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Do Nine Year Olds Believe in Santa?:

Via Drudge, this story from England is about a teacher who is in trouble because she told her nine-year-old student that Father Christmas doesn't exist. The teacher seemed to think they already knew that, but apparently some didn't.

Being Jewish, I'm not much up on these things, but I'd have thought that the Santa thing pretty much dissipated by age six or seven, at the latest; even if the parents tried to maintain the legend longer, I'd think that some combination of (a) the children's own intelligence; (b) children whose parents told them the truth telling their friends that Santa doesn't exist; and (c) t.v. and other media (don't they notice that Santa looks different depending on which actor plays him?) would not let it survive.

So, V.C. readers, enlighten me: when do kids stop believing in Santa?

David Chesler (mail) (www):
"Still believing" and "Still wanting everybody to go along with the fairy tale" are different.

I know longer believe in the Tooth Fairy, but I don't like it when people destroy the delusions under which I'm living.

I've got a 9-year-old who for several years has understood real versus made up (and he had no way of knowing, except asking me, that unicorns and dragons are made up but kangaroos and elephants are real -- I don't think I've ever seen an actual kangaroo, unless the Bronx Zoo had them in the 1970s and I forgot) -- for a few years he's been asking me "Is Santa Claus real?" (He's not stupid, and he realizes that he gets fewer presents in years when I have less cash, and I do a lot of carrying boxes and wrapping in the days before) but I get to cop-out and say "I don't know about such things, ask your mother."

This year I finally used a co-worker's cop-out: "It's your choice, but if you say you believe in Santa Claus then you will get presents from him".
12.20.2006 11:17am
Hans Bader (mail):
I once read that early in the 20th Century, children believed in Santa until about age 6, but in the late 20th Century, they believed in it until about age 7.

I figured it out at age 4, when I snuck downstairs and Santa wasn't there at midnight. I never did understand how one Santa could deliver toys simultaneously to every house in the neighborhood, and beyond, all at the same time (midnight).

A child who still believes in Santa at age 9 may need special education.
12.20.2006 11:17am
AVA:
I don't think age 8 or 9 is uncommon.

It really depends on if the child is a first or only or if there are older siblings involved.

My son was born on the leading edge of a mini-baby boom period. Thus, most of the kids he went to school with during those vulnerable "spill the beans" years (K-2), were, like him, without older siblings. That meant they believed in Santa for longer than I would have guessed and longer than kids who had older siblings to spoil the illusion.

I also agree with David Chesler that believing and not wanting to spoil the illusion are two different things.
12.20.2006 11:30am
lucia (mail) (www):
Hans,
My family moved back and forth between El Salvador and the US.

In El Salvador, I was told the Baby Jesus delivered the presents. I concluded the job was too big for one person, so different people were assigned the present distribution.
12.20.2006 11:33am
uh clem (mail):
I don't know. When do they stop believing in other imaginary magical beings like unicorns, elves, Jesus, Thor, etc. ?

I find it difficult to fathom why anybody believes any of it at any age. I never did.
12.20.2006 11:34am
David M. Nieporent (www):
David: there's no tooth fairy. It's just your parents.
12.20.2006 11:36am
SteveW:
I suspect most kids stop believing when they are exposed to large groups of other kids, such as when they go to school or kindergarten. There's always at least one kid there who knows and tells everybody else.

When my one-year-older, and ever so much more worldly, cousin told me, I confronted my parents. They confessed but made me promise not to tell anyone else, and I didn't, except for my best friend. :)
12.20.2006 11:39am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
when my father was a child, my grandfather would get on the roof, late christmas eve, and drag a sled across it, leaving the runner tracks. in the morning, he would take the old man outside and show him where santa's sled had been.

age of disbelieve? around 6-7.

I can recall older kids shushing someone when they declared there was no santa claus in the presence of a younger sibling, around 5 years old, so as not to blow it for the kid.
12.20.2006 11:46am
Mike Keenan:
My daughter is 10 and still believes in the tooth fairy and in Santa. This is despite the fact that we have never wrapped up a present and told her it was from Santa. She bemoans the fact that "Santa doesn't visit our house." Her older brother seemed to stop believing at age 9 or so. She is a brilliant student with a high IQ. I don't get it. She even seems to be a budding atheist so it is very odd.
12.20.2006 11:52am
Bpbatista (mail):
My seven year old very much believes in Santa. And if he were Jewish — Channuka Harry.
12.20.2006 11:53am
Steve Lubet (mail):
George Bush got me to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and I didn't figure out the truth until I was about 56. So I'd say that the age of gullibility is highly variable.
12.20.2006 11:54am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
David: You're mean!
12.20.2006 11:55am
Shawn Levasseur (mail) (www):
I don't know about other kids, but in my case, it was my own detective work.

In my family, there were gifts from "Santa" but also ones from "Mom &Dad" So after they did their shopping they'd hide the gifts. Every year I would sneak around looking to find the hidden gifts to learn what I'd get ahead of time. If I found some of these hidden gifts, I'd only look at a few to satiate my curiosity, but leave the rest as suprises (and I figured if I rummage around too much, I'd leave evidence of my snooping).

One year (I may have been 7, give or take a few years) saw a gift that they'd gotten me, that when I got it on Christmas, it was from "SANTA". I put 2 and 2 together and figured it out.
12.20.2006 11:57am
Knower of those Who Wish to Believe:
My sister-in-law believed in Santa until age 12. When she confronted her family with the crazy proposition that Santa did not exist, they reluctantly told her the truth. Exasperated, she then asked, "well, what about the Easter Bunny, he exists, doesn't he?" Her family didn't have the heart to kill two childhood myths in one day, so they said the bunny was real.

