The Santa Claus Lie, Is it justified?

November 8, 2011

Dirty Hands

The idea of a fat man riding in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer makes perfect sense, right? To older kids and adults, this idea is laughable at best, but to little children it is magical and brings a smile to their face. Would it be wrong to deny them this pleasure? Or is it wrong to lie to their faces, knowing that one day they will find out the truth?

        I believed in Santa Claus longer than most children do. I must have been pushing 10 or 11 before my parents finally told me the truth. I had my doubts before, but everytime I asked they told me he was real (in order to keep my younger siblings believing). They were always careful to have different wrapping paper and make sure we were asleep. After I was told the truth Christmas was less magical, I was less involved with the decorations each year. I didn’t feel betrayed by my parents for lying to me, I was still getting presents and how I received them didn’t make much difference.


It was not hard for my parents to keep up the lie, because I grew up in a largely Christian community so all of the kids celebrated Christmas and believed in Santa. But many families do not have that luxury. Their kids are interacting with kids that do not celebrate Christmas, therefore Santa doesn’t give them gifts. This can often puzzle a child and the parents will just add more lies to the equation. Here is a link to one woman’s experience with the Santa Claus lie with her own children 

Both sides of the arguement have good points.

Those who are for the Santa Claus Lie want their children to experience the magic of Christmas the same way that they did when they were younger. They want their children to believe in the fantasy and magic of the world, before they are no longer able to.

Those against the Santa Claus Lie argue that it is immoral to lie to children. That when they finally learn the truth, the children will start to question everything else their parents have taught them. Telling them that Santa Claus is not real from the begining would not cause the child’s life to be at risk so it is not justified.

I wonder if “Dirty Hands” can be tied into this at all. Would Machiavelli consider telling children that Santa Claus exists an example of “Dirty Hands” because the act of lying is immoral, or would the fact that the parents know that one day the children will find out that it was a liar disqualify it? Is it justified to lie to children about Santa Claus being real? Or is the truth the better option here?



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15 Comments on “The Santa Claus Lie, Is it justified?”

  1. roshray Says:

    Personally, I feel like people who think that telling your kids about Santa Claus is immoral are fairly ridiculous. Psychologically, I personally believe that the resulting imagination from lying to kids about Santa is more beneficial to the kids than the harms are in having children become paranoid about what their parents tell them, which I don’t really buy as a legitimate argument. I do not think the example can be tied into the idea of dirty hands. In fact, it’s kind of an inverse of dirty hands, as the result in this case is negative, at least according to the people that believe that the lie causes paranoia. For the action to be considered dirty hands, the result would have had to had done good but have attained it in a morally ambiguous or morally corrupt way. I don’t think that this is the way the argument is presented. Personally, I feel like the benefit of lying about Santa Claus – the fascination and excitement of the kids, etc. – greatly overcomes the alleged risks.

    • Steve Dougherty Says:

      I agree – I don’t think this is a dirty hands problem because there isn’t a reasonable benefit to the lie. If it was for reasons of safety I would be more understanding, but even then I don’t think lying to children is a good parenting technique. This isn’t to say that parents must tell their children the full story on everything – one can conceal information if necessary without lying.

  2. Steve Dougherty Says:

    I don’t think parents lying to their children about Santa Claus is justified or wise. It strikes me as as much about the parents getting to watch a child’s amazement as for the child’s amazement and happiness on its own. I don’t see why a pseudonym for giving presents to one’s own children would be useful. Like others, I see it as at best neutral, and perhaps somewhat damaging, as children eventually either figure out or have it revealed to them that their parents lied to them for years so that they would act cutely. In my view, trust is a very important part of relationships, and starting out a relationship with a child with a fully intentional series of lies strikes me as a bad idea.

