Question For The Week

Does telling children the truth about holidays destroy their imaginations and steal some part of childhood?

I heard snatches of a radio conversation yesterday.  It’s one that me and Dawn have blathered on, in pieces, about.  The radio conversation was about Christmas and whether children should know the truth about Santa.  The show host was clear in her point of view, a bit too clear.  I turned on the station while she was near screaming about how horrible it was for selfish adults to teach their kids that there is no Santa.  She went on and on.  I waited for her to stop talking, to take a caller, to give me a moment to breathe.  I resisted the urge to change the station or to listen to the cars around me as I drove to my study.

She introduced questions for the audience, food for thought.  Should parents, for instance, raise kids by saying that they, the parents, are the ones bringing the gifts from the top of the closet after the kids have been asleep on Christmas Eve?  When it is appropriate for children to hear the truth?  Won’t they find out what’s real eventually anyway?  The conversation meandered into other holidays, and people started throwing in comments about eggs in April and squelching imaginations and hampering child development.

At first I thought I knew what I thought about these things.  After all, I’ve spent some time thinking about some deep questions.  I’ve fought with Dawn about my opinions, partly because I’m an opinion-maker and because I take personally the task of changing many of my wife’s opinions about things.

The one thing I hadn’t thought of, though, was imagination.  Does a child need to believe in something like St. Nick in order to imagine or create or succeed?  What engenders imagination in a person?  Does a child need to hold some fake thing in order to relate well in world?  Why can’t a child find wonder and marvel and magic in the mother who works everyday of the week for little pay and who still finds a way to cook, clean, and sew a new zipper in her son’s pants?  I saw Jessica Ward’s not irrelevant post, and it left me with another question: does telling or withholding the truth about these types of things change the way children relate to ultimate Truth, like God?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  Do you?


  1. This whole Santa thing bothers me every year! We started traditions just recently and although they bring delight and excitement to the kids, I still always wonder if it necessary to lie to them. I think they would still have active imaginations and wide-eyed wonder but caved to the cultural norms. It is too late now, but it all seems strange to me still!



  2. My dear wife & I are having an ongoing … discussion … about this at the moment. (Thankfully the baby girl is too little for us to have to make a decision this year!) I am of the opinion that she should know the truth, and the dear wife is of the opinion that telling the truth would somehow rob her of a key part of the Christmas experience.

    Personally, I’m all for sharing the truth–there was a man in Europe who put gold in little girls’ stockings to help them and their families. I’d even be fine with giving anonymous gifts ‘from Santa’ in recognition/remembrance that such generosity can be done anonymously and allow the giver the joy of giving without the need for getting specific, directed gratitude in return (ie it’s the generosity of itself that is important, and not the recipient’s response; likewise the recipient ought to be grateful despite not knowing to whom the gratitude should be directed).

    I think that it’s entirely possible to engage in a wild and fanciful imagination and fantasy life without distorting the difference between truth and fiction. I’m sure our little daughter will know Lord of the Rings or Narnia or Harry Potter, and will no doubt imagine hobbits and elves, or talking animals and fantasy worlds in the closet, or wizards and magic. But at the same time, she will know that all those things are fantasy and make believe, and can have fun with them without believing them to be True. Why make Santa out to be any different than that? She can have fun pretending there is a Santa, and reindeer, and elves, without believing that it is True.

    So, for me, there’s a broad area for introducing and incorporating Santa into Christmastime that allows for imagination while remaining grounded in truth. On the other hand, we could go wholesale into telling baby girl that Santa is Real and True. But we would be lying to our daughter. For no good reason!

    And further, if we lie about one old man who sees everything you do, judges between good and bad little children, and bestows gifts to those he loves, and later she finds out that Santa isn’t real, what happens if/when she ever draws a parallel to God, who also is often depicted as an old man who sees everything you do, judges between good and bad, and bestows gifts? Will she say that one is a lie and the other a Truth (THE Truth), or will she doubt them both?

    I don’t know the answers. But with such a broad range of ways to incorporate Santa as a historical figure and/or as a ‘make believe’ character, why would I want to take the risk?



  3. Good thoughts and questions, Leslie and Josh. I think half my day this Sunday will be spent convincing Dawn that the boy actually does care about the few gifts he’s gotten because he too is quite young for some of these questions. We’ll see. And I’m not good at lying. I already tell Bryce who the people are who give him things. Hopefully I haven’t ruined him with the real names of generous people.



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