Saturday, December 26, 2009

Well, Virginia, about this "Santa Claus"...

Back in the days when I taught elementary school, I taught sixth grade for one year. Sixth grade -- eleven- and twelve-year-olds.

In language arts, we were studying persuasive writing. At the time, my sister, a Montessori teacher, was blogging about the whole Santa thing: do you, essentially, lie to your kids about him? Tell him he's real when, *SPOILER ALERT*, he's not, and then deal with the consequences of lying to your children like this. Do they still trust you? How do they feel when they find out?

So, in class, the kids were talking about finding out where their parents hid the Christmas presents. To me, this meant I was talking to a group that already knew parents bought the presents, not Santa, because in my house, Santa brought all the presents (none of the tags said "From: Mom and Dad," they all said "From: Santa" or they were from friends or other family members). See how often privilege rears it limiting head? "In my experience, it's LIKE THIS. Therefore it must be LIKE THIS for everyone else, RIGHT?"

Turns out, in many of my students' houses, Santa brought SOME of the gifts, and parents bought the rest. So, when I said, "Alright, so, we all know Santa's not real, right?" a mild sort of chaos erupted.

I had had the best intentions. I was going to have these kids, who were close to the age where they found out Santa was a lie, write persuasive essays saying whether parents should lie to their children or just be honest about the Santa myth. What a great lesson, right? Too bad half of my class was not yet at that age where they found out Santa was a lie.

Backpedaling, I came up with something else. I blogged about it, here. Go read what some of my kids wrote. They are surprisingly adult about the whole Santa thing.

What brought all this to mind this year was this link, tweeted by @MariaMontessori.

So, what do you think? Especially those of you with little ones? How do you approach the whole Santa thing?


  1. I struggle with this question too of what I'll do once I have kids. I think it can be just as meaningful and exciting if it isn't "from Santa," and I remember questioning everything once I found out the truth as a kid. Thanks for this post and for having us think about the choices we have for our own children.

  2. I would like to continue with Mira what my mom did with me when I was little. She too had an issue with lying to her children, as she wanted us to have the utmost confidence that we could trust her word. So she came up with an elegant solution to the Santa myth. Whenever I asked if Santa was real she would answer with, "well, do you want the *fun* story or the *real* story?" At first I'd say, "Mom, I want the *real* story." She'd respond with the history of St. Nicolas and the spirit of giving and on and on... eventually I'd interrupt her and say, "Ok mom, tell me the fun story." And then at that point she would put on this excited voice and say "Well, Santa lives in a magical toy shop at the north pole..." and go into the whole Santa shabang. And she felt comfortable and confident telling it to me this way because she knew that I knew that it was a fun story. She taught me that the actual truth is worth knowing, but pretending is entertaining and enjoyable and allowed. And I think that's the same thing I want to do for Mira.

  3. Kids believe in magic without any prompting from us. And I have a tough time calling this "lying" to my children, honestly.

  4. Hello
    I must say that you are very good teacher for your students.I think sometimes kids like this and they don't want to realize truth.Its really hard to tell that truth to kids.Thank you..


  5. I still have yet to go read the link @MariaMontessori posted, but have been meaning to.

    I like what Laura said-- Zach and I have talked about how to deal with this, and like the idea of making Santa less into a "real person" but more about the spirit of the season and giving, etc. Right now I think we're gonna do what a friend mentioned, of just not pushing it and waiting for him to ask us about Santa. I'm hoping that buys us another year or 2 to figure things out...

    BTW, as for your point about priviledge and assuming everyone has it the way you do-- I don't see that as "priviledge"... trying to think of what word fits better, having trouble other than close-mindedness? The assumption that everyone else does things the same way you do is not tied to having nice things or rights, but to not seeing that others have it differently, or not being aware of different customs/ways of doing things-- and that can go both ways. Or have nothing at all to do with your status in society.

  6. PS-- I have a hard time seeing how telling kids that a fat man lives in the north pole and flies around the world on one night distributing gifts to all children, when that clearly is not the case, is *not* lying to them.

  7. Graham, there are different levels of parent participation in the Santa myth. I don't know how you address this at your house, but some of what I've seen and heard definitely qualifies as "lying." When you take your children up on the roof on Christmas morning to show them the reindeer hoofprints, then yes, you are LYING to those children and taking great pains to do so (plus, I really worry about the safety issues involved in taking your children up on the roof... and about taking yourself up on the roof, to leave the hoofprints in the first place...)

    That same family also left magical oatmeal for the reindeer. It was magical, see, because it had glitter in it, so it made the reindeer fly.

    Going to those lengths to play into the myth is lying to your children. doubt you (or most sane people) go to those lengths, but many parents do the same thing with smaller gestures. Leaving cookies and milk for Santa is telling your kids there is a Santa, who will be coming that night to eat those cookies and drink that milk. Asking your kids if they're excited about Santa coming, or taking them to the mall to sit on Santa's lap to tell him what they want, or writing letters to Santa and stamping and mailing them, all those things tell your children there is a Santa. Since there isn't a Santa, that qualifies as lying to your children.

    Now, if the parents don't act as if there is a Santa, and don't talk to their kids as if there is a Santa, but the kids choose to believe because of what friends and TV ads tell them, then the parent isn't really lying -- unless you consider it a lie of omission to neglect to tell the children the truth. But, as Laura and others have said, some kids still choose to believe even when parents present the facts. The issue is not kids believing in Santa, but kids being told an untruth by their parents; if they have been told the truth and choose to believe in Santa, then great for them. I still believe in the tooth fairy (and I'm still waiting for her to pay my dentist bills...)

  8. I think that doing all those things with your kids (leaving cookies for Santa, making magical oatmeal, writing letters to Santa, etc...) is ok, even good and fun, as long as it is presented in a manner so that the kids understand it is "just pretend". Doing these things encourages imagination and creativity and enjoyment of fantasy. But I do think parents should make it clear to their children that fantasy *is* what it is. Not try to couch it as reality.