Laura Guapo, junior managerial economics major, discovered at age eight that her parents were the real Santa after she found presents in her parents’ closet while playing hide and seek. Not wanting her mother to know that she had found out the truth, she pretended to still believe.
“My Christmas holiday has felt the same, but a spark of excitement has been missing every since,” said Guapo in an e-mail interview.
Though finding out the truth about Santa Claus does not always have a profound impact on young people, for many it does have positive and negative effects.
UC Davis professor of psychology Phillip Shaver said that believing in Santa Claus adds a lot of excitement and mystery to Christmas. This belief is just one type of fantasy children enjoy participating in and parents usually enjoy helping their children believe in a myth like Santa Claus.
“Children usually stop believing gradually as they become cognitively sophisticated enough to realize that mall Santas aren’t really Santa and that reindeer can’t fly and land on a roof,” Shaver said in an e-mail interview. “Children often like to linger in a fantasyland between believing and not believing for awhile, but step by step they move from believing firmly, to doubting but perhaps still hoping, to no longer believing.”
Houa Vue, a sophomore design major, first realized at age 10 that the character and story of Santa Claus could not be true after watching the Santa Claus movies starring Tim Allen.
Sophomore undeclared major Yee Xiong found out about Santa Claus from her older sibling when she was 7 years old. She had always thought that there was something unbelievable about what Santa did at night, like riding around with reindeer and climbing down chimneys, she said.
“After finding that out, the Christmas holiday didn’t feel too different. However, I did feel like something was missing, maybe just the Christmas spirit in general,” Xiong said in an e-mail interview.
Associate professor of psychology and psychologist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain Kristen Lagattuta said that children typically feel disappointed when learning the truth about Santa Claus and can be surprised that their parents lied to them.
“Christmas loses some of its magic. I remember the first Christmas when I didn’t believe — I still stayed awake on Christmas Eve still wishing I could hear the reindeer’s hooves and sleigh bells on my rooftop,” said Lagattuta in an e-mail interview.
Ryan Cheung, sophomore neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, came to the United States when he was four years old and started kindergarten and grade school. It was during this time that he started to adopt American holiday spirit, including the belief of Santa Claus.
He was seven years old when he found out Santa wasn’t real.
“I felt bad about it, I mean my parents lied to me in a way, but…I got over it,” Cheung said in an e-mail interview. “By that time, I had adopted some sort of belief of Christmas and Santa and when my parents broke it to me, I was flustered, they laughed, but then it hit me and I was just like whatever, not everything is perfect in life.”
Unlike Cheung, junior linguistics major Kathryn Burris did not find it distressing to learn that Santa was not real. In fact, for her, it was quite amusing.
“I found out Santa wasn’t real when I was four or five. It made me laugh because I imagined my parents walking around in Santa costumes, which is just quite a sight. I mean, come on, my mom with a beard. Enough said,” Burris said in an e-mail interview.
Developmental psychologist and lecturer at UC Davis Liat Sayfan said that though there are studies that show that children experience disappointment, sadness and sometimes anger when discovering the truth about Santa, these feelings are minimal and not long lasting.
For Sayfan, it is neither healthy nor unhealthy for young children to be told that Santa does not exist.
“Most children cherish those past memories of believing in Santa and the magical atmosphere surrounding Christmas,” Sayfan said in an e-mail interview.
Lagattuta said that as children grow older and enter adolescence, many still really enjoy the magic and fantasy of Santa and the North Pole. Many feel nostalgia for their younger years.
“I believe there are benefits to believing in myths. It gives everyone a sense of hope and feelings of happiness. They may not be true, but it is still something to believe in,” Cheung said. “Like believing in God or heaven or vampires or Harry Potter and magic, we do not know if it exists or not, yet we choose to believe in it because it makes us feel good.”
PRISCILLA WONG can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.