This essay will analyse the significance of magical beliefs in children’s social development, during the stages through a child’s early life, specifically focusing on children aged 2-8. Different types of magical beliefs will be discussed and compared in relation to social development. The three magical beliefs, which will be discussed will be Father Christmas, The Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy. Additionally identifying the issues, benefits and challenges of magical beliefs. To further understand the issues, the essay will discuss adolescence as well as children in the early stages of life. Parents and environments are a key aspect of the significance of magical belief, as they are responsible of keeping the stories alive.
There are countless magical beliefs that children believe in. These can be myths or old traditions. Old traditions and legends include, Father Christmas, Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Made up beliefs include children making up imaginary friends, unicorns and mermaids. Magical belief is said to be a natural thinking process, to ‘dream’, is similar to making up thoughts, which could never become true. Korsaro (2011) argues that adults feed magical beliefs to children, to keep them as young as possible. Korsaro also believes that adults get a thrill out of children’s excitement, they keep the lie as long as possible to also keep the child young for as long as possible without them finding out the truth and growing up.
The Easter egg is said to have first arrived in America in the 1700s where an egg was used to symbolise new life. “Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection”(“Easter Symbols and Traditions”, 2009). Studies suggest that during the spring season, is when chickens lay the most eggs, making the egg the perfect symbol for ‘Easter’. The Easter bunny is used as the same conception as rabbits tend to breed the most during the spring season, this made the bunnies a ‘natural representation of fertility’ (Daily, 2012). Easter eggs first turned to chocolate in the 1900s in France and Germany and soon this turned to making chocolate bunnies further to eggs (Cadbury, 2018).
The history of Father Christmas has evolved in time. Saint Nicholas was a bishop in the 4th century who went round to poor men’s houses who could not afford their own daughters dowry and dropped bags of gold down their chimneys (Fraser, 2017). This then evolved to father Christmas coming down the chimney to drop presents in later life. Later in the 1400s, children in choirs started to sing songs about ‘my lord Christmas’. This then lead onto adults celebrating the birth of Christ with food and drinks (History, 2009). Although ‘Father Christmas’ is not related to the nativity story, he is still a large part of the celebrations, which are now called ‘Christmas’. In 1930, Coca-cola, brought out a campaign where they used ‘father Christmas’. No one knew the look or colour he wore, from this day Father Christmas is classed as large, white hair, beard and wearing red. “Coca-Cola Santa Claus image dominated the brand’s strategy throughout the 1930s” (Brazier, 2011, p.1).
The myth of Krampus is also still discussed in today’s society. Krampus is known as the ‘bad Santa’ where Krampus would visit the ‘wicked’ children and take them away the night before Christmas (Basu, 2017). In today’s society, parents warn that Father Christmas will not visit and give presents if the child is badly behaved.
In the middle ages, if a young child lost a tooth and disposed of the tooth correctly (i.e. swallowed, buried or burned) then it was said to lead to the growth and development of a healthy adult tooth (“The History and Mythology of the Tooth Fairy”, 2017). In the 10th century, Scandinavia was where tooth exchanges for money were first originated from (Erbland, 2014). This is because adults used to pay children for their teeth and wear them as necklaces or pieces of jewelry. “Vikings would pay their children a “tooth fee” for each lost tooth and then string them on a necklace” (Carlson, 2015, p.2).
Issues can be caused when believing in magic and different types of beliefs. It has been said that magical beliefs and thoughts can cause Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) and anxiety in later adulthood (Berle & Starcevic, 2005; Muris, Meesters, Rassin, Merckelbach, & Campbell, 2001). Some people, who believe in magical thinking, believe and live by specific ‘rules’ and consequences. These people think that something bad will automatically happen if any of these rules are broken or not followed specifically. (“Magical Thinking”, 2018). From children learning the truth and the lie, they can become afraid as they grow. Children with OCD or anxiety may learn to resent and avoid the specific calendar events.
Principle and Smith (2008) analysed children’s accounts of their fantasy experiences. Many children believe or say they ‘saw’ Father Christmas. As adults are hiding the truth and are compelling the children to think otherwise, this can change their viewpoint. Although the child has not seen anyone of the magical beliefs, adults feed the lie and tell them what they should be seeing even though they have not seen it themselves. When children are young, they cannot tell the difference between realities or make believe, this is why their belief in magic and fantasy is very much different to those thoughts of an adult. Relationships between the parent and child can erode from the lie of each legend. In addition, children may become confused between fantasy and reality. Although lying to a child shouldn’t happen, the lie of the legends makes children’s childhood grow.
