To decide this question, we need to take a closer look at the bearded gent.
Children are taught that he is the person who performs miracles and wonders every Christmas Eve. He is able to create and deliver virtually any present any child can imagine. He can fly through the sky and deliver these gifts to billions of children all over the world - all during one night. And not just any old presents but exactly the ones desired by each individual child.
To accomplish this mission, he must have the ability to be present almost everywhere at once. Theologians call this the power of omni-presence - an attribute of their deity.
But Santa Claus is not just omnipresent, he is also all-seeing and all-knowing. He has the divine power of omniscience, and this not only on Christmas Eve but all through the year.
He sees you when you're sleepin'People imagine similar powers for their god:
He knows when you're awake,
He knows if you're been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake ...
You see me, whether I amIn addition, children are taught that Santa Claus is all-good and all-just; He rewards the good children and leaves the bad ones empty handed. Perfect goodness and justice are also attributes of deity. In other words, Santa is really a god who performs miracles by his own powers. To be sure, he is a kind of childish god. He is concerned only about children, and he brings childish presents. But that's the only sort of god who could have any meaning for the young child.
working or resting;
you know all my actions (Psalm 139)
Adults think of their deity as the creator of all things visible and invisible, but such an entity is beyond a child's comprehension. What children can relate to is a creator of toys and goodies. While grownups characterize their god as all-holy, all merciful, all-just, all-powerful, omnipresent and infinitely perfect, this conception is too vast, nebulous and remote to have any meaning for a little child. Children from 2 to 8 - the Santa Claus years - cannot grasp such a transcendent abstraction; they can only relate to a material being. Santa is such a god-in-the-flesh - a deity tailor-made for children.
All children are born atheists (since they have to be taught to believe), but Santa Claus can make god believers out of them for life. Teaching children to believe in Santa at a time when they believe everything their parents tell them prepares their minds to accept the adult god when they are a little older. Thus, faith in Santa Claus serves as a spring board for religious belief. Once children have fallen for Santa - the junior god - their mind is in the god-mode, and they can be more easily persuaded to believe in the big GOD. When they are older, they can then be told, "No, dear, Santa is just a fairy tale, but GOD is real."
Is belief in Santa Claus harmful to children? Yes, if you think that predisposing children to the irrational belief system of adults is harmful.