Santa Claus and age-appropriate truths

December 8 2010 | Guest post by Jessica
Wanted: Santa Claus
Photo by Flickr user Kevin Dooley, used with Creative Commons license.

My husband and I have always agreed that we don't want to lie to our children about anything. We always want to offer our children age appropriate truths.

By this I mean when our four year old asks where babies come from, we will not tell them stories about cabbage patches and storks, nor will we get out a biology book and explain about ovaries and erections. We will simply tell them that babies come from mummies' bellies. Not a lie, not information overload — an age appropriate truth.

We feel confident that we can adapt this style of communication to almost any topic without crossing boundaries or stepping on toes. That is, until we get to the most socially acceptable and widely perpetuated lie: Santa Claus.

This is where we lose some our confidence in "honesty is best" policy. We both agree that encouraging belief in something known to be false is akin to lying, but reactions we have received so far is that not doing so would be detrimental to our child's mental wellbeing.

Both our families for example (and most of our friends for that matter) strongly feel that kids need to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to enjoy a happy and fulfilling childhood. When we express our discomfort with untruths, we hear the classic "it never did you any harm" defense.

We are told we will be robbing our children of a magical time in life and that they will lack imagination or any sense of wonder. But I ask; why do children need to believe in mythical figures to be excited and inspired in their formative years?

This quote I found really resonated with me. "I like to believe that while other children are living in wonderment over all of these fictional characters, that my children are living in wonderment over how big our galaxy is, and how much is out there that we really do not know about. About how life is formed, and how life ends. My children have plenty of magical experiences, and the best part about theirs is that they are real!"

We know that this what we want for our children. To be excited by the real wonders of our world, to be inquisitive, to question everything, to appreciate every day miracles.

But how do we actually do this in practicality? How do you explain that Santa is cultural myth symbolizing hope and goodwill, not a real person, to a young child? How do you ensure that your 5 year old doesn't ruin it for the other kids? And more importantly, how do you still keep the magic feeling of Christmas alive for children without Santa?

Every year my husband and I give each other a gift "from Santa" and "from" our two dogs. We derive joy from this make believe and pretend. We want our kids to have that feeling too … that pretending is fun!

I would love to hear how other offbeat mamas are dealing with this issue.

  1. What my parents did for us when we where small was tell us that many years ago that was a kind man named Nicholas. He gave presents to kids that had nothing at all, even when nobody else would. Then they reminded us about the "telephone game" and said the same thing happened to his story. As more people told it to their kids, the STORY got bigger and bigger. But that doesn't mean the MEANING got any smaller.

    62 agree
  2. This is really interesting! The other day my husband mentioned how excited he was to be able to play Santa once we have children, and we too "recieve" gifts from our dogs and Santa. And I did love that part of Christmas when I was younger. Of course, I had much younger siblings so it was extra enjoyable to go along with Santa for their sake. To this day, my mom waits until we are all asleep (my husband and I stay the night on Christmas Eve) to stuff our stockings, and that is my favorite part fo the gift exchange!

    On the other hand, my younger sister was devasted when she found out Santa was not real. I mean earth-shatteringly devestated. And to this day she tells my mom that she felt like she was lied to, so I guess I can see both sides of the issue. I can't wait to hear more about how others handle this!

    5 agree
    • I still spend the night at my mom's house Christmas Eve so "Santa" still knows where to find me. My mom never told me that Santa wasn't real…we continued the tradition even though I had reached the age that I knew she was the one behind Santa; we both just chose not to mention to the other what we both knew…she enjoys leaving presents under the tree, and I enjoy waking up on Christmas morning with a feeling of wonder and excitement even though I'm 30, and I can't wait to have kids and do the same for them 🙂

      8 agree
    • My dutch mama still tells the story of her mom putting coal in her shoe, and instantly KNOWING Sinterklaas wasn't real. She apparently walked up to her mother and asked "how old will I be when you tell me god isn't real?" We were never told one way or another, when we asked about realities my mom would smile mischeviously and say "we'll see.." or "what do YOU think?" 😉

      2 agree
  3. we've chosen to go with the tradition of St. Nicholas, which also happens to fit with our religious tradition. That story is different than Santa in that, as Jennifer B. mentioned above, there is no pretense that he is alive. Of course there is some "mystery" in that what is told to small children is that somehow after Nicholas died the gifts kept coming. I like the "somehow" because it leaves it open to their intepretation.

    The other thing I love about the St. Nicholas tradition is that the gift giving isn't conditional. Nicholas, according to one telling, gave gifts to children to honor the Christ Child in all children. So, the intrinsic goodness in every child regardless of his or her behavior. No chance of coal.

    And there are lots of more mature legends about St. Nicholas for kids to grow into.

    15 agree
    • My parents did something similar to this. My mom was all about putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas", so on Christmas, we got three presents from Baby Jesus, and had a birthday cake and sang happy birthday to Jesus as well. We opened our stockings on December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas. There was still kind of a "Santa Claus" belief going on, but I figured it out when I was seven and was not at all upset.

      Even now that my brother and I are adults, my parents still don't put the presents or the stockings out until the day of. This keeps the childhood magic alive even though we know Santa isn't real – we're left in suspense and we still act like little kids on Christmas, running downstairs to open the presents that just appeared under the tree.

      • The only problem I have with the putting the Christ back into Christmas is that the bible doesn't say that he was born on that date and aludes (but never specificly mentions) to a day in spetember. The early Roman catholic church chose Dec. 25 to commemerate Jesus's Birthday because it was already a celebrated holiday in Pagan religions, soon after the winter solstice dec 25th is one of the first days long enough to recognize that the days are getting longer again. The Roman Catholic church simply adopted the holiday (something they did many times)I love Christmas and not for arbitrary dates but I love the mythology surrounding it I vote for telling all the stories that surround Christmas, they are fantastic and magical (and alot of our american traditions are adopted from the early dutch settlers) all on their own with out imaginary Santa, or putting the christ back in Christmas

        5 agree
        • I guess I don't understand why this is a "problem"…Christians celebrate the holiday season because of Christ. Regardless of whether or not it's historically accurate, it is the reason for the Christmas season in the eyes of Christian, so why would it be a "problem" for them to celebrate Christ?

          I agree that it's great idea to teach your kids many different Christmas stories/traditions, and even other cultural holidays, but it shouldn't be a "problem" to celebrate Christ if that's what you choose as a family…

          Sorry if that came off as rude (really don't mean it to be!), just wondering what you meant by that.

          2 agree
          • I think you are right, there is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus if that is what you believe. What does get under my skin is all of the hoopla about the "War on Christmas". Mostly because historically speaking, what we are celebrating is a pagan ritual, which has been co-opted by Christianity and other religions/cultures. The great thing about Christmas is it can be both spiritual and secular. Huzzah for X-Mas!

            9 agree
          • Mistie, I agree with you…I am a Christian, and while I certainly appreciate what the "Christmas Season" means to me personally, I also appreciate the fun, secular aspect of it and understand that the holiday season doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. Which is why I don't go around reminding people that Christmas only exists because of Christ…because it doesn't.

