Ho ho ho! (Q.E.D.)

In comments to one or two previous posts on my blog, suggestions were made that I should tackle the issue of Santa. I wasn’t prepared to do that at the time, and am still not. (I didn’t do much of a job of it as a parent.)
However I came across this post by Michelle Sowey, and I think she tackles it quite well. Being a philosopher, she deals with it much better than I would.
Although it’s not Christmas yet, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about issues like these.

The Philosophy Club

(Or, This Festive Season, Teach Your Children to Believe Responsibly)

Ho ho ho! Illustration by Ask Alice

Currently circulating on social media is this letter from a couple of well-intentioned parents to their questioning son, who is looking for the truth about Santa Claus. Not wanting to deprive their boy of his innocent credulity, nor wishing to tell him outright lies, the parents take the circuitous route of explaining Santa as a metaphor for a bunch of desirable qualities like love, hope and happiness.

Mom, are you Santa?

I can understand why many parents choose not to disenchant kids at an early age. It’s endearing to see children take delight in their fantasy worlds. It’s lovely to watch them immerse themselves in works of fiction and let their imaginations run wild in creative play. What’s more, fictional characters like Harry Potter, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are common reference points for the majority of children in…

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15 thoughts on “Ho ho ho! (Q.E.D.)

  1. Pingback: The magic of Christmas, “Bah humbug”! | Norah Colvin

  2. Michelle

    Hi Norah, Lena, Anne and Bec. Thank you for reading my piece and sharing your thoughts here. I appreciate your comments and I agree with Anne’s proposals that parents broach the Santa issue by sharing the historical story of St Nicholas and by consistently encouraging their kids to think logically so that they can draw sensible conclusions of their own.

    Bec, I share your interest in people thinking critically about the evidence base for claims about larger social issues. The experience of seeing through an authoritarian lie might, as you’ve suggested, lead a person eventually to adopt a more critical mindset. It seems to me that it would be a great mistake to perpetrate lies for this purpose, though. There are other more humane (not to mention more effective) methods of developing children’s critical thinking – methods that don’t involve deceit and its potentially adverse side effects such as humiliation, resentment and cynicism. As lies go, the Santa myth (if represented as a true story) is a lie on a relatively small scale, and not one that is likely to traumatise kids. Still, I find the pretence unsettling and unnecessary.

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  3. lenarays

    This is actually very similar to how my mother explained it to me! One thing she did that I really respected was bring me to one of the organizations that host Christmas trees with requests from kids whose families cannot afford to “be Santa” (I think most post offices and churches have these, but I may be wrong). She let me pick the present request with which I could most identify and I helped her wrap the gift. I then was able to recognize that “we’re Santa Claus, aren’t we?” This was a much less upsetting way to make the discovery as a) I could feel like I was helping some one else have a happy Christmas rather than dwelling on my own disillusionment and b) I was proud to be let in on the secret sharing the Christmas spirit rather than feeling like a secret had been kept from me. Plus, it think it is a great way to refocus kids on “giving” instead of “getting”…and isn’t that really the true meaning of Christmas? Just a few thoughts from one grown up child who was not traumatized by the “truth” behind Santa 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Lenarays. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you weren’t traumatized by the story of Santa. I’m pleased, also, that you raised the topic of the “Tree of Joy” or “Giving Tree” as I have sometimes seen the trees with suggested gifts for others called. I have also used these with my children to focus on the giving and to help them be aware that there are others not as fortunate as they. I agree that it is a great way of sharing the Christmas spirit which is really about loving, and being kind to, one another – all year round!

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  4. Norah Post author

    Hi Anne,
    I wonder if there is a particular post you were directing me to, or the blog in general. I read the most recent post “Introduction: Why argue with atheists?” which discusses Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”, which I have read. One quote from the article appealed to me in particular. It is that attributed to the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “There is no shame in admitting you do not know something. The real shame is pretending you know all the answers.” I think that sums up my opinion on this topic quite well.

