The Santa Claus Syndrome

The Santa Claus Syndrome

By Ethan Indigo Smith

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

The Santa Clause: Lying is OK, so long as everyone else is doing it.

The Santa Claus Syndrome is the effect of societal complicity in, and/or complacency to, lies and the belief that’s ok.

Take a moment to imagine yourself an outsider and visitor to a new culture. Imagine if you will an annual global celebration so fantastic that people excitedly await it all year long. Imagine the celebration correlates the winter solstice. Imagine the celebration is so spectacular and grandiose that it spurs the sales of products worldwide and some businesses exist solely because of it. Imagine that nearly all businesses profit from it and promote it. Imagine that the main part of the celebration, for most people, aside from sparkling decorations and elaborate gift giving, is openly lying to young children!

Most everyone celebrates the holiday, but those who do not celebrate it are expected to go along with the tradition of broadly lying to children and accepting the excessive materialism out of consideration for cultural tradition.

Conjuring, Consumerism and Conditioning

Although some call Christmas today a ‘Pagan’ holiday, in reality it is nothing of the kind. The pagans I know want nothing to do with it.

Christmas is a children’s consumption holiday. They look forward to it the most. Well, children and the profiting corporations, of course. Children receive countless presents, rewarded for accepting as truth impossible fictions about a fat man from the North Pole, an omnipotence external being who “sees you when you’re sleeping”, who judges children, and who withholds or grants material incentives accordingly.

It is better to give than to receive, they are told.

Celebration and happiness is in the receiving, they observe.

Reward is earned by modelling behavior and suspending critical thinking, they learn.

Generally speaking, telling children fiction as fact is counter-productive to their developing minds. But children do of course eventually inquire of their parents and strangers alike about the phenomenon of the holiday and the fat man. For a period of time after that first enquiry, many children are lied to further – to prolong the “magic”. Finally, they get their answer and find that majority of adults are in on the lie. Even institutions like schools lie, and local and national news. And now they will lie, too. And it’s all okay… so long as everyone else is doing it.

The Santa Clause Syndrome - The Magic Of ChristmasAnd that, kids, is the magic of Christmas!

Other celebration rituals involve cutting down young trees for indoor decorations, wrapping gifts in paper from other trees and putting them under the dying, decorated tree on the last night of the celebration and saying the fat man did it. The children are told the fat man traverses the world on an inadequately sized sled powered by flying reindeer (the lead one featuring an inexplicable glowing nose) and stops by the homes of children, entering through chimneys yet staying crispy clean, having cookies at each house as he drops off plastic weapons and impossibly thin dolls.

And the fat man, old Santa Claus, he isn’t just generous, he’s mysterious. He doesn’t simply give because it’s better than receiving. He and his elf workers in the North Pole watch all the children of Earth all year long. He decides which children receive the promise of abundance based on who’s been naughty and nice.

Sounds a bit like the other Big Guy, who decides who receives the promise of abundance in the ‘afterlife’, based on who’s been naughty and nice.

First Lies

The Santa Claus story is an unnecessary social conjuration of a blatantly un-sacred holiday. Those of us who grew up in in ‘Christmas’ homes were all influenced by it in one way or another; even the ‘not Christmas’ kids were openly encouraged to withhold the truth from the ‘Christmas’ kids – to prolong the magic.

Abstract and nuanced, it is the first load of garbage young humans in Christian-influenced societies have to mentally digest. For many kids, it is the first time they come to doubt their parents on a point of truth, and the first time they are knowingly lied to if their suspicions are deflected. Then, once entrusted with continuing the Santa Claus myth with younger children, it is the first time they learn that the caveat to the long held ‘no lying’ rule is … ‘so long as everyone else is doing it’.

Just play along kids, and you’ll still get the gifts.

Image by
Image by

Amid all the Christmas hoopla, which starts to build in stores as early as October, children are normally so occupied with shiny lights and the prospect of gifts that there really is no impetus to question it. Eventually, despite the enticements on offer, the lie is realized of course, for some kids much sooner than others, and the specifics and nuances come undone as a natural function of their maturing minds.

Tradition or Parody?

Regardless of any magical intention, the blunt reality is that parents, teachers, strangers, radio hosts, and local weathermen are deceiving children in perfect synchronization, steering them into immense emotional and material attachment to a collective (unnecessary) illusory figure that withholds from the ‘naughty’ and rewards the ‘nice’.