  3. maxmoray Says:

    Very compelling argument, I must agree with the comment above by Steve Doughtery, that in fact this is not a case of the dirty hands problem as their really is no benefit in lying. A childish folktale at this point, the question about whether a fat man coming into your house to supply gifts for the holidays is one that needs no examination. Rather, Santa Claus is just a myth for young children to get excited about the presents to come as well as grasp the sense of community. Why do parents lie and pretend this myth is true? Probably because all other parents in the world do it. Likewise, there is no reason to rid the youngest population in our country of the belief that fantasies and miracles can happen. Believing in Santa Claus is an extremely unharmful act, and regardless children will be getting presents and celebrating the Holidays with family and friends. To fall under the claim of Dirty Hands, I feel the lie must question the moral compass of the guilty party, and in return possibly cause hard to a fragmented portion of the population. It becomes important then to understand the difference between telling a white lie and shaking up the integrity of a person.

  4. Lenoxus Says:

    One possible benefit that I don’t think has been mentioned yet is that it may be good to throw a wrench or two into the child’s natural trust of adults and authority. Look at the recently discussed Milgram experiments.

    However, I’m not sure the evidence holds up that adults who had believed in Santa as children end up acquiring proper skepticism so much as unfiltered cynicism; in other words, not enough adults ask themselves “Does this idea I’ve encountered strangely resemble the Santa myth? Am I believing this idea for similar reasons as when I believed in Santa?” Instead, the internal lesson, resulting from the period when the child disbelieves but doesn’t feel like s/he is “supposed” to, is often more something like “I need to convince people that I agree with them / believe in what they want me to believe, if I want to get what I want (eg, presents).” A recipe for cynicism.

    My view right now is that parents outright lying is not okay, even if “implying” Santa’s existence might be. Any direct questions, such as “Does Santa really exist?” should be answered with complete honesty and no equivocations, no matter how much face the parents may lose.

  5. srbarron Says:

    Santa and the tooth fairy are part of American culture that represent childhood and eventual maturity. I think that the “lie” that Santa is real, is not merely a lie, but rather part of growing up. Corporations thrive based on the idea of Santa as they sell Christmas ornaments, create movies with Santa’s image, and embody the “Christmas Spirit.” I think it’s okay for parents to tell their children that Santa is delivering their gifts, and kids feel as if they reach a new stage in life when they finally learn that Santa doesn’t really exist in the form they’ve been thinking.

    It is fun to imagine that someone is sliding down the chimney to bring you presents to change things up from the simple birthday presents your parents give you. Additionally, if children believe that Santa is really checking if they are “naughty or nice,” it gives incentive for young kids to follow the rules in order to impress Santa so they can receive better gifts.

    As a child, I remember going to the mall around Christmas time, excited to sit on Santa’s lap and ask him for specific things. Here is where I think the dirty hands issue comes into play. Now the men in the big red fat suits are making money and taking advantage off of children who really believe that they are receiving presents from Santa. Their earnings come from the pictures that happy children want to take because they think their finally meeting Santa. The men in the long white beards are thus teasing children for their own financial benefit.

  6. godzillagti Says:

    I would like to use the author of this post as an example of why the “Santa Clause Lie” is okay. It has allowed this author to have experiences in their life where they believed that anything was possible. Children are known for having the wildest imaginations because their thoughts can seem limitless. As people grow up, limits are put on their imaginations. In the Case of Santa, we no longer think traveling around the world in one night is possible because no one can go that fast. To anyone who has ever been told this lie, has obviously found out the truth. The question I have is, “Were you truly mad at your parents?” I believed in Santa very strongly until I was about 13 having arguments with some Jewish children at my school. When I found out that he actually wasn’t real, my heart was kind of broken, but I was okay with it. I do think that sometimes the parents can be an example of “Dirty Hands” when the revelation of there being no Santa is devastating to a child. Their intentions were good in that they wanted their child to believe in anything, but in doing so, they lied to their own child. The reason that I use the author as an example is because I too am like you. When I found out I was upset for a day or two, but then I understood why my parents did what they did. I think that it is truly up to the parents to decide on whether to tell their children about Santa Clause, but I know that my wife and I will more than likely tell our children and hope for the best.

