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No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

(For those who aren’t familiar with it — here’s the original.)

“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

-Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are right. There is no Santa Claus. It’s a story made up by your parents.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.

Your friends understand that there is plenty about the world which is not comprehensible by their little minds. They understand that all minds, whether they be adults’ or children’s, are little. They see that in this great universe of ours, humanity is a mere insect, an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us. But your friends also see that the only way we can gain a better understanding of this great universe is to question, and investigate, and not believe in myths simply because they’re told to us by our parents and teachers and newspaper editorial writers.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they simply understand that Santa Claus does not freaking exist.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. But Santa Claus does not exist. He is a story made up by your parents. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.

And far more importantly: You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! And that would be excellent. That would be exactly correct. Fairies don’t exist, either. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, and if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? A fair amount, actually. The Santa hypothesis claims that Santa comes down chimneys on Christmas Eve and gives presents to children: if every chimney is carefully watched on Christmas Eve, and nobody sees anybody coming down any of them, that’s very strong evidence that the Santa hypothesis is incorrect. Nobody sees Santa Claus — and that’s a good sign that there is no Santa Claus. There are certainly some things in the world that we can’t see directly — atoms, black holes, radio waves — but we can see or hear or otherwise detect the effect they have on the world. The most real things in the world are those that children and adults can see, or hear, or otherwise detect. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not. Nobody has. Nobody has seen any fairy tracks, or fairy nests, or any signs of fairies whatsoever. And that’s pretty good evidence that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. But we can try. In fact, trying is one of the finest human aspirations there is. We may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside — and if we do, we might get a better understanding of how the rattle works. And in doing so, in understanding how this one small rattle-shaped part of the universe works, we might gain a better understanding of the universe as a whole. But there is no magical veil covering an unseen world. And not the smartest person, nor even the united intellect of all the smartest people that ever lived, has ever given us any good reason to think that there is.

Fancy, poetry, love, romance… all of these are delightful, incredible, hugely important parts of human life. But they are part of the physical world. They are processes of the human brain, developed through millions of years of our evolution as a creative, exploring, social species. That doesn’t make them any less magnificent or wondrous. In fact, many people think it makes them even more magnificent and wondrous. Many people look at the fact that, out of nothing but rocks and water and sunlight, living beings have developed with the capacity for fancy and poetry and love and romance… and we’re knocked out of our seats by how marvelous that is. But there is no supernal beauty and glory beyond the natural world. There is only the natural world. Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

And it is completely messed-up to say that faith — i.e., believing in things we have no good reason to think are true — is in the same category as fancy, poetry, love, romance. Fancy and poetry and love and romance connect us with reality. Faith tells us to ignore it. Faith cuts us off from it.

No Santa Claus! That’s right. He doesn’t live, and he never did. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will still not exist — and no amount of fatuous, manipulative bloviating will make him real. And the heart of childhood is still made glad: by fancy, by poetry, by romance, by beauty and joy, by truth and knowledge, by love and generosity and devotion, and by the boundless magnificence of the universe.

(Oh, and while we’re at it: Your Papa is high. If you see it in the Sun, it is not necessarily so. Do not believe everything you read in the newspaper. Including this one.)

Comments

  1. Alex says

    I love how the banner ad on the side of this article is for “Track Santa Claus on NORAD with Google Earth”.

  2. doug says

    Dear Smarty-Pants Types: Santa Claus is an idea. You cannot kill an idea. It is Legion. Expect it on your rooftop on Saturday evening. P.S. Fairies also exist. Please attend your local Pride next summer if you doubt me. :-P

  3. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Sure you can kill an idea. You kill it with better ideas. The world is littered with dead ideas, and many of them were murdered.

    Never been a hard-core Greta groupie before, but this little gem could make me one.

  4. Claire says

    I am having the opposite problem. My child steadfastly insists that Santa is real. We have never told him Santa was real, we have actually told him for several years that Santa is pretend. However, he has seen pictures of his friends with Santa, so he’s told me that he doesn’t believe me since he has evidence to the contrary.
    .
    I will give him points for refusing to believe me just on my say-so, but it’s driving me nuts. And he has invented an entire system of “what is true” in the Santa mythology. Santa = real. Santa’s wife = real. Reindeer = real. Flying Reindeer = pretend.

    *sigh* Five year olds. They’re impossible.

  5. alanuk says

    Alex says:
    December 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I love how the banner ad on the side of this article is for “Track Santa Claus on NORAD with Google Earth”.

    I did not see the ad because I have chosen to block them. However I did try to access NORAD Santa from work. It was blocked on the grounds of WEAPONS.

  6. says

    Virginia, there is such a thing as real and meaningful knowledge. And you can have it, while you can’t have Santa or Jesus, even when you do avoid knowledge.

    And if you choose the path to knowledge, you may become a good deal wiser than all of the Santa-believing adults God-believing adults.

    Glen Davidson

  7. tamaratemple says

    If Santa Claus doesn’t exist then who’s this gentleman?

