Growing up believing Santa Claus was real and then finding out around 5 years old that he was actually pure fiction taught me a valuable lesson about religion, even if that lesson laid dormant in the deep recesses of my subconscious until years later.
Remember the children's books when you were a kid? They were thin and had gold trim on the sides. They were made of what seemed like cardboard and the braid had tree emblems on it? I had dozens of those on the bookshelf in my room, a room that I shared with my brother and twin sister at the time. On that shelf, there were books about big red dogs and three little pigs and mice obsessed with finding milk and cookies. Among the stack, we had a few about Santa. We also had a stack devoted to the dumbed down, child versions of certain popular stories from the Bible. Noah's Ark was one that I remember reading the most.
At this point, I think it fair to say that as a child my parents were pro-Christianity and pro-Santa stories. They told us both were real.
I remember throughout my childhood wanting desperately to believe them. But looking back on the whole thing, I honestly can say that I never really did. Too many holes in the Santa story for me. Too many tell tell signs that mom was really the one that got me the Power Rangers card set, a gift that explicitly said, "From: Santa"... liars. Oh well, I'm not bitter about it. The stories were fun. The customs were cool and magical, exciting. I didn't have to really believe. Buying in and suspending disbelief, even if only partially and for a very short time was fun. I don't regret my parents lying to me and telling me emphatically that Santa was indeed reality, not even when I distinctly remember asking dad pretty pressing questions for a 5 year old. 'If we don't have a chimney, how can Santa get in?' I asked. "He magically makes one appear, comes down it and then magically makes it disappear when he leaves." My father told me. "Ohhh... that's cooool!" You know, questions like that. I had a handful. And both mom and dad had the sufficient arsenal to quail my suspensions, if only just to shut me up for the moment until my short attention span had me fighting with my brother or asking for something made of pure sugar.
Back to the children's books. I remember Noah's Ark. I really do. I remember reading it the same night I read the supposed true back story of how Santa operates. You know, his bio for kids. I remember grilling dad on the whole ark story too. And he had a similar set of fantastic replies about this biblical God guy and all the magic he and his crew from back in the day possessed and implemented. "Why doesn't magical stuff happen now like it did a long time ago?" ..I asked some version of this. I remember not being very satisfied with the answer; something about God having to initially show us the way, and now the rules are set and there's no more need for him to do fantastic stuff because he and his crew of disciples wrote it all down in the magical book called the Bible.
It's not a stretch to compare Santa to the Bible's version of God. Both are omnipresent. Both are supernatural. And both judge you. Hell is like a lump of coal. Power Ranger cards to a 5 year old, heaven. Interesting thing though with this parallel. If a child can connect the dots, even if in a childish and simplified way, they can make a logical connection that might serve them very well indeed later in life. If mom and dad willfully lied about Santa, maybe they were lying about God too. Or, maybe someone lied to them and they unknowingly passed the story down to me.
Looking back on my reasoning to completely drop Christianity at the much later age of roughly 21 (there were several stages of false reasoning and denial in between), I now see that finding out that Santa wasn't real taught me a very useful lesson about life. Sometimes grown ups lie. It also helped too realizing that sometimes these big lies were not malicious; they were chocked full of good intentions and fun. But, they were still lies. And, once you find out that almost every parental figure in the country (possibly even most the world) willfully engages in this charade every single year until their kids are old enough or smart enough to call BS, you begin to sharpen a skill I like to call 'healthy distrust'.
Healthy distrust had me questioning Noah's Ark and Santa at a young age. When I was a little older, say 12ish, it had me questioning just when did God have time to write this whole Bible down anyways? At 16, I wondered what would be made of people on a hypothetical island that had no access to the gospel or even knew how to read. At 18, I thought a lot about the telephone game. I was learning basic Spanish at the time. Did you know that there are some sentences in English that don't even translate into Espanol at all? I didn't until that year.
Fairy tales have no doubt been told to unwitting kids since fairy tales were a thing. They're fun. They inspire and spark imagination. And, let's be honest, a lot of times they help parents keep their kids in line. Don't be a bad kid or Santa won't bring you any toys! Don't stay up all night or the tooth fairy won't leave anything under your pillow! Don't lie or God will send you to hell! ... Not gonna lie, that last one still stings.
P.S. I'm not an atheist. I just think there are roughly about a million and one things wrong with the King James version of the Bible. I learned the value of healthy distrust at a young age. Interestingly enough, that skill led me to question other staples of culture later on. Now, I question just about everything. I just want things to make sense. Finding out that Santa wasn't real was actually a very positive milestone for me. Maybe we should all continue to carry on this collective lie as a culture. But, maybe we can re-frame a bit? Along with Santa being a tradition for fun, it can also double as a rite of passage that fosters critical thinking. I like that.