Kids are smart, it’s a test of the ability to be a civilized human at the discovery that he is not a physical entity but an idea.

          • The reindeer is about half as dense as concrete. It usually takes a whole stretch of water barrels with freely opening lids to stop a car from getting damaged by the edge of those metallic road skirts. The reindeer’s skin is pretty tough too, so you’re looking at a pretty strong block of matter that I don’t think will crumple well at all! So yes, I imagine it would be frowned upon, but not just because it would scare the shit out of anyone.

        • Or walk a fine line of truth. Sankt Nikolaus was a real person who did visit children.
          If kids ask if Santa is true, you can honestly say “yes”. Just be mindful of keeping the story consistent with Sankt Nikolaus.
          Then when the kids are old enough, give them the history of the real man.
          Ultimately, use your own judgement. Truth, lie or fine line. Lots of kids have survived.

  • At what age do they actually understand he’s not real? I’d suspect some kids are told earlier than others and it wouldn’t take long before the kids that know break the news to the others. I can’t recall exactly when I realised – either I’ve blacked-out the horrendous memory of that conversation or I came to realise gradually. My brother blames me for breaking it to him when he was about 8 but surely by then they already know?

    • Yeah I can’t remember a time when i did believe it but I don’t think my parents ever denied his existence.

      • Aye, it’s difficult to talk about what a very young child believes or understands because the words don’t really fit such a young brain.

        Can your average 5 year old understand that Mommy is a Virologist?
        Does it mean anything to say the child believes she’s a virologist if they don’t know what a virologist is?

        Anyway, I think probably children work out Santa when they get to about age 7, because it’s at about that age that they move from egocentric to operational thinking.

        I guess what I’m suggesting is that so long as the child is only dimly aware that other people have independent thought processes, they don’t have any tools to confront their own beliefs.

        It’s not surprising that we don’t remember believing, we weren’t capable of thinking very clearly, and most of our very early memories are pretty heavily annotated by the time we’re adults πŸ™‚

  • I think this is a question for science.

    Studies show that raising a child with magical thinking harms their long-term ability to think skeptically (i.e. rationally).
    When the child learns the Santa-truth, that’s a huge lesson in skepticism.

    So the question is, does the lesson sometimes outweigh the harm?
    Which seems a scientifically accessible question.

    My intuition is that the Santa-belief (and its subsequent loss) has a net benefit for indoctrinated children, but a net harm for children who are otherwise raised by reality-based parenting.

    • I’d say it’s a lesson in humility. You will learn a lot about a child by watching how they respond to these kinds of things. I don’t think my parents ever told me santa wasn’t real and now I am going on to study theoretical physics.

      • Your use of the word humility is unclear because your comment is very vague.
        At a guess, you mean to suggest that the lie is useful because the child learns its beliefs can be wrong?

        When framing your reply, please apply those analysis and logic skills you’ll be needing for theoretical physics πŸ™‚

        • And yes, I did mean humility, for they learn the ability not to be arrogant when discovering something. Either you don’t apply intuition or you yourself are guilty of arrogance if you can’t even tell what people are trying to say on an online article discussion.

          • Wow, I hadn’t realized that accusing others of being arrogant is the new humble. πŸ™‚

            So to clarify: Are you claiming that the process is valuable because it proceeds thus?
            1: Deceive to the child.
            2: Let the child discover the deception.
            3: Humble the child by informing them they aren’t at all smart for uncovering the deception, because everyone else did too at some stage.

          • Excellent again! Firstly, when did I claim anyone that was humble accused someone else of being arrogant? Secondly, since when is accusing someone of being arrogant related to the humility of the accuser? Thirdly, never said the parent had to be humble. Do you seriously believe any child would harbor resentment for deceit over Santa?

          • Sorry, not going to bite.
            We can’t productively discuss your claim until your claim is clear.

            Your claim about the Santa belief is: “I’d say it’s a lesson in humility.”

            1: Who do you claim is learning the lesson in humility?
            2: Clarify the process by which they learn the lesson in humility.

            And please, try to communicate clearly.

          • The Child. Upon realization of the truth they can make a decision about how they reveal they know. That response will either be humble or not.

  • My 5 year old and I had the conversation this year:
    ‘If magic isn’t real … then how can Santa be real?’
    What do you think?
    ‘Ummm well if he’s not real, who gives us the presents?’
    What do you think?
    ‘It’s …. IT’S YOU!’
    πŸ™‚ You got it right, I’m proud of you, but, don’t tell your sister!

  • My parents raised me with the belief that Santa was a real person, a very long time ago, who was a very generous gift giver – especially to those in need. Yes, the Santas in the shopping centre and on tv are people dressed up, but they’re carrying on the good will and spirit of being kind and generous to one another.

    That seemed to go down just fine with my sister and me, and being taught that so young we never went through the whole Santa-isn’t-real trauma.

  • My son is 11 and he still believes in Father Christmas despite his school mates suggesting otherwise. Parents have to screw their kids up in some way otherwise the children will have no one to blame when their lives go pear shaped later in life.

  • As a non-parent, I make no judgement on whether parents do or don’t lie about Santa. I’m really not for or against this lie.

    But don’t get up in arms when someone references this lie on a tv show that’s not made for kids anyway…

  • Jesus Christ… why cant we let kids be kids and let them have their fantasy until they grow out of it, all kids eventually grow out of their belief of Santa, the tooth fairy or the easter bunny.

    I remember my parents never told me santa doesn’t exist, i grew out of it and eventually realised he doesn’t exist, it will be the same if and when i have kids. Maybe if they get to their teens and still believe then we might have a talk.

    • why cant we let kids be kids and let them have their fantasy until they grow out of it, all kids eventually grow out of their belief of Santa, the tooth fairy or the easter bunny.