    Oh, c’mon now!! That’s just Death filling in for the HogFather. Not this fake Santa person at all!!

    OTOH, My Dad introduces himself as “Bob Claus, Santa’s Brother” — so you never know!!

  8. Danny Sichel says

    Nicholas of Myra damn well did exist. And now he’s dead, and has been so for centuries, and will continue to be dead for the rest of eternity. And there’s certainly a lot of folkloric bullshit that’s sprung up about him.

    But he did exist for about 70 years.

  9. chigau (mrmee, mrmee, mrmee) says

    Claire
    Your child is getting presents from Santa.
    If Santa is not real, that would be one fewer present.
    Five-year-olds ain’t stupid.

  10. Evinfuilt says

    You say in a thousand, or 10 thousand years there still won’t be a santa clause. Well, I think Futurama could be on to something, and we’ll build a homicidal robotic Santa Clause that will fill our silly little hole.

    He knows when you are sleeping,

    He knows when you’re on the can,

    He’ll hunt you down and blast your ass
    From here to Pakistan

    You better not breathe,
    You better not move,

    You’re better off dead I’m telling you dude

    Santa Claus is gunning you down

  11. ohioobserver says

    “Fancy, poetry, love, romance… all of these are delightful, incredible, hugely important parts of human life. But they are part of the physical world. They are processes of the human brain, developed through millions of years of our evolution as a creative, exploring, social species. That doesn’t make them any less magnificent or wondrous.”

    As a science teacher who makes skepticism an essential part of my teaching, I’m often challenged by students who say “oh, you take the romance out of everything”. I’m going to frame the above quote and post it in my classroom as the definitive answer to that accusation. (with your permission, of course, Greta).

  12. peterh says

    What # 16 said.

    Santa’s outlandish taste in clotihng and his quixotic means of transport are simply symbolic of a deep and valuable human trait – care and sharing for and with one another. One oughtn’t to think too deeply about some things like Santas and sunsets and the gestures of gorillas. We all are, or can be, Santa. How else will he manage those 3.7 billion appointments tomorrow evening?

  13. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Mr. Rogers, he of the Land of Make-Believe, was always scrupulous about telling the small fry there is a difference between pretend things and real ones, and pointing out the mechanics behind the “magic” on his show. We need Mr. Rogers for grownups.

  14. Martin says

    I will give him points for refusing to believe me just on my say-so, but it’s driving me nuts. And he has invented an entire system of “what is true” in the Santa mythology. Santa = real. Santa’s wife = real. Reindeer = real. Flying Reindeer = pretend.

    *sigh* Five year olds. They’re impossible.

    Take him shopping for his own presents and have him put them under the tree himself. That should prove it.
    My nephew stopped believing when he got the presents he had found under his mother’s bed weeks before.

  15. Phil says

    I always thought the best way to handle the whole Santa Claus thing is to tell your kids that he exists, but then have some kind of rite-of-passage-like celebration when they figure out that he doesn’t. Realizing that Santa Claus isn’t real is the first true independent thought many children have. It doesn’t do our kids any damage to let them pretend that Santa is real for a little while, but the mistake many parents make is treating the birth of their children’s skepticism as a sad thing.

  16. shouldbeworking says

    I have no trouble with little kids believing in Santa. I told my 2 girls when they got older that Santa was like cartoon rabbits, everyone knows they can’t talk and pull anvils out their back pockets. But it is a bit of fun for the young and the young at heart.

  17. Ananda says

    While I was a deeply religious (both a relentlessly indoctrinated and inherently spiritually-inclined) child, I never believed in Santa and neither did my partner. The question of Santa is one that seemed to plague a lot of our friends, how to deal with it without lying.

    We told our daughter that Santa wasn’t real, didn’t exist at all, except as the representation of some lovely ideas (of which we approved—charity, generosity, anonymous giving), and that he was loosely based on various historical and mythical figures. When Santa was on wrapping paper and cards, it was people’s way of saying that those things were important to them. We told her that when people gave her a gift from “Santa”, it was because they wanted her to appreciate the gift, for the gift to be about her, and not the giver. In our family, at least, it was how we did it.

    It seemed to work. She was barely four, and she got it, and she still liked “Santa” because he was a happy *myth* like unicorns and elves, which she also loved at the time, though she knew they were pretend. Knowing that Santa wasn’t *REAL* didn’t ruin Christmas for her. In fact, it made Christmas more fun, knowing that she could “play Santa” to someone else.

    And of course we had to tell her that other children would find it hurtful if she told them that “idea people” like Santa and Jesus and God weren’t real. :p She didn’t like lying to her friends but held off until she was seven, when she said the other kids could take it. Now that she’s a teenager, she’s thanked us more than once for not lying to her or indoctrinating her into any religious beliefs.

  18. Jeaux says

    How do you expect the little kid to believe you PZ when you lie in your first paragraph? Her parents didn’t make up the story of Santa Claus.

