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Home / Parenting

Is the myth of Santa Claus good for children?

By Annie Awuor | 5 months ago | 6 min read

 Children believe Santa Claus comes in through the chimney at night to bring gifts (Photo: Courtesy)

Back in the day, Christmas was all about the birth of Jesus, going to church, travelling to the countryside, meeting up with family and eating.

Over the years it has evolved to introduce a new character into popular culture: Santa Claus. The notion of a big-boned man with a white beard who flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeers, and enters people’s homes through their chimneys to deliver presents to all the children of the world.

All this done in one night - the night before Christmas - though improbable carries a lot of charm for children who generally have a wild and vivid imagination. The Santa story has become so deeply entrenched, with Santa showing up in children’s television shows and movies, and even in malls.

And it is not just Christmas that has been invaded by mythical characters; Easter too has the Easter Bunny, then there is the Tooth Fairy and other fairy-tale creatures for other occasions.

Plus, some ‘modern’ parents are even taking it another step and dressing up their kids for holidays like Halloween, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.

For many, Santa Claus often elicits a lot of debate especially here in Africa. Those for him often argue that he is an acceptable addition to Christmas celebrations. After all, most of what children (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), and adults read and even watch is fiction, just like Santa Claus.

Some parents believe that their child’s imagination is a magical place, and want to allow them to explore it when they can because it is full of creativity and magic, which is beneficial to a child’s development.

Those against these mythical characters argue it is deceiving and disrespectful to lie to children fictional characters exist and that it will affect them negatively.

Others believe that Santa Claus’ presence during this Christmas season takes away from the real story and meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Christ and the spirit of giving.

We spoke to three experts to find out their views on this.

Reson Sindiyo, a Counselling Psychologist, does not see any harm in introducing fictional characters like Santa or the Easter Bunny, but within healthy boundaries.

“The first thing to note is that we must define who children are; between one and six years is early childhood, and between six and 12 years is mid-childhood. Children in early childhood are usually more open to anything their parents say as parents are their first friend and teacher, their everything. And at this stage there is no harm in encouraging the mystery of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, depending on one’s beliefs,” says Reson.

“It is a great opportunity for them to not only use their imagination, but also build confidence. It allows children to learn about communication because they will ask questions about who Santa is and why he comes when he does. Also, they also get to learn about giving.”

However, Reson warns that if you decide to allow the story of Santa in your home, parents ensure they commit to going with it all the way and be ready to answer whatever questions that may arise.

“If you commit to it, then be patient and do not get annoyed when your child asks questions. Read about the character or use your imagination and participate in it with your child.”

Reson also advises that boundaries are important because they give a child a sense of security, predictability and safety.

“The best way to instil boundaries even with mythical characters like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is by answering questions raised by the child or children. Allow them to ask questions without fear of punishment. Also, when you feel your child is old enough for the truth, and they ask for it, then be open with that.”

Another boundary that Reson believes is important is to ensure that myths of Santa Claus are not used to substitute one’s role as a parent.

“Do not work so hard to give your child the latest or most expensive Christmas presents at the expense of being home to spend quality time with them. A child who is six does not need an iPhone from Santa Claus, they need their parent to spend time with them.”

 When dealing with  mythical characters it is important to remember children process information differently (Photo: Courtesy)

Joan Kirera, a counselling psychologist, says that when it comes to dealing with mythical characters like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, it is important to remember that how children process information is different from adults.

“Although, adults have grown to assimilate and give things meaning as the world has taught them based on a variety of factors like religion, family or even societal beliefs, children are different. For children, Santa Claus, the Christmas tree or even the Easter Bunny are all about creating memories. It is something fun to do. They do not think in the context that adults do,” says Joan.

“Children live in a make-believe world where anything is possible. So, when it comes to holidays like Christmas or Easter, the question adults should ask themselves is what memories they want to create with their children before choosing to be for or against mythical characters like Santa Claus.”

If a parent chooses to go the Santa Claus or Easter Bunny way, then it must not be done or given in place of building a relationship with their child or children. That mythical holiday character should be added only to enhance healthy relationships that already exist between a parent and their child(ren).

She adds that if as a parent you choose not to go the Santa Claus way, then one should provide options for children and be understanding when they ask about the mythical characters they have seen on television or heard from friends.

“If as a parent you decide you do not believe in Santa Claus or Christmas trees or even presents on Christmas, you should not only explain to your child in a way that a child can understand and not in the context of an adult, but also provide alternative activities or traditions you can do as a family during the holidays,” she says.

Further, Joan recognises that the Christmas holidays come with a lot of pressure and that the exposure children get from TV about Santa, presents and the Christmas tree can be financially overwhelming.

She advises parents to remember that all children really need is to spend time with their parents, and not expensive gifts or experiences.

“You do not have to make children feel bad for asking for things during Christmas if you cannot afford it. Just explain to them why they may not get a particular gift, but within the context of your child’s age and understanding, and remind them that they are still loved. Also, you can decorate your house or make a Christmas tree with the available materials you have at home.”

Jackie Keya, a psychologist, counsellor, and life coach, believes parents should first educate their children on the concept of Santa while emphasising the importance of Christmas. “At the core of our Christmas celebration is the spirit of giving. “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son…”

Christmas, which marks the birth of His Son marks that day that God gave us a precious gift - His only begotten Son.”

She says that the legend of Santa can be traced hundreds of years back to a monk named St Nicholas. “St Nicholas was admired for his kindness, helping the poor and giving secret gifts.”

Jackie also does not think that children today live in fantasy because they can access information at the click of a button.

“In case a child does not have access to information, they are surrounded by peers who have access to the info and ready to burst their bubble and tell them Santa is not real, unlike when we were growing up.”

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