January 5 is the most magical night of the year. At last their majesties Magi of the East can pass through the homes of the little ones, leaving Presents for all the family. At least in countries like Spain, where we have this nice tradition that marks the end of Christmas. In reality, it is something that excites older children, but especially the first ones, since they are the ones who still maintain the faith that three men mounted on camels They can travel across the country in one night, laden with gifts for all the children who have behaved well and coal for those who have done some extra mischief during the year.
But why do children believe in wise men? Or, generally speaking, why do they believe in fictional beings? The Olentzero, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy …
We could come to think that it is because their innocence prevents them from being skeptical people. However, many studies show that they actually are. Even very early ages. What are the reasons then? It is not entirely clear; but, at least according to the studies carried out with Santa Claus, it seems to be related to the effort that the fathers.
Studies on children’s beliefs
In the scientific literature there are two very important experiments on children’s beliefs about fictional characters.
The first was carried out in 2004 and it was about the candy witch. Two adults attended a college nursery and they visited 44 preschool-age children, divided into five classes. Once there, they were told about the existence of a witch who can turn one of their Halloween candy in a toy as long as they are able to hold without eating it.
The preschool stage because this is considered to be the age when children are most likely to believe in fantastic beings. In fact, it is clearly seen in that it is the stage in which imaginary friends usually appear.
The children were shown photos of the witch’s appearance and were given a lot of information about her. In addition, it was explained to them that so that he can transform his treat into a toy first her parents should contact her.
Afterwards, they divided into two groups. The first one also involved the parents of the little ones, who they faked the arrival of the witch home to drop off a toy and take a piece of candy. In the second, however, her parents did not participate, so the witch did not visit their homes.
A week after Halloween, when asked about the witch, those who had received their visit, logically, were more predisposed to believe in her. Interestingly, especially those who were older. In addition, the greater the intervention of parents higher probability of belief was.
As for the second experiment, carried out in 2010, the character in question was the Princess alice. This time, children between the ages of 4 and 8 participated, who were given various games and tests aimed at assessing their cognition. In the middle of the games, they were told about an invisible princess who was sitting in a chair near them. Afterwards, they were left alone, but with cameras, to see if they tried interact with the character.
In this case, the results were very curious, since those who had shown a greater cognitive maturity in the tests they were the most likely to believe that there really was a princess sitting in the chair. However, the level of belief did not come close to that of the candy witch when the children had received her visit.
Now, what does all this have to do with wise men?
Preparing the visit of the Magi
Before going to sleep, the children usually leave a tray with sweets for the Magi, a bucket of water and carrots for the camels. They also leave shoes on the window so that their Majesties do not forget that a child lives in that house.
All this is prepared together with their parents who, often without pretending too much, show themselves as excited as they.
The next day, the bucket of water is practically empty, the sweets and carrots have disappeared, and in their place, a lot of gifts appear. This is much more like the experiment of the Candy Witch than to the Princess alice. Parents interact in the experience and thereby stimulate children’s belief.
In an article published in The Conversation, Keele University professor of psychology Rohan kapitany he talks about this, although logically he is referring to Santa Claus, not the Three Wise Men. Explain that it is the intervention of parents that gives security to children, since they interpret that if their parents strive so much must be because the fictional character in question actually exists.
If we simply told them that three men were coming on the back of a camel to bring them gifts, without all the previous ritual, they would possibly believe less. In fact, in a study carried out by Kapitany’s team, it is precisely demonstrated that the smallest of the house are more likely to believe in fictional characters if they are associated with cultural rites. Even more than in characters like dinosaurs, of which they can see indirect evidence, such as fossils.
A progressive eye opening
All this shows that, basically, the credulity of children is due to the trust in their parents. But that does not mean that, knowing the truth, they feel betrayed, as some people argue today to refuse to cheat to his children.
Interested in this topic, in 2008 a team of scientists from the Montreal University analyzed a study conducted for the first time in 1896 and later replicated in 1979.
In both cases, more than 1,500 children, with ages between 7 and 13 years.
They were all asked questions about their belief in Santa Claus. It is another character, but it can be extrapolated to the Magi and the results are very interesting.
Logically, the little ones were more inclined to still believe in Santa Claus. But how had they found out? In 46% of the cases in the first study and 44% in the second, they did so gradually. It was not something traumatic, because little by little they realized that such a big man cannot fit down the chimney or that it is impossible for him to bring gifts to all the children in the world in one night.
In 1896 25% knew it from the mouth of their parents. In 1979 they were 46%, which indicates that over time it was easier for the parents to keep the secret that, in the rest of the cases, was revealed by Other children.
But how did the children feel afterwards? In general, most did not see it as a negative. It is true that 22% in the oldest study and 39% in the most recent one were somewhat disappointed, but only 2% and 6% acknowledged having seen it as a treason by their parents.
And also the adults participated in the study to explain why they kept the secret over time. 54% at the end of the 19th century said it was for make the children happy, not just because of tradition. In 1979 the percentage rises to 73%.
Is it good for children to believe in the Three Kings?
The truth is that everything related to the Magi is something very personal. How to tell children about them is a decision that should only be made by the parents. But, at least, if you go for the usual, you can rest assured that, based on the above data, the little ones they won’t feel betrayed. Furthermore, in an article published in The Conversation in 2019, Elena Merenda and Nikki Martyn, both heads of the Early Childhood Studies Program at the University of Guelph-Humber, explained that the fantasy is a normal and healthy part of the child development. Stimulating her with these kinds of beliefs doesn’t have to be a problem.
We are not taking children for excessively credulous, because the truth is that they are not. They just enjoy those years when fantasy flooded our entire world. But that does not make them less judicious. In the anti-vaccine forums there are no children. That should be irrefutable proof before saying that it is childish innocence that makes us more susceptible to being deceived.