She is not in special education, and was a near 4.0 student. I really don't get it.
12.20.2006 11:58am
Shawn Levasseur (mail) (www):
Oh, by the way...

Nobody tell my parents about that.

It may be 30 years later, but there's no statute of limitations on shame... ;)
12.20.2006 11:59am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
In the USSR we didn't have "Santa," per se, but we had Ded Moroz, something very similar - but secular. Thus, as a Jew I was able to celebrate this. ALso, Ded Moroz came on New Year's eve, not Christmas, since there was no Christmas, because religion was at that point an opium for the people.

Anyway, aside from that longwinded explanation of why I, as a Jewish child, believed in "Santa," the point is that as a 9 year old I more or less knew that he didn't exist, but I really wanted to cling to the idea that he did. Thus, I played along with my parents. We all knew what was up, but we still had the ritual, and somehow I still ended up being surprised at the presents. It would have sucked if some kill-joy teacher ruined that for me.
12.20.2006 11:59am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
similar - but secular. Thus, as a Jew I was able to celebrate this.

Don't go there :-)
12.20.2006 12:09pm
liberty (mail) (www):
My sister told me when she was around 7 I think and so I was only 4. She did the "you really still believe?! God are you stupid" thing and so I was hurt and embarrassed when my mom confirmed. I hate people who blow it for those who believe. So, I beleive again, just because its better to believe in something.
12.20.2006 12:10pm
Colin Fraizer (mail):
How many VC readers believe there is a Eugene Volokh? *I've* never seen him. Sure, there are occasional reports that he "calls in to quiz shows" and "publishes in law reviews", but I've seen similarly credible reports of Santa being tracked by U.S. Government RADAR!

It's time for Orin, David, Ilya, Randy, and the others to stop perpetuating the myth of Sasha's "older brother".
12.20.2006 12:11pm
Roy:
I think I figured it out when I was 7, I think I was suspicious already, but the discrepencies in Santa behaviour I learned about in school, finally tipped me off.

But in my family have always just pretended, and not just the kids get what we call "Santa presents." Other than a few not talked about 4 am collisions on the staircase, we maintain a careful code of silence on this matter at all age levels. But maybe this is just because we are used to pretending we believe in things we don't.

Good training for the children if you ask me.
12.20.2006 12:12pm
Al (mail):
>>George Bush got me to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and I didn't figure out the truth until I was about 56.

He also apparently got Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, the CIA, other US intelligence agencies, Tony Blair, the intelligence services of Britain, Russia, France, Jordan, etc. to believe that as well. In fact, even while he was still governor of Texas, he apparently was able to somehow convince President Clinton to not only bomb Iraq, but also to sign the Iraq Liberation Act.
12.20.2006 12:12pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Mundus Vult Decipi
12.20.2006 12:13pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
It really depends on if the child is a first or only or if there are older siblings involved.

Agreed. Or younger siblings. As for the "common sense thinking" rational, I suspect you are coming at this from an adult's perspective. Or a culturally wisened 21st Century youngster. Think of how many situations in a child's life is blind faith in ideas like that. They're not all skeptical by nature

If you live in a home that keeps the tv off -- you can raise kids who are not educated in modern copyright characters. They know of Santa the stories at home, and not all kids are wise to the mechanics of travelling across the globe in one night, etc. Eating all those plates of cookies and milk/egg nog, apples for Rudolph, etc.

I think it's polite for parents to remind children when confirming that it is them and not Santa who provide the gifts, that this is not something to talk about with younger children who might still belive. Kids are kids, of course, but sometimes when you give them good instruction and point out that those children's parents might want to keep playing along with the Santa story, they take away a deeper message about manners and respect.
12.20.2006 12:13pm
Ted Frank (www):
My recollection is that when I was seven, my first-grade classmates believed in Santa Claus close to universally and objected strenuously to my skepticism.
12.20.2006 12:14pm
KG2V (mail):
My 9YO daughter KNOWS there is no Santa (she's asked outright) but still WANTS to believe. Our explaination when she asked outright was that Santa was a concept - of the love of a parent for their children, so there is a Santa

Now the joke is, seh DOES really believe in the Tooth Fairy - partly because of a great book we got, that explained that the tooth fairy looks EXACTLY like a parent or someone you love, due to magic. Got caught once, and she STLL believes

I think it's partly do to making her 5 YO brother happy...
12.20.2006 12:14pm
Jiffy:
On the difference between "belief" and "maintaining the illusion": I have a distinct recollection of Christmas Eve when I was 5. I had to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night. I could hear that my parents were still awake downstairs, and I did not want to catch them putting out the presents from "Santa," which I thought would be embarrasing for everyone. So I suffered. Then again, I also recall four years later my sister (who is only a year younger than I) waking me in the middle of the night to insist that she heard Santa on the roof.
12.20.2006 12:15pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Belief/disbelief, as some have suggested, isn't a binary on/off switch.

My 11-year-old almost certainly does not believe in Santa, but he knows his mother likes him to believe; so we all talk about "Santa."

[Insert remark on language games here. In fact, there's a dissertation waiting to be written on Moore, Wittgenstein, and Santa.]

I would just as soon he confess his disbelief; we can then start deceiving his 2-year-old brother as a family unit.

The whole thing is bizarre, really -- imagine trying to explain to a Martian why you teach your small kids to believe in Santa.
12.20.2006 12:18pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:

Also, you have to respect that each family has variations to the myth. For example, The variances in mall Santas -- assuming your children are raised in malls -- and on tv, no the kids aren't stupid. Parents often say these are "Santa's Helpers" -- or Santa stand-ins for the real guy who is resting up getting reading for the big midnight journey... Only 5 days to go! Those elves must be cranking out the toys by now. Wouldn't it be great if you got the train, or car set you've been waiting for all year ??

