A few years ago, while I was helping a child around the age of nine write a letter to Santa Claus, he asked me: “Miss, is Santa Claus alive, after all? Does he exist?” I gave him an answer which didn’t confirm, nor did it exactly deny, the existence of the beloved Santa. At the end of our conversation, the child looked at me seriously and said: “I will tell you what is going on with Santa Claus, so you know! He is neither a spirit, nor an idea, nor any of these. Santa is human, he is simply a magical human being. He actually knows, how to do magic to become invisible and not be seen. But he sees and hears us!”
I smiled widely, hugged him and took the letter he had written to throw it into a mailbox. Together with hundreds of letters from children, with the recipient, as every year, Santa Claus. Letters full of joy, childhood dreams and hopes. Full of faith and devotion to a person, who is almost fairy-tale.
Then, happiness is reflected on their innocent faces. When they discover the gifts they had asked for a few days ago, under the Christmas tree. Santa Claus, indissolubly connected to Christmas, brings all the magic and beauty. However, in the adult world, we dispute his existence. After all, is it safe to let children believe in something that doesn’t exist? Wouldn’t it be better to bring them back to reality? Or is it better to allow the nature of each child to lead us at its own time and pace, at the right time for the truth?
Let’s start with the basics: What does Santa Claus mean for the children? Who is he in their eyes? Who does he actually represent?
Santa Claus is the familiar, safe and warm father figure. He is the sweet grandfather who will read and hear their wish. The one who will accept every child exactly as he is, without any discrimination. The character of Santa Claus covers needs that are deeply rooted in the child’s soul. This is why some children seem to be “late” in understanding the truth. In other words, they may be mentally and age-mature enough to realize that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. However, psycho-emotionally, they still refuse to accept it. But to be able to know when approximately a child is mentally mature to understand the truth, we need to look at what happens in each age range, individually.
During the preschool period, until up to about six years old, the child cannot yet make sufficient logical connections. This ability is acquired gradually, at older ages. In addition, the egocentrism that characterizes this period makes it difficult to perceive situations “from the point of view of the others” and therefore the most complex problem-solving, using rational thinking. It’s expected for the time being, to confuse the imaginary with the real. Therefore, it’s normal to believe completely in Santa Claus, as well as not to raise any concerns about his non-existence.
With the attendance at the Primary School, from the age of six – seven onwards, the acquisition of rational thought slowly begins. In other words, the child manages to take into account various parameters, in terms of solving everyday problems. To use logical correlations, but also to understand the different position of other people. Egocentrism weakens, almost completely. Then, the questions concerning Santa Claus begin.
At this point, let’s remember the nine-year-old child, to whom I first referred. As you will see, he wondered if Santa Claus was alive, if he was human or not, if he was “real” or “magical”! Likewise, you may receive a variety of questions from your children, so, it would be good, to prepare yourself for that! The more rational thought is cultivated, the more the magic will have the need to reconcile and to coexist, with the mortal hypostasis.
Of course, you should always keep in mind that each child follows his own individual development pace. Both mentally and psycho-emotionally, as I mentioned above, in addition to the general rules. Therefore, it’s possible for a five-year-old to wonder if Santa Claus eats or sleeps, like us. Where exactly he lives. What else he does, when it’s not Christmas, et cetera. On the other hand, it’s possible that the elementary school child, aged eight or nine, insists on believing in the existence of Santa Claus.
What should we say to children about Santa?
What is generally important to remember, is that in any case, we shouldn’t completely confirm the existence of Santa Claus.
In particular, we should avoid, as much as possible, to humanize him. Mainly from the end of the preschool period onwards. As we have seen, during preschool the boundaries between the imaginary and the real are not yet clear. So, especially, if the child himself doesn’t seek to ask you anything, there is no reason to discuss with him what is true or what is not.
From about the age of seven, the child will gradually begin to realize the truth around Santa Claus. On the one hand, through various sources of information, such as the internet and conversations with older children and peers. On the other hand, due to the conquest of rational thought. Depending always on the developmental level of each child, mentally, psychosocially and emotionally, we answer his questions and follow his own pace, giving each time, as much as the child can bear!
Beginning with the introduction to the idea that Santa Claus isn’t a human being, like us, but is magic. The magic of Christmas, which lives mainly in our hearts. If at some point we realize that the child has accepted the non-existence of Santa Claus and raises further questions, we can explain to him, who Basil the Great was, in our religion. He was a philanthropist who helped the poor. On the one hand, it’s connected with the story of Saint Nicholas, who was known for his generosity. He was also the one, who gave life to Santa Claus, just as we know him today.
By searching on the internet or other sources, such as books, you will be able to discover, a variety of information about the above. Until this time comes, don’t worry and don’t force your kid to come back to reality. Let him believe in the non-existent, because for the time being, he needs it. As long as Santa Claus meets some of the child’s needs, he will somehow refuse to look the truth in the eye. Highlight the magical idea behind Santa Claus. Tell him that Santa Claus is the one who helps mom and dad leave the presents under the Christmas tree. In fact, Santa Claus actually, represents the love of mom and dad, multiplied many times over!