            I agree about the "war on Christmas". I go to a small church and everyone is fairly liberal (I know, non-judgemental Christians who don't want to shove their beliefs down your throat…amazing!). At an activity last night, some of the women's moms were SHOCKED when I told them that we celebrated a "Krampus" party at work as a joke for a holiday party. Even more shocking to them was the fact that I was not offended that I was being "forced" to celebrate other people's holidays. While it can sometimes feel like people attack Christmas/Christians more than say, Jewish people celebrating their beliefs, I think it's related to the fact that often Christians are the ones complaining the loudest if they don't get what they want.

            4 agree
  4. “I like to believe that while other children are living in wonderment over all of these fictional characters, that my children are living in wonderment over how big our galaxy is, and how much is out there that we really do not know about. About how life is formed, and how life ends. My children have plenty of magical experiences, and the best part about theirs is that they are real!”

    This is a good quote, but I'm willing to bet you can accomplish both. My children believe in Santa. I have no issue with this. We also sit outside on starry nights and talk about the galaxy, we watch the ocean crash on the shore and talk about the power of the sea. In other words, magic for children can stem from both the real and the imaginary and I think both have their role in helping them grow, learn and find wonder in the world around them.

    1 agrees
  5. Whilst I like to keep the magick alive for my children at the moment ( they are 4 weeks & 8 years )I plan to share this poem with them as they get older…

    The Childs' Wonder

    "Daddy", she said, her eyes full of tears,
    "will you talk to me and quiet my fears?
    Those bad boys at school are spreading a lie
    'bout the impossibilty of reindeer that fly.
    There's no Santa Claus, they say with a grin
    there's not one now and there has never been.
    How can one man take all of those toys
    to thousands of girls and boys?
    But I told them Daddy, that they were not right,
    that I would come home and find out tonight.
    Mama said wait until you come home.
    Please tell me now that I was not wrong."
    Her Daddy looked at her questioning face
    and puffed his pipe while his fratic mind raced.
    He had put this off as long as he could,
    he had to think fast and it better be good.
    Whispering a prayer, he began with a smile,
    "Remember at circle how we learned to pray,
    asking the Goddess to take care of us each day?
    And you know how we say a prayer before each meal?
    To this same Goddess whom we know to be real.
    Though we never see her, we know she is there
    watching her children with such loving care."
    "The Goddess started Yule a long time ago
    when she gave us herself to love and to know.
    A spirit of giving came with that gift,
    and her generosity filled the whole earth.
    Man had to name this spirit of giving
    just as he names all things that are living."
    "The name Santa Claus came to someone's mind
    problably the best name of any to find.
    There is, you can see, and I think quite clear
    Truly a Santa who visits each year.
    A spirit like the Goddess, whom we never see,
    She enters the hearts of your mother and me."
    "Each year at Yule for one special night
    we become him and make everything right.
    But the REAL spirit of Yule is in you and in me
    and I hope that you are old enough now to see
    that as we believe and continue to give,
    our friend Santa Claus will continue to live."
    ~Author Unknown~

    20 agree
    • I love this poem. We were told about Santa, and I'll tell my kids about him the same way. That Santa is the Spirit of Chirstmas, of giving and generosity. As an analytical child, it was a fun mystery to solve, and as an adult, my favorite kind of giving is the anonymous "Santa" style giving. It's more fun to give just for the sake of seeing their joy, not for credit for the year's "best present." I never felt lied to, and neither did my brother. We all have so many parts to us, why not a Santa part?

      6 agree
    • This poem has definitely inspired me. I don't have a child yet, but this is how I'll be handling the Santa issue. Thank you so much for posting it!

  6. I have four children ages 11, 8, 5 and 4….from as early as I could remember I made a choice not to lie to my children about anything …and this included Santa Claus , Tooth Fairy ,etc….we celebrate the holidays and they also know they can trade their teeth for a gold dollar after it falls out and Mummy and Dad will save the tooth in a special tooth box.
    Santa was a hard on only in the fact in making sure that they did not spoil othe rchildren's Christmas with piping up at the ripe old age of three " Look its Santa…but he isn't real" giggle, giggle " It is just a man in a costume " Ouch imagine the dirty looks I received at the mall that day. So we tell them the story of "St. Nicholas" and then we tell them that some people tell their children that Santa Claus is real etc…Our children are happy , have exceptionally great holidays and the two oldest are adamant that they will never lie to their children about anything either one day.

    6 agree
    • This is pretty much exactly what my parents did. They never lied and were honest about the fact that there is no Santa and that the presents at Christmas came from people that loved us. I vividly remember the discussion of "Grandma really likes the idea of Santa, so just play along with it because it makes her really happy."

      My dad has a good sense of humor, so he handled "who gives us presents besides Santa" differently. For as long as I can remember, our presents came from popular culture icons, authors, actors, occasional serial killers and other headline-grabbers. Everyone from Elvis to Cartman has sent us presents!

      15 agree
  7. My parents were in the same mind-set of not lying to their children. And I don't have any kids but can give you the perspective of a child who never believed in Santa Claus. I think we knew that other kids believe in some mythical Santa, but Santa was really Mom and Dad. I remember my little brother still leaving out that oats and glitter whatever it was concoction that his preschool sent home with him for Santa's reindeer. Beleive me, kids will be creative and have imagination and wonder whether you fuel it with imaginary figures or not.

    I'm not sure if my parents told us not to ruin it for other kids .. but I do remember telling someone in my third grade class that Santa wasn't real. (But isn't that a little old to be believing in Santa anyway?) Yeah my vote would be don't lie to your kids … they will appreciate your honesty later in life.

    1 agrees
    • This is very close to what I was going to say. My parents also felt strongly that lies – even Santa lies – were unacceptable. I am so grateful to them for that! I loved Christmas growing up (still do!) and never needed Santa to enjoy it.

      I have always wondered how Santa families deal with the question of like charity toy drives etc. Wouldn't the children conclude that Santa doesn't care about poor children? And what about Jewish children?

      I will say that it irritated me to no end as an older kid to see my friends bamboozled by the lies. I tried so hard to convince them of the truth ("seriously? Flying REINDEER?! And a fat man comes down your CHIMNEY?") I remember being actually upset and distraught that my friends were being lied to, and I couldn't believe that they actually believes these patently absurd things. For what it's worth, though, no one ever seemed to come 'round to my point of view, heh. (later I had the exact same experience as a teenager arguing for atheism against fundie teens on the Internet, before I realized how much of a waste of time that was.)

      Aaaaanyway, obviously I don't plan on lying to my children either, but I WILL try to give him more tact!!

      3 agree
      • Haha, I hated being lied to about Santa and even now hate it. But I wanted to comment to say that I had the same kind of experience, expect I was a "fundie teen" arguing against atheism, "before I realized how much of a waste of time that was."


        2 agree
    • Same in our house! We got gifts "from Santa", but they were under the tree well before Christmas eve, and we also got presents from our kitty cats. We left out cookies and milk, but we knew it was "just play" like when we built a couch fort or a fairy house. Kids have a wonderful ability to live in two worlds at once, and I don't think we have to lie to them and tell them that their fantasy world is really real to foster their creativity and imagination.

      5 agree
    • Another non-believer here – my mother felt very strongly about not lying to us, so we always knew that Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were all good ol' Mom and Dad.

      My mother told us that Santa was a game that people play, but different families play it differently. I think that was to quell me going around and telling everyone THE TRUTH ABOUT SANTA DUN DUN DUN

      We celebrated St. Nicholas too (a throwback to my Dutch ancestral roots) and we would leave a carrot out for his horse. When we awoke to a chewed on carrot, I remember trying to figure out how it got chewed – did they give it to the dog, or did Dad actually nibble on it? 😉

      I plan on doing the same with my kids.

