The Santa Secret: Santa Plays Favorites

Australian author Dr Joanne Faulkner created a stir worldwide recently when she advocated for parents to not tell their children the Santa Claus story.

“[Parents] should not create a fantasy where children are not given any basis for knowing what’s real and what’s pretend.” She said that she regretting telling her children about Santa, telling the Herald Sun newspaper, “My oldest daughter was extremely upset when she found out about Santa. She felt like she had been lied to and it’s an awful feeling.” Apparently she regretted it so much she couldn’t even come to terms with the fact that her child HAD been lied to (as opposed to saying her daughter merely “felt like” she had been lied to.)

I agree, I think it creates a certain insecurity in children.  First, because there’s sort of this wink/nod thing going on with the adults, so you suspect you’re being lied to, but these are the people you’re supposed to trust. Santa’s a great story when the kids fall for it hook, line, and sinker, but sooner or later they realize their parents are lying. How is that a good thing? We want to raise children who know we will always be honest with them, even if that honest answer on the harder issues of life is, “This isn’t something you need to worry about, mom and dad will take care of it.”

I like to think that even though my kids might have liked to believe in Santa when they were young, the fact that they know we won’t lie to them, even on something like Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy, it pays off in the long run with their trust in us. Now that they’re beginning their journey as teenagers, that trust means even more to me now as peer groups become more important and communication between us slows.

Secondly because kids are already over-exposed to violence and crime on TV shows and the news, telling them that someone can get into their house at night doesn’t seem like a soothing bedtime story.  Maybe it’s just because we had one child who was scared to go to bed at night because he was afraid of someone breaking into the house, but Santa would NOT have gone over well with him.

But there’s another problem with the Santa story that lies at the heart of what compels massive donations to Toys For Tots, and similar programs, without ever being addressed directly:  Santa plays favorites.

So I’ll say it.  I don’t like Santa. Haven’t since at least 2nd grade. Most of the kids in our class were from similar socio-economic backgrounds. But there were two students that stood out, one who was either more well off, or just very materially spoiled, and one who was visibly poor, or perhaps just neglected. As it so happens, the one who was very spoiled was the one bully of the class. The one who was poor was a very sweet and extremely shy girl.

I never remember believing in Santa, and even as a eight-year old, I remember it making me so angry that these kids were told that Santa brought toys based on who was “good,” knowing very well the kid who was going to get the most toys under the tree was the one kid in the class who deserved coal, and the sweet girl who appeared neglected might not get anything.

Another friend of mine, Tammy Nelson, reflected on her childhood to me, “I always loved Santa, but was baffled every year when the neighbor brats got a ton of cool stuff from Santa, and I got much less, and I was really, really good! …I always felt like somehow, I had done something wrong.”

It seems it still reflects in how we view the world as adults. We see rich people as more talented, intelligent, and generally deserving of their wealth, even if they acquired their wealth on the backs of people they mistreated. We’re grown-ups who still believe that those who are most deserving get the most toys, and if we don’t have everything we want, we must be at fault. And that is perhaps even more sad than an unanswered letter to Santa.

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Amy Doering is a peace and justice activist and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. She works as a tax-preparer and hypnotherapist, and lives in the Olympia area with her husband and three children.

7 Responses

  1. jess

    I’m familiar with the idea of legitimation, and the just world hypothesis, but I had never thought of Santa as an illustration! This is great; will include it/him when I teach about the ideology of meritocracy. Thanks.

  2. Dana

    I appreciate your comments toward the end of the article about Santa playing favorites, and that yes, this produces a ton of classism amongst children as they compare their gifts. Class Action is an appropriate forum for this discussion. However, the first half of your article has nothing to to with classism, and I don’t think manifesto-like parenting advice belongs here. I found this inappropriate, judgemental and annoying- not to mention way off base for a lot of children- the myth of Santa certainly didn’t damage me and I have a very trusting relationship with my parents- as I’m sure millions of other children do as well. You can have a creative conversation with your kid about inequality/how gifts aren’t everything/values you want to instill/etc. whether they believe in Santa or not.

