Keep the Christmas magic alive during pandemic, psychologist urges

Being honest about the myth of Father Christmas in 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown could be damaging to children, says Dr Chris Boyle.

Father Christmas
Father Christmas

Being honest about the myth of Father Christmas in 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown could be damaging to children, a psychologist has warned.

Dr Chris Boyle, who is an expert on children’s experiences of Christmas magic and myth, said it is especially important to keep the magic of Santa Claus alive, at least for this year.

His usual advice for parents is that it can be psychologically harmful to lie to children, especially when it comes to the Santa myth.

Parents are being urged to keep the magic of Christmas alive for another 12 months and be prepared to have answers to difficult questions (PA)
Parents are being urged to keep the magic of Christmas alive for another 12 months and be prepared to have answers to difficult questions (Peter Byrne/PA)

But compounding the events of 2020 with the knowledge that Santa is not real could be even more stressful for some children and he is calling on families to “maintain the collective myth” for one more year.

Dr Boyle, from the University of Exeter, has been analysing the results of his Santa Survey, which has been completed by more than 4,200 people around the world.

“The Covid Christmas of 2020 brings so much uncertainty and misery, there is an argument it has never been a greater time to indulge in the escapism of Santa,” he said.

“Christmas is a time of magic, where children believe in implausible things, including Santa – adults, and older children, wish they could believe too. Who can blame them, especially in 2020?

“My survey results reveal there are many ways where parents can expose the Santa myth by mistake. The main slip-up beset by parents is being caught in the act.”

Some examples of parents’ errors contributed by people who completed the survey include:

– “Dad was tipsy when setting out the presents and disturbed my sleep, so I heard him drop them” (11-year-old, England)

– “I caught my parents drinking and eating what we had put out for Santa and the reindeer” (10-year-old, England)

Many children also wanted to know how Santa entered the house, and parents’ inability to answer successfully led to children discovering the truth:

– “I knew it was impossible for such a fat man to fit down the chimney” (seven-year-old, US)

– “Grandpa’s house had a fireplace. It was turned on and when I woke up, the presents were there but no dead Santa” (three-year-old, Germany)

Children may question how Father Christmas can climb down a chimney when they do not have one (Doug Peters/PA).
Children may question how Father Christmas can climb down a chimney when they do not have one (Doug Peters/PA)

Dr Boyle, writing in the journal The Psychologist, said: “My research focuses on the journey children embark on when they are beginning to question the truth about Santa.

“But the survey results give me hope that parents could successfully navigate questions about Santa this year if they are aware of the main ways that other parents have tripped up over the years, then we can all maintain the collective myth that is Santa Claus for one more season.

“The challenges we have faced this year will surely live with many children over their lifetimes.

“With all the magic and hope that he brings, Father Christmas might be a vital tonic for the Grinch that was 2020.

“What worse horror than to bookend an already troubled year with the disclosure that Santa is not real?

“The Santa Survey results show how hard it is for parents and guardians to keep the magic and myths of Christmas going as children become older.

“The Father Christmas story becomes much more difficult to perpetrate, particularly when children learn more about science and develop problem-solving skills.”

– The Santa Survey is available at: http://www.thesantasurvey.com

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