      3 agree
  8. I never told my daughter that there was a Santa. And all of her presents came from Santa Mom. And the wonder of Santa was just as real to her as any other kid. I also told her that other kids thought he was real and to just go along and let them believe.

    2 agree
  9. We strongly believe in fairies, leprechauns and all things super-natural in my house, so it's only natural to incorporate Santa Claus and The ToothFairy. I've never been one for the Easter Bunny so that never became an issue.

    She recently came to me with what kids are telling her at school (that it's really your parents) and even though I wanted to make the fairytale stay alive – I asked her what she WANTED to believe. This thought completely overwhelmed her to the point of tears and after telling her that once you open Pandora's box you can never go back, she decided she really wanted to know.

    I explained to her that although it is the parents that I believe there was a man and his spirit lives on through the parents.

    11 agree
    • I remember the Christmas where I listened to my parents walking up and down the stairs. And I cried knowing with absolute certainty that he wasn't real and I couldn't deny it any longer. And then I thought, well, why not? Why couldn't I believe anyway? So once my parents went to sleep I snuck out and put tinsel on all the trees so that, for a brief moment, my parents might wonder if Santa had really come after all.

      Of course, I grew up with "Yes Virginia" ( memorized. When I was little I took it as affirmation that Santa was real. As I grew up I realized it actually meant that he was real as long as I made him real. It's a great piece.

      8 agree
  10. I am loving these comments – my daughter is 2 so now at the age where she can actually realize Christmas is taking place. I know this year she will just have a blast tearing paper and getting new toys, but it's time to start deciding HOW to handle Santa Claus. My husband and I have already decided to not lie and say Santa exists, but I want to know how to handle it in a way where she still enjoys the spirit and magic of the season.

    Growing up, my parents never pushed the whole Santa thing, they would mention it, but obviously wink and nudge each other so we knew they didn't believe, but it gave us the opportunity to think *maybe* it could be true. Gifts showed up wrapped under the tree as soon as they were bought and would come from Santa, the dog, the ghost of our dead cat, the car, the kitchen table. Got really creative with them. We all laughed when my dad who was a terrible speller had a gift come from "Sanka" and we still use that on gifts to this day.

    I HAVE to share a family tradition that was awesome growing up – my mom would fill our stockings and put them at the foot of our bed once we were asleep. Then if we woke at the crack of dawn we could open those little presents, run to each other's rooms to play and share and let my parents sleep in a while longer. TOTALLY continuing this tradition with my daughter – great way to get some Zzzzs and still have children excited about the day!

    3 agree
    • I am really interested to know what sort of gift the ghost of a dead cat gives!! hahaha
      My dad always signed his gift tags DAD in huge big letters… now we all write his gift tags out to him as "to DAD love so-and-so". And those are the things you REALLY remember, right??

      1 agrees
    • that is so funny and so perfectly perfect! i love that idea… we do that now with the family as grown ups… i look forward to joking around with my brothers and sister at christmas like that. sometimes we wrap up random things around the house like a fork or caulk and give it to each other. it is fun and always brings lots of laughs. sounds like a great way to grow up… with a sense of humor. maybe when my kids are older and the belief in santa is gone (be awhile yet, my youngest is 1!), we will do that!

    • We had the same rule at our house. We could open our stocking and play with whatever was in it but had to wait for our dad to wake up. Of course they rethought what they put in our stocking after the year they gave us slinkies (there bedroom door was right at the stop of the stairs.)

      I have a 5 year-old step-daughter and pregnant with my first child. I would definitely love to not lie about Santa but I just don't know if it would be something my step-daughters mother would like but also I don't know if it would work to have the soon to be child know the truth but not their sister…very confusing.

    • We did that too!! We were allowed to wake our parents up until 6am, so usually for about 2 hours before all 5 of us kids were on each others beds swapping things from our stockings, eating lollies and trying to guess what presents we would have.

      It was always one of my favourite memories of chrismas days.

  11. I completely agree with not filling our child's brain with myths that will only disappoint them once they find out the truth. We have never had our 3-year-old believe in Santa. This year he's been extra curious, so we let him talk to Santa at the mall, but explained to him that Santa is a metaphor for (like you said) goodwill. We're also not religious, so we've explained to him that Christmas isn't about material things (unlike what the TV tells us), but it IS about gifts – the extra special, meaningful kind, not the ones that cost hundreds of dollars. He doesn't quite get all of it just yet, but I think he gets the gist of it. Santa, in our house, is akin to a cartoon character. Fun to watch, but not real.

    Kudos to you being mindful of both NOT lying to your child from the start, while also teaching them that real magic is everywhere in our world!

    6 agree
    • We felt great about not lying early in our kids lives, then I fell apart. I watched them WANT to believe because all the kids at school believed. But it was kind of late to backpedal. I know it sounds silly but I have huge amounts of guilt for not making it magic… partly because I know I would have been great at it. My youngest will be 7.5 next year and I still feel an air of anxiety during the holidays over it all. I would go back in a second and tell them as toddlers it was real.

      1 agrees
  12. I love the wonder of Santa, and I think it's great fun. I think the joy and fun we will have as a family will outweigh the final discovery. My daughter is very bright and probably doesn't believe in him anyway, but like I did, she plays along very nicely.

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  13. I grew up believing in Santa and once I found out that the commercialized version of Santa did not exist, my parents sat me down with the St. Nicholas story that I was very familiar with. They explained to me that those children had children and wanted them to feel the same love and excitement that St. Nicholas gave them. So they continued the tradition. In other words, Santa lives with in the parents. And by believing in "Santa" you receive the joy of gifts and magic. Going to bed with a Christmas tree bare underneath and wake up with presents and a full stocking. They also explained to me how "Santa" gives the parents the best present of all, the gift of seeing your children glow with excitement of all what "Santa" brought them.

    This scenario made me feel like I wasn't being lied to but was being a part of something, a tradition. My brother is 14 years younger than me and we continue with him once he discovered there was no Santa. Last year when he saw my son (3 at the time) be excited about his gift and how "Santa" made him feel, my brother said he believed. The belief is in the tradition and what it brings and not in the Man.

  14. I love this topic. My parents actually never had me believe in Santa Clause. I knew that they were the ones who gave us presents because in my family we opened presents on Christmas Eve, and never celebrated Christmas Day (we're latin american).

    But when I was in elementary school and learned that other kids actually believed in him, I got jealous. I wanted to beleive in him too. So my mom played along and started pretending that Santa Clause existed and made a big deal about opening presents on Christmas Day. My little sister grew up believing in him. And then I started to get jealous that she had the expereince that I didn't and that my mom was going out of her way to make it special for her. So one year, I spilled the beans to my sister that there was never a Santa Clause. To this day she says how cruel that was, and I still feel pretty bad that I did that.

    I like the idea of Santa Clause being a metaphor or a cartoon carachter, kind of like Frosty the Snowman.

  15. I was raised that Santa was a fun game people play. That it is a symbol of giving for the Holidays. I was also told that some parents and children like to pretend the game is real for a while. I don't remember ever ruining it for any kids and I really respect my Mom for telling me the truth.