  3. Amy Doering
    Amy

    You’ve got a good point Dana, the first half could have been shortened to keep the focus on classism. My attempt was to put it into context, to illustrate that the topic is being discussed with it’s pros and cons, every year, for reasons like the first two, like the article on Joanne Faulkner, and while I agree with those arguments as well, they are not relevant to my major objection with Santa, that being classism.
    And you’re right, the lying doesn’t “damage” kids. I don’t think it’s useful or productive towards a better relationship, (and I stand by the belief that not lying has created a better relationship with my kids) but because it is a cultural norm most children just accept the lie as a normal part of childhood, without the same sort of reaction that they might have to other lies. But in a way, that’s just the point.
    Debating the idea of Santa based on the lie, is like debating whether an ax is dangerous based on it’s weight and if it would hurt if you dropped it on your toe. The part that is dangerous… the inequality of gifts and the fallacy of connecting material reward with moral behavior… that’s the sharp edge that does the damage. That’s the belief we carry with us to adulthood. And in all the discussions of whether lying to kids about Santa is right or wrong, that’s the argument that doesn’t even get whispered.

  4. Kathy Modigliani

    I can’t imagine why people would fool their children with the Santa myth. It always seemed a little sadistic and power-mongering to me. I never told my kids about Santa. When they came home from school with questions, I said some people believe in Santa just like some people believe in God. We wonder why there is so much depression around Christmas – I think the loss of the Santa myth is a piece of it. We can make holidays special without planting seeds for future disillusionment.

    Re the good and bad children dichotomy, I don’t think this is just about rich and poor. To me the most insidious aspect of this adult power trip is about coercing children to comply with adult authority. It uses the reward of gifts to coerce children into compliance even though it may be against their best interests. Don’t speak up, go along to get along and you’ll be rewarded. Children are “bad” when they assert their needs, name their abusers, etc.

  5. Val

    Great post! I wasn’t told about Santa as a child; my mother’s family had traditionally opened presents on Christmas Eve, so there’s the entire setup shot anyway. 🙂 There was a sort of “what do you want Santa to bring you this year?” discussion, but I always knew Santa Claus was my parents.

    It didn’t ruin my childhood at all, and I do actually feel joy when I see Santa make the rounds in my neighborhood every year in a fire truck, because the idea of a giving character is sweet, but I’m happy my parents were honest with me about the myth of Santa.

  6. moonbeam

    well i grew up in the ghetto. and we lived in a 3rd floor walk up. and growing up i was wondering how this SANTA was going to deliver toys to the kids in our neighborhood. i was young my sis and me would look in the sky to see if we saw SANTA and the reindeer from our fire escape. we would leave cookies and milk on the table for this SANTA.LOL LOL. we stayed up all night,into the morn, and no SANTA. oh and our presents were already under the tree and we didnt know. growing up to teens and adulthood, i felt let down. BUT, i enjoyed the fantasy while i was little for a while.

  7. Lena Rothman
    Lena Rothman

    I believe that class is a bottom line issue that pervades everything including Christmas.Why is it that the holidays in general sees an increase in domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse? I believe it has more to do with alienation, competition and the reality that the holidays are supposed to be a time of year of peace,love and family and oftentimes they are not People are unhappy because the mythology of peace is just that. It is difficult for people to reconcile the myths with an increase in sexual abuse mainly because of alcoholism and Patriarchal thinking that females and male children are property. I’m sorry but it isn’t enough to talk about class without talking about how Capitalism and Patriarchy cause class misery and therefore an increase in violence. I know I’m going way out there for some but I can’t at the moment separate these things out. I’m probably reacting because I was in a relationship with a womyn that had been very abused as a child (as were her 12 siblings by the father) and my first and only Christmas with her and her son was the scariest time in our relationship. She told me that the abuse was always worse around Christmas,she cried the pain of the “great lies” and after so many months of sobriety she would slip once again.Christmas was the worst nightmare for her. She tried to make this up to her young son by buying him anything and everything he said he wanted and then some.Where she got the money for this, I don’t know.Suffice it to say I hope we can find other ways of celebrating where we don’t continually feed the corporations that feed off of us.

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