I ruined Santa Claus for my oldest when she was just five. I was a newbie parent at that point. I remember vividly driving in the car with my daughter strapped in her booster seat in the back when she asked, “Mom, is the Easter Bunny real?” I debated in my mind what to say. I kept thinking that for a five-year-old the idea of some large, furry animal coming into your house and leaving you a basket—even if it was full of goodies—had to be scary. It conjured up all sorts of horrifying amusement park clowns for me. So I spilled. “Well…the Easter Bunny is something fun that mom and dad do for kids.” Proud of myself for such a simple—yet loving and age appropriate answer—I kept driving.
Then came the follow-up. “So, if the Easter Bunny isn’t real what about Santa?” It never occurred to me that my daughter might link the two. Large, furry bunny—large, furry old guy. I shoulda figured. Stumbling through an answer, I mentioned something about, If you don’t believe then you won’t get any presents, or something similarly terrible, confusing and stupid.
With my other two children I haven’t made the same mistake when it comes to the Santa question. I just smile, and say, “What do you think?” When the time is right, they seem to just know and understand the whole magic that comes with keeping the Santa idea going. Turns out what parents have sensed for years has some scientific merit. That’s right—the Santa myth we sometimes feel guilty about perpetuating—is a part of a child’s normal, healthy cognitive development. Tied in to developing empathy and a host of other emotions, a strong sense of imagination (Santa included) can help children become caring, well-rounded adults. Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t do Santa at your house you’re some sort of bad parent. Not at all. Just that parents can feel good about keeping Santa alive and well--whether you want to justify it with some sort of scientific study, or you just enjoy embracing Santa as much as your kids do.