    My family is Pagan now, so we don't celebrate Christmas, but rather celebrate Yule. We still give gifts for Yule and we have each gift come from a different god or goddess or even fun character. The name of the gift giver is a clue to the gift (one year, there was a Backyardigans Pirate ship tub toy and it was from "A scurvy pirate). Gift certificates to go out and do fun things are often from Baccheus (the good old party god). We talk about who the person is and the myth of that person before the gift is opened. As far as I can tell, the kids love it. They know that the stories of the gods and goddesses are myths just like Jesus and Santa are myths. I LOVE doing it this way.

    3 agree
  16. I have four children and never told them the Santa lies. They have still always had vivid imaginations. I don't think that excluding the Santa myths diminishes the Chrismas experience. I think it just makes it different.

    1 agrees
  17. I plan on telling my hypothetical children that Christmas is a time when even grown-ups get to have an imaginary friend, and that that imaginary friend is Santa Claus. That way they'll be in on the fun, but they'll know it's make-believe.

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  18. i don't get it. we have no idea what is beyond our galaxy. some people believe that there are other planets out there and aliens. we have no proof that god and the bible existed. there are a million different religions out there will different beliefs. we have no proof that what is said in history actually happened. we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. people believe in things every day that we have no idea if they are real or solid or not. how do you draw the line? how do you not lie to your children about those things? do we really know why stars are there? do we really know how we were created? or why? really, how do you draw the line when information is constantly changing, developing, and redirecting? if you say something to your child one day and the next day someone finds it wrong, were you lying?? i don't really get it. i think the whole point in santa is to convey that magic can exist and that there is the gift of giving. maybe tell them that they can be santa and give them chances to give to other people. tell them santa is the magic of bringing other people miracles and it is up to us to bring them… have them cook a meal for homeless people, have them donate mittens to kids that need warmth… i understand what they are saying, don't get me wrong. but there is wonder in make believe too. if we didn't have make believe there would be so many things lost and uncreated. telephones were the product of imagination and believing in things that didn't exist.

    10 agree
    • I think you are right. We need imagination. But I also think that science is a process, as is invention. Bell invented the telephone because he was trying to find a fix for his partially deaf daughter. He was a scientist. He used facts to guide him, and when his experiments did not lead to a hearing aid, he had an imagination that allowed him to take it in a different direction. However, I don't think important discoveries are made because people did/did not believe in Santa Claus. I think there has to be a way to foster imagination while satisfying parents' individual sense of what is lying and what is imagination and make believe.

      5 agree
    • I personally draw the line at what you believe and what you don’t believe.

      If you believe something today and it turns out to be incorrect, I don’t think you lied. But if you tell someone something that you know or believe to be untrue, I consider that to be lying, regardless of the subject matter.

      If you know/believe that Santa Claus is not real but then tell or encourage your children to think that he is, how can that be anything other than a lie?

      I like Santa as a symbol of good and giving, I just don’t see why children have to believe he is a *real person* with *real magical powers* to benefit from the character.

      I think the wonder in make believe is *knowing* that it is make believe. Imagination is such a wonderful thing but I don’t think teaching them about fictional characters as reality is necessary to have an amazing imagination. Children can play princesses and dragons without believing that they are in fact those things.

      3 agree
      • I'm with you here. It's fun to pretend. It's magical to pretend. That we know we're pretending doesn't make it less so.

        'Course, I grew up in Florida where there was no chimney much less snow, so maybe it was harder for me to believe it than other kids.

        1 agrees
        • Ha! I grew up in FL, too, and remember the same thing: our parents had to come up with so many alterations to the Santa story to make it fit in a the swamp that it became pretty obvious pretty early. But I also remember that I was happy to live in that middle space for a long time, where I knew that the commercialized Santa didn't exist, but the idea of him and the whole North Pole universe was still magical.

  19. I think that believing or not does not make or break a childhood. But i know that i loved believing in Santa and figured out on my own he wasnt real before my mom said anything to me. But i had a younger brother and played along for his sake. i wasnt upset or traumitized and neither was my brother when he found out. We believe in our house, but i will also tell my children about Jesus and St. Nicholas, that way they know the true meaning, while still believing in some magic. I still love, to this day, to watch Christmas movies, like The Polar Express, and pretend for a little while its all real. its soooo magical and fun!!

    3 agree
  20. I am having a hard time with this very issue. I have two sons and I have always told them "age-appropriate truths" such as where babies come from etc. The Santa thing was something that just sort of happened. It was fun. When our oldest was around 3 we started to notice that he took things way too seriously…he would cry uncontrollably about his grandfather who died before he was born, he would flip out if we mentioned a time when he would be older and move away from us. This grew until he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Now he is 7 years old and believes in Santa SO strongly that I am seriously worried about what will happen when he finds out the truth. When he found out dragons weren't real he was so upset. My husband and I have decided that we will tell him the truth after Christmas this year….but I still worry.

    • my son has autism. this year he over heard me talking on the phone about how i could not afford to get a certain gift for one of the kids. he asked me if there really was santa. i said there wasn't. he is 11. there will come a time when your son accepts it in his own time on his own. it will come. i would not try to convince him otherwise, you will just upset him. he will figure it out on his own when he is ready. i have learned that with kids with autism, things come at their own pace and it maybe slower than other people, but it does come.

      1 agrees
  21. I'm struggling with the Santa thing big time. Like waking up in the middle of the night panic (I'm pregnant and a little crazy right now). I never believed in Santa and feel that my parents holding so fast to the lie made me mistrust them and ultimately school and all authority. But even though I never believed, I was still really loved our "Santa walks" where on Christmas Eve my dad would take us for a walk and he'd point out airplanes in the sky and say they were Santa.

    I'm thinking I'll probably read a lot to my kid and present Santa as just another story. They can tell the difference between real people and characters in stories, and still enjoy the stories. The problem is going to be dealing with all the in-laws who are going to want to push Santa as real.

    • It’s not worth it! Trying to be truthful when even the weather man and songs on radio proclaim magic to be real is too stressful. I came to hate Christmas after I gave into the internal pressure that I couldn’t tell a lie. My youngest is about to be 7 and I still feel depressed at Christmas because I have tried to backtrack and BELIEVE but he was already on edge about not wanting to be fooled. Also it’s noticable to him that his brother isn’t into it. So whereas I stayed up at night I’ll over lying when they were toddlers, the regret of not just giving in and having fun is way worse

  22. There's a difference between instilling a sense of wonder and magic in your children and lying to them. My daughter is nearly three, and this year, when she saw something on t.v. about Santa, she started telling me his story. I looked her in the eye, and told her, "isn't that a nice story? But it's not real. It's just something that we, as a culture, like to pretend about." Although I don't want her to ruin things for others, I believe it's important for her to voice her own beliefs–she shouldn't be rude to children about their beliefs in Santa or Jesus, but she shouldn't have to hide her decision to not believe in either. I want my daughter to understand that believing in facts and science, doesn't have to detract from wonder.

    The other problem I have with Santa is all of the children who don't receive tidings of good cheer and lots of presents on Christmas Day. What does that do for their sense of wonderment and magic?

    1 agrees
  23. I grew up believing in Santa Claus. I don't actually remember at what point I stopped believing in him, because I have a ton of younger siblings so I always played along for them. I know by 5th grade I was helping my parents set out the presents after Midnight Mass. It wasn't something I ever talked about with my parents and siblings, but then, we're Irish Catholic and never talked about anything. Which worked out much better for Santa Claus than it did for say, sex.

