Yes, Georgia, there is a Santa Claus.

With Albany sitting at No. 1, three regions in Georgia gain a seat in our sleigh of the top 10 regions in the U.S. for believers in Jolly Old Saint Nick. Macon, Ga., earns the No. 3 spot in our ranking of the Santa faithful, and Atlanta bags the No. 8 position.

We based our ranking of Santa believers on a full year of recent data from Google Trends, from November 2018 through November 2019, regarding searches for these phrases:

  • “Santa tracker”
  • “Naughty list”
  • “Santa address”
  • “Santa phone number”

We weighted the list so it conformed to the relative frequency of the searches, and By the way, just like Santa, we checked our list twice.

As it turns out, Albany — a metro area in southwest Georgia with about 150,000 residents) — goes all out for Christmas. Aside its annual Celebration of Lights Christmas parade, complete with a Christmas village and a visit from Santa, the region hosts a holiday party sponsored by the Albany Area Arts Council, the Festival of Lights at Chehaw (including train rides and an appearance by Santa), the Holidays in My PJ pARTy at the Albany Museum of Art and a pajama party with Santa at Albany Mall.

10 Cities That Believe Most in Santa

Here’s our package of the top 10 cities that believe in Santa:

  1. Albany, Georgia
  2. Evansville, Indiana
  3. Macon, Georgia
  4. Montgomery-Selma, Alabama
  5. Kingsport, Tennessee; Johnson City, Tennessee; and Bristol, Tennessee/Bristol, Virginia
  6. Jackson, Mississippi
  7. Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Texas
  8. Atlanta, Georgia
  9. Fort Smith-Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Arkansas
  10. Paducah, Kentucky/Cape Girardeau, Missouri/Harrisburg-Mount Vernon, Illinois

We Found Doubters, Too

While residents of Albany firmly believe in Old Man Christmas, we found some areas of the country with more of an Ebenezer Scrooge attitude toward Santa. In fact, two areas in Mississippi — Columbus-Tupelo-West Point and Hattiesburg-Laurel — top our naughty list.

For this ranking, we reviewed data from Google Trends for November 2018 through November 2019 related to searches for these two questions that reveal doubt toward the jolly old elf:

  • “Is Santa Claus real?”
  • “Is Santa Claus your parents?”

10 Cities That Doubt Santa the Most

Here’s our lump-of-coal ranking of the top 10 regions where Santa skepticism reigns:

  1. Columbus-Tupelo-West Point, Mississippi
  2. Hattiesburg-Laurel, Mississippi
  3. Fresno-Visalia, California
  4. Dayton, Ohio
  5. New Orleans, Louisiana
  6. Columbia, South Carolina
  7. Mobile, Alabama/Pensacola-Fort Walton Beach, Florida
  8. Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina/Anderson, South Carolina/Asheville, North Carolina
  9. Birmingham, Alabama
  10. 10.Davenport, Iowa/Rock Island-Moline, Illinois

We can’t explain why Columbus-Tupelo-West Point leads the pack of nonbelievers. After all, each of these three communities hosts a Christmas parade. At West Point’s 2019 event, for instance, parade-goers glimpsed scenes such as a nativity scene on the beach and Santa’s sleigh being pulled by a flock of pink flamingos, West Point’s newspaper, the Daily Times Leader, reported.

Erica Wiles, a licensed professional counselor and a writer for LifeInsuranceTypes.com, says a number of factors contribute to regional differences around the U.S. in terms of belief or lack of belief in Santa:

  • Cultural melting pot. “Cultural background impacts our views of the world and shapes what we choose to believe in,” she says.
  • Diversity of faiths. Some religions strongly discourage belief in Santa, according to Wiles.
  • Socioeconomic status. “The more money someone has, the easier it is to foster the belief,” she says.

Why We Do, Don’t Believe

Although we can’t pinpoint precisely why certain regions land in the believer column and certain regions fall into the nonbeliever column, a sleigh full of scientific and anecdotal evidence sheds light on our confidence (or lack thereof) in a red-suited man shimmying down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

Stores such as Macy’s set up displays to help fuel Santa belief. Credit: LawnStarter.com

A 2018 global survey by psychology professor Chris Boyle of England’s University of Exeter showed:

  • 34 percent of people wished they still believed in Santa.
  • 50 percent of people felt just fine knowing that Santa doesn’t exist.
  • One-third of those surveyed were upset when they realized Santa wasn’t real, while 15 percent felt betrayed by their parents about Saint Nick and 10 percent directed Santa anger at Mom and Dad.
  • Nearly three-fourths of parents play along with the Santa myth for their children’s sake.
  • The average age when survey respondents stopped believing in Santa was 8.

“When they learn the truth, children accept the rules of the game and even go along with their parents in having younger children believe in Santa,” Serge Larivée, a psycho-education professor at the University of Montreal, said in 2008. “It becomes a rite of passage in that they know they are no longer babies.”

First Rule of Santa: Do No Harm

Psychologists say there’s no harm in perpetuating the lore of Santa for the enjoyment of your kids.

“Parents should never lie to their children about anything. However, when it comes to myths like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, many parents want to carry on the tradition of fun by nurturing a gentle belief in these myths when their kids are young,” says Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California, and author of “The Self-Aware Parent.”

By age 7 or 8, most children start asking Mom or Dad whether Santa is real, according to Walfish.

“It’s up to the parent at that point,” she says, “to respond honestly and openly by saying, ‘When I was a child, my parents thought it was a fun part of Christmas to teach us about the myth of Santa Claus. I loved it so much that I decided to share those teachings with my children. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to carry on this family tradition or do Christmas in your own special way.’”

Wiles, the licensed professional counselor, says it can be healthy to hold onto a belief in Santa.

Santa “is a representation of love and goodwill. He does not discriminate. He is reliable and consistent; we can trust that he will come every Christmas Eve,” Wile says.