The evidence suggests that it canby Kathryn McKay / December 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
It is a discussion that can inspire vitriol like no other. Question the “Santa lie” in front of parents and you may as well question everything that is held sacred.
There is no doubt that Santa brings incalculable joy to many children. My goddaughter is one of those children whose belief in Santa is magical—she is convinced that he has been planning her presents for the past year. Yet, as I help her mother buy presents, it also must be admitted that Santa is not real. The Santa we know now has come a long way from the traditional Saint Nikolaos to the ubiquitous fat man dressed in a white trimmed red suit. Adults may create magic in pretending there is a Santa but, at the end of the day, pretend is all it is.
Santa is, it must also be admitted, a complex and involved lie that continues over many years. Presents must be hidden. Snacks must be eaten. Stories must be told consistently. Parents sometimes take this role on with gusto—enjoying telling the story as much as their children enjoy the consequences. Certainly, as the world stands now, a little bit of fantasy can do no harm for the adults.
Can it harm children, though? The psychological evidence suggests that it can. Recently, my colleague and I published a piece in the journal Lancet Psychiatry where we questioned what happens when children find out that this has all been pretend, that Santa doesn’t exist, and that their parents have lied to them. In researching it, we found evidence to suggest that children’s wellbeing is dependent on how they learn the truth.
For many children, this is not an issue. They find out simply as a process of maturing; they realise the impossibility of it all; they continue to receive presents at Christmas. But not all children find out in a way that is safe and positive; some children are told the truth by an older child or adult who uses the situation for ridicule—“how could you have been so silly to believe in it?” Even adults are not immune to the shame that can be felt after a public humiliation.
For some children, Santa is yet another lie they have been told by adults, but one that strips away the last of the magic they may have clung to if…