Last week I talked about how I don’t understand why we convince kids to believe in Santa Claus, and why it bothers me. I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that the things I say are at least true to the best of my knowledge, and I’m especially aware of that when I’m around kids, because I want them to be able to trust my word. In teaching, it’s sometimes useful to teach something false as being true (like playing Devil’s Advocate, or teaching the Bohr model of the atom instead of the electron cloud). The difference in these cases is that, when pressed, we don’t double down, instead admitting that we don’t hold those positions to be true. And the Santa myth doesn’t seem to be like that. Today I want to look at what seem to be the three most common arguments for why it’s okay to teach kids that Santa is real.
Now that it’s well past Christmas, I can post this without sounding like a hater of the Ebenezer variety, holding fast to a grim scowl as other people laugh and play. I love Christmas, getting together and having a good time, I like getting presents, and giving them to others. And I, like most other kids in the western world, believed in Santa Claus when I was a kid. But when I think about it now, I don’t really understand why we adults go to all this effort to convince kids that he is.
Imagine visiting another planet, and finding that the natives there had a slight chromosomal difference which affected fifty percent of their population, and resulted in differences in appearance and biological function. Essentially the same, they nonetheless assumed that this chromosomal difference wasn’t simply a biological necessity, but a sort of predestination. It determined their favourite colour, their style of dress, the way they were permitted to wear their hair, their role in the workplace, in the home, and in the political arena. It determined their interests and education, and those who were unwilling to comply with this view of predestination were marginalized and thought of poorly. Imagine that you, as an intrepid interplanetary explorer, began to spend time with the people of this world and noticed that none of them actually met the standards of this predestination. Each person had idiosyncracies that would lead them away from the “right” colour, or the “correct” interests. Sometimes this changed the idea of what the predestination meant, but more often it was restrained out of fear of not fitting in with their peers.