Friday, March 19, 2010

My Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa stories

This is a question from Go ask me something!

OK so we are covered on the god side, but when/how did you figure out the more realistic things like Santa™ and the tooth fairy? And sorry of we are taking away FF time. This is kind of entertaining though.

Even though I'm a life-long atheist, I did believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny. But since my dad instilled a good sense of skepticism in me, those beliefs didn't last very long.

I loved the Easter bunny when I was little. I'm half Greek, so we usually celebrated two Easters - one for the American side of the family, and the other for the Greek side. They were usually a week or two apart, which meant I got double the Easter bunny action. There's nothing better than looking for eggs and eating a ton of chocolate.

And when I was very little, I sincerely believed in him. I remember once when I was probably six or so, I was playing upstairs in my room while all the grown ups talked downstairs. The doorbell rang, but I ignored it since I wasn't allowed to answer the door. Then about ten minutes later someone came up to told me the Easter bunny came, but I missed him since I was playing.

I was pissed. Why wouldn't they tell me?! Why wouldn't they ask him to wait?!? Could we see if he was visiting any of the houses nearby?!?! Of course I got a lot of BS answers about how little kids weren't supposed to see him, how I shouldn't worry about that and just go look for the eggs... But that started the seed of doubt in my mind. By the next year I was convinced one of my family members had rang the doorbell, and it was all an act. But since I still received lots of chocolate, I didn't really care all that much.

Everything else started to seem suspicious after that. Wasn't it interesting how the tooth fairy only knew I had lost a tooth if I told my parents about it? That one I didn't ask about, since I liked receiving money under my pillow (I was skeptical, not stupid). Santa was the same way. How could he get to all the houses in the world in one night? Or more importantly, why was his handwriting on the presents the same as my mom's?

My mom's reply? "Do you want presents or not?"

She's not exactly the best encourager of skeptical thinking, but I did want presents. We kept up the act for a while, eventually with me thanking "Santa" while winking at my mom.

My experiences are one of the reasons I think it's important for atheist families to keep perpetuating the Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny myths. By learning to work through those myths, your kids will gain a set of skeptical thinking tools that they can apply to other parts of their life. By the time someone was telling me about Jesus rising from the dead, it was so ludicrous that I couldn't believe anyone actually believed it. Thank you, Santa!

PS: And no, you're not taking away from Final Fantasy time. I'm just doing this inbetween grinding. Much...get...ultimate weapons...


  1. It's always interesting to talk about these sort of myths... I grew up Jewish, so the only one I had was the tooth fairy, and for the life of me I can't remember whether or not I actually believed in it. My parents always had a sort of joking/sarcastic tone when they talked about it, as I recall.

    I do remember one time, though, when I woke up in the middle of the night to see my father's arm under my pillow while he was doing the "tooth fairy" thing, and I remember thinking that I finally had the proof I needed.

    I think these sort of stories can be useful as exercises in teaching sceptical thinking to children, but I've seen it done the wrong way as well and I think they have the potential to do great harm (as well as the fact that I take a Kantian view about lying and I think there's something ethically weird about knowingly lying to children). Some friends of my parents' were relatively devout Christians and strongly encouraged their children's belief in Santa, and I remember their youngest son still believing even up to age 10 or 11... the sad thing is that the kid looked up to me and I tried to plant some sceptical seeds (he knew I didn't believe in god) but I could never get anywhere because the parents wouldn't permit me to answer his questions.

    I once had a motivational-style poster that said "One day, you will learn everything there is to know about Santa Claus. On that day, remember everything they told you about Jesus."

  2. My older daughter, age 4, said, "I'm going to put up this stocking, even though there isn't a Santa Claus." I was caught by surprise - "Oh, you don't think there's a Santa Claus?"

    She frowned at me and said, "Noooo - do YOU?" I think she was worried about me!

    My younger daughter believed until this year, age 9. It was getting crazy! I was using the same wrapping paper, accidentally letting her peek at a present - anything to get it over with!

    My favorite story: I lost my faith somewhere between 1st and 2nd daughter's Santa discovery. I agreed we could continue to raise the girls Catholic - I figured they are getting raised more skeptically than I was; they would figure it out, and it wasn't worth the family disharmony when I was there to keep an eye on things. A couple years ago my younger daughter got upset when she found out some people don't believe in God (even though her whole life I'd said, "Some people believe this .. Some believe that . ." including realistic world views. She's not one for subtlety I guess).

    My husband said to reassure her, "You know some people don't believe in Santa either?" She said indignantly, "But he's real!" He said, "That's right, and God is too!" or something like that. I bit my tongue hard - thank you, dear, that should take care of things nicely in a few years! He is a believer, but I don't think in Santa Claus - I'm still not sure what he thought he was doing.

