Ithaca College Santa Expert Helping Keep the Magic Alive: A Reflection on the Macy’s Believe Campaign 3 months later

In the internet age, where a simple Google search can spoil the magic of Santa Claus for kids, Macy’s hoped to fill the World Wide Web with positive affirmations of belief. Cyndy Scheibe, a developmental psychologist from Ithaca College, had conducted her own research on belief in Santa to contribute to Macy’s efforts. As part of its annual “I Believe” campaign, which supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Macy’s launched The Santa Project. In December 2016, Macy’s encouraged people of all ages to show their beliefs by using #SantaProject to post a message, photo or video via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. A selection of responses was featured in a Macy’s television commercial in December.

Ithaca College Professor of Psychology, Cyndy Scheibe, served as a consultant for the project, and was featured in promotional videos.

“I did really appreciate being tapped as one of the developmental psychologists to speak about this…the whole issue of Santa Claus and new digital media is how much it reflects what we do in media literacy education- working hard with teachers to make media literacy lessons developmentally appropriate, especially for elementary grades, and not to tell children what to think, but instead encourage them to make their own meaning from the media messages they see and read and hear,” said Scheibe of the project’s impact. 

At the start of the campaign, Joe Feczko, senior Vice President of brand marketing for Macy’s said, “This season, we want to do everything we can to boost the spirit of Santa for future generations. We’re asking people to come together this Christmas to flood the internet with a groundswell of positivity that preserves belief for kids everywhere.” These efforts proved to be successful- the letters to Santa and #SantaProject helped raise $2 million for the Make- A- Wish foundation.

Scheibe says Macy’s did a lot of its own research, and sought out experts from developmental psychology to talk about children’s imagination, the importance of fantasy in children’s development and how the process of going from believing in Santa to discovering the truth about the Santa story occurs. Scheibe reflected on the project by saying this developmental insight is always relevant, as children encounter fictional characters at all times of the year, such as the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny or Elijah’s role at Passover.

“There are all sorts of mixed messages and conflicting information about characters like Santa Claus on the Internet. That’s what makes the Internet so wonderful and so problematic. You can always find stuff there to reinforce any ideas you might have, and you have to bring to bear critical thinking and real-world knowledge and an appreciation for verifiable information and logic in order to come to some kind of truthful conclusions,” said Scheibe.

Scheibe is the director of Project Look Sharp, a program at Ithaca College that supports educators in preparing students for life in today’s media saturated world. She has been a consultant to the Children’s Television Workshop and was a founding board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

To learn more about The Santa Project and its impact, visit

Project Look Sharp is Ithaca College’s Media Literacy Initiative. Project Look Sharp supports the integration of critical thinking through media literacy in school curriculum and teaching. They do this through developing and providing lesson plans, media materials, training, and support for educators at all education levels. The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators, and active citizens in today’s world.

From day one, Ithaca College prepares students for personal and professional success through hands-on experience with internships, research and study abroad. Its integrative curriculum builds bridges across disciplines and uniquely blends liberal arts and professional study. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the College is home to 6,100 undergraduate and 400 graduate students and offers over 100 degree programs in its schools of Business, Communications, Humanities and Sciences, Health Science and Human Performance, and Music.



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