My Session With Santa

Disclaimer: Santa gave full permission to share his records.

Last week by phone I scheduled a patient named “Nick” for a new intake. I saw him this morning and there in my waiting room was Santa Claus. Stifling my surprise, acting as if this was as normal a visit as if I’d just finished seeing Elvis, I led him back to my office.

“So what name would you like me to use for you?”

“In the winter, I am fine with Santa or St. Nick. In the off­season I usually go by Nicky or, to my close friends, Dude. I only gave you my name as Nick because of the reaction I usually get when I tell people I’m Santa.”

“OK fine. I’ll call you Santa. By the way, I love the suit. So what brings you in today?”

“Well, doc, I’ve started wondering what happens to children when they find out I am not real. Do you think that my story hurts children in any way? This is just something that’s been in my craw and my fictional wife finally convinced me to see somebody.”

“Santa, first of all I am proud of you for taking this step. As reported by ‘’, you are based on a real person, Saint Nicholas of Myra. On their site, they note that ‘[Saint Nicholas] was a fourth century bishop. As a champion of children and the needy, he was legendary for his kindness and generosity.’ I’d say you have some pretty great roots.”

“Thank you. It’s nice to hear that but what about the children who think I’m real? What happens when they realize they have been bamboozled, swindled, blind­sided or whatever you want to call it?”

“Good question. Let’s look at it through the eyes of Jean Piaget, a psychologist whose theories on cognitive development still help shape modern cognitive theory. Up to around age 6 or 7, children are in the ‘preoperational stage’ of cognitive development. They tend to view the world in an egocentric way, meaning that they believe their viewpoints and feelings are shared by all. They enjoy colorful images and start to learn language. You are always depicted in a colorful and jovial way, surrounded by presents and all kinds of treats with the story that you will soon be delivering those tempting images to all the children. Because of that they love you. It spreads good will and excitement.    It can be used as a way to enhance a child’s creative and imaginative development. What could possibly be wrong with that?”

“I see what you mean. So when does all of that change? What happens when they get older?”

“As children progress into the ‘concrete operational’ stage of cognitive development, they start to figure the world out. They realize that people may have different ideals and values than they have and others don’t always feel the same way. The ‘magical thinking’ of earlier childhood is replaced by understanding concrete ways in which the world works, for example conservation; the idea that a person remains the same entity despite changing circumstances. It is in these years, age 7 to 11 or so, that children tend to realize you are not real. In other words, the jig is up. Sure some children figure you out sooner than others, but eventually all of them will. Some may get upset, but think of it this way; we introduce our children to fictional images all the time such as Spiderman and Bugs Bunny. Would we want to eliminate all of these wonderful characters and stories for our children? Of course not; and you take the cake. You are the greatest and most popular of all of them.”

“Doc, you are too kind. That does make sense. I can feel my beard growing, my cheeks reddening and my belly bouncing already. But what happens after they’ve really got me figured out and know that I do not exist?”
“By then, they are basically teenagers. They are in the ‘formal operational’ stage and have learned to think in the abstract and manipulate information.    A lot of people would say you should be happy you aren’t real because you never have to try to parent a teen. They tend to be moody and talk back to their parents and they are real good at that because of their newfound cognitive abilities. They still like you because now you represent the opportunity for them to get cool stuff from their parents.”

“OK. I get it. I feel much better and so will the missus. I am ready to fire up Rudolph and the rest of the team. I know that we are almost out of time; do you have any final advice for me?”

“Bottom line, Santa: to my knowledge, there is no scientific research that you are harmful to children. One survey of children cited in “Santa Claus: Naughty or Nice” (from found that 2 out of 3 were proud of themselves when they figured out that you are not real and half of the children still liked the idea of you. I believe that parents should talk to their children about you in whatever way they are most comfortable. Either way, I highly doubt that any child would be permanently harmed by finding out you are not real. You provide great joy to the vast majority of children – not to mention adults. So keep sleddin’ Santa. We love you.

Oh yes, one more thing… I was good this year.”

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