It is the time of year in which Christmas movies make their appearance on basically every channel. I couldn’t help but watch, in its entirety, the movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I enjoy a good stupid movie sometimes. It will not ruin the movie to tell you that this is a scene in which Buddy (a “Real” elf) discovers a faux Santa.
This clip got me to thinking about the tradition of Santa Claus. Who here remembers when they found out Santa wasn’t real?* I know that I remember exactly where I was when my older sister told me the news. I was 5 years old and it was Christmas morning. I think she was mad at me and declared, “Well, Santa’s not real! I saw mom and dad put stuff in the stocking!” I went up to my parents and asked if Santa was real, and they said, “Do you believe he’s real?” I said, “Yes!” and continued to believe for about 2 more years until my 1st grade class made it clear that he was not real.
Has anyone else ever wondered why we continue a tradition of lying to our children about Santa? I mean, I don’t think I’m emotionally damaged because of it, but in retrospect, it’s a strange tradition.
And I bet you didn’t know this, but a school psychologist has sought to answer this question about children and Santa Claus. Yes, Virginia, School Psychologists do it all!** Interestingly, the article makes the point that believing in Santa is not only harmless, but there may be actual sociocognitive benefits for children to believing in Santa, including fostering traits of kindness, cooperation, generosity, reciprocity, and creativity.
First, it’s the parents that have a hard time with children discovering there’s no Santa. One study of children who no longer believed in Santa Claus reported predominately positive reactions upon learning the truth, suggesting a largely benign transition. However, their parents reported sadness in reaction to their child’s discovery, perhaps signifying the loss of their child’s innocence.
Second, writing letters to Santa gives children a chance to practice kindness. For example, studies of letters to Santa showed increased requests to Santa Claus for gifts for other people after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. In another study, children increased their donations to children with handicaps after hearing a story about Santa Claus.
Lastly, the author argues that believing in Santa requires imagination, and this ability for young children to engage in magical thought and fantasy can promote both creativity and cognitive development. It is possible that there are moral lessons to be learned, such as having hope, reinforcing good behavior, and teaching children the importance of expressing gratitude for the gifts they receive.
My jury is still out on the tradition, though this article makes me lean toward thinking it’s okay. I just love research-based decisions. There is the fact as well that in addition to my distinct memory of finding out there was no Santa, I also have wonderful memories of the magical Christmas mornings in which I was filled with a sense of mystery and wonder as to how Santa knew I wanted to get the full set of the Glamour Girls Dolls*** I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything.
*Hopefully, this is not the time you found out, or I am the spoiler. No one likes a spoiler.
**Thank you David N. Miller, of NASP Communique. Happy Holidays to you.
***Small dolls that were probably the inspiration for today’s Bratz dolls. Those little dolls were sassy!