Judge John Hodgman Episode 88: Probable Claus


Andrew brings this week's case against his wife Alex. The birth of their first child last year made real a long-running dispute which had been hypothetical up until that point: should parents foster a belief in Santa Claus? Andrew says no -- he believes perpetuating the Santa myth damages parents' credibility, and he doesn't appreciate a fictional character getting the glory for bringing the best gifts. Alex says yes -- she claims Andrew is unable to appreciate the joy Santa brings to children because he grew up without the belief himself. Who is right? Judge John Hodgman decides.

Thanks again to The Cave in Long Island City, New York for generously allowing us to use their recording facilities this week and to engineer Marcus Parks. The Cave hosts several comedy podcasts, and you can find them at CaveComedyRadio.com.



Evidence from Andrew
Exhibit A:

"A photo of our son Everest dressed as Santa Claus."

Exhibit B:

"A photo of Everest opening a Christmas present that is decorated in Santa Claus wrapping paper."

Exhibit C:
"A link to one analysis of how children believe in Santa more than other fantasies because the information comes from their parents, a trusted source."


Why modern Santa is not the best lesson.

We've decided to not teach the traditional role of Santa Clause to our son for a few reasons.

First. He teaches that the better you are, the better stuff you have. Therefore, those who are without must be bad people. And those with plenty, are role models for everyone. If poor people would just be better, than they would get better stuff.

Second. Your worth is based on the judgement of someone you've never met, and never will meet. That you have to act according to an unseen single judge who categorizes you and your worth is known once a year.

Third. The lying aspect is always an issue. Magic or not, it's not a five minutes of sadness that Santa isn't real. It's finding out that the two people that you trust the most, are in on a world wide game to deceive you. There are literally millions of dollars being spent into tricking you into believing something for a short period of time. If this doesn't cause trust issues right before a vastly confusing time in your life, I don't know what will.

Lastly. He teaches that the joy and happiness from Christmastime isn't from being with family and friends, helping people out, or being a good person. But rather from what you can physically gain. That the whole reason we have a day of celebration is to see what you can get out of it. Which is the exact opposite of what it's supposed to be. It's the reward system, but for those that complain and beg the most.

Instead, we do teach that Santa Clause is a holiday game. Some families choose to play it differently than we do, and that's okay. We teach the origins of Santa and how we imitate the goodness and sharing that he originally taught us and apply it to modern day. That the gifts aren't because his worth is based on his performance of the year, but because we love him. And this teaches him that if he loves someone, he wants to share with them as well. More presents do not mean more love. We also show that the "Season of Giving" is not limited to monetary things. Being a good person can give so much more than a store bought gift.

When I was a child, my

When I was a child, my parents told me the Santa wasn't real because I didn't understand why my friends (whose parents were poor) were not getting as many presents as I was. The problem with Santa Claus is that the idea that gifts are distributed to every child equally is quite obviously a lie, especially if your child lives in a neighborhood with varying income homes. It should be considered that a child may apply everyday logic to this fantastical situation and reason that children with less presents must be bad, or be loved less by Santa, or something of the sort.

Alex's Mom

Alex's Mom is Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Santa is someone who loves you and gives you presents" = "So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view"

Further Santa Considerations

I agreed with all of the husband's points in this case save one: namely, that lying to children is necessarily bad. Lying to children is, I would submit, in fact one of life's great pleasures. Teasing children mercilessly with weird logic helps them to learn to articulate their reasons against spurious claims. It is also fun for them.

This is another reason why the Santa myth might be useful. It can help to serve as a teaching moment about reason, if the child is allowed to work it out on his or her own. However, I have to say that I did feel betrayed by my parents when I discovered from a classmate that there was no Santa (of course I had already had my suspicions), not because my parents had lied to me, but because they had made me seem like a fool to my peers. Maybe I'm just touchy. Though of course that suggests that the child's personality should be brought into consideration, except for the fact that you can't know ahead of time how a given child will respond, so the safest bet is to not lie to them in the first place, and to always own up if they ask a direct question, as Judg Hodgman stated.

Finally, I thought the salty language served to make the show better, not worse."At what point do you turn to your child and say, 'you know this is all bullshit, right?' had me rolling on the floor, partially because saying that would be so inappropriate to a young child. Not that my father knew that growing up.

One of my favorite episodes. Thanks for being awesome.