    Anyway, I'm 30 years old, and to this day Santa Claus brings the presents on Christmas Day.

    6 agree
    • "Which worked out much better for Santa Claus than it did for say, sex."

      This made me laugh riotously. Thank you.

      7 agree
  24. we don't do santa. we don't ban him either. we watch movies and read books that have santa in them. my kids just know that he doesn't actually come to our house and leave gifts. for the first few years it was easy, we just didn't mention it. to them, it was just another holiday decoration. but as family members and friends started mentioning it, they asked me about it.

    i told them that it was just a nice story, and that some parents liked to pretend to be santa and give gifts. just like they liked to pretend to be a princess or a ninja. i said that i although i didn't pretend to be santa, they would get just as many gifts either way. we also talked about our other tradtions and how it's a time to spend with loved ones.

    when they got to school age, i reminded them how some parents pretend and so there would be kids who think it is real and they should just let them be cuz they would figure it out on their own.

    3 agree
  25. oh and i just wanted to mention that i had several reason for doing this. i just didn't feel comfortable forcing them to believe something that wasn't real. i'm all about imagination, but this seemed different. also, it's already so commercialized, i didn't think there needed to be any more focus gifts. we limit the number of gifts each year and they always get clothes and books as two gifts. besides we are on the poor end and work hard for the things we get them, i wanted them to know that.

    2 agree
    • Thank you for mentioning this. I always feel slightly guilty for saying that I want my kids to know that I picked thegifts out, or that I paid for them, that I work hard for that money, and I chose to buy them gifts with it… It makes me feel like I'm being selfish for wanting the credit. But in reality, I want them to know that I know them well, that I listen when they mention things they want and love. And more importantly, I want them to learn how to be appropriately grateful and gracious when they receive things. I think I'm the only kids I ever knew who wrote thank you notes to Santa in January.

  26. I grew up with Saint Nicholas–who by the way brought presents on 5 Dec. And your family gave you presents on the last day of Christmas–6 Jan. I was taught that Saint Nicholas was just as "real" and "alive" as any of the other saints who lined by grandmother's icon stand and there was a definite understanding of a story that pointed to a deeper truth. While I have not always agreed with the Greek Orthodox Church one of the things about my religous upbring that I am very thankful for is that I grew up in a tradition that realised that "truth" and "fact" could be two separate things. I think what sometimes gets mixed up here is the difference between "true" and "factual". There are a lot of unfactual stories that point to larger truths–and Santa might just be one of those. Generosity, kindess, love–these things are the truest in the world– and a story that reflects and shares these values with people through generations is a bit more than "just a story" don't you think?

    3 agree
  27. "Both our families for example (and most of our friends for that matter) strongly feel that kids need to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to enjoy a happy and fulfilling childhood"

    Growing up Jewish in a very not Jewish place, imagine how my sister and I felt?! We of course didnt believe in Santa yet everyone in school did. I remember in 2nd grade dropping the bomb that the Easter Bunny isnt real. Oops. I didnt do it on purpose, I honestly didnt realize that kids really BELIEVED it. I always thought it was just another fantastic yarn that shows up in books. I remember my teacher was NOT pleased.

    So, that being said- for someone who grew up with no Santa whatsoever, I dont think the Santa thing is really that big of a deal? I think kids are really smart and most realize at some point that Santa is more of an idea than a reality. I know I always kind of hoped Santa would come to my house when I was little, but I also totally got that it was part of someone else's celebration. I love the idea of Santa and I plan on telling my kid about him as a way to teach generosity.

    2 agree
  28. When I was little, I never really believed in Santa, but I still had fun pretending he was real. I liked setting out cookies and milk. I knew my parents or grandparents would eat them, but it was still a fun tradition. When I had my daughter, we kept the same traditions going. She never really believed either. She's 16 now and we still leave one or two unwrapped presents out for her that are from "Santa". It's all in fun. My son is 1 this year, so he doesn't really know what's going on, but we'll keep the same traditions when he's old enough to understand. Not forcing him to believe that Santa is real, but letting him decide for himself and keeping the fun and magic of the season going.

    1 agrees
  29. Ugh, I am so frustrated by this very thing! I really see and kind of agree with both sides. I don't want to lie to her, don't want her to be disappointed, but also think the tradition is fun. I think maybe I'll just stay out of it and let what happens happen. If my husband or family want to do it, let them, and when she asks me about it I'll tell her the truth.

  30. I believed in Santa when I was a kid. I remember getting impatient for Christmas one year, and looking up the chimney in October hoping that Santa might be early. But my belief naturally faded as I got a little older and learned to reason. I never had one of those epiphany moments of "OMG he's not real?!?!?!!!!" By the time I was in 1st grade I knew Santa wasn't real, and I think my mom knew I knew, but didn't want to spoil it for me just in case. Come Christmas morning I realized she wasn't putting her all into the charade anymore and called her on it saying, "Mommy, look! Santa uses the same wrapping paper we do!" She got this momentarily stunned look on her face and the burst out laughing and something like "Ok, so we can stop pretending now?" I hope that my kids will have a similar slow and painless disillusionment!

    1 agrees
  31. My daughter is going to be 4 in a week. She also has a little brother who is 1 1/2 this year. I have said from the begining that I would never lie, even about Santa.This year the propoganda of Santa finally clicked in her little head and she began saying "mabey santa will bring this" or "when does Santa come" I don't feel it is appropriate to sit her down at the slightest mention of Santa and lay the truth upon her. But I know she has been in the room with me more than once while I'm on the Phone or talking to her father and heard me give away that we are Santa. The day she comes up and asks "is there a santa" I will sit her down and explain to her about the tradition of Santa and the meaning of goodwill behind the idea. but until then a simple "mabey Santa will bring it for you" can get you through a trip to the store much faster! use it while you can

    1 agrees
  32. I think that any child with an unselfish heart will not bother feeling lied to, but rather appreciate the fact that their parents were doing FAR more for them on Christmas than they ever knew.

    • Really? As a child, my parents were my world, and the very concept that they would lie was foreign. Kids like to believe that Mom and Dad are unfailing. Discovering that they'd both been lying was devastating to me…not to mention it threw significant doubt on the other magical being who lives in the sky and keeps an eye on boys and girls (Jesus/God).

      I was always appreciative when Mom and Dad gave me presents, and I loved whatever they got me. I just hated being lied to, however noble/socially-acceptable the reasons.

      2 agree
  33. My partner and I grew up with different Santa experiences. In my family, it's this glorious, magical, important thing, and when we were old enough and asked our parents about it, my siblings and I were told something along the lines of, yes, the parents put the gifts out, but the important thing about Santa is the spirit of giving and the wonder & magic.

    My partner grew up in a partially atheistic, partially Jewish household, where they basically celebrate Christmas, and Santa was never much more than a wink-and-a-nod kind of thing.

    Now, I'm pretty agnostic, and he's a staunch atheist. We have a child on the way. Initially, he was really resistant to the idea of perpetuating the Santa myth. But I've been looking forward to playing Santa since I discovered he wasn't real! Then we found this idea on the Meming of Life blog (about atheist parenting):

    I think this is ultimately along the lines of what'll work best for us — give a bit of magic, use it as an opportunity to practice analytical thinking skills.

