Do our children need Santa Claus any more?
Dec 4, 2004 - 6:11:38 AM

Do our children need Santa Claus any more? If Father Christmas died, would their world - and ours - be a poorer place? In the December issue of the Psychiatric Bulletin, two psychiatrists discuss the role of Santa Claus in fostering childhood myths and development.

Dr. Lynda Breen, from Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, argues that Santa is a symbol of hope, and belief in him teaches children the values of role models, family bonding and sharing, as well as helping the young to think more constructively.

Children imagine Santa's home in the North Pole as a winter wonderland, full of talking snowmen, elves and flying reindeer, she says. For some, Santa is a vivid companion, a symbol of nurturing and generosity, and this fantasy can help children feel loved and comforted.

From a child's perspective, Santa is a spiritual reality that encourages their moral development ('He knows if you've been bad or good'). Many letters to Santa include a wish for someone else, including the poor and the sick.

Dr. Mark Salter, a consultant psychiatrist from Homerton Hospital in London, is sceptical. He does not believe that Santa fosters benevolence any more than many other social acts involving others. Nor does writing to Santa encourage attention and concentration any more than a thank you letter to Grandma, he says.

But we should beware. Increasingly, in a society that unwisely holds rationality above all else, the significance of myths and magic are being slowly and subtly eroded. Dr. Breen is offering us a seasonally-flavoured warning, asking us to contemplate not the death of Santa, but of imagination, says Dr. Salter.

'If Santa died, we would hold a Serious Incident Inquiry. If we have any sense, we should ask the Tooth Fairy to chair it," he concludes.

Paper references:
Breen L (2004) What if Santa died? Childhood myths and development. Psychiatric Bulletin, 28, 455-456.
Salter M (2004) What if Santa died? An invited response. Psychiatric Bulletin, 28, 457

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