nd the corner, and with it comes excitement about the arrival of Santa. But academics Christopher Boyle from the UK and Kathy McKay from Australia warned against going too far when it comes to the Father Christmas myth. They said the Santa story can lead children to distrust their parents.
For many, however, 25 December wouldn’t be the same without the big man in red. We asked parents whether they worry about perpetuating the Santa Claus story, or if they feel it’s a rite of passage for children.
Alfred Piers Walter, 69, from Provence, France: We rented Santas every year to come over on Christmas Eve
My children were born in quick succession, from 1988 to 1990. So all three boys are close in age. This meant that Christmas was a big deal – and until my youngest was 11, I would rent a Santa to visit them all.
Santa Claus is a phenomenal imagination driver. Leave him alone
It didn’t cost too much, but the quality of the Santas really varied. They would come on Christmas Eve. Some would make a huge effort and really look the part, while others had very poor beards and bad costumes. One guy that really stood out was around 60; he was very magical and convincing. He even carried a decorated wooden stick. To this day, I ask myself whether he was the real deal.
Santa would visit for around half an hour, and give the children gifts from his sack. The boys were really excited, and each year they’d make a list of what they wanted. We still have the lists today.
Eventually we realised that we couldn’t keep renting Santas – and that’s when we started sending our children a letter from Father Christmas. In it he said that he couldn’t come any more, as younger children needed him more. The kids were not upset by this; they understood.
Now my boys are adults, we never talk about the Santa myth. Telling them it was a lie would somehow ruin the magic, even though they are all grown-up. One of my sons is now a father himself and I think he will keep up the tradition with his child.
Andrew, 58, from Invergordon: My children think it’s odd that other parents pretend Santa is real
There wasn’t an occasion when we had to sit our boys down and explain that Santa was not real. We just never pretended he was – in the same way we don’t pretend that Woody from Toy Story or Batman are real.
‘We just never pretended to our boys that Santa was real. In the same way, we never pretended that Woody from Toy Story or Batman were real.’ Photograph: Andrew from Invergordon
I don’t remember anybody actually accusing us of being bad parents because of this. When the subject cropped up, people were usually a bit shocked. The myth of Santa is so ubiquitous that an alternative approach isn’t really considered. Some people have definitely suggested, not necessarily in an unpleasant way, that a child’s enjoyment of Christmas might be diminished without belief inSanta.
But that’s definitely not been the case for us. We have had some wonderful Christmases. In 2004, when the boys were nine and six, we decided to spend Christmas in the middle of a teak forest in southern India. We’d each had a small amount to spend locally on gifts for each other. On Christmas Day they got wooden tops, some sweets, a comic and a ride through the jungle on an elephant. They still say it was their best Christmas ever. The visit to the jungle was part of a six-month round-the-world trip, and by Christmas the boys were already seasoned travellers. Life had taken on a different normality, and presents under a Christmas tree would have been bizarre.
Other than a few trips abroad, we have mostly spent Christmas at home. In many respects it’s a simple affair. We would put a small bag of goodies by the kids’ beds (a couple of small toys, chocolate money, satsumas) that they could have before waking us up. The presents that we gave when we were at home may not always have been the most extravagant, but at the same time we didn’t want them to feel too alienated from their mates.
Now they are older, we have talked to the boys about not lying about Santa. They think it’s odd that parents go along with the pretence.
Robbo, 53, from Melbourne: My husband had to tell the children a reindeer kicked him after a mishap one year
We had six children; they’re now aged from 24 to 34. Christmas was always a huge effort. It involved taking gifts out of hiding, wrapping them, stuffing stockings, hanging them up. On Christmas Eve, all six kids would sleep in the same room, which involved lots of squealing and not much sleeping. We always told them that Santa landed on the roof with his reindeer just before midnight. The older ones were desperate to make the little ones go to sleep before that time.
‘Christmas was always a huge effort, involving the hiding, wrapping and stuffing of gifts into stockings.’
Once we had presents wrapped and children in bed, my husband and I would always have a drink. One Christmas Eve, he started a little early and went to sleep on the couch as soon as the kids were in bed, leaving me to wrap all of the presents. I was furious.
When I finished everything, I shook him awake and made him climb over furniture to hang the stockings. One year, he made it to number five before he fell headfirst over the couch and tore the skin from the entire length of his left shin. He must have been in terrible pain, but didn’t dare yell out and wake the kids. He continued to hang the last stocking on the wall while bleeding profusely. After this, we went to bed.
We woke to lots of squeals in the morning at around 5am. With about four hours of sleep, we joined in their delight. But we were stumped when they asked why there was blood on the floor and how Dad’s leg got hurt. Without missing a beat, my husband said: “The reindeer kicked me.” Even the older kids were enthralled with that answer. And when they asked later how it really happened, we promised to tell them on their 21st birthdays. Every single one of them has waited for that precious moment to find out what “really happened”, so we’ve had many years of joy from that one moment.
Marty, from Sydney: My kids love the lights and tinsel. That’s enough
We go camping (it’s summer in Sydney) and pretty much ignore Christmas. My kids love the lights and tinsel. That’s enough. One of our first Santa encounters was with three breakdancers in a shopping mall wearing Santa fat-suits. My daughter was terrified. There’s really no point in extending the myth after that. Thanks, boys, you made it easy.
I was raised in the Bahá’í faith, but consider myself agnostic, and my wife is from the former Czechoslovakia, where most of the population are atheist and there is no Santa. It’s a bit ridiculous to watch grown men in the middle of summer pile on the heavy suit, boots, hat and fake beard – they must shed half their weight in sweat.
‘My kids love the lights and tinsel. That’s enough.’ Photograph: Marty
Jennifer Gibson, from Melbourne: We send our son a personalised video from Santa each year
We get our son to write a letter to Santa each year. But we always stress it’s just a wish list and he may get other things instead. We also have an advent calendar that we fill ourselves and he can open a door every day with tiny gifts of chocolate, polished stones, key chains etc. We have an outdoor and an indoor tree, too, so it’s Christmas wherever you look.
We also use an app called Portable North Pole to have a personalised video from Santa detailing what our son has done well this year and what still needs a bit of work. We show this to him a couple of weeks before Christmas. It works really well, and when we play it our son nods and shakes his head along to all the questions and statements about his year. On Christmas Eve we leave Santa a scotch and the reindeer a carrot or an apple on a table by the tree. Finally we check online to see what time Santa leaves the North Pole and how far he has reached before our son goes to bed.
Our son has a lot of questions, so we use euphemistic and vague language to deflect them. He will ask things like: “How does he deliver all the presents in one night?” To this we say: “All I know is that kids get presents and adults don’t, so maybe when you stop believing you stop receiving.”
Last year he was six, and he decided not to write to Father Christmas because he says Santa should know what he wants. We suggested he not take the risk and write anyway but he declined, until bedtime on Christmas Eve when a bit of panic had set in that he might get nothing. This year he says he’s going to write and has made no mention of not believing – so while he goes along with it, so will we.
Santa just leaves a small stocking filled with little items, and the big-ticket items are from us. This is mainly to keep Santa’s gifts more equitable with families who have less. Also, why should the big fella take credit for our hard-earned cash?