  19. Jeaux says

    Blah, Was linked and wasn’t paying attention ignore the PZ bit and change it to Greta… *walks away in shame*

  20. Ananda says

    @24/@25 Jeaux—

    All parents decide what to tell their children. Even if a myth is intrenched in society, it’s filtered through the parents. The parents, fictional or not, are the ones who create the story to pass on to their children, just like I did.

  21. TonyJ says

    The Santa game is harmless fun, and the eventual discovery of the truth about Santa is good practice for the discovery of other truths.

    I happen to think it’s OK for little kids to believe in fairies, unicorns, elves, and Santa.

  22. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    He’s makin’ a list, checkin’ it twice
    Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
    Santa Claus is coming to town
    He knows when you are sleepin’
    He knows when you’re awake
    He knows if you’ve been good or bad

    Santa Claus, jolly old elf or stalker?

  23. says

    My boy’s mother likes the Santa Claus thing; I don’t, but I’m not that fussed. We have a kind of truce on the subject: I don’t push the truth on the boy, but I won’t lie to him if he asks, and I give no support to the idea. The presents under my tree are all from me or his grandma or other relatives – real people. I don’t speak to the ones under his mother’s tree.

    I have a t-shirt I had made saying “Six Impossible Things to believe in before breakfast: 1)Santa Clause 2)Easter Bunny 3)Tooth Fairy 4)Pink Unicorn 5)Spaghetti Monster 6)God.” (I’m a huge Alice fan.) His Mom freaked a bit when I wore it picking him up, not because of the inclusion of God (she’s agnostic) but because of the Santa listing. He just laughed at the Spaghetti Monster part and thought nothing of the rest.

    I actually don’t know where he stands on the Santa issue today, but despite the best efforts of his half-siblings (all Christians) he’s come down firmly on the atheism side of that lesser debate.

  24. Azkyroth says

    I always thought the best way to handle the whole Santa Claus thing is to tell your kids that he exists, but then have some kind of rite-of-passage-like celebration when they figure out that he doesn’t. Realizing that Santa Claus isn’t real is the first true independent thought many children have. It doesn’t do our kids any damage to let them pretend that Santa is real for a little while, but the mistake many parents make is treating the birth of their children’s skepticism as a sad thing.

    …fuck, I should have done this. >.>

  25. says

    What impresses me about the original is there really was a Virginia O’Hanlon, and she, at eight years old, could write so well. She even uses the semicolon correctly.

    “Some people have questioned the veracity of the letter’s authorship, expressing doubt that a young girl such as Virginia would refer to children her own age as “my little friends”. The original letter, however, appeared and was authenticated in 1998 by Kathleen Guzman, an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow, at $20,000–$30,000.” http://tinyurl.com/v34lt

    I have always been fascinated by the fact that Church is the surname of the man who wrote the reply: Francis Pharcellus Church

  26. heatherh says

    Wow, seems over the top to me; just plane long and condescending. And I’m a strong liberal atheist who is a big fan of Pharyngula. This was really said to an 8 year old?!

    “Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age” …and you haven’t. And it’s very likely her friends were told there is no Santa, or one of them figured it out and told the rest who had honest parents.

    “You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for.” Good job hiding your ulterior motive. I am all for teaching skepticism, but this wasn’t cunning at all. I could imagine the girl wondering if she will really be put down for not believing in Santa Clause.

    “Your Papa is high.” I really hope that wasn’t in the original.

  27. Jerri Mack says

    Rather than lie to kids, or upset them by telling them Santa isn’t real, why not just ask them, if they ask you about the matter, why they think there is or is not this man in the red suit? When I was a kid, I was a true believer, despite my parents telling me at age 3 there was no such animal. I was convinced the footsteps I heard on Xmas eve were santa’s, and I wasn’t asleep yet, and he would pass me by. We had no fireplace, and that worried me, yet on Xmas morning I had a full stocking on the foot of my bed. But at age 7, we moved to a house with a fireplace, and I just knew no one could slither down that, magic or not. So when I asked my mother if Santa was real, she said “What do YOU think?” and that was the end of it. So children will figure it out on their own, and I don’t think any kid feels particularly betrayed by the whole business.

  28. ikesolem says

    @ Jeauz “How do you expect the little kid to believe you. . . Her parents didn’t make up the story of Santa Claus.”

    Well, for her they did, since they told the story, but here’s what I’d say:

    Dear Child, Santa Claus is a derived mythology promoted by the Christian religion, which is nothing if not syncretic. Yes, a big word, but it means that it’s been cobbled together from other, older religions. Or, it gobbles up other religions in the process of conversion. Whatever, I’m boring you, right?

    Let’s try another approach. Long ago, there were people who lived in the far north of Europe, and they herded reindeer for a living. Yes, reindeer are cool. Somehow, they discovered that reindeer could eat mushrooms with toxins – Amanita muscaria, you know, the red ones with the white spots? – and their urine would then contain sort-of purified hallucinogenic compounds. Never mind what that means.

    Anyhow, the shamans of these Laplanders and other reindeer people (a shaman is like a witch doctor, or a priest) would drink the mushroom urine and have fantastic visions of flying through the sky, where they’d meet with various “helper spirits” (the product of a drug-infused brain, although they ‘really did’ see them) who would give them gifts of spiritual knowledge. Sounds familiar, right?

