Does Santa Exist? A Case For Telling Kids The Truth — And Keeping The Lie

According to new psychology research, lying to kids about the subject of Santa Claus risks ruining their confidence and altering the parent-child relationship.

What do you want for Christmas?
What do you want for Christmas?
Julie Rambal

GENEVA — The ritual has been respected for 60 years now. Each December, Switzerland's official postal service assigns five employees to respond to thousands of letters from children addressed to Santa Claus. "We send them a note and a present," says Nathalie Dérobert, spokeswoman for La Poste. And yes, to maintain the magic, the letters purport to come from Santa's helpers.

The letters come from all over Switzerland, even some from abroad, and they are increasing — an estimated 18,700 are expected this year. While everything else seems to have gone digital, the handwritten letter to Santa Claus is a tradition that is still holding strong. Of course, many of the kids' letters have been prompted and encouraged by their parents who tell of a fat man dressed in red ready to twist his belly down the chimney to spread goodies around the Christmas tree. The ritual and family joy is at the center of the holiday warmth in households around the world.

But an article published last month in the scientific review The Lancet Psychiatry just broke the atmosphere. According to Chris Boyle, a psychology researcher at Exeter University, and Kathy McKay, clinical psychologist at the University of New England (Australia), lying to children about the Santa's Claus existence risks to undermine their confidence on the day that they discover the truth. Lying about Santa, the study concludes, exposes children to an "abject deception."

The lie of Santa Claus is a lie so sophisticated and constant between parents and children that, if their relation is fragile, it could amount to simply too much disillusionment. "If parents can lie in such a convincing way, and for such a long period of time, children risk asking themselves what else they can lie about," says McKay.

Indeed, some still hold onto a bitter memory, like Josephine: "My parents made me believe until I was 10 years old. At school, I was mocked, but I defended Santa Claus because my parents couldn't stop lying to me," she recalled. "When they confessed to the hoax, I blamed them for being ridiculed."

Modern myth

And what about that famous universal magic of Christmas? Well, don't ask those who remember family conflicts as soon as the garlands flash in department stores — or whenever the man with the white beard appears. "The interest in Santa Claus resides in the sharing of emotions. But if it wakes up painful memories, we can do without it," says Nadia Bruschweiler-Stern, a child psychiatrist founder of the Brazelton Center at the Grangettes Clinic in Geneva.

Bruschweiler-Stern also notes that some parents keeping the Santa lie going from "an unconscious desire to cling to their own childhood. This fable must remain a game, and as soon as the child doubts, it is useless to maintain falsehood."

It's never simple to tell the hard truth, especially when the entire world is still busy feeding this legend. Since last year, Google allows children to follow Santa Claus' route "in real time" with a "live" inventory of the distribution of gifts. The U.S. army also created a dedicated Santa site and swears that its airspace will always welcome the sled and reindeer. Even the renown French child psychiatrist Françoise Dolto participated in the mystification. In 1962, when the French post office set up its own Santa Claus service, she penned the response addressed to toddlers: "My dear child, your nice letter made me very happy. I am sending you my portrait. I do not know if I will be able to bring you all that you have asked me to. I will try, but I am very old and sometimes I get it wrong. You must forgive me. Be wise, work well. I'm sending you a big kiss, Santa Claus." Beyond the lie, there is another potential ill effect of the fat man in red-and-white: Children are told that an irreproachable conduct is necessary to get the gifts. It is, according to the recent study by Boyle and Mckay, a kind of emotional blackmail.

Dr. François Hentsch, a doctor in the psychiatric department of children and adolescents at the University of Geneva, brushes off the research: "In the ideal the parents should have a sufficient authority to not brand Santa Claus as a threat. Also, pretending that one should never lie to children is silly," Hentsch says. "Santa Claus makes up a part of the altruistic lies, which are very different from reassuring lies that we sometimes tell children in case of parenting distress, such as grief or depression."

Last year, the Spanish subsidiary of Ikea made a video asking kids to write two letters with their Christmas wishes: one to Santa Claus, the other to their parents. In the first, they asked for the moon: the latest Wii game console, unicorns that fly, and the like. In the second, they asked only for more family time. The latter is a gift that, unfortunately, no fictitious fat man could slip into the shoes of busy parents to fulfill. It is here that the myth becomes useful, according to the philosopher Gilles Vervisch, author of How I Could Believe in Santa Claus?.

"Santa Claus is a metaphor for illusion. This lie enables us to describe to a child a marvelous world, before learning about disappointment. The child then discovers that certainties are misleading, and that parents, these liars, are not gods. That is what allows them to begin to find their own independence." So this lie of Santa Claus? It is perhaps the first philosophy lesson children ever get — not a bad gift at all.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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