It has been said that there are many factors, which help children in regards to their social development. Magical play, gives children a chance to be someone else, a superhero or a villain. It gives them the opportunities to try out different characters and explore social constructions through the world of magical play. Superhero play, gives children a chance to explore different perspectives and for children to escape reality and become someone else even if it is only for a few minutes to gain ‘status’ or power. There is a large variety of research, which shows links between developing social relationships with children and adults during magical play (Goldstein, 1996; Moss and Boodt, 1991). In contrast to evidence from the Early Years Foundation Stage: Development Matters (2014) in relation to characteristics of effective learning in the development of playing and exploring. This has shown that using senses to explore the world around them in addition to representing objects as experiences can show characteristics of effective learning.
Corsaro (2011) argues that the tooth fairy is the most significant out of them all. Instead of presents, the tooth fairy gives money, which can be seen as a sign into adulthood and the ‘real world’. Additionally, loosing a tooth is personal to a child, it is not seen as a calendar event as it can happen anytime through their early childhood. It also gives children a chance to learn how to handle money and what to do with it. “Before a child can save, spend, invest or share, they have to understand the value of the money” (Hindman, 2000). The main magical beliefs are set on retrieving a gift. Father Christmas brings gifts to all the ‘well behaved’ children. The Easter bunny delivers chocolate Easter eggs on the morning of Easter Monday. The tooth fairy delivers money, which is placed under a child’s pillow the night the child looses their tooth. Even though these are old traditions and are not celebrating receiving a gift, children believe and get excited to receive a gift. It has been said that because children are told to be well behaved before these magical events, as it can promote positivity and success for the child later on in life. “This magical event can be used to promote kindness and good behaviour in children” (Packham, 2016, p.3). Another benefit is that children are able to feel a sense of belongingness. Everyone knows about the myths and stories and they are able to feel a part of it.
Magical beliefs is said to develop and enhance problem solving, thinking, memory and many more. “Child-development experts are recognizing the importance of imagination and the role it plays in understanding reality” (Wang, 2009).
Although there are many benefits, there are also many challenges. Children are being lied to from a young age about not just one myth but multiple magical beliefs. When children grow old and learn about the truth, there is query to whether the child will think lying is permitted regularly. Another challenge is when children learn to discover the truth, there can be a backlash. The child may become in denial or may become depressed from knowing their fond childhood memories are developed around false truths. Although unicorns, mermaids, superhero’s remain and are explained as fantast figures. Father Christmas, Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are manipulated by adults into young children thinking it is reality.
Not all myths and stories have the regular ‘happy ending’. For example, fairy tales like the originals ‘Snow White’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ (Devine, 2016). Even with the myth of Father Christmas, those who do not put on good behaviour are said to be punished and not given any gifts. Occasionally some children are not very well behaved. They may receive little or no gifts. However, this could not just be because of bad behaviour. Parents may be in a difficult financial position where they cannot afford to buy their child gifts. As a result of this, a child’s thinking may become obscured. Not all children receive the same exact gifts. Children can compare gifts from their friends and families and see that they may have received more or less than others. From this, children may think, they were not good enough for ‘Father Christmas’ as they were not well behaved.
Piaget(1929) argued that magical thinking overcomes children’s regular day to day thinking in early childhood. Piaget discussed children thinking how they were the cause of incidents happening. An example of this is streetlights turning on whilst a child is walking down and the child thinking this happened because of magical thinking. Besides this, Piaget also said that children explain situations from their own perspective even if they are talking about the experiences of others (Piaget, 1972). Berenbaum (1996) similarly made links between magical thinking and being delusional later on in adulthood. Gill and Papatheadorou (1999) suggest that young children have little experience from where they can tell reality apart from fantasy. Additionally, children can then be vulnerable to any type of conversation had about magical beliefs and have a greater space to consume all the fantasy knowledge. Gill and Papatheadorou also suggest that lying throughout these events gives children a ‘rite of passage’.
Adults and the environment are key when analysing magical beliefs in young children. Parents and carers are those who explain and give their children the thoughts to believe in different things. A child learns about Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all through their parents. Parents and settings feed children the myth as do a majority of other parents.
Although most parents and adults say they do not believe in magic and luck, there are still some ‘rituals’ that are said and done on a regular basis. These would be touching wood, crossing fingers and throwing pennies into a fountain.
In regards to the public and environment. The whole country and others are involved in the whole lie and most people if not all encourage the lie surrounding the magical beliefs that take place every year for children. In most settings, ‘Santa’ will come to visit. Children can then see their dreams and what they have been told in the flesh. This can be both positive and negative. For either one of the three magical events discussed. Occasionally a child may see a shadow on that night and automatically put the two together. Children mention what they saw, telling their parents that ‘they saw Santa’.
Not everyone believes in all of these myths, legends and magical beliefs. These magical beliefs discussed are mainly found throughout western areas, for example, the United Kingdom, America and Australia. Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny have been developed from Christianity and relate to history, both in regards to new life. There are many other magical beliefs, which take place and are developed from other cultures and countries.