When I originally started writing this (literally over a year ago), with Christmas looming, there were many parents out there sharing advice with other parents on social media about how to mitigate the problems with Santa... the trauma caused to kids when they learn he isn't real, the possible biases against other kids the concept could create, and so forth. What I don't get is why more people don't suggest the obvious: Don't trick your kids into believing in Santa to begin with.
This is I guess a sleeper subject for me... I strongly believe Santa trickery shouldn't be a thing, but it's also not a very popular subject, just like all parenting-related subjects, and I think my friends are always kind of surprised that I have strong opinions on this. Since people think of the whole Santa lie as a mild, cute thing, it's easy to accuse myself and others of overreacting to something silly. But here's the thing... while I've largely gotten over the personal trauma I experienced that night, there are still a lot of things about this practice that I detest, many of which don't actually have much at all to do with hurting your child's feelings once they reach that age. Although that is, admittedly, a part of it.
First off, if you are raising your children into a religion, realize that Santa is very likely to become a God analogue for them.
A lot of Pagans (including myself as an adult) actually have adopted the Santa imagery used by Christians as a God stand-in, whether for Odin or the Holly King or some other deity. When done responsibly (in other words, without lying), this can be a good teaching tool for Pagan children and a way to facilitate inclusion in secular Christmas activities so they don't feel left out of things. I don't really understand why most Christians still use it, though, especially considering the high likelihood of teaching that he is literally a real divine or semi-divine person.
Think about it... you're drawing your kids' worship away from God and toward a being you know to be either fiction or at least fictionalized. I was raised Roman Catholic, which I think makes more sense (Catholics work with saints, and Santa is after all a modernized Saint Nicholas), but saint veneration is one of the things protestants often despise about Catholicism, so adopting it for the youngest and most impressionable because it's cute or fun is really weird to me. Were I a Christian I would consider this super risky for my children.
Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, Santa wound up being a godlike figure for me and at least one of my brothers. I would literally pray to Santa Claus (making the later conversion to Paganism not at all surprising). But religion doesn't actually work like Santa Claus, so you instill a very unrealistic worship manner in children this way. And that's not even mentioning that for many kids, learning Santa isn't real will be the first time they consider atheism. And while I don't have a problem with your kid being an atheist, if you raised them to be Christian I assume you might.
Next, you're setting your kids up for really gross levels of Christian exceptionalism.
Consider how your kids are relating to religious minority children when you do this. Not all parents who do the Santa thing are Christians, but it's still mostly a Christian thing, and it's well talked about in fictional depictions of Santa that he doesn't visit religious minority kids. People treat this like a big joke in movies and films, usually with reference to Jewish kids, but think about the underlying messages here. How does this change your kids' perceptions of kids within those religions that they believe they have some mystical magical man literally giving them lavish gifts while other kids get nothing? How do they process it when non-Christian parents do play this game with their kids?
And there are so many ways people try explaining this to kids (Like "he only comes if you really truly believe!") which try to explain why one of these kids wouldn't get visits, but again, how are your kids processing that? Are they avoiding befriending children on the basis that they don't believe in something as obvious as Santa Claus when he's visited them every year for their whole lives? Or are they just sort of ignoring or not noticing that major plot hole, causing it to solidify into one of their many future prejudices?
Speaking of which, you're also setting them up for shitty class values, too.
There's a bit of advice going around Facebook as I write this in which parents tell each other to have some of the less expensive gifts be the "Santa" gifts, while gifting the more expensive stuff as yourselves. This way if your kids have poorer friends, there is less of a conflict and less risk that they'll grow up thinking that being rich somehow gives you Santa favor or something.
I don't think this goes far enough, because in order to work it would have to be acknowledged by all richer parents (and do you really think most rich parents give a fuck?). This is another case where it becomes sort of an in-joke, but it's a really gross in-joke when you think about it.
Ugh, there's almost kind of a "The Secret" thing going on too, isn't there? Like if you just wish hard enough you can magically get the things you want just poofed to your house. When I was a kid and my parents were going through a rough layoff Santa was my emotional backup, which of course turned out to be a source of hope that never came through. It was probably extra painful for my parents, too, who got to hear me say naive shit like "well... maybe I'll get it from Santa" if something I really wanted was too expensive for them to get for me. I sometimes wonder how many times they got more expensive gifts from relatives to label as "from Santa" in order to keep up this ruse.
You're obligating both adults and children to lie about something ridiculous to your children.
When the subject of Santa comes up with a child, I wind up changing the subject as soon as possible. I hate lying to children, especially over something I know has the potential to give them so much trauma and do so much bad to them, so avoiding the subject like the plague is the only way I can deal with it without just blowing the lid off the whole thing for them (I won't... in addition to the social ostracism I'd probably experience, that would probably be even more traumatic). The point is, I really fucking hate it.
I hate it doubly worse as a religious minority. Religious minority adults having to keep up some total bullshit around other people's kids and religious minority children having to keep up lies with their peers is just one of many ways Christian exceptionalism is solidified in this culture. Christians are never obligated to pretend to believe in other religions' Gods or practices, so why are we?
The whole idea of Santa is dystopian and horrifying.
There's a semi-joke out there that Santa Claus is preparing children for living in a surveillance state. I don't actually think that's a bad argument. I'm not going to go into this in-depth, but seriously... he sees you when you're sleeping? Jesus.
On a personal note, it's really demeaning.
So I mentioned earlier that my parents kind of went all-out, and as I kid I didn't have the understanding of technology to realize that a home video camera could do silly tricks (something I'd use later to film my grandma "disappearing" and create claymation stories). Furthermore, every adult in my life was telling me that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were real on some level, and with that much support it just didn't make sense at that age that it wasn't true.
When I was bawling after having learned the truth, my mom said something that stuck with me, mostly because my response was hilarious, but in part because the implications are in retrospect very troubling. This was the exchange:
- Me: (Bawling)
- Mom: "Well, think about it... did you really believe that a giant rabbit came into the house and hid eggs for you to find?"
- Me: "................him too?!"
This is the part that really continues to get to me, that people I trusted to not lie to me about important things not only did lie to me for several years, but acted like I was stupid for having believed them to begin with. Who wants their kid to believe that about themselves?
Finally, this is basically a ten-year non-consensual prank on some of the most vulnerable people.
In the age of the internet, it's easy to believe that now pranks have gone too far, with nonconsensual pranking (people being pulled into a joke--often a cruel one--without their knowledge or consent) being so commonplace that people barely think about it. In the past year I've seen videos or discussions of videos involving people pranking black people into thinking they are being arrested, children into thinking they're being expelled, and furthermore, propagandist fake news (which could on its own level be considered a prank) is partially responsible for a horrible person being elected president. Most of these pranks last a very short period of time. Falling for one can be very embarrassing even if the event itself wasn't ridiculous, and not everyone can handle that.
This is a prank that not only can be traumatic, but lasts a large chunk of a person's life and teaches them a number of really bad lessons. If I ever were to mystically change my mind and have kids, I would not teach this sort of thing to them.