    2 agree
  34. I like the idea of Santa, but I don't think I will encourage it. I really liked the idea of using the story of St. Nicholas though. Instead of Santa, we will focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas which is the birth of Christ and the events surrounding his birth.

  35. Hah, I guess my parents, or more specificially, my dad, ruined all of those things for me. I should preface this with the fact that my parents are both atheists but never intentionally tried to push their non-beliefs on me.

    When I came home crying from day care at 3 because some kid in my class told me I was going to hell for not believing in Jesus or God, my dad told me that "God" was a metaphor for good… Which, after he explained what a metaphor was I promptly replied with "There is no God, is there?" to which my dad replied "I personally don't believe there is."

    We had a similar situation with Santa not very long after that- maybe 2 months later- where we were walking down the streets of Manhattan seeing a different salvation army "Santa" on each corner. I asked him which one was the REAL Santa. He said "They're ALL the real Santa!" to which I replied "There is no real Santa, is there?" to which he said no.

    He never lied to me about his beliefs but he never straight out said that these things never existed. He gave me an idea of what he believed in the most sensitive way he knew how and I was just quick enough at a young age to see through his sugar coating.

    And I wouldn't have had it any other way.

    4 agree
  36. I don't know if any of you were young enough, but I remember a movie called "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" that played every year on Cartoon Network. Based off this book and followed the plot exceptionally well for an animted version of a book.

    It reminds me of what a lot of you are saying and could be a good transitional place for those of you who want to get across about him being a real person and spreading the joy of Christmas.
    (Now I'm trying to figure out where to get the movie itself from for my kids someday.)

    1 agrees
    • I loved this film too and the book. I think you can get the film on Amazon in the US, but I'm still looking for it in the UK. Thanks for mentioning this lesser known holiday film.

  37. I love the story of Santa Claus, and the story of St. Nicholas. As infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and even into their early elementary years I am more than happy to have Santa Claus and St. Nicholas as both a figure that they can believe in and as the spirit of the season.

    When they get to the point where they are questioning, I plan on telling them that St. Nicholas was a real figure, and that Santa Claus is the spiritual embodiment that lives within all of us of St. Nicholas. So that while we personify it when they are little, it is so that they are easier to understand the idea.At that point I want to ask my older kids to help "Santa" get ready for christmas, and help the younger kids with the Christmas stockings and that. I just hope that none of them have a hard time accepting the spirit of the season instead of the physical man, and that they don't feel betrayed 🙁

    1 agrees
  38. over the course of a few years i came across more and more evidence disproving the existence of santa, including the "why did santa use our wrapping paper" (the answer was possibly that he wraps the presents at each person's house). when i was 8 i hadn't made a christmas wish list for santa and realized it very late. so on christmas eve after i was put to bed i wrote a letter to santa and put it in my empty stocking. i knew that if i got the things on the list, there was a santa and if i didn't then it was just my parents. i didn't want to stop believing, but i knew that i couldn't keep believing in something i knew was a lie. i was pretty upset because as i mentioned, it was a belief that i had clung to for a long time, but i never mentioned it to my parents because i thought they would be upset with me for not believing (just like i still haven't told them that i don't believe in god and starting at age 4/5 i believed that the bible was just stories/myths/metaphors). i wasn't really angry at my parents for lying to me, but i felt like they pushed their beliefs on me and didn't allow me the freedom to develop my own.

    2 agree
  39. I have seen both sides, as I grew up with multiple close friends who were never really introduced to the concept of Santa Claus. All of my friends who did believe have stories of when they found out the truth ranging from "Whatever" (me) to painfully traumatic. My friends who didn't believe in Santa Claus don't see what the big deal is… and I sort of like that.

    Granted, Christmas for my family is based on a religious background, and we already don't celebrate it on December 25th. Adding one more oddball thing (eliminating the Santa part of Christmas) doesn't seem to strange after you are already the "crazy family" lol!

  40. I read a really good atheism blog piece about the same question. The author was teaching his son to question what was being told to him, and when the boy was about 8 years old, he asked his dad if Santa was real. The dad said, "What do YOU think?" The boy was quiet for a while and then replied, "I think it's a nice story, but he isn't real." The dad just said, "That's a perfectly good answer."

    I think we can pretend with our kids in this regard, but when questions like that come up, we use it as an opportunity to help them think critically. They will come up with their own answers, rather than those we or society have spoon-fed to them.

    I'm a staunch atheist, but I want to honor my daughter's right to decide by explaining things like, "This is what I believe, and this is what other people believe. You will get to decide for yourself–let me know if you have questions that I can help with, and if I can't tell you the answer, I'll help you find someone who can."

    I think in this way you can honor both your own belief system and that of your child, recognizing that they may end up being different, but both are okay.

    2 agree
  41. I grew out of santa because of the way my parents represented him,
    Early on they said that santa gets presents for those that the youngest and when we get older we get less and less from santa…but more and more from our parents. best way in my opinion and I do believe I will doing with my children.

  42. When I was 10, right before Christmas, my parents made a BIG deal about taking me out for a movie and dinner at a nice place, without my younger brother (which never EVER happened). They even let me order dessert! During my chocolate cake, they very gently told me that Santa wasn't real, but a wonderful thing that children are lucky to be able to believe in. And now that I was old enough to know, it was my responsibility to 'become' Santa for someone younger to believe in. They let me pick a younger relative and when she wrote to Santa that year, I got to respond to her. I picked out a present to give her, as Santa. I already 'knew' that Santa wasn't real, but being included in making Christmas fun for another younger child was really a wonderful experience.

    However, my parents have still not told my 12 year old sister. I think she would literally die. Most kids kind of stop believing on their own, but she still wholeheartedly WANTS it to be real, she gets very upset if anyone says otherwise.

    1 agrees
  43. Like many others here, my parents told us about St. Nicholas and how the tradition of Santa and gift giving happened. Then they said that for this reason we pretend Santa comes and is real, and that it's fun to pretend. And I was a kid so pretending wasn't a stretch. Kids pretend all kinds of stuff all the time! It didn't ruin any magic – I got to imagine and make-believe and enjoy the magical idea of Santa, while having respect for its origins and meaning. And as you grow older, like all other pretend games, you just stop pretending Santa bit by bit every year. No trauma, no realization you've been lied to – you just gradually mature into a different way of participating in Christmas.
    As for telling other kids… When you're really little you ruin it for YOURSELF too if you tell others and talk about it! That isn't how the game works, so you don't do it. And as you get older, and you notice the difference between yourself and the kids who still believe, you've already established a respect both for the concept in general and for the fact that your maturity has been trusted to not tell. I think it even works to foster a more thoughtful, respectful, and tolerant attitude towards others.

    1 agrees
  44. Thanks so much for all the comments. I found them very helpful in exploring different ways of approaching this.

    I really love the idea a few people have said of making Santa a game, explaining that its fun to pretend and that every household plays the game differently.

    I think playing pretend comes naturally to children so it shouldnt be too confusing, but it also means they wouldnt spoil the "game" for other children.

    And most importantly I still get to have gifts under the tree from Santa and the dogs and pretend (which I love) without feeling like I'm lying.

  45. I would just like to add that I grew up in a house with Santa, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. I was also raised in a house where we went to church and I believed in Jesus. When I found out that Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were all lies I assumed Jesus was too. At 8 I was then terrified the my parents could not be trusted and that anything could be a lie.

