Don’t lie about Christmas, warn psychologists

It’s a wonderful lie: Six is the age when most children stop believing in Father Christmas.

Should we stop telling children the Christmas myth is true? Santa Claus, the chimney and the reindeer. It is the story we all grew up with. But some experts argue these lies can be harmful.

WARNING: do not let young children read this article.

Father Christmas does not exist.

The story has enchanted children for decades. But two academics, Professor Christopher Boyle and Dr Kathy McKay, say that the lie can undermine children’s trust in their parents.

Children tend to stop believing in Father Christmas between the ages of five and 10. Many come to this conclusion through reason and logic. But others are either brusquely informed by their more knowledgable friends or older siblings, or are told the truth in an Earth-shattering conversation with a parent.

Boyle and McKay point out several problems with the tale, from parents using Santa as a threat to ensure good behaviour to using it to selfishly relive their own childhood, to the fib itself resulting in children being more likely to lie themselves.

The scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins — who claims to have disbelieved in Father Christmas when he was 21 months old — has previously criticised the reading of any fairy tales to children as they might instil a false, unscientific view of the world.

Parents tell many lies to children. Are such falsehoods just harmless white lies, or do they damage children’s minds?

Post-truth Christmas

What an overreaction this is, say many parents. Children are not mentally scarred by being told the truth about Father Christmas: in fact, it is healthy for them to prove that something is not true. And in any case, the tale promotes children’s imaginations. It makes Christmas fun, so let’s ignore these Scrooge-like academics.

Lying is never a good thing, say others, and this is particularly true with children, who crave the truth about the world. It does not encourage the imagination, as imagining things involves knowing that they are not real. The revelation that Father Christmas does not exist breaks the crucial bonds of trust between children and their parents.

You Decide

  1. Does lying to children about Father Christmas damage them?


  1. Find out how all your classmates discovered the truth about Father Christmas, and make a pie chart of the ways that it was revealed to them.

Some People Say...

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The myth of Father Christmas is still very popular. According to a 2011 UK poll by Ipsos MORI, 83% of parents with a child aged three to six years old said their child believes in Father Christmas.
What do we not know?
We do not know whether perpetuating the lie that Santa is real is actually harmful to children. Or if the practice should stop.

Word Watch

Christopher Boyle
A psychologist at the University of Exeter in the UK.
Kathy McKay
A clinical psychologist at the University of New England in Australia.
Richard Dawkins
Dawkins wrote a children’s book called The Magic of Reality. In it, he attempts to persuade the reader that reality is far more fascinating than any myth or fictional story.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a character in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The term is now used to describe someone who is mean, miserable and curmudgeonly (bad-tempered and negative).

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