What To Tell Kids About Santa?

I really love Christmas. The tree decorating, the egg nog, the cheesy Hallmark movies - I love it all. And that's partly due to the fact that I'm lucky enough to have had a lot of great Christmases as a kid. It was a magical time for me growing up and it still is today. So naturally, I always assumed that when and if I had kids, I'd want them to have the kinds of Christmases I enjoyed - complete with gifts from Santa.

I don't have kids yet, but I'm starting to question the whole Santa thing. Linking the magic of Christmas to getting gifts seems overly materialistic to me. And of course, there's the whole part about Santa not bringing gifts to "naughty" kids. That's a little insidious for two reasons. First, it begs the question - what about kids whose parents can't afford a lot of gifts? Are we to assume those kids are naughty? Second, this part of the Santa myth lends itself to being used as a threat. It's all to easy for parents to tell their kids that Santa won't bring them anything if they don't behave. Of course, since I don't have kids, I haven't experienced what it's like when you just need your children to settle down for a few minutes and they're not listening. Maybe I'd resort to Santa threats, too. But it does strike me as a little disingenuous.

What's more, the Santa myth isn't fully in keeping with the way I would want to parent. I think being honest with kids - telling them the truth about life (in a way that they can understand and handle) is important. For example, I never get it when parents are reluctant to allow their kids to participate in sex ed classes. And abstinence education drives me crazy. When kids are old enough, they can handle the truth about sex - and we should respect them enough to tell them the truth. Is Santa an earlier example of the same  style of parenting - a  style that doesn't prioritize being straight with kids when it's appropriate to do so?

On the other hand, Santa  represents the magic of being a kid. Childhood is the only time in life when we can believe in something as outrageous as Santa, so is it unfair to prevent   children from enjoying those fantasies while they can? I'd like to believe that as a parent, I would be able to instill my kids with a sense of wonder about the beautiful things in the real world, but maybe fantasies like Santa help to reinforce that. I enjoyed believing in Santa as a kid and I don't think I'm any worse off for it.

I recently read a Facebook thread in which a parent explained that she tells her kids the story of the historical Saint Nicholas, puts out the cookies, writes "Santa" on the gift tags, the whole nine yards. But she makes sure to tell her kids that Santa doesn't actually bring gifts to all the world's children - that the story is intended to serve as a sybmol  of the meaning of Christmas. Maybe that's the way to go.

Clearly, when it comes to Santa, I'm conflicted. Is the story helpful or harmful (or neutral)? What are your thoughts?