Every year on Christmas Eve, children throughout Christendom eagerly await a visit from Santa Claus. Most children are told that he visits the homes of children to place gifts under Christmas trees for good children and bring coal or sticks for bad children. While many parents may believe that this is a harmless “white lie,” there is a case to be made that the myth of Santa Claus is actually very harmful to children. Let us examine the origins of these customs and consider their ill effects.
The original form of Santa Claus was nothing like his common appearance today, which is largely a product of Thomas Nast’s cartoons (shown above), the poetry of Clement Clark Moore, and Coca-Cola advertisements. The custom of a mythical figure placing presents under a tree dates back to the mother/child cult of Semiramis and Nimrod in ancient Babylon. The mythology says that Nimrod married his mother, setting her up as the “queen of heaven” and himself up as the “divine son of heaven.” The two of them had a son named Tammuz, a god of food and vegetation worshiped in Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia. Upon Nimrod’s death, Semiramis claimed to see an evergreen tree spring up to full size overnight, symbolizing the “new life of Nimrod.” She then taught Tammuz to go into forests and make offerings to his father on the day that is December 25 in the Gregorian calendar (the origin of the date of Christmas), who was now worshiped as the sun god Ba’al, the false god mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament of the Bible. The custom was known to the authors of the book of Jeremiah, which includes the following:
“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.”
The book of Jeremiah is believed to have been written between 627 and 586 BC—six centuries before the time of Jesus—disproving any assertions that the customs surrounding Christmas were an invention of Christians. Nimrod was also known as Santa throughout Asia Minor. Another name for Nimrod used in Greece was Nikolaos. This name is a combination of the Greek words nikos and laos, which together mean “victory over the laity” or “conqueror of common people.” These customs inform certain practices within Christianity, such as the focus on Mary and Jesus together. Thus, the gift-bearing portion of the Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas story is ultimately a manifestation of the ancient cults of Babylon.
With Santa’s gifts explained, let us turn to the coal and sticks. These come from a pre-Christian tradition in Eastern Europe involving a figure named Krampus. This being, whose portrayal resembles that of Satan, is said to come on December 5 (Krampusnacht) to punish bad children. He may leave coal or sticks, beat children with sticks, kidnap and throw them into water, or take them directly to Hell in the worst cases. In places where Krampusnacht is observed, children get presents on December 6. Families with unruly children hang gold-painted bundles of birch sticks in their homes throughout the year as a functional décor to remind the children of the threat that Krampus may beat or abduct them.
Krampusnacht celebrations involve parades of people wearing Krampus costumes, running through the streets and beating people. The masks involved can be valuable items of folk art, especially if they are antiques. Though Krampus was of Norse origin—said to be the son of Hel, the god of death and the underworld who lends her name to the Hell of Christianity—he has been linked to Santa since the 17th century. Though Krampus was banned under fascist rule in the 1930s, the custom resumed once those governments fell.
To adults, all of this may seem like a harmless bit of fun. But when children are taught to believe in such beings as Santa Claus and Krampus, several detrimental effects may occur. First, parents who lie about Santa and/or Krampus are weakening their trust and credibility. Children will someday realize that their parents have lied to them, and this will lead them to question other statements that their parents have made. This can lead to trust issues that persist even into adult life, as well as damage a fundamental and irreplaceable relationship in a young person’s life.
Second, the Krampus story encourages violent parenting. A multitude of studies show that physically abusing and verbally threatening children is counterproductive to their development. The idea that a demon may take a child away from home forever into a place of punishment can inflict lasting feelings of trauma and insecurity on a young mind, and being hit with sticks is not much better for a child’s physical health. If children are capable of understanding reason, then it is better to use reason. If children are incapable of understanding reason, then they cannot understand the reasons why their elders are striking or threatening them. Moreover, the desire to escape punishment is the lowest of Kohlberg’s six stages of ethical development, and the desire to obtain rewards is the next lowest. Myths like those about Santa and Krampus can keep people from progressing past these lower stages of ethical thinking.
Third, these myths teach children to believe in entities whose existence and efficacy are not supported by credible evidence. A scientific analysis of what Santa Claus and his flying reindeer would have to do to fulfill the conditions set for him shows that he would have to endure G-forces more than 1,000 times beyond what is lethal. The idea of gifts and punishments coming seemingly out of nowhere, deus or diabolus ex machina style, to those who deserve them, requires a supernatural violation of physics as well as economics. If a child can be taught to believe in Santa or Krampus in the absence of credible evidence, then it will be easier for them to fall prey to religious cults or confidence schemes later on. On a related note, such traditions undermine the religious teachings that parents may wish to pass on to their children. Once children reason their way to the conclusion that Santa Claus is not real, they may apply similar thinking to the Christian God and become atheists, which a Christian parent would presumably not wish to see.
Fourth, the focus on gifts that is encouraged by belief in Santa Claus contributes to a culture of degenerate consumerism. This leads many people to spend money they do not have on items they do not need, then take the rest of the year to pay off the debts they incur during the holiday season. This runs counter to Christian teaching, which encourages both economic frugality and an emphasis on long-term planning over immediate gratification.
But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Santa Claus myth relates to the similarities between the Santa/Krampus duo and the institution of the state. The lyrics to a popular Christmas song say,
“He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!”
The idea of a benevolent gift-giver who regularly violates everyone’s privacy and will bring punishment to those whom he deems to be bad people is a close approximation of the ideals of the current political establishment. The story of Santa makes the citizenry easier to control by making people comfortable with a state apparatus that frequently violates their rights and threatens them with punishment from a young age.
All things considered, the stories of Santa Claus and Krampus have the effects of destroying trust in the family, healthy personal development, acceptance of reason and science, maintenance of other traditions, and the desire for liberty in the mind of a child. For these reasons, it is fair to say that lying to children about Santa Claus and/or Krampus does far more harm than good. It is best to be honest about such customs and tell children that these are merely stories rather than real entities so that they will not develop resentment, irrationality, and statist tendencies.
- Jeremiah 10:2-5 (NKJV)
- Langer, William L. (1940); Stearns, Peter N. (ed. 2001). The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, chronologically arranged. Houghton Mifflin. p. 37.
- Kohlberg, Lawrence (1976). “Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach”. In Lickona, T. Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Holt, NY: Rinehart and Winston.
- Coots, John Frederick and Gillespie, Haven (1934). Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.