Perpetuating the Santa Claus Myth

I don’t understand the whole believing-in-Santa-Claus thing. Well, from a commercial point I do. Since Christmas has expanded way beyond a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, big business needs a secular figure to personalize the day and make it special enough that people will spend money they don’t have on gifts. But other than that, no — I don’t get it.

I especialstnickly don’t understand why parents perpetuate the myth that there really is a Santa Claus. Many adults remember how betrayed they felt when they realized there was no such person living at the North Pole and dispensing gifts from a reindeer-driven sleigh, so why would they teach their children the same lie? To make the wonder of the season more wondrous? But the season is already radiantly wonderful with lights and gifts and delicious once-a-year treats. And it’s especially aglow for Christians as they celebrate the birth of the Son of God, which, after all, is the whole reason for the feast day.

I loved Christmas as much as any child, and I never believed in Santa Claus as a living entity — my mother was too pragmatic for that. It seems to me that most kids I knew weren’t taught to believe in a cartoonish jolly old St. Nick. We knew the real story of St. Nicholas (or at least the real legend.) We knew he was a Greek bishop and that he supposedly had a habit of passing out gold coins. Because of this, we believed the spirit of Christmas was generosity. We gave what gifts we could. We knew who gave us each of the gifts we received, and if we forgot, our parents reminded us when it came time to write thank you notes. Those thank-you notes were part of the season. Though they seemed laborious at the time, penning those notes taught us that the gifts were not a right but a blessing. It seems that a belief in Santa Claus fosters greed — a belief that we deserve gifts as a reward for being good, which is so not the spirit of Christmas.

I once saw a soldier talk about this very thing. He said that he had been a soldier in Vietnam. Although it felt like a war, and people died like in a war, technically it wasn’t a war — they weren’t allowed to win, only to occupy. They’d battle their way to the top of a hill then, when they’d gained the territory, they’d retreat, only to take the hill once more, or another like it.

One day as they sat on a hill they had just taken, he asked his buddies about the most disillusioning moments in their lives. He expected a heavy discussion on the absurdities of the war, or the shock of getting drafted, or the monumental stupidity of the military, but they all said the most disillusioning moment in their lives was discovering that Santa Claus didn’t exist.

And yet, people are still teaching their children that Santa is real. It’s amazing to me that children ever trust their parents after that.

On the other hand, considering how often life disillusions us, perhaps being disillusioned over something as innocuous as the Santa Claus myth is a good thing.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

14 Responses to “Perpetuating the Santa Claus Myth”

  1. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I have in recent years been annoyed with my brother in law over the idea that the mythical Santa now belongs to Finland rather than the North Pole. For me Santa’s place will always be the North Pole no matter what anyone says. If he has his toy factory at the North Pole he belongs to the world and that is, as far as I am concerned, the way it should be.

    As for believing in the existence of Santa Claus, well, I can’t remember a time in which I did believe. The whole bit with the reindeer, sled and circling the world in one night giving out presents was way too far fetched. Even as a young child it was too much to take in as being for real. Mind you I did love the fantasy of it and still love the fantasy of it.

    I grew up in NSW, Australia. It is summer right now and it will be summer on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. Back in the ’60s Rolf Harris put out a song that perpetuated the Santa Claus myth but in an Australian setting. It was called Six White Boomers and had Santa parking his reindeer for the Australian run and having big kangaroos take him on his merry way in our part of the world.

    I loved the song and didn’t believe a word of it. (A pity Rolf Harris has turned out to be quite different in real life to the way we saw him as kids watching the tele.)

    Still it was fun to at last have our version of Santa. After that there was artwork of Santa in red T-shirt and board shorts instead of the gear best suited for the northern hemisphere. It was a great hoot. We still have store Santas with the traditional getup but we also have Santas dressed more for our climate.

    Maybe Australians aren’t quite as gungho as Americans with mythology. We tend to enjoy the fantasy of the season without beating ourselves up with whether it’s all real or not.

    I don’t know anyone who felt cheated by the discovery that Santa isn’t real but made up of various historical characters that lived a long time ago and not one of them at the North Pole.

    The idea of the red in the costume is American. In Germany it was originally brown. I take it someone in the USA thought that a red outfit would be more jolly and I happily go along with that. The idea of the Christmas tree and presents under it was brought into Britain by Prince Albert and from there spread throughout the British Empire. I have read that the idea of the Christmas tree and presents came to the USA via a number of European countries including Germany, Austria and Italy to name a few.