  7. emmaknev Says:

    I don’t think the Santa Claus lie constitutes as a dirty hands problem at all. Parents do it so their kids can have fun with the idea, but this has nothing to do with the good of society. Also, parents don’t recognize this lie as immoral because it is so highly integrated into society. If anything, I would think not telling your kids the lie about Santa would feel worse than doing so. And yes, while I agree that it is all really ridiculous, I believe it would be harder for kids to know the truth rather than not during their childhood. Kids in school always talk about Santa, and Christmas is so highly linked to Santa Claus that for any kid to confront all of that every Christmas would be really difficult. They wouldn’t understand why everyone believes in it if it isn’t real, and this complexity might be too much for kids to handle. They might also be taunted and teased at school for sharing their view that Santa isn’t real, and this might also upset other kids, and their parents as well. Personally, I think it’s all a lot of fun and even though kids outgrow it, the Santa Claus illusion brings forth a lot more positives than negatives.

  8. mfriedlander92 Says:

    I think that the issue of telling your kids Santa Claus is real can be case of dirty hands because the parents are doing something for the best interest of their kids. It can be something that is morally wrong to protect or help the common good of the their children. However, I think that in the end it isn’t something that can be considered political at all. It is a holiday and the story of Santa Claus is something fun.

    Santa Claus technically is real – he is based off of Saint Nicholas who used to throw gold into people’s windows. The story has just become extremely elaborated to make the holiday more exciting and fun. Therefore the story of Santa is just for fun and to help people celebrate. If I grew up not believing in Santa I think that my life would be very empty and it is something that fulfills children’s lives.

    I just think it is ridiculous when people think it is immoral to lie to their children about Christmas. If it was political I do think it would be dirty hands, but it isn’t a political matter. Just let people celebrate a holiday and let them be. It is all fun and games.

  9. Matthew Vlasic Says:

    I tend to agree with the last two comments much more than the first couple in the string. When somebody thinks of an example of a malicious lie, do they really think of the Santa tradition? It seems a little bit over the top to argue that telling your children about a magical figure and letting this very figure illuminate their imaginations and brighten their holiday days is an example of dirty hands or a dirty lie for that matter. Like the last commenter, I would argue that this so-called pseudo lie is just a way of infusing some spirit and magic into a child’s early days. By telling kids about Santa, we are just letting them be kids. Once they grow out of it, they are no longer kids and they no longer need this magical concept of Santa because they are mature enough to recognize the true magic of a holiday season and why holidays are actually important to us separate from all of the presents and material things.

    Ultimately, the Santa myth is nothing but an aspect of many kids’ childhoods that they wouldn’t trade for anything else. Some people may have felt unjustly betrayed by their parents, but some also probably thanked them for giving them something to look forward to and something to dream about on Christmas Eve. I think the Santa lie is very justified and I barely even consider it much of a lie due to the great things that it can accomplish and add to our youth.

  10. dannilevin9492 Says:

    I don’t celebrate Christmas, but come this time every year I wish I could join in the festivities. I could only imagine what it’s like to wake up in the morning to the sounds of Christmas music accompanied by a beautifully decorated tree consumed by stacks of perfectly wrapped presents. While maybe not everybody’s Christmas includes a winter wonderland or chestnuts roasting on an open fire, it involves an imaginary fat white-bearded man climbing down the Chimney with a huge sack of presents to leave under the tree. However, Santa Claus is more than just an imaginary figure, he is symbol of happiness and celebration to all children who celebrate Christmas. Unleashing the truth about Santa Clause slightly demolish’s these children’s sense of innocence, and they care less about Christmas as they once did as a result of knowing the truth. But, because finding out that Santa is a fake is inevitable, hiding his false identity from kids can be considered . Hiding the truth about Santa so that children can fully enjoy Christmas as long as possible requires parents to do what is really in their children’s best interest and therefore lie to them. This issue of dirty hands, however, lies nowhere close to other acts of dirty hands, such as the actions of Lady McBeth. All in all, the idea of Santa Claus is similar to that of the tooth fairy. At the end of the day people get presents, even if its not from a make believe character. So, no one should bring political issues such as the problem of dirty hands into an innocent celebration.