Maybe the fun and joy are worth it; sometimes I think it must be sad to be so smart about everything.
12.20.2006 12:19pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Why? Because it's a lot more fun to believe you can get something for nothing, whether it's from Santa or by carrying a good luck charm to a slot machine. (It's also fun to give a present and watch the recipient receive it without owing thanks or reciprocation.)

The fantasy world is a much more pleasant place in which to live.

I'm not the kind of parent who worries that spanking my kids will damage their self esteem, but I do try to give them a happy childhood so later on they know how good things can be and they know what to strive for (and they take good care of my genetic material when my grandchildren are carrying it.)
12.20.2006 12:23pm
Thief (mail) (www):
QFT, and for all that needs be said.

Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:


I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon


Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
12.20.2006 12:25pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The fantasy world is a much more pleasant place in which to live.

And I am aware that applying that analysis plus Occam's Razor to my own religious beliefs would yield unpleasant results, so I don't. See figure 1.
12.20.2006 12:26pm
HBD:
I'm 26 and Jewish &this is the first inkling I ever got that Santa wasn't real.

Thanks guys. You've just crushed another spirit.
12.20.2006 12:32pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Unfortunately, a lot of adults still figuratively believe in Santa Clause; thus explaining how grown people could believe that housing prices will rise 20-25% annually indefinitely.
12.20.2006 12:33pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

How many VC readers believe there is a Eugene Volokh?

From what I understand, if you send this "Eugene Volokh" $27, he will send you a book with his signature. That's probably not proof enough, because it could just be the same thing that the USPS does when you send a letter to Santa. Dammit.

However, once when I was a kid, my friends and I turned off the lights, put on a candle, and said "Eugene Volokh" 5 times into the mirrow. I swear, he appeared, for like a second or two, we saw him.
12.20.2006 12:41pm
anonVCfan:
A little funny, but more creepy than funny.
12.20.2006 12:49pm
ys:

Colin Fraizer:
How many VC readers believe there is a Eugene Volokh? *I've* never seen him. Sure, there are occasional reports that he "calls in to quiz shows" and "publishes in law reviews", but I've seen similarly credible reports of Santa being tracked by U.S. Government RADAR!

It's time for Orin, David, Ilya, Randy, and the others to stop perpetuating the myth of Sasha's "older brother".

Yes, Colin, there is a "Eugene Volokh!" I have seen him, if only once. But then you have no way of knowing if I really exist and am not a sock puppet of Orin, David, Ilya, or some other conspirator.
12.20.2006 12:55pm
RainerK:
Hehe, DB, that DC area house hunt some time ago is still lingering!
Yep, make-believe never quite disappears, it just changes. Sort of like kids' toys versus adult toys.

I figured out the easter bunny when I woke up early and saw my grandfather hiding the eggs in the garden. Then of course the Christkind, that's what they have in Germany, never was the same again either. I still remember my profound disappointment. I was about 7 or 8. Christmas and Easter are some of the fondest childhood memories. My ever-lasting thanks to my family, especially my late grandparents who put it on so beautifully.
12.20.2006 12:56pm
ak47pundit (www):
DavidBernstein: Unfortunately, a lot of adults still figuratively believe in Santa Clause;

David,

The Santa Clause is located in most contracts after the sanity clause but before the integration clause.
12.20.2006 12:57pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
AK, you canta foola me, there ain't no such thing as sanity clause!
12.20.2006 1:02pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
Why? Because it's a lot more fun to believe you can get something for nothing,

Something for nothing?? Something for nothing?!

Obviously, you were the kinds of little boys who were perfect angels, not a crabby little brat in the dark days of December, inclined to fight with your siblings and procrastinate in your homework and chores.

As I recall, there was a hell of a lot of something given for the "free gifts". Santa's watching and all that ho ho ho.

Not saying it's wrong to raise your children Santa-free btw. Can definitely understand that view. Just arguing, or explaining rather, that it's not just wack-jobs who legitimately believe after 6 or 7.
12.20.2006 1:07pm
TarHeel:
Or if your name is Virginia. I had a baby book with that clip from the Sun in it and got it in various forms every year I can remember. What do you mean no Santa???
12.20.2006 1:08pm
Abdul (mail):
I'm not saying whether or not I believe in Santa Claus, but I think our schools should devote equal time to both the Parent theory and the Fat Jolly Guy theory of Christmas.
12.20.2006 1:17pm
ksd:
I remember being in 3rd grade (so 8 years old) and being the only one in my class who knew the truth. I had to promise my teacher and parents that I wouldn't spoil it for the other kids.

My own son is in first grade (just turned 7) and he still believes in Santa. He's starting to ask some hard questions, though, so I think this will be the last year for him.
12.20.2006 1:20pm
Russ (mail):
A couple of months after Christmas when I was 8 years old, my dad took me out to our treehouse and sat me down for a man to man talk. I already had a pretty good inkling, but nothing definitive. He explained that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny weren't real, but that parents enjoyed seeing their children happy on certain occasions and that was part of it. He also swore me to silence regarding the "secret" for the sake of my younger brother, who still had a few years left to go.

I think between 7-9 is good, depending on the kid and how they are starting to see the world.
12.20.2006 1:21pm
Cornellian (mail):

The Santa Clause is located in most contracts after the sanity clause but before the integration clause.


You'd need a choice of law / jurisdiction clause too, since it's not obvious that a North Pole resident (and presumably non-citizen) who distributes gifts in the US one day per year is purposefully availing.
12.20.2006 1:33pm
jgalak:
I was raised in the USSR, so see the explanation above. I am the oldest child in my family. I don't remember ever believing in "Santa". Certainly by the time I was 5 I had no such belief.
12.20.2006 1:33pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I don't quite remember when I really learned there was no santa but I was always suspicious.

