Using Santa Claus as a Teachable Moment

But as our son Connor began to exhibit the incipient inklings of Kringledoubt, it occurred to me that something powerful was going on. I began to see the Santa paradigm as an unmissable opportunity—the ultimate dry run for a developing inquiring mind.

My boy was 8 years old when he started in with the classic interrogation: How does Santa get to all those houses in one night? How does he get in when we don’t have a chimney and all the windows are locked and the alarm system is on? Why does he use the same wrapping paper as Mom? All those cookies in one night—his LDL cholesterol must be through the roof! This is the moment, at the threshold of the question, that the natural inquiry of a child can be primed or choked off. With questions of belief, you have three choices: Feed the child a confirmation, feed the child a disconfirmation—or teach the child to fish.

The “Yes, Virginia” crowd will heap implausible nonsense on the poor child, dismissing her doubts with invocations of magic or mystery or the willful suspension of physical law. Only slightly less problematic is the second choice, the debunker who simply informs the child that, yes, Santa is a big fat fraud.

“Gee,” the child can say to either of them. “Thanks. I’ll let you know if I need any more authoritative pronouncements.”


Parents can use this revealing of truth to explain how humans are a storytelling people. We have always told stories to express ideas. Some stories generate more belief and conviction than others. The Bible is a compilation of stories that many people have come to believe as literally true. Santa is a good analogy of how people want to believe in the stories of gods. Most stories have an amount of truth within them, as well as an amount of embellishment.


Tell the child the fantastic story about Santa Claus, but answer their skeptical questions truthfully.

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 Counterpoint: Santa Claus—the Ultimate Dry Run
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book Chapter:  McGowan , Dale (2007), Counterpoint: Santa Claus—the Ultimate Dry Run, Retrieved on 2012-03-28
Folksonomies: parenting atheism