What, No Santa? Keeping the Spirit Alive When Children Stop Believing

Newswise — It's been 111 years since veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, editor of the New York Sun, penned "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," history's most reprinted newspaper editorial. Yet, his words still ring true today - we still live in a skeptical world, where without Santa, [fairies, dragons and other magical wonders], there would be no childlike faith, no poetry and no romance.

Studies of children's brain activity actually offer evidence that children do indeed have active imaginations. They experience theta wave activity (the brain stage that brings forward heightened receptivity, flashes of dream-like imagery, inspiration, and long forgotten memories) even when awake. Adults primarily experience this stage when their minds hover between sleep and wakefulness. Thus, children may be more adept than adults in forming varied and creative images - and why they see Santa with such clarity when all we see are the January holiday bills.

Yet there comes a time when young minds grow to the point where the magic seems to get crushed into oblivion and children stop believing - typically around age 7 or 8. No more wish lists. No more cookies and milk by the tree. No more leaving elf footprints with chalk erasers.

Depressed? Don't be. Santa is more than a jolly old elf with a cholesterol problem. Santa is a frame of mind. Santa represents giving, sharing, happiness, family and the youthful fun and creativity that lie too dormant the rest of the year. Suggestions for keeping his spirit going include: "¢ Write those letters to Santa, but have your child also write why he deserves to be on the "Nice" list, and have him write about something that he will give someone else. "¢ Gather unused toys to give to homeless children and wrap them in ribbons and bows. "¢ Have your child contribute some of her allowance to make a purchase for "Toys for Tots". "¢ Start a Santa collection. Better yet, make new Santas each year - paper, clay, pine cones, pasta - get creative. And don't forget Mrs. Claus and the rest of the North Pole crew. "¢ Have 'Santa Movie Night' each week before Christmas. Sip hot cocoa while you watch "Miracle on 34th Street" (the original, of course) and "The Santa Clause." "¢ Check out the stores and vote for the best - and worst - Santa. "¢ Have the family dress in their Santa and elf best and sing holiday songs at a nursing home. "¢ Have your child play Santa for the family pets. "¢ Take the kids to bring old towels, newspapers, blankets, and pet toys or a fresh box of food to your local animal shelter. Getting a new pet for the holidays can be stressful to the pet, but you can be your Santa best by adopting a shelter pet right after the Holiday mayhem subsides. "¢ Bake cookies for the Salvation Army Santas - they must get mighty hungry standing out there in the cold. "¢ Share Santa memories of Christmas past - theirs, yours, grandparents.

And in Church's words: "A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."


About Mary Muscari: Associate professor"¨ Decker School of Nursing"¨ Binghamton University, State University of New York"¨

Topics areas include parenting, from toddler age and up, especially teens. She has conducted a number of parenting workshops around the country; most popular topics: keeping kids safe from predators ('live' and Internet), bullying, raising nonviolent kids.

Parenting books include: Everything Book: Raising Adolescent Girls (Moira Mc Carthy with Dr. Mary Muscari) (2008)"¨ Everything Book Raising Adolescent Boys (Robin Weiss with Dr. Mary Muscari) (2008)"¨ Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood (2006)"¨ Not My Kid 2: Protecting your Kids from the 21 Threats of the 21st Century (2004)"¨ Not My Kid: 21 Steps to Raising a Nonviolent Child (2002)


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