The holiday in its current formation gives us all practice at complicity, passing on cultural fictions because they were passed onto us, and because that’s what adults do. It is effectively a child-friendly celebration of the doctrines — It’s better to receive than to give, and you’re expected to lie so long as everyone else is doing it — proudly brought to you by your favorite sugary drink, Coca-Cola.

The worst part of the celebration of this vile conjuration is not the lie itself, but the results of it. Lying to kids in this way creates a parody of genuine human tradition, substituting meaningful ritual with an illusory commercial mockery. But that’s only stage one of the Santa Claus Syndrome…

Learning the Santa Clause is the the first test of adulthood. Left unresolved, the experience can manifest to varying degrees, in a number of ways.

The Santa Claus Syndrome

The Santa Clause: Lying is OK, so long as everyone else is doing it.

If you don’t question what you’ve been told, accept incomplete information, and don’t proceed with your natural impulse, you quite likely have the Santa Claus Syndrome to some degree. Quite simply, it makes people ignore serious issues.

Merry total apathy

The Santa Claus Syndrome manifests in a number of stages:

Stage One:

It manifests as insistence on celebrating lies posing as tradition, elaborate intent on the deception of youth including distraction with sparkling decoration and gifts, and instilling ‘the Santa Clause’ in children.

Beyond that, ;the Santa Clause’ teaches us to conform to widely-accepted untruths.

Stage Two:

Stage two is the acceptance of adult lies, servitude to authority and unquestioning belief in whatever the ‘proper authority’ states. The childhood belief in Santa Claus and trust of authority leads to an adulthood belief that the government, corporate and religious institutions they trust do not lie.

Just like a kid sees the local weather reporter tracking Santa’s flight path, an adult with stage two Santa Claus Syndrome will see as real other fictions in the news and media (such as chemically treated food is just as healthy as organic, or nuclear is a safe energy system).

The Santa Clause Syndrome - HolidaysStage Three:

Telling adult lies. Stage Three Santa Claus Syndrome is also indicated by people who continue adult likes, such as nuclear is safe… or cannabis has no medicinal value… or insert any number of lies here _____ that many people perpetuate on behalf of our corrupted institutions.

Stage Four:

In Stage Four, one has all the symptoms of stages One through Three. Further, those in Stage Four are likely to lash out at those who question the status quo or expose lies (and forcing change) in anyway. Stage Four can involved the conjuration of adult lies, instituting great and broad fictions for trifle and temporary gains, often as a way to psychologically rationalize not just with others but themselves, to believe what they are doing – and who they are – is ok.

Trading why for what

It is no coincidence that around the time when young children begin to ask the eternal why, a series of ‘whys’ in regard to every subject, they are taught ‘the Santa Clause’, which teaches them, teaches us, to replace the endless series of why into an endless series of what. Where the Santa Claus fiction is concerned, knowing is less important than obtaining. It is the first true test of our ‘adulthood’; once you are entrusted with the truth of the lie, adults check that you repeat the lie to those younger than you; those who aren’t to know.

Then in adulthood, we are exposed to big and sometimes seriously dark and disturbing lies. And adult lies – lies told by authorities – are often backed up by the local news reporters and retailers, just like Santa Claus. And just like the children we were, and the children we raise, we adults too stop asking why in exchange for what.

Santa Clause is DeadThe materialistic enticement of ‘the Santa Clause’ has contributed to a culture where understanding is inhibited, and truth undervalued. We teach our children not to tell the truth so as not to make the babies cry. We reward materialistic impulses, confusing gratification with what is right and wrong. But worst of all, we teach little people to accept that we are lied to, and to contribute to broadly accepted lies — as long as we have bright shiny things.

Evidence of the Santa Clause Syndrome is everywhere in our society. Many personal and societal problems can be theoretically traced to it, but also many institutions can be rationally broken down as disturbingly negative or outright useless when considering it. Most evidently, Santa Claus Syndrome does not promote individuation, but conformity – at a very impressionable stage of childhood development.