    I feel a little differently now but the fear and anguish I experienced about Santa and Jesus being "fake" will keep me from telling my children Santa is real.

    • I'm agnostic and wont be raising our children in any particular faith but after finding out that Santa wasn't real I did feel like I had been lied to and that you obviously couldn't trust adults to tell you the truth.

      It didnt give me a better imagination, it just gave me a general sense of distrust and if anything, took away the magic of christmas that it took a long time to get back.

      I don't want my kids to ever feel like they cant trust me.

      1 agrees
  46. I'm pretty sure I always knew that Santa was made up no matter how many adults tried to make out that he was real, and I don't remember finding it upsetting. I don't know if my own child will be like this, but I had no problems with the idea of "Santa doesn't really exist but its fun to pretend he does". After all, I played imagination games all day long, so there was no issue with an imagination game around Christmas. Do kids really need to believe that something is true in order to have fun joining in pretending that it might be true?

    The thing that I do remember being upset about is my mum telling me I came from a "twinkling star" (she continued to use that line up until I was 13, even though when I was 5 I informed her that I'd learnt the mechanics on the playground). I can imagine if I was a kid told that I came from my mother's tummy I would still have questions about how I got there, and sooner or later as I parent I expect I would just get out a book with illustrations … though I suspect by then my child would have figured out google and we would just look it up on the internet together (since if I was them, I would look it up in my own time on the internet if my parents didn't explain it, so they may as well look it up while I'm there) (I did a quick google search on "where do babies come from" and there weren't any "dodgy" results.

    In summary, while not all parents feel this is right (and fair enough, they know their kids far better than I do), I would give my kid more credit with what I think they can handle (remembering what I was like at each of those ages).

    1 agrees
  47. I grew up in a house that believed in Santa and the Easter Bunny. And I have to say, it was wonderful!

    There was something magical about Christmas as a kid, when we would set out sugar cookies and milk, hang our stockings and be all hyper about Santa coming. Then all of us (I have two sisters), would climb into one bed and giggle about when Santa would be coming. And in the morning, rush downstairs to see big sooty bootprints coming out of the fireplace (we had a real chimney and fireplace), and walking across the rug and floor (I can't believe my mom let my dad do that for so many years…I'm surprised she got it out every time). We'd all scream and laugh, and run around in our nightgowns. There's also something very wonderful, when your youngest sister has to make an ER visit on Christmas Eve, and when she comes home, in spite of having a bad flu and ear infection, she's got the biggest smile on her face and her eyes are all lit up because she saw Santa and his reindeer flying through the sky.

    Then one day, I just knew Santa wasn't real. I think I just figured it out (strange how Santa's writing looks like my mom's and the wrapping paper is the same). My parents never told me otherwise, I think they just knew it would happen eventually, and if I was upset or had questions, they were there. I never cried or was upset. My younger sister did get upset, but maybe for like…an hour. Since then, we've all moved out. We are 22, 24 and 28, and we all still celebrate Santa. We still get gifts from him. And thank him when we open our gifts.

    To us, I think Santa is more about the spirit of Christmas, and the bonds we have as a family, than he is being some magical being.

    I never thought of Santa as a lie. But as a symbol. And I'm grateful to my parents for giving me such a rich childhood filled with wonder and excitement at Christmas. I will be continuing the same traditions because of those reasons.

    4 agree
  48. My daughter is too young for Santa this christmas, and I hope to explain to her, next year, that St. Nicholas was a generous man who put money in the socks of poor brides, and that Santa is a spirit of generosity.

    HOWEVER, I am certain I do NOT want to do what my aunt did with my cousin, which was to lord the threat of no presents over my cousin ( who was a brat, admittedly) ALL YEAR ROUND. So we would be splashing in the pool and we would hear a holler from the porch, "YOU KIDS BETTER NOT SPLASH OR YOU WONT GET PRESENTS FROM SANTA" In the middle of June. It totally put out the message that doing the right thing is only worthwhile if there are material items on the line, and I do NOT want that for my kids at all.

    1 agrees
    • That is so funny I just spit my wine out. We've been noticing ourselves that Christmas may as well be the Holiday of External Motivation… all these songs singing about how good behavior=toys.

  49. My parents were very honest with me when it came to Santa Claus and other fictional characters. My mom had been totally devastated when she found out her parents had lied to her for so long and made her into a fool, so my parents decided not to lie to their children about it. I still had a very rich fantasy life and I played pretend all the time, but unlike the other kids my age I knew Santa was pretend too. That didn't make me appreciate the holidays any less, but it did make me feel very proud that my parents would trust me with the big secret – I was told not to tell other little kids since it would upset them. I have always been very happy that honesty was so important to them and I don't feel like I missed out on anything.

  50. I was a precocious child and worked out the truth behind the Santa mythos at a very young age. I informed my father that Santa wasn't real at four, to which he apparently told me to keep up the act and not tell my mother, because she still believed in Santa and it would hurt her feelings. In the swearing on this father-daughter secret, Dad both stopped himself from lying to me further and found a way to prevent me ruining Santa for other children. (because I wanted as few people to know as possible in case my mother heard!) Now as an adult, I believe my father may have gently encouraged the development of my early disbelief in the Jolly Red Man, to let me make my own decisions about the world around me with as few words as possible.

    1 agrees
  51. I personally think people make too much of a big deal about "lying" to your kids.

    It won't negatively effect them either way. I have 3 siblings and we were all raised on Santa. Being a dramatic child, I remember opening a gift from Santa (some were from my parents), looking up, and whispering "Thank you, Santa." It was the most wonderful time of my young life; my most cherished memories.

    My younger brother is 12 now, and though I am sure he is aware that Santa is a myth, we still talk about what Santa will give us and make cookies for him.

    My point is, it's YOUR job as a parent to do whatever you can to make cherished memories for your children and there's no harm in using a personified myth to bring some magic into it. There's also no harm in choosing not to.

    4 agree
  52. I grew up in a very traditional Christian home where we celebrated the birth of Jesus (we used to make birthday cakes for baby Jesus). When I was three my mom, baby brother and I were out shopping and I saw one of the mall Santas. I immediately got excited about Frosty the snowman (who was helping Santa) and loudly asked "Who's the guy with the beard?" My mom says that she has never gotten more dirty looks from other parents. Another time I announced that the large, bearded man was 'Mister Noah' (you know, the guy who built the giant boat in Genesis?), once again my mom got snide comments and dirty looks from other parents.
    I don't plan on raising my kids to believe in Santa, but if you do then that's fine with me. My problem is with people who expect everyone to believe the exact same thing and judge you if you don't.

    2 agree
  53. Some of us just choose never to grow up either 🙂 My brother and I (33 and almost 29 respectively) still, to this day, insist that Santa is real to all and sundry, spend much of christmas eve running outside declaring we can hear reindeer bells, watch the norad santa tracker and generally behave like 5 year olds about the whole thing.

    My entire family loves christmas (our partners think our whole family is nuts, but love the crazy ride), for us, my family, christmas has never had any religious significance, so the day is about santa and gifts and family and fun! We all play the game to the extreme. For us christmas is a game, a brilliant, wonderful, crazy game for the family.

    Yeah, we grew up knowing santa was real, there was never any big reveal, we worked it all out organically I think, same for the easter egg bunny (which wasn't as crazy a day, although…), but the magic and joy is still there for us as adults.