    While the specifics are disputed by boring scholars, these reindeer people did have shamans who transformed into flying reindeers (not really, but in their minds that’s what they ‘saw’) by engaging in the use of psychoactive drugs derived from Amanita muscaria. So, when Christianity came along, in typical fashion they adopted this mythology but tied it to their own Christian faith, associating this shamanic figure with the birth of their iconic hero-figure, Jesus of Nazareth.

    Yes, it seems like quite a stretch, but that’s how Christianity has historically operated – syncretic all the way. The Virgin Mary covered a lot of that ground, too. Nowadays, Santa has become more associated with material consumerism, which you might call the real dominant religion of our time, but it is still one of the more appealing quasi-Christian fairy tales – a jolly fat man flying around on reindeer bringing gifts, who doesn’t like that idea? (Hint: early American Puritans hated it)

    What? No, Santa Claus is not a real person. It’s just a nice fantasy story – mythology, we call it. Oh, it’s possible that people saw Santa Claus when under the influence of drink or drugs, but remember this – you can’t always believe everything you see and hear, now can you?

  29. Azkyroth says

    Wow, seems over the top to me; just plane long and condescending. And I’m a strong liberal atheist who is a big fan of Pharyngula. This was really said to an 8 year old?!

    “Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age” …and you haven’t. And it’s very likely her friends were told there is no Santa, or one of them figured it out and told the rest who had honest parents.

    “You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for.” Good job hiding your ulterior motive. I am all for teaching skepticism, but this wasn’t cunning at all. I could imagine the girl wondering if she will really be put down for not believing in Santa Clause.

    “Your Papa is high.” I really hope that wasn’t in the original.

    Um, this is a rebuttal to a piece entitled “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.” That was published in 1897. And is a pretty well known part of American cultural background noise. And was linked to at the top if that wasn’t obvious enough.

  30. Yellow Thursday says

    Gah! I just had a customer come through my workplace and rant to a coworker:

    “My grandson knows there’s no such thing as Santa! Just ask him, he’ll tell you that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. He just wants to know why we give each other gifts when it’s Jesus’ birthday. I don’t think it’s right to fill kids’ heads full of nonsense.”

    And then on with the same rant about Easter and the Easter bunny. I’m glad he was talking to my coworker instead of me. I would have had a hard time smiling through gritted teeth and not saying anything.

  31. Lana C says

    To Heatherh: I think that Greta’s piece is more of a piece for the grown ups. No one blames the child for believing the lies told to them by the adults, and no one would tell her her Papa is high. It is for her Papa to read, and to note the fault of what he has been doing, that is, lying to his child. Besides, name me an 8 year old who is allowed to read this blog, and I’ll show you a kid who knows more about bondage and gay rights than many adults. Be serious here. To say that this could in any way be addressed to the child is just silly.

    And to draw parallels to belief in other things is just a normal argument. You don’t get upset about all the unicorn dissing, but you get upset at the “mythical being” reference? Why? What’s the difference really?

  32. Margaret says

    Knowing that Santa wasn’t *REAL* didn’t ruin Christmas for her. In fact, it made Christmas more fun, knowing that she could “play Santa” to someone else.

    Yes. Knowing that Santa was a role, not a person, made xmas more fun. Getting to “play Santa” (and I don’t mean dress-up) is what made xmas fun well into middle age when the fun was ruined by finally learning (why yes I am a slow learner) that many adults work hard to trick children on the subject, apparently so they can laugh at the little idiots for being so stupid as to actually trust their parents and teachers.

  33. says

    Living in England, and not having clicked in the link, I read that letter as written in the present to the UK tabloid The Sun, of Page 3 Girl and, lately, phone hacking scandal fame.

  34. says

    When I found out about Santa, I actually felt pretty betrayed by my mother. I believed in magic then and when I found out that it wasn’t true, I felt pretty awful.

    I don’t think it’s fair to make a child believe in something fake that you know isn’t true. It may not cause lasting harm to most children, but some kids just feel betrayed by the people who they’re supposed to depend on.

  35. Nemo says

    To the people pointing out St. Nicholas, I’d say he bears about as much relation to the mythological Santa Claus as the historical Jesus (if any) does to the Jesus of the Bible.

  36. says

    Phil @ 20

    It doesn’t do our kids any damage to let them pretend that Santa is real for a little while

    Jerri Mack @ 36

    and I don’t think any kid feels particularly betrayed by the whole business.

    When I found out Santa was not real, I certainly felt betrayed. I could not figure out why the grown-ups engaged in this huge conspiracy to fool me into believing such nonsense. I lost trust in the adults around me.

    Did this cause me harm? In a way, sure. But it did me a huge favor, too. It turned me into a skeptic at a very young age. At “First Communion”, I was what, 7 years old, and I thought “They’re playing another trick on me”.