Santa Claus is Dead

Christmas today doesn’t celebrate the humanity nor the amazing world around us – in other words, anything real – and that is a direct reflection of our sick society. Although I risk being accused of some ridiculous thinking here, I believe we need to heal and re-create our culture through sacred, nutritious traditions grounded in love, simplicity and gratitude.

In contrast, the fiction of Santa doesn’t encourage a sense of gratitude in children. Children “earn” gifts from Santa Claus by adhering to social norms – naughty or nice – and any innate sense of gratitude a child may feel for this annual abundance is intentionally misdirected at a magical, fictional patriarch, until a comprehensive deception is finally realized. Sadly, that realization is where, for most kids, their broader sense of magic is hindered a learned distrust of their developing senses.

Arguably the most underestimated and psychologically disturbing rites of passage for children in Christian-based cultures today, ‘the Santa Clause’ is another failing institutionalization, much like the religions that spawned it. And so, many of us are now facing the decision to keep perpetuating ‘the Santa Clause’ within our family circles, or begin the process of transforming this ritualized nonsense into a genuinely sacred, annual celebration of peace, renewal and gratitude.

This year Santa is dead to me. There will be no false idol. This year, children will learn the truth if they come around here. And with that, healing from the Santa Clause Syndrome can begin.

This holiday season, be sure to not tell your kids a pack of lies and cater only to their material desires – no matter the tradition.

Let’s create a new holiday.

Peace on Earth… only for real.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Total Apathy

From the Editor

Merry Total Apathy! - The Santa Clause Syndrome

The Santa Claus Syndrome instils more than just materialism and the acceptance of lies. And chances are, if you can recall the names of more than one of Santa’s reindeer, you are likely affected by it in some way.

In his book A Holiday Hazing: the Santa Clause Syndrome, Ethan Indigo Smith examines the many psychological influences of one of the most widely celebrated traditions the world has ever known, and exposes common beliefs of ‘self’ and ‘society’ in a way that might make you chuckle, and a little bit angry.

A Holiday Hazing: the Santa Clause Syndrome is available on Amazon as an e-book — just in time for (saving you from) Christmas.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Ethan’s festive holiday message from 2013 – Merry Total Apathy.

Previous articles by Ethan Indigo Smith:

About Ethan Indigo Smith:

 The Failed Politics and Faulty Science of Climate ChangeActivist, author and Tai Chi teacher Ethan Indigo Smith was born on a farm in Maine and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before migrating west to Mendocino, California. Guided by a keen sense of integrity and humanity, Ethan’s work is both deeply connected and extremely insightful, blending philosophy, politics, activism, spirituality, meditation and a unique sense of humour.

Ethan’s publications include:

For more information, visit Ethan on Facebook and check out Ethan’s author page on Amazon.

This article adapted for Wake Up World by Andy Whiteley.


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  • Sean

    Oh so you want peace on earth, yet any children you find filled with the wonder of Christmas you are going to tell the truth to and spoil it for them. The tears will roll and screams start, and this is peace and goodwill to all ? You are a Weirdo Mr Special Indigo Child.

    • Ethan Indigo

      I don’t hate Santa, nor do I seek to even talk to children about it, which apparently a lot of them are reading this judging from childish reactions. Having people think critically about their most formative years and the most valued tradition during their most formative years is a tool to get people to become aware of their awareness, to become conscious of consciousness…If Santa is so wonderful of an influence why is the world not a better place? Why are your kids going to war? Why is the world being looted and plundered and you just want to ignore it so you can have your one day? look into history and psychology and you might be able to get past your emotional blockages to look within.

  • Korsgaard

    I said as much myself previously. One thing you didn’t point out – there have been psychologists who prove it does damage to kids.

    • Ethan Indigo

      Peace on Earth, thank you!

    • Rightiswrong

      I believed and I feel that I am not damaged. I enjoyed the magic, and when I was old enough to bear the “truth”, I accepted it. But the consumerism I don’t like, but does anyone think that it would stop if Santa never happened? I don’t. I say let the children have their magic and imagination. And what is the “damage” that is inflicted on children? Do they become serial killers?

  • Lauren Michelle

    Have a Merry Peace On Earth!! <3 <3 Cheers!!

  • Fatesrider

    While I agree fully with this article, and have never suffered any form of “Santa Claus Syndrome”, the fact that the author (twice!) suggests that “safe” nuclear power is a lie also points to the fact that they suffer from stage 3 Santa Claus Syndrome.

