Parents have been urged to stop pretending Father Christmas is real in case the “lie” damages relations with their children.
Spinning stories about Santa risks undermining a child’s trust and is morally suspect, according to two experts.
Psychologist Professor Christopher Boyle and social scientist Dr Kathy McKay also condemn the idea of a “terrifying” North Pole intelligence agency which judges children to be nice or naughty.
Writing in the respected journal The Lancet Psychiatry, they argue: “If they (parents) are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?”
In addition they suggest parents may not be motivated by thoughts of their children but a selfish desire to re-live their own childhood.
Defending the claims, Prof Boyle, from the University of Exeter, said: “The morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned.
”All children will eventually find out they’ve been consistently lied to for years, and this might make them wonder what other lies they’ve been told.
“Whether it’s right to make children believe in Father Christmas is an interesting question, and it’s also interesting to ask whether lying in this way will affect children in ways that have not been considered.”
Dr McKay, from the University of New England in Australia, said there was clear evidence from the world of make-believe in movies and TV that adults looked for a chance to be children again.
“The persistence of fandom in stories like Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who well into adulthood demonstrates this desire to briefly re-enter childhood,” she said.
In an article entitled A Wonderful Lie the authors write: “Perhaps the biggest moral breach of the Christmas lie comes with the fact that one day, the truth comes out.
“Children must all find out eventually that their parents have blatantly and consistently carried on a lie for a number of years. Children may find out from a third party, or through their parents getting bored of the make-believe and making a mistake; both might affect the trust that exists between child and parent.
“If adults have been lying about Santa, even though it has usually been well intentioned, what else is a lie? If Santa isn’t real, are fairies real? Is magic? Is God?”
They conclude: “Many people may yearn for a time when imagination was accepted and encouraged, which may not be the case in adult life. Might it be the case that the harshness of real life requires the creation of something better, something to believe in, something to hope for in the future or to return to a long-lost childhood a long time ago in a galaxy far far away?”