Cyber Santa vs. The “Real” Deal

Where has All the Santa Magic Gone?

Posted Dec 07, 2015

Photo by Amber Benham
Source: Photo by Amber Benham

Santa apps do everything from sending texts to misbehaving kids (I’m watching! You’d better be good!) to streaming clips of Santa sitting by a cozy fire, digging for a child’s gift in a big bag of toys. For a little more cash, some apps even include a video chat with Santa to help prove he is real. A report on the Hello Santa App, for example, said, “When kids talk to Santa face-to-face and he knows their names and hobbies (details a little elf like you provide ahead of time), it’s pretty magical.”  I was skeptical.

Who better to write about Cyber Santa vs. The “Real” Deal than a mother of young “believers”? Here Amber Benham shares her thoughts on visiting Santa in the flesh as opposed to “talking to him” via one of the many apps parents can add to their cellphones, computers, iPads or other electronic devices—some promising to end long waits in line at the Mall.

Guest Post by Amber Benham:

These days parents can outsource just about any task to the Internet. Whether it’s help with homework, toddler yoga instruction or even talking with Santa, kids can do it online. But with Christmas mere weeks away, I’m left wondering what’s at stake when we leave the Internet to keep the holidays alive for our kids.

Increasingly parents turn to technology to perpetuate the Santa myth--setting up calls, texts or even one-on-one video interactions with ol’ Saint Nick. One site advertises Kringl, “The Proof of Santa App” where you can, “create magic with video and bring Santa to life, right in your living room.” But I’m not so sure all this online enhancement will make our holidays any more special.

Last December I unwittingly stumbled into line at Macy’s--THE Macy’s in New York City--to see Santa--THE Santa--with my then nearly 3-year-old son. I was only intending to take him to see the holiday train show I’d spied on the top floor of the massive store on a recent shopping trip. Once I realized the trains were actually a part of Santaland, there was no turning back. I called my partner to make sure she’d forgive me for accidentally taking our son to see Santa for the first time without her, and then slowly we inched our way through the line.

That trip is one I’ll never forget. Despite missing his nap by hours and running out of snacks and water, my son waited patiently as we weaved through the displays of trains and elves and ornaments and finally made it to Santa. When the jolly old fellow invited him onto his lap, my energetic, chatty, loud kid transformed into a quiet, shy little mouse.

Santa asked him what he’d like for Christmas and he whispered, “A robot, please.” When Santa probed him to find out if there were other gifts he would like, he said, “No, just a robot.” It melted my heart to see my son being so polite and humble and provided some very useful insight when later finishing up holiday shopping (we’d never heard a peep about anybody wanting a robot ‘til that trip!). But most of all, I’ll never forget the warm, fuzzy feeling my son and I shared as he stared up at Santa in awe and then returned to me, basking in the glow of his visit. His excitement was palpable and sharing the journey to see Santa with him made Christmas that much more magical for me.

Handing my son an iPad to have a video interaction with some far off Santa would not have been the same. Sure, he would have enjoyed it. But then again, he enjoys any and every moving image he sees on a screen--be it a commercial, a music video or a clip on my Facebook newsfeed. He also completely tunes out the rest of the world when he’s having screen time. He stops interacting, forgets to eat the popcorn we’ve made and generally becomes numb to everyone around him. Not at all the same as holding my hand as we wait to meet Santa and then rushing back into my arms to tell me all about it.

A Santa app could help prolong the idea of Santa a little bit longer, but it wouldn’t replace the bonding that comes with sharing a little holiday magic. Santa is exciting because he gives us something to anticipate, discuss and reminisce about together, not something to sit alone with a screen and observe.

What do you think? Do we have more to gain or lose by taking Santa online?

Copyright @2015 by Amber Benham


Etue, Kate. “6 of the most fun Santa apps for kids that offer proof the big guy is real.”

Newman, Susan. “If and When to ‘Spill the Beans’ About Santa Claus” 

Newman, Susan. “7 Ways to Add Sanity in Gift-giving to Children: To Buy or Not to Buy the ‘Must-Have’ Toy or Tech Device?”