Why children need to believe in Santa Claus

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I met the guy once. He actually had a reindeer driver's license.

In 1897, a little girl wrote to the New York Sun asking if there was a Santa Claus. This was the reply.  (Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait here with a box of tissues.)

Some parents will no doubt think this is wrong–that telling their children stories about Santa Claus is lying. They’re afraid once their children find out the truth, they’ll have broken trust. But I’ve never actually seen this happen in real life. Kids are smart. More often, as they grow up, they start to better understand the difference between fairy tales and true stories.  They get that one is for fun, and one is for real. It’s a non-issue.

No, the parents’ objections are all part of the ongoing war between fiction and non-fiction—the realists’ disdain for stories about people who never lived and events that never happened. But I’m not here to argue that fiction is safe to give your children.

I’m here to tell you it’s necessary to humanity.

Non-fiction is, of course, vastly important. But there are things it cannot do. Non-fiction is what was, or what is. Fiction is what if.

Fiction is the genre of ideas. Of things that don’t exist yet. Fiction is the food of inventors. You think cell phones came out of the blue? Ha! Heinlein was writing about them in the 60s!

But it’s not just the what if. An idea by itself rarely sticks to the human mind for long. It needs the vehicle of a story.

A real-life (non-fiction!) example.

Back in the 30s or 40s there was a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction. Professors or scientists would write pieces based on technical ideas they had, and editor John W. Campbell, Jr. would doctor them up a bit and publish them. But the articles were all about machines—not people. They were fiction only in that they were speculative; they weren’t really stories.

And they weren’t selling.

Stories are the packages that make ideas compelling to the average Joe, who doesn’t know a thing about quantum physics and whatnot. So the Street and Smith publishing company called in top adventure writers like L. Ron Hubbard and Arthur J. Burks to save the magazine.

Hubbard talks about it in the introduction of Battlefield Earth:

“At the beginning of that time, science fiction was regarded as a sort of awful stepchild in the world of literature. But worse than that, science itself was not getting the attention or the grants or the government expenditures it should have received. There has to be a lot of public interest and demand before politicians shell out the funding necessary to get a subject whizzing.Campbell’s crew of writers were pretty stellar. They included very top-liner names. They improved the literary quality of the genre. And they began the boom of its broader popularity.

…In 1945 I attended a meeting of old scientist and science fiction friends. The meeting was at the home of my dear friend, the incomparable Bob Heinlein. And do you know what was their agenda? How to get man into space fast enough so that he would be distracted from further wars on Earth. And they were the lads who had the government ear and authority to do it! We are coming close to doing. The scientists got man into space and even had the Russians cooperating for awhile.”

The result?

Okay, so the space program hasn’t achieved world peace, but we did get to the moon. Think about that for a second. We walked on the moon. Because of sci-fi stories. One or two hundred years ago, you can bet the “realists” were scoffing at that idea.

And it’s not only science fiction. Ali Baba’s “open sesame”? Voice-recognition technology!

And really, how could airplanes ever have happened without Icarus?

So don’t scoff at Santa Claus. Don’t be afraid of damaging your children with fantasy. How can they learn to think outside the box if you don’t even let them color outside the lines?

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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15 Comments

  1. First off, Merry Christmas!

    While I agree with your overall concept here, I must differ with you on St. Nick.
    My mother did not raise my brother and I believing in Santa. She did not like the idea of deceiving us, but instead taught us about St. Nicholas and let us unto the incredibly magical secret that the presents “from Santa” under the tree, were gifts to us from our father. There’s little that is more magical than that.
    Christmas has been, and remains a magical time for me, mystical even, given its focus on the birth of my Lord. Mother always filled it with wonderful stories, both from books, and from her own experiences. I feel like I lost absolutely nothing from never believing in Santa Claus, and in fact, I think the absence of a central figure to focus my imagination on allowed that imagination to diffuse through the entire of the holiday. If I ever raise children, I think I will attempt to do for them what my mother has done for my brother and I and make the holiday magical without the aid of the man in red. That isn’t to say that I dislike Santa, but to me he has more value as a story than as something to believe in. Lord of the Rings means no less to me for being a story… in fact, stories often mean more to me than nonfiction books.

    What I agree whole-heartedly with you on, however, is the damage done by valuing “reality” at the expense of fantasy, mystery and imagination. If my mother had robbed us of that, she would have done us a disservice. There is a reason that children are drawn to fantasy and imaginative play, and adults who think they are helping when they break those worlds down, are missing something fundamental in their own understanding of the world.