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  5. Annecdotist

    As one of those who requested something on this topic, I want to thank you for posting this as a good focus for debate. Actually, although Michelle is right in what she says, I think she’s too hard on the parents (real or imaginary) who wrote that letter (although hopefully you wouldn’t dump this on your kids through a letter) in their attempts to be honest with their children without giving up the pleasure of the story completely. I’d have liked to have known more about how to go about it more rationally, e.g. there is a reference to the story of the real St Nicolas – would that be the starting point? – or would it be about supporting children to think logically so that they come to their own conclusions in their own time without feeling they’ve been cheated. I also think she makes too much of Santa being about teaching children about receiving rather than giving: might they not be learning something useful about it being the job of those with most resources (parents) to give to those without (children) – a very useful lesson IMO.
    But I agree with Bec, that what makes this logically impossible is the promotion of belief in God, a very similar construct to Santa in this example and, in my opinion, equally unhelpful. And I also wonder about this notion of childhood being magical. What does this mean? Many people are a lot happier later in life than in childhood but we wouldn’t get away with discussing magical middle age!
    Thanks for posting, I wonder what other people think.

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    1. Bec

      Hi Anne, I hadn’t thought before about there being perhaps an underlying story of those with much giving to those with not much – I like it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I was looking forward to reading them!

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your lengthy comment, Anne. As you and Bec were the two urging me to tackle the Santa issue, I’m pleased that you have both responded to the article. I’m wondering, however, if perhaps we should tack these comments onto Michelle’s original post so that she can respond to them. I feel totally unqualified in this area, and am surprised that I feel less passionate about this subject than I do about a “butterfly hatching out of a cocoon” (sic). I would have to say, on this particular topic, I have no idea!
      I love the idea of middle age being magical! Now maybe that’s something I could have a go at!

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  6. Bec

    Thanks for sharing this article, it’s interesting and poignant, and I think there are many more points which could be tabled as arguments for not perpetuating the Santa myth (but of course I would think that!). But that isn’t a criticism of the article as it is a really nice deconstruction of the argument that is put forward in the image, it’s just reflective of the depth of this issue.

    I think something that wasn’t discussed is how the “parents” (though I suspect the letter circulating on the internet is itself a parable much like the Santa myth) used belief in Santa as a proxy for belief in a ‘God’. Though I am not a person who believes in a god, I can’t see how their reasoning does anything other than give children reason to doubt ‘God’ for this reason: if adults promoted the lies about Santa, are they possibly also lying about other invisible (to use the words of the author of the article) people which are promoted by adults. I suppose I see this as possibly a good thing. If the child is able to think critically, then breaking through the Santa myth may give good practice for critically re-evaluating other non-evidence-based claims made by the authority figures in society.

    Thanks for the fodder for thought, I really enjoyed the article you shared though I still look forward to learning about your exploration of this issue at some point in the future when you’re ready to tackle it.

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    1. Bec

      One more point to add to that! In regards to the Santa myth demonstrating the justification for challenging things promoted by authority figures, I don’t simply mean religion, but also other social structures. For example: why is the Australian federal government telling us there are too many trees? Why is laissez faire capitalism seemingly promoted as the single trajectory of the future of society in Australia? Why is the coal industry “good for Australia”? Why is it fair for a childcare centre to use this sentence on a billboard “Children aren’t born with genius, it’s grown in childcare” (I actually saw this today)? Why is it considered okay that “the age of entitlement” is over, yet we still provide multiple billions of dollars to the mining industry through tax concessions? Why can gay people not enjoy equal social standing in society and be granted legal permission to marry? And so on…. These are mostly questions of politics and policy (I suppose that reflects my head-space), but maybe for some folks, if they were taught to believe one thing only to find out that it was a lie all along (whether for good or not-good reasons) then those folks will be more inclined to be critical about the things they are told to believe or accept when they are grown.

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      1. Norah Post author

        Thanks for your two lengthy comments Bec. You have certainly thought critically about the content of the article and extended application of its ideas into other areas. You have raised many questions which I will decline to answer. I have no way of doing so. Being a teacher and interested in education, the one that screams mostly to me is:’Why is it fair for a childcare centre to use this sentence on a billboard “Children aren’t born with genius, it’s grown in childcare”? I do appreciate your comments though. They certainly give me more to think about.

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      1. Bec

        Thanks Anne, looks like interesting stuff! I enjoyed the article about magical diets – I like the connections the authors are drawing between topics 🙂

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