    Wouldn’t that be nice if every little kid came to the same conclusion about religious indoctrination. But I think Santa is used as a “softening up” for the bigger lies to come… I once heard a woman tell her kid “Santa and Jesus are watching you”.

  37. cag says

    It was early on Christmas day and all over the world, except for one state in the USA the presents were under the tree. An urgent e-mail went out from Francis Pharcellus Church to Santa. It went like this:

    Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia.

  38. articulett says

    ABQ @ 40–

    Yep… Santa is kind of like Jesus… he may be based on a real person or several people– but none of the magical stuff is true and he’s dead now. It’s all pretend!

  39. Ananda says

    @42 Margaret—

    I agree that parents lying to their children about Santa sours the joy of the myth/concept terribly. Other kids stop believing in Santa when they find out the truth, but mine still believes whole-heartedly in all the ideas we told her were summed up in the mythological figure of Santa. I know which one I’d rather have.

  40. speedweasel says

    Claire @7 said,

    My child steadfastly insists that Santa is real. We have never told him Santa was real, we have actually told him for several years that Santa is pretend. However, he has seen pictures of his friends with Santa, so he’s told me that he doesn’t believe me since he has evidence to the contrary.

    Quick, explain ‘quality of evidence’ to your kid before they discover conspiracy theories. :)

  41. Katkinkate says

    I can’t remember when I found out/was told that Santa wasn’t real. I can’t clearly remember ever believing he was. But I do remember the betrayal I felt when I started school and began to find out all the other lies my dad told me about the world and history, either as a joke or from his own ignorance. I stopped believing his stories totally before I was 10. It may have given me a measure of skepticism, but it was mostly aimed at anything my dad said. It totally destroyed my image of my wise, all-knowing father who always had an answer for every question – most of them turned out to be crap. Although some of his answers made good stories, as long as you remembered any resemblance to reality was probably coincidental. I eventually just stopped asking him questions.

  42. says

    I eventually just stopped asking him questions

    Kids ask lots of questions, so I didn’t pick up on it at the time. My neice just lately informed me that I was the answer guy when she and her sibs and friends were kids. When they wanted a straight answer, they came to me. She tells me I answered questions without the “fluff”.

    Likely so. My take was, if you’re old enough to ask the question, you’re old enough to hear the answer.

  43. anuran says

    Figured out there was no Santa Claus before my parents got around to telling me he existed. We had the old Time-Life nature and science books. There was a picture of Perry at the North Pole. Lots of snow. Lots of ice. No elves. No Santa Claus.

  44. Jeffrey Soreff says

    @ikesolem

    Dear Child, Santa Claus is a derived mythology promoted by the Christian religion, which is nothing if not syncretic. Yes, a big word, but it means that it’s been cobbled together from other, older religions. Or, it gobbles up other religions in the process of conversion. Whatever, I’m boring you, right?

    In keeping with the HPL theme of Greta’s third-to-last post, does that
    make Christianity a Shoggoth?

  45. Nemo says

    Kamaka #46:

    I once heard a woman tell her kid “Santa and Jesus are watching you”.

    Says it all really.

    Rather than attempt to get my hypothetical children to behave by telling them there’s an invisible entity watching them at all times that can punish or reward them, I’d tell them: There are times when no one’s watching you, and yes, you might “get away with” something then. But there’s still one person who knows what you did, and will judge you for it: you.

  46. Scott says

    #20 Are you nuts, or simply joking? There is harm in lying to children. Realizing that Santa is fantasy is not “the first independent thought that children have”. It’s impossible to know what any given child’s first independent thought is, but we don’t need to feed them lies to coax them into it.

    #44 I know what you mean. I was lied to about SC and when I finally figured out the truth, I felt like an idiot. It really damaged my self esteem, because by then I was 9 or 10 (can’t remember my exact age), and I just felt … stupid. Not “Hah, hah! You got me!” stupid, but really crushed.

    I also think that teaching children to believe in a magical being that watches them (privacy, anyone?), knows what they’re doing, judges them, and rewards or punishes them is just pure evil. It’s so obviously an introductory mini-god for younger minds. My kid doesn’t need to believe in some magical asshole to behave well.

    Santa… Move the “n” to the end and he’s sooo much cooler.

  47. says

    Ah, Greta. About time somebody wrote a response to that “Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus” piece of horseshit. Thanks for this. Delightful. It’s the answer that should have been given to Virginia those many years ago.

  48. Tony says

    I like the Santa game (and it is a game) and I do it with my kids. Of course this might change if Santa-ists attempt to legislate into the classroom the “magic reindeer” theory of aeronautics.

  49. says

    Nooo!!

    I was going to post using this exact same theme but keeping all the same wording and replacing Santa with God and interjecting comments… grrr now I have to go write something else! At least I can take comfort in the joy of knowing that I was thinking along the same lines as you.

    Thanks for doing it better (not just faster) than I could.

  50. MudPuddles says

    I watched the movie Miracle on 34th Street yesterday on TV. At one point the lawyer character is debating the existence of Santa Clause with his girlfriend and they get around to the issue of faith. The lawyer says “Faith means believing in something when common sense tells you not to”. Probably the best definition I have ever heard.