    Traditions hold my family together. I love Christmas trees and the putting of presents underneath them and I don’t really have a problem with Santa Claus.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t have a problem with Santa Claus as a myth. I just don’t understand the necessity for fostering a belief that he is actually alive and living at the North Pole.

      • ROD MARSDEN Says:

        The North Pole was a great place to put Santa since no one lives there and it wasn’t explored until fairly recent times. Better the North Pole than some country or other claiming full honors. Makes the myth more universal. Mind you the South Pole would have been nice but you can’t have everything.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I don’t get the whole Santa Claus thing either when you take out the commercial aspect. It’s like trying to say that Harry Potter is real and that he’s responsible for the wondrous things in the world, in a sense. It’d make more sense to me if people included Santa’s evil twin Krampus more often, the demon who punishes naughty children by beating them and putting them in his sack, where they are never seen again.

    • ROD MARSDEN Says:

      Never heard of Krampus. Sounds like a fascinating character. What country does he originate from? As for Santa, he’s just part of the silly season and no need to get too serious about him. If you have family as I do this is a great time of year to appreciate them. And its not all about presents. A couple of sangers on the barbie, a cold beer and a swim also make Christmas with friends and family special.

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        Krampus is from the Swiss Alps. He is like the Satan to Santa’s Jesus, if you’ll pardon the comparison. Santa and Krampus are just another binary to teach people about actions and consequences, like God versus the Devil.
        Unfortunately people get a little too serious about him. Megyn Kelly had a whole segment of her FOX News show about how Santa and Jesus are both Caucasian even though the regions they both lived in are home to swarthy, dark-skinned men.
        And you’re right, the season’s about more than presents. I’m looking forward to eating Chinese food, seeing a movie, and possibly watching the Doctor Who Christmas special with my mother and sister (if we can arrange it).

  3. 22pamela Says:

    I will admit when I first started reading your post…I was completely in disagreement and felt the hackles come up on my neck. But I pulled myself up short and forced myself to read without bias. While I can appreciate your side of this story, because this is how you were raised to think and believe. And I can see how you feel it is wrong to lie to your children and that kids should have no reason to ever believe their parents…BUT, ok now here’s the but part…How sad it is to me to think that childhood should be pragmatic. And full of only blatant honesty. Where is the wonder of this time? What?! No Santa? No Easter Bunny? No Cinderella? No Fairies? No Disney? No fantasy? No imaginary friends? No make-believe tea parties with giant White Rabbits, or pirates or Peter Pan? No Super Heroes? Not even Ebenezer Scrooge? All not really real.

    Trust me…there is NO greater joy to witness the excitement and the wonder of the Santa Claus myth through my children’s eyes…and now my grand children’s.

    Keep your pragmatism and your honesty…just for a little while longer. The world is harsh enough. Now! Off to bake some cookies for Santa! ❤

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m sorry. I must not have made myself clear. I didn’t say that childhood needed to be pragmatic. I said my mother was pragmatic. Nor did I say it wasn’t okay to have fantasies and fairy tales. There is plenty of wonder in such things without ever teaching children that Cinderella is a real person or that Superman exists as a living, breathing entity. I loved “The Land of Counterpane” when I was small. It so ignited my imagination that I still remember the wonder I felt when my mother read that poem to me long before I knew how to read. And yet I always knew it was simply a story.

  4. kalisu Says:

    Everyone that I’ve told that I don’t want to perpetuate the Santa Claus/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy myth has looked at me as if I’ve grown two extra heads. I’ve felt this way since taking a child development class. I am glad to see that I am not the only one who feels this way. I don’t really remember the Santa myth being dispelled, but I do remember being really disappointed when I asked about the Tooth Fairy. I’m not scarred for life or anything. Should I be lucky enough to finally conquer infertility, I want my child to be able to trust me completely. I enjoyed fairy tales and all sorts of fiction without ever believing it was real. I think a child could still enjoy Santa Claus knowing it’s just a story in the same way.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      As a child, I was excited about Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy, even though I knew they weren’t real. They were all part of the thrill of the various days. It’s the same thing as reading — I can become part of a story as if it were real even though I know it’s not. Children have the same ability. If a parent reads the child a story, the child knows it’s a story, but still gets big-eyed with anticipation at the events in the book no matter how many times they have heard the same story.

      Stick to your principles. Having a tight brond of trust with your child is more important than perpetrating the myths.

  5. Bah Humbug | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] during the season because of the lack. In fact, I do not know of a single classmate who did believe the Santa Claus myth. There really was no way to believe since our parents insisted on our writing thank you notes to […]

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