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<xTITLE>When the Truth about Santa Claus Causes Conflict</xTITLE>

When the Truth about Santa Claus Causes Conflict

by Twila Hampton-Brown
March 2019
Why does telling the truth about Santa Claus cause conflict?  Santa Claus is not a real person he is a fictional character just like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the elves that work in Santa’s toy shop. However, many parents insist on making Santa Claus real for their young children in their early years later tell their children that everything they told them about Santa Claus was not true. This paper will examine what happens when parents choose not to tell their children the truth about Santa Claus.

Backgrounds of the Parents

The family is a black American family. Both parents grew up in different households with different family dynamics and structures. The wife grew up in a small town in upstate New York. She grew up in a traditional two parent home. There was also an older brother who also lived in the home. The father worked and was the primary breadwinner, and the mother worked outside the home occasionally. The family lived in an apartment complex in a townhome which comprised an upstairs, downstairs and a basement - the city they lived in was small and predominately European American. From a young age, her parents told by her that Santa Claus would come on Christmas Eve and bring presents.  As a little girl she wrote and sent letters to Santa Claus. On Christmas eve night they left cookies and milk and out for Santa.

One Christmas when the wife was seven years old the wife’s older brother eight years her senior decided he would show her and tell her where she presents came from. He took her down to the basement and showed her a big box. Inside the box was a bunch of toys and different gifts. All the gifts were things she put in her letter to Santa Claus that year. The brother stressed how the parents lied to her and that there was no Santa Claus and that their parents had always bought the presents. Her brother also told her she couldn’t say anything to anyone or she would get into trouble. Confused and upset she did not understand why her parents and teachers lied to her about Santa Claus. She was also mad at her brother for telling her and showing her the box with all the presents.

The husband grew up in a predominantly black area of a large northern Ohio city. He had a large extended family, but at home, it was just him and his mother. He spent his early years living in an apartment, but often spent a lot of time at his grandfather’s and grandmother’s house nearby. His mom worked so he would often stay with his grandparents or other relatives during that time. Growing up in an inner city was hard, however growing up in an area where the people were the same race gave him a sense of community and safety.

Her husband’s experience and perceptions were very different.  Santa Claus was not something they told the father about growing up. Instead, he would open Christmas presents at his home with his mom and then he would go over to his grandparent’s house to open more presents.  They told each family member who the presents were from and none were from Santa Claus. They wrote no letters to Santa. Also, trying to pretend about Santa Claus did not work because of the distrust of people coming into a neighborhood that people did not know.  Or more to the point when European Americans came into the neighborhood they were usually cops or some other law enforcement. To tell kids that some strange white man in a sled was coming to the house and entering it, without being let in just not something that made sense in their culture. The father remembers kids talking about and saying if Santa Claus came to their house trying to break in he would get shot.

How to Deal with Santa Claus

When the couple married, they had their first child, and then eighteen months later they had their second child. The first few year’s Christmas presents, and gifts were not an issue because they were not of an age to understand any of it. However, the issue was one that the parents had to discuss. How was the family going to handle Santa Claus? Would they lie (go along with the myth) or tell the children the truth? The wife did not believe that it was right to lie about him especially since he is just a character in a story. She believed that there was no need for Santa Claus to take such an important position in the Christmas holiday. Instead, they would treat him like any other character in stories during the holiday season. Like other winter activities like ice skating or drinking eggnog. But an all-out assault from schools to libraries and other institutions to force an actual lie onto children to believe is beyond disappointing. The husband agreed because he never believed in Santa Claus and although he was not as emphatic as his wife both agreed to tell their children the complete truth about where the gifts come from at Christmas time.

The Conflict

The couple had two children, first a daughter and after a son. They told the daughter starting at age four about the entire meaning of Christmas and about Christmas presents and there being no real Santa Claus. She started preschool at a nearby Methodist Church. The parents chose the school after visiting several preschools in the area. Although it was not ethnically diverse, it was close to their home and had a great reputation.   Their daughter attended at age four and five before entering kindergarten. During her time there she mentioned nothing about what she learned about Santa Claus at home or what she learned about him at school. She had a very reserved personality which differed from her younger brother who was far more outspoken.   