  51. mmmmm says

    What about when you haven’t said anything about Santa at all and if it was talked about it was as a myth/legend, but they’ve still absorbed the cultural references?

    Still had the 9 year googling what Reindeer eat this year and wanting to leave a plate of grass, plus some beer for “Santa”.

  52. Carlie says

    We didn’t have to say anything one way or the other about Santa – the kids just absorbed it from the culture around them (much like the earlier commenter whose son believes despite being told the opposite). We played along with it for awhile, and then went along with the kids when they started exploring the “santa might not be real” idea. I’ve tried to use it over the years as a teachable moment about critical thinking and evidence; my younger son has Asperger’s, and still wants to believe in Santa at what is a much more advanced age than usual. The last three years or so we’ve really been pushing each other (him asking me to tell him flat-out, me giving him info and asking him what conclusions he draws from it), and he’s told me directly this year that no, there isn’t a Santa, but he’s decided to believe in it ANYWAY because it’s a nice idea. We’re now into shifting over more heavily into what Santa means to more clearly identify what it is he wants to believe in. That kind of covers the reactions like this:

    When I found out Santa was not real, I certainly felt betrayed. I could not figure out why the grown-ups engaged in this huge conspiracy to fool me into believing such nonsense. I lost trust in the adults around me.

    because I’ve tried to cover that base the entire time with discussing how Santa is the way that people give gifts to others without trying to take credit for it, because Santa represents being kind and generous. That way I tell them that we told them about Santa as a way to introduce the idea of giving for the sake of giving rather than for getting credit for it.

  53. Sarah says

    My mother had REALLY unique handwriting–so unique that, when she died, my little brother had her initials, in her handwriting, tattooed on his arm. The letter S was particularly hers, and her first and middle initial were both S, which makes the tattoo really special. This is pertinent because, at age 4, I noticed that the Easter Bunny wrote the S in Sarah with that same Mama font, and the same with Santa. At that age, I started to wonder. The “Santa isn’t real” rumor started floating around me when I was about 7, and I’ll always remember when my mother told me Santa wasn’t real. I was 8 years old, she was putting my hair into ponytails in front of my mirror, and my 9-year-old brother was standing next to her, so I could see all three of our faces as this news was delivered and processed. I think my heart sank a little, and I had a smile on my face that one has when one isn’t sure what one is feeling. Then I was fine. My mom was REALLY into Disney, so believing in Santa was like believing in Cinderella and Snow White. I played those characters at Disney World for 21 years (Cinderella, not Snow), and Disney made a REALLY big deal out of creating a magical experience for everyone, but especially for the kids. I can understand feeling betrayed, but for me, it was more like phasing out of the belief in all magical fairy tales gradually. Something you outgrow, like peeing in my pants and kicking doctors when they went to give me shots.

  54. bahrfeldt says

    Fortunately there is no Sanity Clause, or a lot of us would be in (even more) trouble. Nor do I believe in Virgins.

  55. Bob Becker says

    Aw, hell, guys…. Santa Claus is a lot of fun for a lot of kids. This anti-Santa stuff sounds like prissy over sensitivity on a bit of harmless trivia to me. Downright Oliver Cromwell churlish. And I dislike the FRRF targeting kids with its “Yes, Virginia, there is no god” bill boards just as I dislike the fundies targeting kids with their appalling Jesus Camps.

    Leave out some cookies and milk for the big guy tonight. He’s got a tough route and he’s on deadline.

  56. James W. King says

    A new classic is born! I believe there is a lot to commend about this alternative view, because on balance, the Santa Claus tradition really does need to be reformed.

    Remember: Although he may owe his physical appearance to Odinic mythological influences, the actual St. Nicholas is the root-origin model for Santa Claus. And who was Nicholas most renowned for helping long before he became achieved sainthood?

    The poor.

    For that reason, I propose the reformation and transition of Santa Claus back into the champion of the poor and genuinely needy — in essence, back to his original spiritual roots. I advocate that the Santa Claus tradition should be updated to this effect: Because of all the poverty and deprivation in the world, Santa Claus must devote all his energies and resources to helping the poor and needy. At the same time, Santa asks that children and families alike help him in this effort by purchasing an appropriate toy to denote to a Christmas charity.

    Naturally, for such a transition to occur in the first place, it will require some early adopters to set the new standard. Therefore, I challenge all of you parents and guardians with infants and toddlers young enough not yet able to comprehand what the man with the white beard in the red-and-white suit is all about to seriously consider putting Santa Claus back in Christmas the original Saint Nicholas way by telling your kids when they’re eventually able to comprehend enough spoken words that Santa Claus is the toy-deliverer for the poor and genuinely needy, but that he also welcomes children to help him in his global effort by buying a toy to denote to a local Christmas charity.

    So, dear parents, with the transition back to a Santa Claus tradition more in keeping with the spirit of Christma, you yourselves will finally be able to have the best of two worlds: you can at last acknowledge and take a bow for your own efforts at gift-giving to your own children while at the same time helping out Santa Claus with his “new” original mission work.

