All I want for Christmas … is to believe in Santa again – study

It’s that time of year when children look forward to a stocking full of presents.

But the first international academic Santa survey claims 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 does not work for many children and many youngsters continue to pretend they believe in Father Christmas even when they know he does not 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 is not quite as he seems had affected their trust in their parents.

Mr Boyle received 1,200 responses from across the globe to the Exeter Santa Survey, the only international study of its kind, mainly from adults reflecting on their childhood memories.

The interim findings show that 34% of people wished that they still believed in Santa, with 50% quite content that they no longer believed.

Around 34% of those who took part in the survey said believing in Father Christmas had improved their behaviour as a child whilst 47% found it did not.

The average age when children stopped believing in Father Christmas was eight but 65% of people had played along with the Santa myth, as children, even though they knew it was not true.

A third of respondents said they had been upset when they discovered Father Christmas was not real while 15% had felt betrayed by their parents and 10% were angry.

Santa health problems
Santa health problems

“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,” Mr Boyle said.

“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 10. An 11-year-old was woken up by their “tipsy” father dropping presents.

The report said 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.

Another respondent from England stopped believing at eight because nobody could explain to them why Father Christmas did not bring food to children in “poor countries”.

One nine-year-old set a trap and wrote a secret letter to Lapland which was not given to their parents. On Christmas morning nothing from that list arrived from Santa.

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