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Study Examines Motives Behind Santa Myth

Université de Montréal and University of Ottawa Professors Investigate Christmas Rite

kids believe there's a jolly man in a red suit who visits on Christmas
Eve isn't detrimental, although some parents can feel they're outright
lying to their children, according to a new analysis by Serge Larivée.

they learn the truth, children accept the rules of the game and even go
along with their parents in having younger children believe in Santa,"
says Larivée, a psycho-education professor at the Université de
Montréal. "It becomes a rite of passage in that they know they are no
longer babies."

Larivée, along with colleague Carole Sénéchal
from the Univerity of Ottawa, examined a study from 1896 involving
1,500 children aged 7 to 13, which was repeated in 1979. More than 46
percent of children in 1896 and 44 percent in 1979 gradually found out
on their own that Santa didn't exist.

The studies also
analyzed the reaction of the children once they discovered the jolly
old elf wasn't real. More than 22 percent in the 1896 study admitted to
being disappointed compared with 39 percent in the 1979 study. But only
2 percent and 6 percent, respectively, felt betrayed.

constant outcome of the two studies was that children generally
discovered through their own observations and experiences that Santa
doesn't exist," Larivée noted. "And their parents confirmed their

"Children ask their parents, for example, how Santa
gets in the house if there's no chimney," he says. "And even if the
parents say they leave the door unlocked, the child will figure out
that Santa can't be everywhere at the same time and that reindeer can't
be that fast."

Close to 25 percent of children in the 1896
study learned the truth about Santa from their parents, compared with
40 per cent in 1979. Those who didn't find out from their parents
learned the truth from other children.

Larivée says belief in
Santa diminishes as children approach the age of reason. "But cognitive
maturity and level of thought that would allow a 7-year-old to
differentiate between the imaginary and reality are insufficient to let
go of the myth," he adds, pointing out that half of children of that
age in a 1980 study still believed.

In 1896, 54 percent of
parents said they perpetuated the myth of Santa since it made their
children happy; compared with 73 percent in 1979 and 80 percent in 2000.

and Sénéchal now want to explore a deeper question: If children
attribute the same supernatural powers to Santa as they do to God, why
do they stop believing in Santa, but continue their belief in God?


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