My Topics

15 December 2016

Between Fiction and Reality – Children’s Perceptions of Santa Claus

Keywords: Christmas, characters, parents, survey, North America, interview, kids,

Although being a fictional character, Santa Claus is widely promoted as being real. A study in Cognitive Development investigates children’s perceptions of live versions of Santa they encounter at malls museums and parades.

Take aways

  • Regardless the age of their child, parents highly promote Santa Claus as being real.
  • The more parents promote Santa as real, the less children tend to question the reality of Santa.

Study information

  • The question?

    How and when do children come to understand the live versions of a fictional, magical character, such as Santa Claus?

  • Who?

    Study 1:

    • 77 children (age range: 3-10 years); 38% males, 48% females and 14% sex unreported by the caregivers, recruited at an exhibit at a local science museum in a suburban area of New York over the course of the week before Christmas. 
    • 65 parents and caregivers; 3% males and 97% females. 

    Study 2:

    • 197 adults; 39% parents of older children: between the ages of 7 and 12 years and 61% parents of younger children: under the age of 6. 
  • Where?

    United States

  • How?

    • In the first study, children and caregivers visiting a Santa Claus exhibit at a local science museum were asked to participate in a short survey. While children were asked to answer some questions about the live Santa they just had seen, parents were asked to fill out a questionnaire, including questions about Santa promotion towards their children.
    • In the second study, parents were asked to fill out an online survey, again including questions about promoting Santa as real.

Facts and findings

  • The more children visited live Santa’s, the more they believed that a live Santa was the real Santa.
  • The more Santa was promoted by parents, the less children tended to ask questions about a live Santa’s reality status.
  • There was no relation between the number of live Santa visits and questions asked about the reality of Santa.
  • Interesting finding: In both studies, parents highly promoted Santa to be real, regardless of their child’s age.