Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-k78ct Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-23T13:49:54.302Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

What if Santa died? Childhood myths and development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Lynda Breen*
Dewi Jones Unit, Alder Hey Hospital, Eaton Road, West Derby, Liverpool LI2 2AP. E-mail:
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


Core share and HTML view are not available for this content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

Disenchantment with Santa Claus is a rite of passage that usually signals the adoption of an adult-defined reality. The ethics of the custom, which has been described as misleading, have recently been debated and there are suggestions that it is less well maintained than in previous years. This short article explores some of the sociocognitive benefits of promoting the Santa Claus tale and its associated customs. Sociological theories suggest benefits in family bonding and pro-social behaviour, including sharing. Cognitive theories describe enhanced fantastical thinking, expansion of the internal object world and purposeful play. Children may draw parallels between Santa Claus and God, although there is no current evidence that finding out he does not exist impairs their subsequent capacity for religious faith. Whether or not the fable is a threat to the child's trust is to be decided by each parent. On balance, the tale of Santa Claus is a powerful tool that may serve to nurture social and cognitive development, particularly in a technological society where children mature earlier.

Special Articles
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright © 2004. The Royal College of Psychiatrists.


Barrington, A. (1997) The Truth about Santa Claus. Chicago, IL: Genesis communications Inc.Google Scholar
Clark, C. D. (1995) Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Cox, M. (1991) The Child's Point of View. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
Malim, T. & Birch, A. (1998) Cognitive Development. In Introductory Psychology (First Edition, pp. 428478). London: Macmillan press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mayes, L. C. & Cohen, D. J. (1992) The development of a capacity for imagination in early childhood. Psycho-analytic Study of Children, 47, 2347.Google Scholar
Meyer, R. (1997) The Wisdom of Fairy Tales. Edinburgh: Floris Books.Google Scholar
Nolte, D. L. (1998) Children Learn What They Live. New York: Workman Publishing.Google Scholar
Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969) The Psychology of the Child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Polakow, V. (1992) The Erosion of Childhood. Chicago: University of Chicago press.Google Scholar
Prentice, N. (1978) Imaginary figures of early childhood: Santa Claus, Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 48, 618626.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.