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Recently, my youngest brother updated his Facebook feed asking for advice:
“Don't mean to be a grinch, but I'm torn about Santa. I was furious when I learned the truth. Then I was in denial … I'm thinking of skipping this lie with Shorty. Life is full of enough mystery, right? Thoughts?”
(‘Shorty,’ by the way, is my brother’s 2-year-old daughter.)
This question set off a maelstrom of comments. All passionate, the majority – like one I left – defended Santa and the "magic" he brings to Christmas for little kids.
To my surprise, however, there were a fair number of Santa-haters who adamantly thought my brother should not perpetuate the Santa myth. "I'm with you!," wrote one of his friends. "I don't feel like putting my kids through some weird deception only to wait until they realize on their own that it was all a lie."
What a killjoy. But comments like this made me wonder if I was doing my 7-year-old daughter a disservice by playing up Santa, and if her peers had been spared the Santa myth entirely. (My 9-year-old figured things out when she was 6, and has delightedly taken part in rooking her sister ever since.)
According to Dr. Benjamin Siegel, Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Boston University, I shouldn’t worry. “Kids up to four, five, six, seven live in what we call fantasy life magic years,” he says. “Most kids do fine when they learn a myth is not real … Kids realize that parents aren’t so powerful, but that happens in adolescence anyway.”
Dr. David Kyle Johnson does not agree. On Psychology Today’s website, he writes, “It’s a lie, it degrades your parental trustworthiness, it encourages credulity, it does not encourage imagination, and it’s equivalent to bribing your kids for good behavior.” Johnson suggests that parents tell “children you're going to play a game where you pretend that Santa is real—that's plenty magical and fun. And there's plenty of other ways to create magic and fun at the holidays.”
I’ve got nothing but happy, wondrous memories of Santa Claus, and I’m not convinced Dr. Johnson’s game would be nearly as fun for my girl. This year, at least, I’m keeping up the ruse.
Do you remember when you stopped believing in the man with all the toys? Tell us the story in the comments or in a blog post.