Fighting Dragons & Santa

Dragon Fighting (HT:

Our house is on top of a hill and we have forest around much of our property.  I love walks in the woods with my kids.  Sometimes for fun, during walks, my son and I grab large sticks and pretend to fight invisible dragons.  We both love the manly power behind the swords and fighting off evil, dangerous creatures to protect the innocent.  But of course the dragons are a myth like Santa Claus.

My daughter is not much into dragons but loves Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  However, my children realized quicker than most (by years) that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were just stories.  Prior to their disbelief, when my son was pretty convinced that Santa Clause was a fabrication, he asked me, “Dad, Santa isn’t real, is he?  You and Mom do all that, right?”  I tried to quickly think what was behind the obvious question.

You see, my wife and I never really spoke of Santa as real at any time, but many of his friends firmly believed in Santa perhaps because their parents had woven the story with much more sincerity.   My son had been talking with kids at school about it and I could tell he was about to share his insights with his friends and perhaps with his younger sister.

So I said to my son, “Do you like slaying Dragons with me in the woods?”
“Yes,” he replied.
I pushed further, “Well, are the dragons real?”
“No, of course not,” he said.
“Well, should we stop pretending because they aren’t real?” I asked timidly (because I loved fighting dragons with him).
“Well, no,” he said.  Then with a smile he said, “Oh, I see, Dad.”
Then I wrapped up our conversation by saying, “And remember, lots of kids really enjoy Santa.  There is no reason to spoil it early for them.”  He understood and agreed.  With that, we went outside and fought dragons for a short while.

My daughter is much more creative than my son in the realm of stories and art.  She does not believe in Santa nor in the Tooth Fairy, but she still talks about them as if they are real and insists on them coming to life at the appropriate times.  But she is very comfortable with the contradictory simultaneous embracing of talking about Mom and Dad as really being these imaginary folks and still using these imaginary creatures to enrich her, and our lives.  As a young child, she could only embrace the myth, now as a mature child, she can do both.

Question for readers:  How did Santa go for you?
Related PostMy son and the Tooth Fairy: sacrificing reason.


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14 responses to “Fighting Dragons & Santa

  1. I was raised with a real Santa and the subsequent (thought mild) letdown when I found out the truth. But we never told our kids he was real. That is very interesting how your son caught on to the story through friends. I really like your example with the dragons, keeping the fun without sacrificing intellectual integrity.

    We have a lot of fun with the tooth fairy in our family. My kids are absolutely convinced that I am the tooth fairy, but I argue strongly for the existence of the real tooth fairy. It’s a fun game, and of course a fun lesson in how we know things and mythology.

  2. @ atimetorend: sounds like we enjoy our kids in a similar way!

  3. As a kindergarten teacher, I come upon this sort of topic quite often. I really like the way you handled it with your son. Very skillful, Sabio!

    When I’m talking about imaginary realms with kids, I’m really quite willing to treat imaginary realms as if they’re real: they feel real enough when you’re allowing your imagination to dominate your sensibility, as when you’re fighting dragons. I’m okay with indulging in fantasy with kids. It helps me to keep in mind that an awful lot of what many grown ups take to be reality is simply widely accepted imaginary things, like God, America, and the almighty dollar.

  4. Purple Hymnal

    “How did Santa go for you?”

    Something like this.

    [FYI Readers: Purple is an ex-Armstrongian (a Christian sect which does not celebrate Christmas etc…) and this a fantastic link to his deconversion story.]

  5. A friend of mine once told me that her mother, when confronted with the Santa-question, asked her if she understood what the word myth means? They had a little talk on how myths work and what they are. My friend still cites that talk as the reason why she held onto Santa longer than most of her friends ever did.

    Mom never used “From Santa”. It was always, “From You-Know-Who” on those types of gifts. But for me, after the suspicions came up and were confirmed, and after the short pause of shock, the one clear thought in my head was, “So, what does this change?” I mean, I still got presents. The family still did everything pretty much the same way. And I still enjoyed the Santa stories and Christmas carols. It didn’t even feel contradictory, for what I remember.

  6. nick

    The dragons are fun even though you and your son know that they aren’t real. Why do the kids at school need to keep thinking Santa is real in order to enjoy him?

  7. I don’t remember ever being told that Santa was real, and we never bothered telling our kids that Santa leaves presents (or tooth fairy, etc.). Our oldest found out from friends at school, and created an awkward situation by telling her atheist friend that Santa wasn’t alive anymore. We had told her who Saint Nicholas was, and explained that the “Santa” pictures shown at Christmas symbolized St. Nicholas, but had never talked about the fact that some kids believe Santa drops presents under the tree. It just didn’t seem relevant.

    We quickly instituted a “no telling your friends” rule. 🙂

    Speaking of “manly”, one of my kids’ friends (also an atheist) decided at around age 5 that he believed in Zeus, since Zeus was the toughest and could throw lighting bolts. It was pretty funny.

  8. Ben Finney

    Dale McGowan of Parenting Beyond Belief has an excellent take on this, Santa Claus – The Ultimate Dry Run:

    “Some people believe the sleigh is magic,” I said. “Does that sound right to you?” Initially, boy howdy, did it ever. He wanted to believe, and so was willing to swallow any explanation, no matter how implausible or how tentatively offered. “Some people say it isn’t literally a single night,” I once said, naughtily priming the pump for later inquiries. But little by little, the questions got tougher, and he started to answer that second part – Does that sound right to you? – a bit more agnostically.

    And when Connor started asking skeptical questions about God, I didn’t debunk it for him by fiat. I told him what various people believe and asked if that sounded right to him. It all rang a bell, of course. He’d been through the ultimate dry run.

    Dale’s blog archives are an awesome resource for secular parenting (though he’s slowed down a lot in recent months as other projects occupy his time).

  9. @ Dan Gurney:
    I agree, abstractions like “America” can be deceptive.

    @ Purple:
    Hope you don’t mind my edit on your comment — I find that folks may not follow a link without some annotation to tell them why they should bother. And your story if interesting! Thank you.

    @ Andrew:
    Agreed: Explaining “myth” is a good technique.

    @ Nick :
    Many kids at school live in a very different “believe” culture than mine do.

    @ JS Allen :
    “No Telling Friends” rule — we did the same, but made it a suggestion by showing them the consequences they may not desire.

    @ Ben Finney:
    Yes, Dale’s site is interesting. I went there for a while, but like many “Humanists” he mixes his political agenda with his skeptical thoughts. Further, his marketing put me off a bit. Thanks for the links.

  10. nick

    Clearly they are in a different world. They could enjoy fighting dragons though. So it isn’t that they don’t have the ability to “partially believe”. Why do people think Santa need full Jesus type belief to be fun for these kids?

    I think it might be a way to teach kids who know not to speak the truth about false ideas.

    Bias disclosure: Santa creeps me out. I don’t remember any trauma, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

  11. @ Nick Indeed! And given your background, a creepy Santa does not surprise me. 🙂

  12. loved this post! fantastic. i’m on the fence as to how to “do” Santa to Ghost-baby. prolly the same way you did with your brood.

  13. soe

    thank you for this post too!.)

  14. purplehymnal

    “Hope you don’t mind my edit on your comment — I find that folks may not follow a link without some annotation to tell them why they should bother. And your story if interesting! Thank you.”

    No problemo. It was definitely a different reality, growing up in the WCG. That’s not my deconversion story, though, for that, your happy wayfaring dragon-slayers shall have to travel here.

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