It was a great deal of fun actually. I tried to stay up every christmas eve to prove their wasn't a santa but of course my parents could always just wait till I finally fell asleep and I always ended up happily frustrated.

What really boggled me is when I was sure I was going to prove the Easter bunny didn't take the teeth from under my pillow via magic. I got an envelope put my tooth in it, sealed it and wrote all over it before putting it under my pillow. When I found it in the morning with money instead of a tooth inside (my dad had steamed it open) I was totally stumped. It didn't change my skeptical stance but it sure stumped me.
12.20.2006 1:34pm
Ken Arromdee:
The famous "Yes, Virginia" column is a Clintonesque example of dodging the question.

If you look at it rationally, it's clear Virginia wanted to know whether there is a Santa Claus in the same sense that there is a South Carolina or a Samuel Clemens. The response was a bit of fancy wording which answered Virginia's question in a way that is technically accurate (it does say whether there is a Santa Claus), but obviously wasn't the question she was trying to ask (whether Santa exists as an actual person).

The kid asked an adult authority figure a question, and expected to get one. Instead the adult decided to violate the trust kids put in adults and give a non-answer phrased to mislead the kid into thinking it was an answer.
12.20.2006 1:37pm
OK Lawyer:
Odd, how no one seems to question the existence of "God" with such fervor.

A mystical being resides in the sky (North Pole), who is always watching us, and cares about whether we are good or bad. We don't really know what puts us on one list or another, and are not really sure how we get off one once we are placed on it. Depending on this list, determines if we are rewarded (Heaven, gifts, etc) or punished (hell, coal, etc). To me, there is just as much evidence for Santa as their is God.
12.20.2006 1:42pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

logicnazi: I tried to stay up every christmas eve to prove their wasn't a santa

That's really funny, coming from a guy whose sn is logicnazi. Somehow reminds me of when Dr. Evil spoke of his childhood."When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds — pretty standard, really."
12.20.2006 1:42pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
OK lawyer, I think the people you are referring to are called "atheists." Yup, definitely "atheists."
12.20.2006 1:43pm
DustyR (mail) (www):
With so many people in the sample, range and average is more likely appropriate. I'm sure these have changed considerably in the advent of the information society and its dismantling of barriers between age groups to all information, not to mention the decrease in civility and courtesy.

The range on the high side might have been around 10 when I was a kid, but it seems to me 7 or 8 is about right now. Isn't age seven the age of reason, like when you realize Santa's writing is exactly like Mom's writing and Mom's explanation has an air of desperation in it?

Even so, I'd say there's more of an evolution than some stark line between belief and disbelief. Call it a makebelieve middle where the knowledge has been aquired but was squirreled away because the fact is not really relevant and you join the reality of Santa having a life of his own that is not related to whether you know the "truth" about Santa, but is more about family and then, later, tradition and community.

I'd guess that all of the nine year-olds in that class knew already in one form or another. The rumor is rampant in that age group but family understanding is the barrier and the glue for remaining skeptical of it. Having the teacher confirm, in the form of instruction, was the real problem for both the children and the parents.

Personally, I had given into the understanding that Santa wasn't real at about the same time as my peers, but then my older sister and I actually saw the silhoutte of Santa in his sleigh riding across the sky just before midnight on Christmas Eve. It was vivid, distinct and real. We could count the reindeer. He was ho-ho-ho'ing, too. Seriously. Really. No lie. Ask my sister. She still remembers it as clearly as I do, these many long years since.

Santa lives and don't believe anyone who says otherwise, especially some crackpot, 'know-it-all' fifth grade teacher.
12.20.2006 1:44pm
Maniakes (mail):
I figured out the Tooth Fairy in first grade when my friends and I compared notes and realized we were all getting different exchange rates.
12.20.2006 1:45pm
Brian The Adequate (mail):
My 11 year old, straight A fifth grader still believes in Santa Claus and KNOWS he is real. Of course we always told her that Santa Claus was what the Grandparents put on gifts when they did not want Mom and Dad to be mad about what/how much they were getting for Christmas.
12.20.2006 1:47pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"I figured out the Tooth Fairy in first grade when my friends and I compared notes and realized we were all getting different exchange rates."

Nice.
12.20.2006 1:53pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
'course, when I was ten I thought pro wrestling was real.
12.20.2006 1:56pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
FWIW, a couple of the parents quoted in that Evening Standard article cited talked about their children twigging. Apparently that is rightpondian for understanding. I Did Not Know That.

The kid asked an adult authority figure a question, and expected to get one.

Sometimes kids ask questions that contain unstated assumptions, and a straight yes or no is not possible. ("Daddy, when you were a kid, did your parents restrict what internet sites you could visit?" [We didn't have broadband in those days. They tried, but the dinosaurs kept biting through the wires.])
12.20.2006 2:01pm
An0n:
My seven year-old figured out the truth about Santa earlier this year. My oldest, who's now ten, figured it out at about the same age.

There *is* a Eugene Volokh. I sat in a classroom with him once a week for an entire semester of law school. Unfortunately, since you can't know that I'm real or that I'm telling the truth, my testimony doesn't do you skeptics much good.
12.20.2006 2:01pm
AVA:
Santa is particularly useful for adults. How else to explain the mysterious gift you get that your spouse would have never sprung for???
12.20.2006 2:02pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
I imagine there is a bit of willful denial of the obvious with kids older than 7-8, but I wouldn't expect a group of children to universally be "in on it" in regards to Santa until the whole group was at least 11 or 12. Children tend to have very strong fantasy lives and to exhibit many instances of magical thinking long after they have been given sufficient evidence and training to both recognize and even produce on demand a "reasonable" or "reality-based" explanation of events. My psych-major sister, whom I use in lieu of having found a link to support my claims, says that "I was angry at Mommy and that's why the car accident happened" thinking is normal till the onset of puberty, which in our society seems to vary by region from around 9-13.

