When did you stop believing in Santa?
Research commissioned by Mattel shows that more than half of parents named 11 years of age as when the ‘Santa magic’ stops and one-quarter say 9 years – a result which children’s literature expert, Dr Victoria Flanagan of Macquarie University, found “surprising”. But a nice surprising.
“I thought it would be younger; that it would more or less stop when children went to school and got into the whole thing of what they learn from other kids at school.
“But it’s nice that they’re older. And it’s also good for children to have this capacity to make-believe, especially around a ritual such as Christmas.”
Dr Flanagan says that even though Christmas is, in its essence, a Christian celebration it has become much broader than that.
“The values that surround Christmas are universal, whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or a non-believer.”
Unlike other celebrations such as birthdays or Mother’s or Father’s Day, Christmas also involves everyone.
“It’s a time when we get-together with our loved ones – family and friends – and when the whole family participates.
“It’s also a time when we start developing our own family traditions.”
Dr Flanagan said that parents tend to impart their own practices to their children, such as a letter to Santa, visiting him at shops, leaving food out for him, having a Christmas stocking and the timing of when presents are opened.
“All of these become small, but important, family stories that link generations together that are important to convey to kids,” she says.
“Believing in Santa and the magic of Christmas can open up so many conversations with our children. Some of them are just plain fun, but others can be quite educational and help with language skills and problem-solving.”
For example, an Advent Calendar helps teach children about numbers and counting.
A wishing tree is an opportunity to talk to kids about children who are less fortunate.
A discussion about how Santa gets around the world in a time-elapsed 24+ hours can lead to researching different modes of transport, the concept of time zones and climate.
A question about elves is an opportunity to talk about landscapes and the Santa tradition in other countries.
“The simple act of imagining something beyond everyday experience is a great way for children to think creatively about their life in a different way. It takes them out of their own world, which is really quite routine, and allows them to think about alternatives and ‘what if’ scenarios, to express emotions, good v bad behaviour and to think about others.
“We also all want to find the ‘perfect’ gift for those we love and this is especially the case with children.
“They may have only a small amount of money allocated for what they buy mum or dad, but they’re very focussed on it being something that’s really special.
“This is a great way of talking about and learning the value of giving being more important than receiving.”
Dr Flanagan says writing a letter to Santa – one of the most popular Christmas rituals - is also a great educational tool.
She says the Letter to Santa website developed by Mattel encourages children to write a letter to Santa about the gifts they want and why.
“Children are not necessarily taught how to write letters today, so this is another opportunity to help them be creative, structure their thoughts and sentences, get their spelling right without a spell check and impart meaning in what they write.”
She says it’s also a very practical tool for families as it allows kids to build a ‘wish list’ of presents.
“When you’ve got family members who are interstate or overseas, it gives them a great opportunity to find out what their young niece, nephew or grandchild is thinking about and what they’d like.”
Dr Flanagan says there’s nothing wrong with children maintaining the fantasy story around Santa for as long as they like.
“I think it’s fantastic for kids up to 11 years of age to be believing. It shows that they’re imaginative, creative and also grasp the spirit and meaning of Christmas – and that’s a good thing.”
Tips for keeping the Santa magic alive
- Write a letter to Santa (try here)
- Make an event of putting up the Christmas tree together and let children make decisions about where to place things on the tree.
- Play (and sing and dance to) holiday music around the house.
- Choose bedtime stories that bring Christmas and the Santa story to life.
- Make magic moments out of activities such as hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve.
- If the child leaves out food and drink for Santa, make sure Santa leaves a thank you note.
- Leave Santa footprints around the house.