International academic 'Santa survey' shows children stop believing in Father Christmas aged eight

Father Christmas
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It's that time of year when children look forward to a stocking full of presents—but the first international academic "Santa survey" shows many adults also wish they still believed in Father Christmas and some had felt betrayed when they discovered the truth.

The study also shows the threat of being on Santa's naughty list doesn't work for many children, and many youngsters continue to pretend they believe in Father Christmas even when they know he doesn't exist.

Errors by bumbling parents are the also one of the main reasons children lose their faith in the magic of Father Christmas.

Psychologist Professor Chris Boyle, from the University of Exeter, asked people around the world to tell him how they changed their minds about Santa, and if learning that he isn't quite as he seems had affected their trust in their parents.

Professor Boyle received 1,200 responses from all around the world to his The Exeter Santa Survey, the only international study of its kind, mainly from adults reflecting on their childhood memories.

Interim findings show:

  • 34 per cent of people wished that they still believed in Santa with 50 per cent quite content that they no longer believe
  • Around 34 per cent of those who took part in the survey said believing in Father Christmas had improved their behaviour as a child whilst 47 per cent found it did not
  • The average age when children stopped believing in Father Christmas was 8.
  • There are significant differences between England and Scotland -
    • The mean age when people stop believing in Father Christmas was 8.03 for England and 8.58 in Scotland.
    • There was a difference in attitudes between England and Scotland, as to whether it is ok to lie to children about Santa—more people in Scotland than in England said it was ok to lie to children about Santa.
  • A total of 65 per cent of people had played along with the Santa myth, as children, even though they knew it wasn't true.
  • A third of respondents said they had been upset when they discovered Father Christmas wasn't real, while 15 per cent had felt betrayed by their parents and ten per cent were angry.
  • Around 56 per cent of respondents said their trust in adults hadn't been affected by their belief in Father Christmas, while 30 per cent said it had.
  • A total of 31 per cent of parents said they had denied that Santa is not true when directly asked by their child, while 40 per cent hadn't denied it if they are asked directly.
  • A total of 72 per cent of parents are quite happy telling their children about Santa and playing along with the myth, with the rest choosing not to.

Professor Boyle said: "During the last two years I have been overwhelmed by people getting in touch to say they were affected by the lack of trust involved when they discovered Santa wasn't real.

"It has been fascinating to hear why they started to believe he is fictional. The main cause is either the accidental or deliberate actions of parents, but some children started to piece together the truth themselves as they became older.

"As much as this research has a light-hearted element, the responses do show a sense of disappointment and also amusement about having been lied to."

One survey participant described how they had caught their parents drinking and eating what had been put out for Santa and the reindeer aged ten. An 11-year-old was woken up by their "tipsy" father dropping presents.

Many parents made basic errors which their young children picked up on immediately. One respondent recognised a present given to her sister from Santa as having been hidden in their parent's room in the weeks before Christmas when she was seven. One participant found their letters to Santa in their parent's room and another noticed Santa and their father had the same handwriting.

The "Mom and Dad" who signed their names in a book put in a stocking from Santa no doubt felt silly when their seven-year-old realised why the inscription was there. The parents of a child who found shop price tags on their presents from Father Christmas may have felt the same.

It wasn't just parents who inadvertently spoiled the illusion of Santa. One respondent recognised the school caretaker playing Santa at a Christmas party when she was seven. The teacher of a seven-year-old from the USA no doubt got into trouble with parents when they asked pupils to write an essay about when they found out that Santa wasn't real. Another teacher told their seven-year-old pupils nobody lived in the North Pole.

Other respondents learned the truth because of their growing curiosity about the world as they grew older. A clever child from the USA said at nine they had: "Learnt enough about math, physics, travel, the number of children on the planet ratio to the size of the sleigh to figure it out on my own". A respondent from England stopped believing at eight because nobody could explain to them why Father Christmas didn't bring food to children in "poor countries". One nine-year-old set a trap and wrote a secret letter to Lapland which wasn't given to their parents, nothing from that list arrived from Santa on Christmas morning.