I had strong evidence that Santa was sufficiently unreliable as to cause a preference for his non-existence when I was perhaps 6 or 7 years old (having two separate households, and two separate Santa experiences annually -- including having half my presents arrive by post in mid-December -- was a strong contributing factor) but I don't remember flipping to being a willing participant in "keeping the magic alive" for my younger siblings by not spilling the beans and/or actively lying about Santa, until I was 13. I was, incidentally, a very proactive and almost blind actor in the drama: all four of my younger siblings stopped believing at least two years before I realized they had done, and all but the youngest were actively propagating the Santa myth to younger children before the age of 10. I was actually quite crushed when the youngest sister in each household stopped believing, and inordinately pleased when my parents and step-parents continued to mark selected presents "from Santa" (my dad still sends me some gifts marked "from Santa" in the mail, and I'm 26.)

However, I was also a relatively superstitious kid, though -- I was into jumping over every crack in the street and throwing salt over my shoulder, and I got all of that stuff from kids at school, rather than my parents. I was also very sheltered (I mostly watched Jeopardy and Perry Mason on TV,) and a big adult-pleaser, and except for a few weeks every year, older than all my siblings by 6 or more years.
12.20.2006 2:04pm
htom (mail):
Anyone who thinks that there is no Santa Claus has never been in a USMC Reserve Barracks or TfT warehouse doing Toys for Tots distribution ... Santa is a distributed parallel processing activity, that's how he gets it all done.

I don't remember when I figured it out, first or second grade. I remember that it was great fun helping wrap gifts from him for my younger siblings.
12.20.2006 2:26pm
karrde (mail) (www):
My question is, how many adults are willing to tell their children the story of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra?

Or how said Bishop relates to the modern mythos of Santa Claus?

For the record, an older brother let me in on the secret between my 6th and 7th years. But certain traditional reading material for the family celebration of Advent includes one story about St. Nicholas. And my parents have read from that same set of readings every year for as long as I can remember.

Extra Question: what is Advent? Who typically celebrates it?
12.20.2006 2:29pm
Brian Sniffen (mail):
After reading Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus at about age 9, I was convinced of the practical existence of Santa Claus. Twenty years later, I continue to believe in a real person, Santa Claus, existing as an emergent being from the world-wide belief in and dedication to his ideals.
12.20.2006 2:33pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Colin Fraizer: Eugene Volokh is in our hearts.
12.20.2006 2:40pm
Houston Lawyer:
I don't think my 8-year old still believes in Santa.

He might still believe in global warming though.
12.20.2006 3:10pm
EV fan:
That does it for me. This year, we're labelling the kids' presents "from Eugene Volokh." Not sure what the toddler will do with the legal writing book, though.
12.20.2006 3:17pm
Colin Fraizer (mail):
EV fan:

Is there more to the story? Are there signs (spent shell casings?) that Eugene Volokh has been to your house to deliver presents?

Should we leave out some special treat like the text of the 1st Amendment? Or a poorly written law review article that, come morning, the kids will find marked up with red-lines?

I think my toddlers might each get a gift from Eugene Volokh this year too!
12.20.2006 3:26pm
Hoya:
I'm very curious. Why do people think it is okay to tell kids lies about Santa Claus? Because it's fun for them? Is that the standard of truthfulness to which you generally adhere to? Is 'my parents will lie to me whenever, in their opinion, I'll enjoy the fruits of the lie' a standard of truthfulness that you want your children to know that you follow?

I'm generally pretty live-and-let-live with respect to cultural norms like this, but I don't know why one could count on one's parents to give you the truth if they were willing to tell lies in order to make some fun.

Yes, it is likely my kids who are telling your kids there is no Santa Claus. But, of course, if you really want to keep them going, you can tell them that my kids are the ones who are lying. I mean -- why not? It's all in fun, right?
12.20.2006 3:36pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
'course, when I was ten I thought pro wrestling was real.

LOL! Actually studies show a correlation between high intelligence and liking pro wrestling. As a youngster anyway.
12.20.2006 4:17pm
OK Lawyer:

I'm very curious. Why do people think it is okay to tell kids lies about Santa Claus? Because it's fun for them? Is that the standard of truthfulness to which you generally adhere to? Is 'my parents will lie to me whenever, in their opinion, I'll enjoy the fruits of the lie' a standard of truthfulness that you want your children to know that you follow?



Hoya, seriously, what do you tell your kids about God?
12.20.2006 4:25pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
Why do people think it is okay to tell kids lies about Santa Claus? Because it's fun for them?

Maybe because when material things were a little less common, you pretty much knew you were out of line asking for so much from your parents. Perpetuating the myth that there is "extra help" from another source out there let those kids be kids again. You didn't get all you asked for, but Santa sets you free to wish and dream. Hope is more valuable in some personal situations than others, you know?
12.20.2006 4:25pm
Ken Arromdee:
Sometimes kids ask questions that contain unstated assumptions, and a straight yes or no is not possible.

The right thing to do then is to try to figure out what the unstated assumption is, and answer the question based on that. Not to toss in a different assumption of your own that you know very well the kid didn't really mean.

Of course there was an unstated assumption. Virginia wanted to know "Is Santa real like Daddy or the President", not whether Santa exists as a social custom. Answering the question as if it meant the latter means *ignoring* the kid's unstated assumption.
12.20.2006 4:33pm
anonVCfan:
You "EV=Santa Claus" people are a little funny, but mostly creepy.
12.20.2006 4:46pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Virginia wanted to know "Is Santa real like Daddy or the President", not whether Santa exists as a social custom. Answering the question as if it meant the latter means *ignoring* the kid's unstated assumption.

