The holiday season is upon us, and so are its attendant myths, most prominent of which is the Santa Claus story. This is the time that many children are told about a man who lives forever, resides at the North Pole, knows what every child in the world desires, drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer and enters one’s house through a chimney, which most children don’t even have.
Given the many absurdities and contradictions in this story, it’s surprising that even young children would believe it. Yet research shows that 83 percent of five-year-olds think that Santa Claus is real.
Why Children Believe?
One of the primary ways we, as adults, learn about new things is by hearing about them from others. Imagine hearing about a new kind of fish from a marine biologist versus from your next-door neighbor who often regales you with reports of his alien abductions. Your evaluation of the expertise and trustworthiness of these sources presumably will guide your beliefs about the true existence of this fish.
Children have been found to believe in the possible entities and rejected the impossible ones. Children made these decisions by comparing the new information to their existing knowledge.
Given this effort, it essentially would be irrational for children not to believe. In believing in Santa Claus, children, in fact, exercise their scientific thinking skills.
First, they evaluate sources of information. Second, they use evidence (e.g., the empty glass of milk and half-eaten cookies on Christmas morning) to come to a conclusion about existence. Third, research shows that, as children’s understanding becomes more sophisticated, they tend to engage more with the absurdities in the Santa Claus myth, like how a fat man can fit through a small chimney, or how animals could possibly fly.
What About My Child?
Some parents wonder whether they are harming their children by engaging in the Santa myth. Philosophers and bloggers alike have mounted arguments against perpetuating the “Santa-lie,” some even claiming that it could lead to permanent distrust of parents and other authorities.
So, what should parents do?
There is no evidence that belief, and eventual disbelief in Santa, affects parental trust in any significant way. Furthermore, not only do children have the tools to ferret out the truth; but engaging with the Santa story may give them a chance to exercise these abilities.
So, if you think it would be fun for you and your family to invite Santa Claus into your home at Christmas time, you should do so. Your children will be fine. And they might even learn something.