    The fact is, the KIND of nuclear power we have is potentially unsafe, but then, so is every other kind of power generation – even wind and solar. And there are different kinds of “nuclear power” generation besides plutonium fission (undisputedly dangerous for a variety of reasons) that are far safer and less polluting than the traditional kind used today.

    They are also more expensive, and don’t create nuclear weapons grade fuel, which is why they’re not used. But to label all nuclear power as unsafe IS a lie. Knowing the facts of the situation before indulging in gross generalization fallacies helps make telling the truth easier.

    I’d suggest you change that to coal burning. There are a lot of resources lying about the dangers of coal (even with carbon sequestration and scrubbers).

    • Wake Up World

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, but we’ll have to disagree on the nuclear issue.

      • Lauren Michelle

        I just wanted to say upon reflection that I appreciate this article very much. I was raised to believe the Christmas lie. I have been sad all day about not giving the kids a great Christmas because of money issues. I told my kids the truth about Santa and we all still love eachother and are looking forward enjoying the holiday for what is really stands for.

        I passionately agree with everything said here, and feel I am healing already. When it comes to hurting our kids to tell them the truth, we have to remember the truth sets us all free.

        It’s like taking the red pill and waking up from the Matrix and some people just don’t don’t want to do it. Thank you for all your doing Wake Up World. This article is Truth.

        “This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

    • Ethan Indigo

      Are you quantifying this present minute, for right now nukes are ok, but long term…think about it, WIPP thank you

  • Maureen Grant

    Such a sad and negative article. Don’t paint the whole of Christmas with the commercialism brush. There is so much more to this time of year and it can be a very loving time if that is what we choose.

    • Catherine MacDonald

      Maureen, isn’t that what he said in the article?

      “And so, many of us are now facing the decision to keep perpetuating ‘the Santa Clause’ within our family circles, or begin the process of transforming this ritualized nonsense into a genuinely sacred, annual celebration of peace, renewal and gratitude.”

    • Ethan Indigo

      Are you even Christian? What do you know about Christianity? Jesus said remember me in death, not birth. Original Christians did not want to celebrate birth of Christ because he is the king of kings, not an earthly king and they feared his meaning would be diluted by having a birthday. I’m negative for exploring and questioning huh? You mean I’m negative like Jesus, who questioned the status quo? thank you!

  • Ellen Henry

    I am 66 I was 5 or 6 when I discovered my parents had lied to me about Santaa. the Easter Bunny and the Tooth fairy. I remember being so disappointed that they had lied. I raised my children to think of Santa just like the witches and ghosts at Halloween.. just pretend for fun. they knew the Santa at the mall was an employee. I always hated especially the people that insisted on having Santa appear at the church Christmas party. We wanted them to believe in an invisible Savior who listened to their prayers and loved them..but then in the same place, had omnipotent Santa show up in person . . My children in turn have not perpetuated the Santa myth. I am grateful that they are more enlightened. There is way too much Merry Christmyth. and not enough spirituality.

  • Dave

    Great article. As a person who has been in retail most of their life, I have seen the commercial greed of retailers. It is SELL, SELL as much as you can… even if they seem like they can not afford it. I have always told my kids their is no Santa… I have even asked them if they preferred to know the truth or for me to lie to them.. guess what they said? Yep, they would rather the truth. 50% of the world does not celebrate X-mas and isn’t it funny how when people say ” I do not celebrate it” they are looked upon as if they have 2 heads. Due to our religious beliefs and simply for the whole commercial greed aspect of it we do not celebrate it. Here’s a thought! Imagine if the whole world agreed to not buy one more gift for X-mas and instead pooled that money into a global fund for the starving, disabled and disadvantaged. Imagine the trillions of dollars going to people in need. We prefer to give gifts out of love and spontaneity. We prefer to spend time having special dinners every few months to catch up. I don’t need to threaten my kids saying “You need to be good or Santa won’t bring you any gifts” X-mas also has nothing to do with Jesus. It is a pagan celebration and the Churches did not like it.. so they changed the date to Dec 25th. I could go on… but I won’t. Step out of the Matrix people.