I think they were doing a snotty cosmopolitan thing and speaking to the parents, not the kid.
12.20.2006 5:03pm
Colin Fraizer (mail):
anonVCfan:

Uh, yeah, you're right. I wish I could remove my comments. Or, at least I wish I had...posted them under a complete stranger's name. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I bet this "Colin Fraizer" guy would be mad if he found out that I posted what now appear to be stalker-esque comments on this blog.

Sincerely yours,
Not A Stalker (and Mostly Not Creepy In Real Life)
12.20.2006 5:46pm
Colin (mail):
Not to mention you're giving our good name a bad name!
12.20.2006 5:49pm
CJColucci:
There's no Santa Claus and professional wrestling is fake?! That's too much to take in one day.
12.20.2006 5:53pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Is 'my parents will lie to me whenever, in their opinion, I'll enjoy the fruits of the lie' a standard of truthfulness that you want your children to know that you follow?

Anybody here whose parents told them there was a Santa Claus or a Tooth Fairy or a farm that they sent the dog to live on have problems now (or even as an adolescent) believing their parents on account of that?
12.20.2006 6:16pm
Hoya:
Yes. I know that they're willing to lie to me to try to keep me happy. They're swell people, but you can't count on them for truth over what's pleasing. If other parents who lie about Santa Claus aren't like that, they gain their trustworthiness at the price of consistency. I'd really rather my kids know that they can count on me for truth, pleasant or unpleasant, and that I won't take it on myself to decide to deceive them for their own good.

People do come to form negative judgments of their parents' trustworthiness on the basis of the SC lie. My older brother, for example, argued with my older sister that of course they couldn't be lying about Santa Claus -- after all, if they were lying about that, they could be lying about lots of things, and he noted in particular about God.
12.20.2006 7:39pm
Davide:
Hoya,


Yes. I know that they're willing to lie to me to try to keep me happy


Where does this end? If someone sees an acquaintance and notes that she has grown obese, but says instead to her "You look great! Have you lost weight?" to be nice, has she violated your "standard of truthfulness"? Should the person instead be candid?

Or what about if someone asks how your day is going, and it stinks, and you reply "I'm fine, how about you?" Is this a falsehood worthy of condemnation because it was said merely to make others happy?

And if these are wrong sorts of conduct, who would like to be around someone who acts correctly??
12.20.2006 8:29pm
markm (mail):
I can't remember when I no longer pretended to believe, but I do remember, shortly after my fifth birthday, looking at the 2-inch pipe that vented the small heating stove (probably kerosene fired) in our new house, and asking, "How is Santa going to fit down that?"

I kept up the pretense about the tooth fairy for years after I quite well knew it was my mother.
12.20.2006 8:39pm
gawaine (mail):
In my family, we all knew by five - although a few of us, having caught onto the fact that believing in Santa doubled the number of gifts, may have pretended until 6 or 7.

Most people in my son's first grade already knew. You can add to the list of reasons that if your children spend a lot of time with children from atheist, pagan, or otherwise not-Santa friendly families, they will probably hear more than once how foolish they are to believe in Santa (let alone God, but that's another story).
12.20.2006 10:05pm
Wild Pegasus (mail) (www):
I don't get why people say pro wrestling is fake. Sure, it's scripted, and the outcomes are pre-determined, but that's no different from anything else on TV besides sports. Wrestling doesn't bill itself as a sport and hasn't for at least two decades. We don't say Matthew Fox is a fake surgeon, why do we say Chris Benoit is a fake wrestler?

- Josh
12.20.2006 11:14pm
Tano (mail):
I agree with Hoya. Although most people do not really hold it against their parents for having lied to them, most people certainly do develop a lifelong habit of believing fairy tales that they wish were true, and trying to convince others to believe in them too.
12.20.2006 11:34pm
Hoya:
Davide, Come on, you know better than to think that there is not an obvious distinction here. Social niceties are not even expected to be truthful; no one takes them as evidence for anything. When one tells one's child that Santa exists, one knows well that one's child expects one to be truthful, and takes one's declaration as evidence for it.

The clear, bright line is that in lies one invites the person lied to to accept what one says as truth, while betraying that trust.
12.20.2006 11:51pm
UVAgirl:
I reject the statement that a child who still believes in Santa at age 9 needs special education - perhaps that child is exceptionally shrewd. Seriously, the longer you believe, the longer you get presents. The kids at school had all been reasoning through it in first and second grade, and I think a couple of kids' parents caved and told them in second grade. So I knew the truth, but gave absolutely no indication to my parents, until they "slipped" and told me the truth in third grade. And when told I cried and cried - but not because I didn't know, but because I knew that they had wanted me to believe, so they wanted it mean something when they told me it didn't exist. Of course, they said that I could still get presents from him.

At 29, I still do. Santa is a great memory - not of a lie by your parents, but of things that are just designed to be nice and sweet to children.

And as for the anti-SC crowd ruining it for the all the other kids on general principle, I think that is, IMHO, mean-spirited. I'm going to raise my kids outside of an established religion and maybe as outright atheists, but there's no way that I'd encourage them to tell the other kids that God doesn't actually exist, and that there's no heaven or hell.

For the funniest story on folklore about holiday present-delivering characters, read or listen to David Sedaris's "Six to Eight Black Men." It is hilarious and much better in audio format. The story was posted on this site .
12.21.2006 12:58am
UVAgirl:
Oops. Can't figure out the link thing:
Sedaris story
12.21.2006 1:01am
Luke:
I found Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing at a book sale, and made the mistake of reading it, maybe third grade, confronted my mother, and she confessed.

