It’s hard to even consider the possibility that Santa isn’t real. Everyone seems to believe he is.  As a kid, I heard his name in songs and stories and saw him in movies with very high production values. My mom and dad seemed to believe, batted down my doubts, told me he wanted me to be good and that he always knew if I wasn’t. And what wonderful gifts I received! Except when they were crappy, which was my fault somehow. All in all, despite the multiple incredible improbabilities involved in believing he was real, I believed—until the day I decided I cared enough about the truth to ask serious questions, at which point the whole façade fell to pieces. Fortunately, the good things I had credited him with kept coming, but now I knew they came from the people around me, whom I could now properly thank.

Now go back and read that paragraph again, changing the ninth word from Santa to God.

Santa Claus, my secular friends, is the greatest gift a rational worldview ever had. Our culture has constructed a silly and temporary myth parallel to its silly and permanent one. They share a striking number of characteristics, yet the one is cast aside halfway through childhood. 

The “Yes, Virginia” crowd will heap implausible nonsense on the poor child, dismissing her doubts with invocations of magic or mystery or the willful suspension of physical law. Only slightly less problematic is the second choice, the debunker who simply informs the child that, yes, Santa is a big fat fraud.

I chose door number three. And that has made all the difference.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.