  • AmyK

    Ethan! What a terrific mind you have, very well done!! You have managed to tie together two ends of a very long string, one that most would fail to recognize are even connected… As is clearly reflected in some of the “How Dare You?!?” comments. Silly. Still holding on…. to what exactly, I do not know.

    I proudly never told the Santa lie to my daughter, nor any other. In fact I made it a point from the earliest years to point these lies out, to make aware. Not surprisingly to me, she is now a brilliant & very sharp 16yr old who sees & seeks the truth in life, and has a special knack for finding truth in extremely difficult situations.

    Thank you for the effort you put into all of your articles Ethan. You often provide for me a glimmer of hope; hope & faith that even in this vast space, full of dark and/or empty souls, that there are still some brilliant sparks to be seen and inspired by.


  • DA

    Thank you! Couldn’t have said it better myself. Let’s end this game of lies and deceit and begin a child’s life with truths… what about that idea. It would be about time!

  • Name (required) Valerie

    I agree with the article. I don’t believe parents perpetuate the lie for any sinister reason. They honestly think it’s such a wonderful, fun experience for the little children. I was one of those kids who was lied to, and I was ticked off when I found out! Later on, I learned the entire holiday was a remake from the pagan festival Saturnalia. Christmas masqueraded as celebration of the birth of Jesus is a total lie. And it’s done for reasons of materialism and consumerism. And people fall for this malarkey. Don’t lie to children, and I don’t care how firmly entrenched in our society it is. That doesn’t make it any less wrong.

  • trisha

    You are one cruel being.. you can’t go telling other people’s children santa is a lie, that’s not for you to decide. Do what you like with your own children but it’s wrong to spoil something a child looks forward to.. what’s so wrong with a child believing in a magical Christmas, they get told the truth when theyr old enough. I agree that basing evrything on a lie plays with a child’s mind but why can’t our children have this excitement once a year, they don’t get told til theyr older to avoid confusion as they wouldn’t understand at a young age. It’s the way theyr transferred the truth that does the harm which is why it’s left until they old enough to understand
    . In that case what about the easter bunny that makes our children eat crap by giving lots of chocolate.
    Also there’s the tooth fairy which teaches our children that they will get money if a tooth Is put under their pillow, iv seen children trying to pull teeth out. It’s all lies and all wrong but the way we deal with it and transfer the truth is the main thing..
    society lies to us as adults every single day but we suck it up and don’t make a fuss over it.

    • 0penYourMind

      Don’t get confused, the excitement comes from the gifts, that is it. The children will be just as excited getting those gifts from mommy and daddy, no need for another false god. Also you say society lies to adults everyday and we suck it up? Yea, no duh, we are adults that have found out how horrible this planet is… Children still have innocence that then gets stolen from them with the satan aka santa knowledge bomb.

      The worst day of my young life was finding the christmas presents in my parents room while playing hide and seek. It was the first time I ever even thought that my parents would deceive me like that. It forces a young child to contemplate their entire life thus far and really question what else could be a lie. So begins a life of cynicism with the worst part being that your mom and dad are the first 2 on the list of those willing to blatantly lie to you, and trust is incredibly hard to earn back. The one good part I will say about this experience is that it taught me to start asking the best question there is; “Why?”. Although being taught this lesson of question everything (especially from an authority figure) would have been exponentially better for me and my relationship with my parents. Now I suspect that even if the parents explain to the child the lie before they find out, similar feelings and revelations will occur. Being lied to is being lied to, wether you are eventually told the truth or find it out yourself. To a kid, it feels the same.

  • Fauxfawx

    I have a 3 yr old, and I am not doing the Santa thing. She will know about him as a cultural icon, but I do not see any reason for her to BELIEVE in him. My mom is upset with me and thinks that I’m ruining her fun (as if she’ll know any differently). So far, we have made gifts for our friends and family, and I want her to know that stuff and money for stuff only leads to temporary happiness. blessings, all!

  • Rightiswrong

    I totally agree, Laurie. I’m waiting for an article on this site telling us that reading “Harry Potter” is going to scar their children’s minds…after all, there is no such thing as magic! Children grow up, they accept things as they are. There are many “magic” things in the Bible people are supposed accept….parting of the Red Sea, the Garden of Eden, resurrection, without any proof. Let them have some fun. I did and didn’t end up with a mental illness.