I then proceeded to deliberately forget the incident and rationalize my belief in Santa Claus by deciding that Santa Claus was magic, and acted through my parents in the same way that God acted through the prophets.

Sixth grade a bit before Christmas, my father finally decided to tell me. Come spring, he had to repeat the process for the Easter Bunny.

It just occurred to me that I became an atheist around May of that year.
The proximate cause was my watching some televangelist quote certain portions of the Bible quite out of line with my Unitarian upbringing.
I now wonder though, whether the shattering of my illusions regarding Santa and the Easter Bunny were tied into my inability to maintain cognitive dissonance regarding my own religious beliefs.

Post Script: I don't usually read weblogs, if I do it's because I followed a link from another sit, but this one seems fairly nice. More like reading National Geographic or The Economist than the weblogs I remember, and better than my local papers. I may have to reconsider my attitude. Kudos (or whatever the term is nowadays).
12.21.2006 2:06am
DustyR (mail) (www):
Hoya, a lie is still a lie even when you want to call it a social nicety to avoid dealing with the comparison.

The definition of a lie does not depend on the listener believing it. It depends on on whether the speaker is being truthful about what they say. There is no bright line here, except the one that will allow you to pick and choose which lies are acceptable to you and which ones aren't.
12.21.2006 2:27am
Ken Arromdee:
The definition of a lie does not depend on the listener believing it. It depends on on whether the speaker is being truthful about what they say.

You misread the distinction. It's not just that the listener doesn't believe it. It's that the listener isn't *meant* to believe it. Kids are told about Santa with the intention that the kids believe Santa is real. This is not true of the other examples, like compliments in social situations.
12.21.2006 3:33am
neurodoc:
DB: "So, V.C. readers, enlighten me: when do kids stop believing in Santa?"

By the time they realize that no stork delivered them, and they realize the full implications of how daddy's "seed" and mommy's "egg" came together and produced them. Always before they have children of their own, though for some unfortunate ones it is not too much more.
12.21.2006 3:48am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
People do come to form negative judgments of their parents' trustworthiness on the basis of the SC lie. My older brother, for example, argued with my older sister that of course they couldn't be lying about Santa Claus -- after all, if they were lying about that, they could be lying about lots of things, and he noted in particular about God.

(1) How old was he when this argument took place?
(2) Did he maintain this lack of trust into his own young adulthood? After he had children of his own?


The biggest lie we tell our children is that the world is a soft, warm place where they will never feel hunger or any want. And then even after they are cast out of the Gar^h^h^h womb, we do our best to meet all their needs, instead of leaving them outside to learn what a cold cruel place the world really is.
12.21.2006 11:10am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Of course there was an unstated assumption. Virginia wanted to know "Is Santa real like Daddy or the President", not whether Santa exists as a social custom. Answering the question as if it meant the latter means *ignoring* the kid's unstated assumption.

Very well, and skipping the Victorian language, they should have written:

Virginia, you're asking the wrong question, and focusing on the wrong thing. Of course Santa is no more real than Mother Nature or Jack Frost or Cupid or the gremlins that will bring down airplanes half a century from now. (Neither does the sun "rise" and "set" or otherwise circle the earth.) Adults have personified this kind of gift-giving spirit, and advertisers in particular have built up a mythos around the personification. Before you had entered what in a few decades Piaget will call the Concrete Operational Stage it was simpler to ascribe the appearance of these gifts as coming from Santa Claus. Since you were greedy (as all babies must be to survive) it didn't strike you as odd that you received gifts from Santa -- you were quite used to receiving gifts. And the concept of a concept might have been a bit much to understand.
Congratulations. Now that you're old enough to wonder if Santa is a real (though magical) person, you are learning more about the world.
As you continue into adulthood, please remember that while there is no person Santa, there is a spirit of generosity among real people, and it is a good thing, to be cherished and enjoyed.
But if you tell your parents that you hope Santa brings you stuff, they will give you stuff and tell you he brought it, and you all will get to enjoy your fleeting childhood a little longer, so please go along with it.




Straightforward enough?

And for what it's worth, the real Virginia O'Hanlon apparently liked the answer and (or cynically because of) the small fame that came with it. Here there are more details, including a letter she wrote on the 40th anniversary of the editorial, in which she encourages adults to continue to make Santa real for children.
12.21.2006 11:37am
abb3w:
I think David's question could be more specific, as to what he means by "belief"?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus... depending on what the meaning of "is" is. Are we talking about the literal belief, that there's a old gent living in the high northern latitudes, variously rumored to be a sainted Catholic archbishop, dearly beloved friend to the Seelie Fay, and/or a semi-retired pagan deity, who uses a reindeer-sleigh based global toy distribution mechanism? Or the not-so-literal belief in humanity's spirit of kindness, generosity and sharing that this figure embodies?

As time passes, the shift is usually made by children gradually from the former to the latter... barring a rude shock of denial from an elder. Such denials are undesirable, since leading a child to prematurely reject the former may also lead them to challenge the latter.

Sometimes, truth is overrated, and a little hypocrisy isn't such a bad thing.
12.21.2006 11:44am
Gavin Peters (mail):
On the CTV show "Corner Gas", there was an episode in which characters were repeatedly saying "There is no Santa Claus."

Each time they did this, the president of CTV would appear on air for a public service announcement, clarifying that of course, there is in fact a Santa Claus, but the mean people on the TV show were saying that as an example of a mean thing to say, not as an example of a true thing to say.

