When the Secret Gets Out
‘Twill be the night before Christmas when after midnight, parents sneak out of bed to a place out of sight to find the gifts they have hidden at a great height. After eating the cookies they helped bake, they will return to their room and wait for the surprises in the morning. Children will be filled with joy when they see crumbs on the plate, an empty cup of milk, presents under the tree and occasionally a note from the big guy himself.: Santa Claus.
The Christmas legend, inspired by stories of the generosity of Saint Nicholas, born in 270 AD, is a tale filled with jolly cheeks and jingling bells. The well-known story of Santa, called Father Christmas or Sinterklass in other countries, is said to bring hope and joy during the Christmas season, a reminder of the hope and joy Christians celebrate with the coming of Jesus. “Some people feel it is part of childhood fantasy and a rite of passage that fosters imagination — similar to believing in superheroes. Many families take part in Santa-related activities as part of their traditions,” preschool teacher Carrie Barone said.
Visiting Santa in person can bring children happiness as well as give parents vicarious joy. “We have a planned Santa visit during our holiday party. The children’s faces light up with excitement when they ‘see’ Santa,” Barone said.
In addition to sparking childhood imaginations, Santa is a cheerful distraction for those who may be facing difficult situations in their lives. “It gives kids hope and something to believe in,” senior Alison Schreyer-Miller said. “If they’re in a bad situation at home, it gives them something to look forward to.”
A family’s background greatly impacts how they incorporate Santa into their winter festivities. “My family’s not from the United States, so we have different traditions. In Cuba, the focus was the religious aspect, so it makes sense that I didn’t grow up with Santa,” school psychologist Cristina Ramirez said.
Also stemming from background comes another issue with the tale of Santa: not all children see the same extravagant scenes on Christmas morning. “My concern is for kids who are living in poverty, where they live in a world that doesn’t see the same luxury as others, where many don’t get gifts. It’s very painful to think that Santa gives all the kids in the world gifts but doesn’t give anything to you,” Ramirez said.
An arguable benefit of Santa is whether or not he promotes positive behavior and good morals. Schreyer-Miller discussed how the threat of coal serves as “a disciplinary action for kids to be good.” This can be beneficial because it encourages children to have good behavior, but some still argue that it is bribing kids with presents.
Negative stigma of lying about Santa and other characters comes from the idea of trust and the true meaning of the holidays. “Some people feel that it breaks trust between children and parents. It could create a feeling of disappointment that can stifle a child’s trust with their parents and have lasting negative effects. Many people also feel that it takes away from the real meaning of Christmas,” Barone said.
According to Ramirez, Santa should not be the sole focus of Christmas, though he is significant to family traditions. “Lying is never okay in general, but there’s nothing wrong with creating a story based on love, hope and family. It gets bad when it’s too elaborate and becomes the only focus of Christmas. It’s important for families to place an emphasis on rituals and stories that go along with your family values,” Ramirez said.
The storytelling not only affects children, but also parents who have to orchestrate the whole charade. “Some parents go to great efforts to continue the lie as children start to question the possibility of Santa. Parents who tell the truth likely have to find ways to discuss the choices of other parents lying to their children. It can be confusing and difficult to explain,” Barone said.
It is also hard for those who know the truth to handle curious questions from small children. “It’s hard to keep it going when you have more kids because you have to hide a bunch of stuff,” SchreyerMiller said, “If my child asked me if they were real, I would tell them the truth, but if it was someone else’s kid, I’d tell them I believe in him and that they should ask their parents about it. It’s a parent’s job or whoever takes care of them to decide.”
Although there can be negative effects in some cases, “Santa is overall a great story. There’s beauty in belief, there’s beauty in mystery, and children need fantasy,” Ramirez said.