    May Santa fill your stocking with many tasty things.

    • Merry Christmas back!

      Really, Santa is just an example, and the title of this post was only meant to be attention-grabbing.

      I get that Christian parents are often worried that Claus will compete with Christ, but it all depends on how you present it to your kids. My siblings and I always understood that Santa Claus was, himself, celebrating the birth of Christ, and Christmas was always more about Jesus than about reindeer in our house (this was probably due in part to our Anglican traditions: Advent, midnight Mass, not putting Jesus in the nativity scene until Christmas Day, Epiphany on January 6, etc.). Then there’s the fear that once kids find out that Santa isn’t real, they’ll doubt Jesus – but again, kids are smart. Santa was always spoken of in a fun, magic-loving, pseudo-jesting tone (but a nice kind of jest), but the Christ story was always told with reverence and sincerity.

      I also think there’s value in letting your kids believe something *might* be true, rather than saying outright that it isn’t. We always understood that the Bible was the absolute truth,* but were sort of left to decide for ourselves on matters of Santa Claus, fairies, and (our odd family favorite) Borrowers. Partially because it excites the imagination better than “somebody just made this up,” but also because it helps the transition between “wouldn’t it be cool if there was XYZ” and “XYZ actually could become reality.” While we still maintain a healthy amount of skepticism, we have the ability to consider possibilities others might dismiss out of hand.

      Anne, thank you! You always raise the conversation to a higher level. And, double thank you, I have it on good authority (following a visit to Central Market) that there will be many tasty things in my stocking.

      *To any non-Christian reading this, it probably sounds like we weren’t given a choice whether or not to believe in God, or that we believed blindly, but we’ve been exposed to all the arguments against the existence of God (and more specifically a Christian God), and are stronger Christians for it.

    • I should add that I agree with you on Lord of the Rings, for instance, meaning no less because we know it is a story. My “might be true” preference only applies to a few things.

      And I wholeheartedly agree on many stories meaning more than nonfiction books! But that is another post. : )

      • Santa is a good example, on the whole, but it rarely hurts to have a different take. I really feel that, with many concepts, it is the How more than the What, right? The same concept can be fruitful or destructive depending on how it is handled.

        Some parents definitely worry about Santa taking over the holiday (as he does for some) but I doubt that was a motivator for my mother. I think she simply didn’t like the idea of deception. She is of the school of thought that children thrive on ideas, and that faith doesn’t develop in a vacuum away from conflicting worldviews.

        I love the Borrowers, though in my house we talked often of gremlins. I seem to have either moved into a house containing sock-gremlins, or else some found their way into my moving boxes. They are inescapable. This morning I couldn’t find my notebook, and I fear they are becoming more ambitious in their acquisitions.

        • Yes, it all depends on a wide range of variables. And it’s important to point those out. So thank you!

          Not gremlins! Your pets steal your socks. Then they trade them on the Sock Exchange. I know it’s true, ’cause I saw it on Arthur.

  2. I know a kid who tore down his family’s Christmas tree after he waited up all night and Santa never came down the chimney…..

    • I hate it when they stop believing in Santa. Everyone loves magic and who doesn’t want to believe in something so spectacular. The look on their faces is priceless and I love their enthusiasm.

    • That’s awful! That’s a case of parents focusing too much on Santa.

    • teaching a kid to have an active imagination vs teaching them something is REAL when it isn’t. Why don’t we just tell our kids from the getgo that the sky is green. They will totally believe us. And then when they find out it isn’t and they are treated like an idiot at school they will remember it is the PARENT that betrayed them.

      Kids are literal, they like facts. Imagination is WONDERFUL, blind belief in something that they will for sure find out is not true is lying.

      • Good point, Katrina – I think your first sentence clarifies the issue. There’s a different between fiction and lies. There’s a difference between telling a child that a thing COULD BE and that a thing IS.

  3. Ack! Don’t make me more suspicious of my beasties than I am already. I already have a mastermind cat and his sidekick muscle cat, plus a devious terrier who wants to be a mastermind. My housemate just acquired a parakeet by accident (she rescued it) and I shudder to think what he will become.

    Oh, and for ease’s sake, I may start posting here as Jubilare. I’ve been considering a blog of my own for some time, so yesterday I broke down and got a free wordpress account.

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