The story the parents told their son regarding Santa Claus was like the one they told their daughter because he was old enough to understand. He was naturally inquisitive; he asked a few questions about the house not having a fireplace and wondered how Santa Claus could get into a house with no fireplace. He did not seem phased or disappointed by the news that there was no Santa Claus instead he seemed to take it in stride.  He seemed satisfied with the truth.   Then he started preschool.  He started preschool when he was five years old in August. Everything was fine until December the month of Christmas.

One afternoon, while playing in a group with five other children during playtime. The children in the group talked about what they had written in their letters to Santa and what he would bring them for Christmas. Unlike his sister, who listened to the kids in her preschool class and did not give an opinion her brother decided that he would enlighten his classmates on the truth about Santa Claus.

He told the children in the group that Santa Claus was not real; he did not exist, nor would he bring them presents. He told them that their parents go to work and buy the presents, wrap them up, and put them under the tree, not Santa Claus. His tirade made two of the children in the group cry and run to a teacher to tell what was being said. While the rest of the group argued the truth about Santa Claus, the teachers worked to quiet the kids down.  The lead teacher took the son aside and explained to him that some kids believe in Santa Claus and that they have a right to if that is what their parents want them to believe. He then asked If Santa Claus is not real why would the parents lie to their children?

The preschool teacher called both parents to the school for a meeting to discuss what occurred.  The teacher was visibly distraught and said she had never had a five-year-old ask her those kinds of questions before.  She did not want him to feel like he was in trouble, however she found it difficult to answer his questions. She wanted to make sure his parents understood that he was not being disciplined, but she had to explain to him that other families have a right to believe what they want to believe.  And the school had an obligation to explain what happened to the parents involved. The parents had to explain to their son they could only control what went on in their home and in their home the truth was important.


 Looking at the Intercultural Approach to analyze this case study. The couple in the case had different backgrounds and exposure to the myth of Santa Claus. The husband in the case had no investment in the Santa Claus myth because in his family, neighborhood, schools, and immediate culture, it was not something that was believable a white Santa Claus did not fit into his community’s narrative. The children at school joked that Santa Claus would get shot if he tried to break into their houses. This was not something that was an even remotely expected response.

The wife in the story had an investment in the Santa Claus myth. She believed that Santa Claus was real and that he came every Christmas and brought the gifts found under the tree. When she found out it was not true, there was severe disappoint and hurt about being lied to by her parents. There was also no dialogue between then that explained why her parents deceived her. That was a problem for her and affected her to where she wanted to ensure that her children did not feel that same disappoint and hurt she felt when she found out Santa Claus was not real.

Those cultural experiences influenced the couple’s decision making when they had their children. The couple now lives in a community unlike either of the communities they grew up in. However, they ended up picking a preschool that lacked diversity in the student makeup. The reason for picking the preschool was because the preschool had a good reputation and the proximity to their residence. They based their decisions on their own experiences and wanted to do what was in the best interest of their children and family. Not knowing that one of their children would have a strong personality and would cause a conflict (not malicious) about a topic that caused unnecessary controversy.

The conflict created at the preschool was unexpected. The preschool teacher’s response was appropriate, but her distress regarding her conversation with the couple’s son was something that caused her great consternation. The conversation affected her and trying to deal with the dilemma of the Santa Claus lie. In her life, she may have told her children that Santa Claus brings the presents and later explained that it wasn’t true. Maybe it caused her to question her own actions.  Or maybe she wanted to ask the couple why they wanted to tell their children the truth. Either way, the teacher appeared to have to do some serious thinking about what occurred.

Each person’s cultural influences were factors in everything that occurred in this example. Believing in stereotypes about anyone in the case would do a disservice to the uniqueness of what each person brings to the final conflict. It was not a simple story of one child deciding to make other children in a class cry because he told them Santa Claus did not exist. There were deeper and more complex issues surrounding the conflict. And if people would have dismissed things, placed blame, and made wrong assumptions and they have turned a learning moment into and negative moment with lasting repercussions. All because of each person’s cultural experience that influenced their beliefs and experiences and how they express those beliefs to the world.

Mediators should take into account how these cultural differences may affect the belief systems of the people that take part in conflict resolution processes and how the conflicts come about. The mediator is not always going to get that in-depth information presented in this case study, however, learning the different theories will help the mediator better understand the dispute and pick up on clues that will lead to a deeper understanding of each of the parties positions on the issues involved in the conflict.


Twila Hampton-Brown is a student in the Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peace Building MA program at California State University at Domiminguez Hills.

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