    Merry Christmas,

    James King
    Chief Advocate & Organizer
    Society for the Reformation of the Santa Claus Tradition

  57. UnEasyOne says

    I have two sons; one is 35 and the other is 2. So I have been through this once and am about to go through it again.

    When #1 son was young, I made up my mind I wasn’t going to lie to him. The wife at the time and the in-laws had no such compunction, so he was raised – by them – to believe. Eventually, though, another kid told him that there was no such thing, and he asked me about it. I told him that Santa represented the spirit of giving to others and showing love for those closest to you. I told him that people had made up a lot of stories about Santa even though Santa wasn’t real, because it is so important to love and to share those feelings with those we love. Giving is one way we do that.

    I told him that Santa is a game of “let’s pretend” we play to teach children how important it is to give love and receive it themselves, and that presents are just symbols of that love.

    I told him that if he wanted to believe, it was okay, because love is very real and Santa is just one way to express it, but if he didn’t want to believe, that was okay too, because that fat man in the red suit is a story made up to teach kids about love.

    He accepted all that and later that day, he told me that he wanted to believe. I told him that was okay, and for some time thereafter we pretended Santa was real. But we both knew it was “Let’s pretend.”

    I felt betrayed and disappointed when I discovered Santa wasn’t real. My son had no such problem.

  58. James W. King says

    Addendum Post Script to My Earlier Entry Advocating the Reformation of the Santa Claus Tradition:

    A real-life example of the very object lesson that I was advocating that parents consider adopting our reformed Santa Claus tradition is exemplified by the parents of Sylvia Seymour Akin of Memphis, Tennessee more than 60 years ago on Christmas morning, 1949. More than 60 years later, Ms. Akin finally wrote down that meaningful experience and submitted it to National Public Radio’s “Story Corps” short-autobiographical story series. It has since become a perennial holiday favorite; is part of NPR’s “Tinsel Tales”; and was one of the many stories compiled in the “I Thought My Father Was God” anthology audiobook.

    To hear “Christmas Morning, 1949″, Sylvia Akin’s story, read by Paul Oster, story editor of the “Story Corps” series, go to http://www.npr.org/2011/12/21/17488106/tinsel-tales-npr-christmas-stories and scan down the list until you get to the “Christmas Morning, 1949″ entry and click the link to hear the audio.

    Another webpage lists links for both the text of the story and an NPR audio link as well at: http://www.thefedoralounge.com/showthread.php?53065-Christmas-Morning-1949

    Back in 1995, country-western singer Toby Keith introduced a new Christmas song, “Santa, I’m Right Here”, whose sentiment best encapsulates what I’m talking about in terms of shifting Santa’s priorities to the poor and genuinely needy. Check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZqYUiW5wEY

    Merry Christmas,

    James King
    Chief Advocate & Organizer
    Society for the Reformation of the Santa Claus Tradition

  59. says

    Wonderful piece!
    As a Jew and a very shy kid, I was always grateful that I never had to deal with the whole Santa thing; one less stranger I was expected to talk to. We celebrated Chanukah and got lots of presents every night, and I knew those presents came from my parents and other family members. I also knew that if I didn’t get everything I wanted it had nothing to do with whether I’d been good or how much my parents loved me – I knew that there was only so much money to go around. I thought it was weird that some of my friends thought that their presents came from this made up guy instead of their family, and they had to go tell him what they wanted or at least write him a letter or they might not get anything. And why would their parents go out of their way to hide the fact that they were giving gifts to their kids – that seemed really odd. I did like the explanation my mother’s mother gave her and her siblings. My grandmother told them that Santa was the guy who brought the toys to the department stores for Jewish parents to buy for Chanukah and Christian parents to buy for Christmas, and that a lot of the Christian parents told their kids that Santa brought the toys directly to the house so just go along with it. Santa as wholesale toy distributor made perfect sense to my mother.

    But the insistence that this story is somehow a beautiful thing and good for kids – nope, never got that. All I’ve ever heard were horror stories from friends who were either traumatized when they learned the truth or got in trouble for spilling the beans to a younger sibling. Don’t kids have enough to deal with without that guilt?

  60. llewelly says

    doug | December 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm :

    You cannot kill an idea

    Entirely wrong. The archaeological record is replete with cultures whose languages are wholly unknown. Each one containing ideas we will never know. Dead.

  61. says

    Wrote this elsewhere re: the very same famous editorial, reposted here for perpetuity:

    A well written, but totally bogus piece. A world without Santa Claus isn’t dreary or unromantic; it’s just honest. What is dreary is this attitude that what’s real somehow isn’t enough, that we must invent things to believe in to make our lives hospitable.

    The truth is that the world is a vast and wondrous place, full of magnificent things large and small, visible and invisible. Waking life is a condition gifted with boundless adventure. As much as we know now, we’ll never run out of new things to learn, or new places to explore, within and without.