      Yet many don’t ever grow out of their fantasy about God.

      From the article:
      In the end, children are empowered by feeling that they have figured it out by themselves. Upon making the discovery, they become part of the adult world; they are “in on the secret” and can derive even more emotional benefit by being given a role in keeping the myth alive for their younger siblings.

      Imagine a world if this were part of the right of passage for Islam and Christianity.

      Just sayin’.

    • I think something’s getting lost in cultural bias here, so let’s tweak it just slightly.

      Would you use sleight of hand to create and sustain a child’s belief in the mandarin gnome, an invisible gnome who hides mandarins in your lunchbox if you clean your room.

  • Sure, why not? After all, lots of parents teach their kids about the invisible man in the sky, which has the potential for much more harm than believing in Santa.

    • I think there’s a difference there though, when parents tell their kids about God, they are sharing their belief. When parents tell their kids about Santa they know they’re fabricating.
      As a Christian myself, we tell our kids that Santa is a special entertainer who comes for Jesus’ birthday. It explains all the fun and magic and it’s far closer to the truth about Santa.

        • That’s why I was very careful to say “…closer to the truth about Santa.”

          Of course it’s closer to my chosen faith, but we are discussing how people handle telling their kids about Santa.

          At least I am.

          • Yes I agree. I was making the distinction that, for you as a Christian, the truth about Santa is that he is a special entertainer who comes for Jesus birthday.
            That is a belief, not truth. I know it is a small difference, but a significant one, none the less.

  • I am yet to hear any good reason to propogate this lie. The closest I have come is from an atheist who believes than when his children discover they have been lied to about Santa will come to believe the same about God. But even if you are an atheist, that is pretty tough love! Deliberately teaching our children to believe what we know to be a lie is, I suppose, a way to teach them to trust nobody.

    If it is supposed to enable children to have an imagination – surely there are better ways!
    If it is supposed to enable a little “fun and magic” in their lives – surely there are better ways!

    And if there are better ways, then why major on a big lie and largely ignore these better ways?

    Or is it simply to fit in with our culture’s expectations? I’m afraid that has never been a good enough excuse.

    • “I am yet to hear any good reason to propogate this lie”

      Propagate – the spelling is propagate. But I digress πŸ™‚ The great reason to propagate this ‘lie’ – because you don’t want to deprive your kids of having a magical childhood ! I heard my wife spouting this kind of bullshit the other day – gaaaah ! Our kids (turning 3 next year) are going to get fed Santa as long as they believe, because I got it when I was a kid and it made Xmas magical while I believed. I never held it against my parents when I found out – I knew they did it to make Xmas seems more special.

      • There’s so much real magic in the world, I’m boggled that people don’t appreciate it.

        Fractals are much more magical than fairies.
        Physics is much magical than dragons.
        Astronomy is much more magical than deities.

        People are so damn confusing πŸ™

        This Christmas, in addition to Foxtails and Frisbees and T-shirts and Games, my nephews and nieces are each getting a fossil tooth from a predator bigger and older than the average T-Rex, and these teeth are about the same price as my other gifts because our planet’s population has near-zero capacity to recognize magic!

        Obviously I’m using the term magic to describe amazing natural phenomena, but the definition of magic I’ve used in this post is not nearly as weird as the common usage. In common usage ‘real’ magic is the kind that doesn’t exist, and ‘trick’ magic is the kind that does!

  • I think it’s a great opportunity for discussing phenomenological theory with your toddler. “Timmy how do you know that you exist and aren’t just dreaming right now?”

    • Always a great discussion. How about treating the universe as an advanced computer simulation too? I mean, we already have a definite unit of the resolution of our existence! The planck length and second. This would make everything quantifiable into 1’s and 0’s. There’s alot more to this discussion that I am omitting >.

      • You can call Nature what you like, she won’t care and will keep doing her own thing.
        (My best attempt at a remembered Feynman quote)

        • Neil De Gras said something similar… “Science doesn’t give a shit about what you think, it’s true no matter your opinion”. Not so aggressively but that is how it sounds in my head, pompous.

  • I am not a parent. However, I am a professional magician who entertains children.
    I never lie to children to tell them that my magic is real. On the other hand, I do not go out of my way to convince them that it is NOT real either. I present it in a grey area in between. It’s what we might call “Make-believe”. It’s theatre. It’s what we refer to as “Playing”.
    My attitude to the Santa myth is the same. Coincidence much? I think not.
    So when is the right time to tell kids the truth about Santa? I think the rule is the same as to when it is the right time to tell them about sex and procreation…. as soon as they ask. Only answer the questions they actually ask, and in a form that they will understand.

    • Wow – I’m sorry I didn’t read this before I replied to your comment above.
      I’m also a professional magician and could not agree more. You know that look a kid gets when they figure out the trick? I always keep a couple of simple card tricks in reserve to teach those bright sparks so they can appreciate the art beyond the illusion. I think being somewhat inside that theatrical world gives us a different look at Santa.
      Incidentally, have you ever played the big man? I remember many decades ago walking up and down the Chatswood Mall in 40 degree heat making balloon reindeer in a Santa suit. You can bet I didn’t believe in Santa that day!!

      • Wow! I’m sorry I didn’t read this reply to my comment before I commented on your reply to my reply to your comment above. Parallel worlds? Do I know you? Do you know me?
        Yes, I have played the Man in Red. Once. Only once! Never again! Let’s just say – It was not best work.

  • Isn’t the ultimate question whether or not any of the previous commenters have been irrevocably damaged by their parents lying about, or otherwise dodging the question of whether or not Santa is real?

  • I agree…and as a 45 year old with 3 kids. …I still listen for sleigh bells or hooves on the roof….love…love the magic and excitement Christmas brings! I will never tell….just like my parents..

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!