I bust a gut each time it happened. The clarifying messages rocked!
12.21.2006 1:05pm
Kenvee:
I guess you can sign me up for special ed, because I wholeheartedly believed in Santa without on smidge of doubt until the Christmas I was in third grade. I suppose I would've just turned nine, and my brother was in fifth grade. My parents decided he was old enough he was going to get teased if he still believed in Santa, so a little after Christmas that year, they sat us both down and told us there was no Santa.

Being logical children, of course, I went and got my Childcraft Encyclopedia and opened it to the entry on Santa to prove he was real. (The first line was "Santa Claus, a myth..." My parents asked if I knew what a "myth" was.) My brother, when asked how Santa could possibly deliver gifts to children all over the world in just one night, looked at them very seriously and said, "There are different time zones."

I'm 28 now, and I still believe in the spirit of Santa! We have gifts magically appear under the tree on Christmas morning marked "from Santa", and our stockings are always filled. (Although I usually bring something "from Santa" to contribute to my parents' stockings these days.) A few years ago, my mother started to fill the stockings before we'd all gone to bed on Christmas Eve. My brother and I were both upset that she was spoiling the illusion of Santa!
12.21.2006 1:52pm
Davide:
Re: Social Niceties,

I think Hoya and Ken Arromdee have things a bit wrong, and DutsyR has it right.

When someone tells a friend a lie to be nice (telling the overweight friend that he looks thin) the lie IS meant to be believed. In fact, many people who are lied to in this way take the lies to heart and cherish them. Who among us has not told someone they looked great even though the speaker knew at the time that was untrue? And is it not often the case that the lied-to person feels much better after receiving the compliment????

So a social compliment IS a falsehood told to someone who is "meant" to believe it. I don't think that one can distinguish this from the Santa fiction in that manner.

And, in fact, what's the harm in telling a little child to believe in such a wonderful, though mythic creature like Santa?

Cold hard truth has its place, granted -- but no one believes it should be universal.
12.21.2006 2:04pm
sally:
My sister is 9. My brother (17) and I (16) try to keep her believing. My whole family knows the same story when she asks questions. I think she is faking that she still believes though, which is sad.

It is completely random who figures it out though. I am younger than my brother and stopped believing when I was 5-6. I was a jerk too. I tried to find evidence that he didn't exist. I wish I had believed for longer. It would have made christmas more fun.
12.21.2006 2:51pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
My brother and I were both upset that she was spoiling the illusion of Santa!

That's worth emphasis -- it's already been mentioned that that was the sin of the British teacher.

People like family traditions.

In about 5 hours I have to send an email to my father's cell phone to ask him if he's noticed how much longer the days have been getting -- that's been our Winter Solstice tradition for some 30 years (updated for technology), and I look forward to it, just like I look forward to certain foods on various occasions.

I knew there was no Tooth Fairy, that there couldn't be such thing, probably from the time I lost my first tooth. I didn't mind when I figured out how my mother was getting the quarter under my pillow, but I got awfully upset when my brother made her admit that she was the tooth fairy -- he was probably 10 to my 12. Very recently I had to set my father straight that what I was upset about wasn't the lack of a tooth fairy, but the end of that game.


to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By &by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep &know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
12.21.2006 3:12pm
Holly:
I don't remember exactly when I stopped believing. Being a rather logical child, though, what really tipped me off was Miracle on 34th Street and the like. You see adults in Christmas movies and tv shows always started off not believing in Santa Claus (though he, of course, always appeared and proved them wrong). I realized that if Santa was real and bringing presents to homes, no adult would doubt it. Yet their doubt seemed to be a common jumping off point on tv. Therefore, Santa was make believe.
12.22.2006 12:23am
amativus (mail):
[quote]I'm very curious. Why do people think it is okay to tell kids lies about Santa Claus? Because it's fun for them? Is that the standard of truthfulness to which you generally adhere to? Is 'my parents will lie to me whenever, in their opinion, I'll enjoy the fruits of the lie' a standard of truthfulness that you want your children to know that you follow? [/quote/

No offense intended, but I'm sure glad you aren't my dad. All I gathered as I got older was a belief that my parents do what they can to preserve my belief in magic and justice in the world - that somehow if I behave myself, strangers will reward my good efforts. I'd say that's something most people believe in, that they will ultimately be rewarded for good behavior.

This thread is pretty depressing for me. It's like watching a religious debate; I don't think the cynics are any better off than the believers. If there's a real lesson I hope parents teach their children as they grow older, it's that you should let people believe whatever floats their boat as long as it doesn't interfere with you.
12.22.2006 5:15am
Hoya:
Amativus, I am not offended that you're glad I'm not your dad. All I need is for my kids to be glad that I'm their dad. I'm pretty sure the fact that I tell them that there is a God is enough to cover the 'preserv[ing] belief in magic and justice in the world' angle. (I do believe this, so I am not lying.)

I don't tell my kids to go spread the word of Santa's nonexistence. I tell them not to, because not every false belief that others have is their responsibility to correct.

I would distinguish between telling someone 'I'm fine' when asked 'how are you?' (in normal social settings) and telling a friend 'you look great' when he or she does not, in fact, look great, and is expecting a truthful assessment of how he or she looks. In the former case, 'how are you'/'I'm fine' is about as meaningless an exchange of sounds as you can get. In the latter case -- well, if you care about how you look, and you can't turn to your friends for help, then that's not a good thing.
12.22.2006 6:36am
Adam R (mail):
I remember arguing with my Christian neighbor (I'm Jewish) that Santa didn't exist. He insisted that he did, and that there were reindeer tracks in the snow on Christmas. I was probably about 8.
12.22.2006 7:25am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Yet their doubt seemed to be a common jumping off point on tv. Therefore, Santa was make believe.

I think Arctic Express addresses this point with more magic.
12.22.2006 10:39am