    To cast those things down as dreary or uninteresting, to complain that generosity, and love and kindness are not enough lest we dress them up in a red jacket and hat is to spit in the face of how lucky we are to be alive at all. We the living have won the lottery of existence. As many billions of us as there are living, and have lived, there are people beyond number who will never be born, never be at all. It is our responsibility to cherish that fact, and do our best to improve this life for others, not tarnish it by demanding that it be gussied up before we’ll acknowledge it, especially when the truth is so remarkable.

    And the truth about Christmas is this: every year, around this time, millions and millions of people pause, and give one another gifts. Some of them put in weeks, even months of effort, to craft, or imagine, or save up for the perfect choice for each person. When some are less able to give, others often step in to help, both for loved ones and for perfect strangers. Where possible, they also gather together with the ones they care for most, and celebrate their lives, and their family.

    So, no, Santa Claus isn’t real. There is no red-clad man in a workshop in Greenland, toiling away with his elves to make children happy. There is no sleigh that soars through the night sky on Christmas Eve. But the work of Santa Claus–the real meat of it–is done all around us: by our fathers, and mothers, and sisters and brothers and countless other people we will never meet; and even, lest we forget, by us. To me, that is far more astonishing.

  62. says

    “No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. But Santa Claus does not exist. He is a story made up by your parents. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.”

    This automatically reminded me of the value of a story even if it turns out to be a myth.

    However, I have to agree there. I don’t need a fairytale to teach me generosity and devotion. In fact, it should come from within. I used to believe that, even though I’m very anti-religions, that gods and holy stories do encourage people to some degree to be moral. But then again, this encouragement shouldn’t be needed and, if needed at all, could be presented in many other ways that don’t include a skydaddy who wants to send you to Hell.

  63. says

    This is sad. What about fostering imagination in kids? I knew figured out there was no Santa at a very young age, but I remember still pretending along like I believed because it was so much fun. It’s like believing in princesses and dragons. Like pretending all is right and fair in the world. You are a child for a few precious years, let them have their imagination!!

  64. darwinharmless says

    @sandyaffer There’s a difference between allowing them to enjoy their imagination and feeding them nonsense. When a child asks a direct question, they deserve a direct answer. There were many ways to answer this child’s direct question, other than to tell her that Santa is real. To treat a child the way the original newspaper piece treated her is disrespectful of the child’s intelligence. I refer you to the last paragraph of Greta’s excellence rebuttal: “And the heart of childhood is still made glad: by fancy, by poetry, by romance, by beauty and joy, by truth and knowledge, by love and generosity and devotion, and by the boundless magnificence of the universe.”
    It isn’t taking anything away from childhood to show them the universe and all its marvels, while turning them away from fatuous nonsense.

  65. rhondatalbot says

    I love this. I have opposite problem. Told son at 7 who begged for truth was so relieved. Now have 9 year old twins, they know it’s all hooey but THEIR FATHER is insisting it’s true. Talk about mess with someones reality. OR THEY wont get gifts and now he’s mad at me for telling them truth. Should I divorce him? good god

  66. rheathrow says

    The amount of cyncism abound is depressing. Christmas is a special time, as is childhood. As a child, believing in something that isn’t real isn’t going to corrupt them or do harm. If you bring your kids up right, you can separately teach them of love and generosity exist, without associating it directly with Santa Claus as if one can’t exist without the other. Santa Claus is about the magic and excitement that it creates for the child. They won’t believe in Santa for ever, and there is a time when they should no longer believe in Santa, but while they are kids, let them be kids. They will have plenty of time to learn about the realities of the real world. Believing in myths is taught to us through books rememeber, it has existed as part of our childhood, Grimms Fairytales, Disney movies, they are stories that have been read to children throughout the centuries and they will continue to be.

    Whether you as parents don’t agree with teaching your kids about Santa Claus, if they themselves believe, let them, they won’t be kids forever.

  67. darwinharmless says

    @rheathrow I think we all agree with you. If a child is young enough to still believe in Santa we don’t need to go bursting any bubbles. But when a child is old enough to ask a direct question – do faeries exist? Are ghosts real? Is there a real Santa? They are old enough to get an honest answer. Allowing them to enjoy fiction, faerie tales, and myths is not harmed by letting them know that these things are just stories. Unloess you think it’s okay to tell direct lies to your child, in which case I really disagree with you. I see that as bad parenting and a breach of trust.

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  2. […] Claus." I found the following blog entry, which went far above and beyond my expectations. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus From the above link's article, a parody of the Sun's famous response: You might get your papa to […]

  3. […] I was strongly driven into believing that I could love certain characters I have never seen because some historians with a severe case of Jerusalem Syndrome said that they excited not only because this character is supposedly very charming (when, and depending on authentic hadiths, I found the character of Muhammad to be rather disgusting, hateful, thoughtless, etc), but also because I will eternally burn if I say otherwise.  I was taught to give up all skepticism and immediately stop thinking whenever I’d reach a level so high of analyzing that I’d deny the existence of a god in the Islamic sense. Which reminds me of little Virgina investigating Santa Claus. […]

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