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Crosstalk: Is Santa real? What to tell kids

Growing up, Santa had very little to do with my family's celebration of Christmas. Indeed, one of my earliest memories regarding Santa is being told that if you take the name of “Santa” and exchange the letters “t” and “a” you have the name “Satan.” For those unfamiliar with Satan, he is also known as the devil, or Lucifer; as the embodiment of evil, he is the counterpoint to good.

The point, as I recall, was that Santa, a.k.a. Satan, was a commercial perversion of Christmas created for the propagation of greed and lust in American children, to distract them utterly from the reality and truth of the Christmas story. Is he real? I can certainly see his influence around the world, and would be hard-pressed to say he isn't.

But enough about Satan, what about Santa? Is HE real?

As a very young general news reporter working in the Willamette Valley, I was required to write an opinion column once a month and suggested, as the holiday approached, that Santa was not only a figment of the imagination but that parents, in working to convince their children that he was real, were teaching them that adults were liars and could not be trusted.

I immediately learned that not only were a great many parents telling their kids that Santa was real, they were perfectly capable of storming the newspaper office in force to make their views heard, not just by a misguided and foolish newspaper reporter, but also byhis editors and publisher.

One mom in particular pointed out that not only had I interfered in her parenting, I had popped her little Johnny's Christmas bubble.

For the record, YES, SANTA CLAUS IS REAL! Absolutely and completely real.

What I failed to recognize, back in my misspent journalistic youth, is that truth is many-faceted. When a child is sent to bed on Christmas Eve in expectation of Santa's arrival in the night, he or she will not wake up disappointed. The presents will be there under the tree, the milk and cookies will have been consumed.

I offer as further proof the simple fact that as a photojournalist I have photographed Santa a great many times.

You can't photograph what isn't real.

There is of course the “picture-perfect” Santa Claus, sitting with his wife Mrs. Claus and surrounded by his helpful little (and not so little) elves. He has a full white beard, black boots with fur ruffs, and a suit of red. He can be found in a great many family photo albums.

As a photographer, I prefer photographing the working-class Santa. He often forgoes the beard, but is easily recognized by his red hat and red nose. The red hat, because he is driving the tractor pulling the Christmas sled or hay wagon. The red nose because it is freezing cold outside in December but there he is, making Christmas special for child after child.

Speaking of red noses, I can't help but think of Rudolph. Is it really okay to harass and malign his “deformity” simply because we don't immediately see it as useful? Alas, the season raises so many moral dilemmas...

— Mark Gibson

Santa is real if he lives in your heart — that’s the story I told my boys when they were growing up and I’m sticking to it.

Whether or not we, as parents, should let our kids believe in Santa is a ridiculous argument. In light of all the moral breakdowns going on in society right now, it might be useful for emerging Snowflakes to think that bad behavior, such as disrespecting anyone else’s point of view, could result in a stocking full of coal.

The myth of the jolly old man in the red suit is actually grounded in truth and good values — after all, St. Nicholas was a real person. He became famous for distributing money and gifts to the poor. That’s the true spirit of Christmas if you can dig beneath all the commercialism.

Believing in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and other fairy-tale creatures allows children to use their imaginations. Only for a child is Christmas really magical and they need to enjoy the wonder of it all before the responsibilities of adulthood cast a cold light on the reality of preparing and shopping for a holiday.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to believe in the myth of someone trying to make people happy if they’re behaving,” said Dr. Matthew Lorber, a child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, in a University of Texas report on the issue.

“Imagination is a normal part of development, and helps develop creative minds.”

There are benefits for cognitive and emotional development in the belief that Santa is real. Believing in impossible beings may exercise children’s counterfactual reasoning skills.

The kind of thinking involved in imagining how nine reindeer could fly through the sky carrying a sleigh with enough toys for all the children in the world may well be the same kind of thinking required for a scientist to find a cure for a disease, or some other miracle.

Crossing the border between what is possible and what is impossible is at the root of all scientific discoveries and inventions.

Believing in Santa also exercises children’s deductive reasoning abilities. The half-eaten cookies on Christmas morning can be seen as evidence that he exists.

This fairy tale is deeply embedded in popular culture, Santa seems to be everywhere during the holiday season, but eventually all good things come to an end, as does the belief in Kris Kringle.

Whether the news comes from a friend at school, or honest answers from a parent, children eventually find out that Santa is a fictional character.

They learn the truth when they are ready to accept it. The discovery process is usually gradual, some children hang onto the belief as long as possible, but even they become less sure of Santa’s existence over time.

Once children begin to doubt, they become very scientific about reaching conclusions.

In the end, they are empowered by the feeling of figuring things out themselves. And, when they do, the magic of Christmas begins to fade.

— RaeLynn Ricarte


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