  11. matthewlocascio Says:

    I feel like telling children to believe in Santa Claus is fair, moral and perfectly OK. I grew up in a faithful Catholic family, and Christmas has always been the best holiday of the year. We always decorated the entire inside of the house, put up the 10 foot tree, covered the outside of the house with as many lights as possible, so in other words had a lot of Christmas spirit. Part of this “magic” came from the belief in Santa Claus. I feel like taking this away from children because it may be deemed unfair or unethical would be a bigger mistake than allowing them to believe in it and eventually find out Santa isn’t real.

    From my memories, Christmas Eve was so special to my family because of the presents Santa would leave under the tree. Yes, as you grow older you start to realize that it is impossible for a man to deliver presents to every kid in the world in one night; but at the time, you feel so special knowing you were a good boy or girl who deserved presents that night. Even after I learned that Santa wasn’t real, I didn’t lose faith or feel disinterested in the holiday. I found that I was just as excited, if not more, for Christmas, particularly because I got to watch my little brother enjoy the Santa Claus “tale.” That made it even more special to see his face every morning opening presents knowing he still believed.

    The whole Santa story is in two parts. The first stage is when you are a child and enjoy the Christmases on which Santa delivers presents. The second part is carrying on the tradition for younger siblings and potentially children of your own. To me, this is what Christmas is all about. And honestly, if you lose interest in the holiday and stop decorating as much because you know Santa isn’t real and doesn’t bring you presents, then you really don’t understand the meaning of Christmas. It isn’t about getting presents or only Santa, it’s about the religion and the giving aspect that makes it special.

    I feel like eliminating this tradition would ruin Christmas. When children believe in Santa and then learn that it is not true later in life, they learn about what makes Christmas special. In my mind, it won’t be unique or exciting at Christmas time if Santa never comes for the little kids.

  12. rmwells3 Says:

    Santa Claus plays a moral building role in a child’s life. The lie of Santa Claus isn’t cruel or destructive, but yes maybe a little mean and confusing. In essence, Santa’s role is to teach us to behave properly and in the end we endorse good behavior by rewarding it. We learn simple lessons on human ethics like how to treat others, what constitutes appropriate or “nice” behavior and vice versa and teach that achieving our goals come with rewards and satisfaction. I’m okay with a little lying for a better cause because the spirit of Christmas would not be as special without Santa Claus.

    To answer the original question, it is slightly dirtying one’s hands to lie flat out for that long and give false hope, but it has a good intention and therefore, its means are justified. For this very reason, i think that Machiavelli wold agree to continue this tradition as it would save the integrity, morals and values of this special tradition.

  13. briank726 Says:

    I would put the Santa Claus Lie in the same category as tooth fairies, ghosts, how babies are made, and all the other beliefs and misconceptions we have when we’re children. I think Santa Claus on Christmas has become more cultural than religious, and many people in the U.S. just celebrate the holiday without really considering the religious implications. Our family isn’t religious at all, but we have always celebrated Christmas with a tree and presents, and my family too kept up the Christmas Lie during my childhood. In many other countries, Christmas is not celebrated the same way, not because people in those places aren’t Christian, but because their cultures are just different. I don’t think the Santa Claus lie is a case of Dirty Hands because while it is technically immoral to lie about the existence of Santa, it is not even for a substantial greater good. Children will inevitably stop believing the lie and there won’t be considerable harm for them to have believed it. I think the whole thing is just a fun cultural thing.


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