Santa Claus is alive and well! Myth or lie?
I recently reviewed a research report by a psychologist who claims that it may be dangerous for parents to ‘lie’ to their children about the existence of Santa Claus.
The article went further; it adopted the bold standpoint that parents run the risk of taking away a child’s trust in them by lying about the existence of Santa. The argument is, if we lie about Santa and children later learn the truth, how then can we ever be trusted?
Centuries ago, Plato believed a myth is a noble lie. Myth is a concept that unites a culture or tribe. Myth is a process that bonds us together as people. In these difficult times, it’s true to say we need cohesion and connection more than ever before.
It’s true one should never directly lie to a child. Engaging in and enjoying the Father Christmas myth is totally different to the practice of lying. The continuance of age old myths is precisely that which bonds us together through and across generations. Is the tooth fairy a lie? Are Apollo and Neptune lies? Is Hans Christian Anderson a scoundrel? Or is JK Rowling guilty of destroying trust? No – each of these is either a myth or a creator of myth.
There needs to be a clear distinction made between myth and lies.
A lie is an untruth, told to hide the reality of a situation for many reasons. Usually it is to deceive someone or to escape punishment. Sometimes it’s a ‘good’ or utilitarian lie, as described by Kant, told with the intention of preventing hurt. Nevertheless, it is still a lie and, in Kant’s view, wrong. A matter for one’s own conscience perhaps. My grandmother always said, “It’s better to be hurt with the truth than made a fool of with a lie”.
Myth is a different concept. It really does not fit into these categories.
Santa Claus, St Nicholas and Later Myths
Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Papa Noel, emerged from the character St Nicholas of Myra, a bishop believed to have originated from what is now southern Turkey. Popular culture morphed him into Santa Claus in America and then Father Christmas in the UK. He has been visiting children since the 1700s.
It’s interesting to note that in the first illustration of Santa Claus by Nast, in 1883 (during the American Civil War), he is wearing a star-spangled jacket and striped pants.
The myth has powerful social elements. It’s great how talk of Father Christmas bridges the gap between the young and the old, between social class and between faith groups. Father Christmas is a common denominator between us. He binds us all together.
Myth Binds Culture
If we now remove myth from culture, we destroy common threads that bind us. We throw away imagination and we discard tradition. More worryingly, children lose childhood and memories. They also lose powerful generational models of parenting.
So much of ethics, conscience and morality is contained in myth. Lose a myth and the fun reduces. More importantly, the ability to think abstractly reduces.
Ask any child who no longer believes in Santa Claus whether they felt deceived by their parents over the issue. I think I know their response. What’s your view?
Guyer. Paul, (2006), Kant. New York: New York, Routledge.
Moravcsik.J, (1992) Plato and Platonism: Plato’s conception of appearance and reality in ontology, epistemology and ethics and its modern echoes. Oxford.
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).