Keep the Magic Alive : Continuing the Santa tradition provides excitement, fun and other benefits for children, a CSUN professor asserts.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to The Times</i>

In a world in which magic can be hard to come by, but honesty between parents and children seems increasingly important, parents often wonder if promoting Santa is the right thing to do.

Roseann Crispi, 25, of Glendale says she remembers believing that she saw Santa in her own living room and argued with her friends for years when they suggested that parents, not a big elf, delivered the gifts.

“I remember peeking in the living room door early in the morning when I was about 7 or 8, seeing Santa and running back to my bed, thrilled, with my heart pounding,” she said. “I still have that vision, and it will never go away.”

Martha Stanfield, 35, of Woodland Hills claims that she saw Santa flying through the sky--in his sled, led by his team of reindeer--when she was 7. “It was incredible,” she said.


But Stanfield also remembers how she felt after she asked her mother if there was a Santa. “For a split second, I thought the world had really closed in. I remember feeling really sad,” she said.

Yet Stanfield--and other parents--continue the Santa tradition with their own children, often trying to re-create the anticipation and the joy they remember from their childhoods.

Barbara Polland, a psychotherapist and professor of child development at Cal State Northridge, encourages parents to keep Santa viable as long as they can.

“It is extremely important to children to have a chance to enjoy the magic,” said Polland, who believes that there are too few traditions in our society, and that childhood is already short. “Children typically want Santa to continue,” she said.


Polland also believes that there are other benefits to continuing the Santa tradition, in addition to the excitement and fun.

“In a society where everything has to happen yesterday, the long suspense of waiting for Santa--the delayed gratification--is important,” she said.

Just preparing a list for Santa has its benefits, too, she says. “Reviewing their wish lists, over the weeks before Christmas, children get a lesson in establishing their top priorities, and they see how what they thought they wanted most may become less important to them over time. They become more aware consumers.”

The fear of being punished for bad behavior by Santa may also help build a sense of conscience in kids, Polland says. At the least, it gives parents a special stint of better behavior.


But Polland acknowledges that children can feel deceived when they stumble upon the truth.

She says kids between the ages of 6 and 9 typically test out lying as they begin to explore their own identities, and their parents admonish them. That’s about when children discover their parents have promoted a myth.

“It’s a tremendous shock,” she admitted. But Polland says the deception regarding Santa never creates a serious problem for children. Kids have to face the fact that their parents are human, she says, but the magic about Santa and the holiday manages to survive.

Polland encourages parents to respond to children’s questions about Santa honestly, but with the same delicacy that they answer the where-did-I-come-from inquiries.


Responses like, “Tell me what you mean,” or “What are you thinking?” can reveal that a child isn’t ready for a no answer.

When children really want to know more, they will pursue the questioning, she says.

Stanfield says she remembers rationalizing her parents’ promulgation of the myth. “I could see the trade-off. Mommy and Daddy went to the trouble to create this magical event, and that was a gesture of love,” she said.