Many children had realised Santa didn't exist when they became aware of how goods were bought and sold, and because they realised it would be impossible for one man to deliver toys to everyone. One child had realised aged for that "It was impossible for such a fat man to fit down the chimney". Others realised reindeer couldn't fly, and Santa would have been hurt coming down a chimney when a fire was lit.

Some parents had been confronted by their children when they heard rumours from their friends that Father Christmas wasn't real. One seven-year-old punched a boy at school who said Santa didn't exist and made his nose bleed. When his mother was summoned to the school he said he attacked him because it was wrong to lie, and he ended up believing in Santa for another three years.

Some were forced to tell their the truth because the idea of Santa scared them, including the mother of a five-year-old who was frightened of a strange man coming into their room.

The study is ongoing and further results will be published in 2019.


Explore further

Study examines motives behind Santa myth

Citation: International academic 'Santa survey' shows children stop believing in Father Christmas aged eight (2018, December 14) retrieved 21 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-12-international-academic-santa-survey-children.html
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Dec 14, 2018
It is a curious thing that in this day and age of technology and political correctness, that some parents would still insist on pretending to their children of a mythical gift-giver that comes around but once a year. While it is possible that some parents love to take part in the mystique and merriment of having Father Christmas or Santa Claus be the one to reward children for being good all year - it is disheartening for a child to finally learn the truth, especially when the truth comes from someone other than the parent.
Of course, to many children, Christmas gifts coming from Father Christmas makes the season quite special, rather than receiving gifts labeled from Mum and Dad. Starry-eyed children who believe in Father Christmas seem to be happier with something wonderful to look forward to - so that, even when the truth is told to them - they still will remember their thoughts and feelings of joy and anticipation, even after they've learned the realities of life.

Dec 15, 2018
Sorry. Make that age 5. Math 1.8 billion families / 12 hours. Didn't work. no Santa. Had I known about quantum physics, I might have thought otherwise.

Dec 15, 2018
I figured it out at age six.

Looks like the insane people had trouble. This is indicative of the source.

Dec 15, 2018
I figured it out at age six.


It *is* statistical but I too noticed me being ahead of the curve, I figured that the Yule goat man (in our family) was a phony at age five. I distinctly remember that I did not similarly figure out that the Christian 'god' man was a phony until age six, since there were superstitious people in our family being serious 'it' was not.

Nowadays you no longer need to balance qualitative Bayesian likelihoods of course, we now know from quantified observation that religion belongs to the set of debunked astrology, homeopathy and other snake oil. Interesting progression for me, from atheist [accepting the null hypothesis] to skeptic [accepting likelihoods] to every day person [accepting facts].

Dec 15, 2018
It is a curious thing that in this day and age of technology and political correctness, that some parents would still insist on pretending to their children of a mythical gift-giver that comes around but once a year.


I may be mistaken - that sort of comment is so trivially boring and forgettable - but aren't you one of those that constantly refer to your personal superstition among others, including on science sites? If so, hilarious (and tragic, for the children) irony:

'It is a curious thing that in this day and age of technology and political correctness, that some parents would still insist on pretending to their children of a mythical nature-giver that comes around but once every religious claim.'

Dec 15, 2018
Among other things, a "study" that "science" would call unreliable, working over a limited number of individuals and relying only on responses.
Note that the issue of Santa Claus can be considered analogous to accepting the presence of God. The conventional form of belief, or "belief", can be called philosophically bargain basement. Accepting something only if a present day inanimate device can sense it. Saying it must have qualities of what many call "existence", such as only being in one place at any time. Saying the only question is does it exist and not such things as, is it possible to prove it doesn't exist. What of the question about whether or not there is a spot in the expansion of pi where a million zeroes come together consecutively? And the issue of Godel's undecidable statements enters here, as well. And, consider, getting children used to the idea of something beyond simple explanations can improve their minds.