    My older daughter, now 13, has already declared her non-belief. It was hard for my husband, but he said once she gets done with confirmation preparation in two months, she will be an adult in the church and she can choose if and when she wants to practice religion and go to church.

    In the Catholic faith you are asked if you choose to be confirmed (I don't remember that from my childhood but maybe they didn't stress it). She was going to go through with it because she has to do the prep anyway and her friends are, but she came home from class and said, "I'm not getting confirmed. Today we talked about what we believed. I can't get up there and say I believe that stuff."

  3. @mcbender: I think this is the poster you were thinking of? At least, it's the version I've always seen.

    As for me, I caught on to Santa fairly early(obvious clues like similar wrapping paper, the fact that Santa didn't give as much to families that were poorer, etc). Can't say I ever remember really believing in the tooth fairy. I might have at some point, but it's a pretty wacky idea. wtf is she DOING with all these teeth? Where does she get the money?

  4. So, this post really resonates with me. When I was six, I caught my parents hiding Christmas presents from 'Santa' under a tarp in their closet two weeks before the day. (They weren't exactly the subtle types...) I went, 'Oh, I guess they really were faking it all, then.' I had always had the suspicion. And it was settled. There was no Santa. And I guess I had always just linked Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and God in my head together, as a set of mythos that I was expected to believe, and once I had proof about one being false, I just assumed the rest were too.
    My parents were a bit unsettled when they realised, but they were honestly more 'lip service' Catholics than anything else, so all I ever got was raised eyebrows and warnings that I still had to pay attention in church and do well in religion class. I just treated it like I treated Greek mythology, and it was fine.
    And that Easter Bunny idea always scared the living hell out of me. Giant rabbit, breaking into your house at night and defecating chocolate? Then hiding it all over the place? The very idea terrified me. Have you *seen* the mall Easter Bunnies? I think this was another place where my parents dropped the ball, getting that particular story straight, but you have no idea how relieved I was when I realised He didn't exist. I had nightmares.

  5. And I guess I had always just linked Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and God in my head together

    Neither dividing the substance nor confounding the Persons, eh?

  6. Actually, for me I remember figuring out the deal about Santa... and then thinking "well, I guess that means there's no footh fairy either. Or magicians. Or gods." And then spent a very confused few years trying to figure out why some of my grown-up relatives believed in god.

  7. I never got the chance to figure out about those things for myself. My older brother was an ass face and just told me.

  8. I used to write letters to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy asking them investigative questions to try to get them to slip up and admit they weren't real.

  9. Unfortunately you were probably just perceptive to begin with. For every one of you, there are a million others that used to nut over the thought of Santa, the Easter Bunny etc...and then somebody slapped them and said "Wtf is wrong with you kid??" and they realized there is no Santa...and then they went ahead and kept believing in Jesus (or Allah or whoever) anyway. Very sad. It's like you know how people blamed Doom, Marilyn Manson etc. for Columbine? And anyone with half a brain knew "No...millions play/listen to that stuff but not everyone shoots up their high school; these kids were f&*(*& up to begin with"...your situation is like the reverse of that. Everyone learns that there's no Santa but not everyone becomes an atheist. You were just perceptive to begin with.

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  11. I don't think I ever believed in the Easter Bunny. It seemed completely illogical that a giant bunny, who was smart enough to hide eggs and bring chocolate, existed.

    Santa and the Tooth Fairy, though- they were different. My best friend, Lysandra, got me to not believe in the Tooth Fairy when I was about 7. She told me that the Tooth Fairy wasn't real, and showed me how it was possible to stick an envelope in the printer to get my name on it. It was my last line of defense- "Well, then how did my name get on this envelope that held my money?!"

    Santa Claus was extremely traumatic, though. I believed in him until I was 9. My parents had been having a difficult time with money close to Christmas time. I didn't know. My mom and I were at a store, and I was asking my mom for a toy. Angrily, she grabbed the toy away from me and said, "Would you rather have this or Christmas presents? Santa doesn't exist you know!"

    It was horrible.

  12. My favorite from Overheard in New York:

    Mom: So, what kind of animals do you think we will see at the zoo?
    Small boy: I think elephants and snakes... Mom? Are there also pretend things there, like dinosaurs and God?
    Mom: I think we need to have a talk when we get home.

    --N train near Union Square

    The boy has the right idea.

  13. When I was a kid, my Dad would pull out his school yearbook, and show me a specific picture as proof of the Tooth Fairy, because that was him.

    Years later I finally understood the jest. It was a friend of his that was both gay and an orthodontist.