Dec 15, 2018
Oh that child hood world we also miss

That mysterious world of make believe
of elves pixies fairies
leprechauns with their pots of gold
as in the evening sunset glow
their little magic pots of gold
glitter and shine in the sunbeam
the invisible rabbits that haunt the house
their always in the way
as we have lost that childhood make believe world
where only what children imagine exists
it truly is a magic world
in feeling sound imagination and magic
in that magical Santa's world that only children can see
the flit of Dancer Prancer as Rudolth lights the sky
where only in childhood fantasy of magic children imagine Santa as we once did
that long forgotten childhood song
Peter Paul & Mary - Puff The Magic Dragon
one day Puffs childhood friend comes no more
he leaves his magic world
into his girlfriends magic world
we still believe as our children enter our long forgotten childhood world
As the cycle repeats once again

Dec 15, 2018
It is a curious thing that in this day and age of technology and political correctness, that some parents would still insist on pretending to their children of a mythical gift-giver that comes around but once a year.


I may be mistaken - that sort of comment is so trivially boring and forgettable - but aren't you one of those that constantly refer to your personal superstition among others, including on science sites? If so, hilarious (and tragic, for the children) irony:

'It is a curious thing that in this day and age of technology and political correctness, that some parents would still insist on pretending to their children of a mythical nature-giver that comes around but once every religious claim.'
says tbglarsson

Yes, you are mistaken. My comment is only a comment - not my entire legacy. I have no superstitions, personal or otherwise.

Dec 15, 2018
-contd-
@tbgl

You are free to make your suppositions regarding my commentaries in this site - however wrong and inadequate they be. Your agnosticism, atheism or whatever other -ism is YOUR choice, and you will know the consequences of your choice.
The topic is parental motivation of children to be good so that Father Christmas will bring gifts to good children. The gift-giver, Father Christmas/Santa Claus is an embodiment of childhood wishes/dreams/trust in the love and kindness of a human who comes a long way to reward such children. The fact that the character is a myth is irrelevant. I actually see nothing wrong in that premise, nor its promotion, as those same children will soon enough have to face the absurdities, injustices, cruelties and ignobilities of the "real world", such as it is.
I believe that a child should be allowed to enjoy being a child - with all of its wonders and happy times - before it is time to put away childish things and learn the realities of life

Dec 15, 2018
Oh that child hood world we also miss

That mysterious world of make believe
of elves pixies fairies
leprechauns with their pots of gold
as in the evening sunset glow
their....
glitter and shine in the sunbeam
the invisible rabbits that haunt the house
their always in the way
as we have lost that childhood make believe world
where only what children imagine exists
it truly is a magic world
in feeling sound imagination and magic
in that magical Santa's world that only children can see
the flit of Dancer Prancer as Rudolth lights the sky
where only in childhood fantasy of magic children imagine Santa as we once did
that long forgotten childhood song
Peter Paul & Mary - Puff The Magic Dragon
one day Puffs childhood friend comes no more
he leaves his magic world
into his girlfriends magic world
we still believe as our children enter our long forgotten childhood world
As the cycle repeats once again


Thanks granville. Very poignant and true, indeed.

Dec 15, 2018
I figured it out at age six.


It *is* statistical but I too noticed me being ahead of the curve, I figured that the Yule goat man (in our family) was a phony at age five. I distinctly remember that I did not similarly figure out that the Christian 'god' man was a phony until age six, since there were superstitious people in our family being serious 'it' was not.

Nowadays you no longer need to balance qualitative Bayesian likelihoods of course, we now know from quantified observation that religion belongs to the set of debunked astrology, homeopathy and other snake oil. Interesting progression for me, from atheist [accepting the null hypothesis] to skeptic [accepting likelihoods] to every day person [accepting facts].

says tbgl

Since you agree that religion is also on the order of debunked astrology, etc., then it should be a short hop for you to also admit that the Jewish religion is a myth and the Jews have no right to Israel as their "homeland". Right?

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