    2 agree
  54. Santa is a really great excuse to teach your children some rational thought. Think about it, even if your parents were adamant that Santa was real, you likely still don't believe it. Instead of playing along with Santa and then when your kids ask saying "No, he's not real" or lying to continue the myth, ask them, "Some people believe it works this way, does that sound right to you?" and letting them slowly work it out themselves.

    The Meming of Life has a really great post on how the Santa myth can teach your kids to think for themselves:

  55. I am of the mind that I don't want our child to believe in Santa. After all, we're not believing in Jesus, so why should we say Santa is real? I was raised not ever believing in Santa Claus. I don't remember how my Mother started it with us but I don't feel like I missed out on anything at all. We still enjoyed Santa stories, we watched Santa movies, we even sat in Santa's lap and enjoyed all those activities. We didn't have to believe he was real to enjoy the spirit behind it.

  56. I think that, as an avid reader and generally fantasy-loving kid, I had the same relationship with Santa as I did with characters in books or on TV: I knew at some level that they were fictional but still loved the idea of them, and so left them in an "undecided until proven" box in my heart. I had a four sisters, too, and for me it was fun to have this pretend world with my family, sort of like participating in a mystery theatre. For that time of year, we were all part of this fantasy, and it didn't matter if it was real as long as we were all playing together.

    4 agree
  57. Even though my parents are Christian they'd tell us Santa is real. Every Christmas morning we'd hang our stockings and Santa would fill them up and leave one single present for each of us under our stockings. We were allowed to go through the stocking and open "Santa's" present before our parents were up. This one year I "wrote a letter" to Santa, asking him for something very specific, and I got something similar but it was a smaller version of what I wanted.

    That's when I found out he wasn't real, because Santa would /never/ get something smaller then what I asked for, because he was magical and stuff, right? I went along with it for a few more years though, cause that meant opening one present in the morning, plus I had younger siblings who still belived in Santa.

  58. Being raised Catholic, my parents wanted the christmas holiday to be surrounded by family and to celebrate the birth of Jesus when my older brother was born. They spent the first several years giving holiday gifts and focusing on the "true" meaning of Christmas. Then one day my brother came home from school and told them about Santa and informed them that he brought presents. They realized they couldn't really go on without addressing both sides of the story. When I was born 8 years later we grew up talking about Santa and Jesus, respectively.

    Now that I'm part of an off beat blended family – I can say that it was so much fun to get christmas presents for the kids last year and have them know what Santa brought. I think joy and wonderment is important. I also think the true stories of St Nicholas are important and helpful too.

  59. There's a place in one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books where Laura understands that there's no way that one man can go everywhere in one night to deliver presents. Instead, she says Santa Claus is the embodiment of love and generosity. At Christmas, when EVERYONE is thinking of others and being unselfish then Santa Claus BECOMES real and exists everywhere as WE ALL become Santa Claus.

    I thought that was kind of beautiful, and I think I might tell my kids something along those lines one day.

    2 agree
  60. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!

    Sure, I figured out that my parents were leaving my presents under the tree, but I never felt any resentment about it. They (and Santa!) taught me the great importance in choosing to believe in the unbelieveable. I'm newly pregnant, and I can't wait to show my baby just how magical the world can be, if looked at with the right perspective. There are enough rational people out there. I'd love for him to be a dreamer.

    3 agree
  61. My parents said: Santa isn't real. Don't tell the other kids because it will make them and their parents sad. It was not more complicated than that.

    1 agrees
  62. I grew up with parents like you — they felt similarly to you, and didn't want to lie to us (brothers and I), even if for fun. And Christmas was still full of wonder and joy, because we knew the gifts were all from our parents who loved us. It didn't stunt me (I'm capable of being imaginative, and I am capable of awe and wonder).

    My husband grew up being taught Santa, but it was clear in his family from an early age that it was really just his parents. I know he wants to do Santa when we have kids.

    And I'm okay with that too. I think we'll probably go the route my parents did with the tooth fairy: be very facetious and make it clear that it's really mom putting the quarter under the pillow, but we'll call her the tooth fairy. We'll goof that my husband is Santa, but we'll also make it clear that we are pretending, and that Santa isn't real.

    But mostly I wanted to chime in as a child who never was told to believe in Santa: I turned out just fine.

    2 agree
  63. I think reading the "Yes, Virginia" article is a perfect way to explain Santa. He is a spirit- just like the spirit of charity or the spirit of freedom – and he lives in each and every one of us who believes. It's not a lie to tell kids that there are some things in our life that we cannot explain- like how you cannot explain why you love your children so much, you just do. If we try to break everything down with science and fact, we forget that no matter how much we learn, there will always be something we cannot explain or fully understand. I think Santa is also a wonderful representation of reciprocity and goodwill: if you are good, good things will come to you. "Be good for goodness's sake"
    Here's a link to the "Yes, Virginia" article:

  64. This is such an interesting topic. You always have people telling your wrong no matter what you decide to do lol.
    My husband and I also decided we weren't going to lie to our children about the whole santa thing.
    We have a 20 month old son and a little girl due any day. We decided to teach them about who St Nicholas really was and how santa clause
    is how our culture remembers such a wonderful man. We decided to teach them that the whole north pole and flying around the world thing
    is pretend, but there is nothing wrong with pretending. I don't think that means we are robbing the magic of Christmas.
    We will still fill the stockings on Christmas eve and the kids will still come down stairs to gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.
    The only real difference is that they will know where the gifts came from. I'm excited for this, we are starting this year with our son.
    Some people might say that they are missing out, but I will feel better knowing I didn't lie to my child for years. Besides, why do I want my kids giving santa all the credit for my hard work? =)

  65. It worked for me:

    I put presents under the tree from "Santa" ever since my daughter was an infant. However, when she first asked me who "Santa" was, (around age 2, I think), I said that he was a symbol of generosity. This dovetailed nicely with what I'd been teaching her about the religious/spiritual side of Christmas. As she got older, she asked more pointed questions, and at about age 4 I went ahead and told her that Santa Claus was a figure that represented the spirit of giving that people feel around Christmastime. I said that parents tell their children that Santa Claus brings the gifts because it's tradition and because they want their children to believe in that spirit of giving…but that it was actually the parents who did the gift procurement. 🙂 I also explained to her that this was one of those things that she should discuss only with Mommy, because it was up to the other kids' parents to explain matters. I don't know how well that will stick, but we'll see.

  66. Thanks for this topic and discussion! I am hosting my niece this weekend and have been roped in to the Santa goings-on on her behalf. This suggestions here may also work in discussing religion with her as she is enrolled in a Catholic school. I do not want to disrespect my sister's upbringing efforts, but I also do not want to lie. Thanks, all!

  67. I find this whole thing distressing. The point of Santa and other "fictional characters" is not to let kids "live in wonderment." It's to let them believe in magic. And every child deserves that. I think to deprive them of it would be awful.
    Also, in my experience, small children find "real magic" like the vastness of the universe to be disturbing, rather than amazing.

    • Can you explain why you feel that kids need to believe in magic? And how believing in magic (which we know is not real) is beneficial to them? (Not to be argumentative at all, I just want to understand where that point of view is coming from).

      Personally my brothers, sisters and cousins loved learning about astronomy and science and the universe from a young age.

      1 agrees
    • This idea that a kid who doesn't believe in Santa is deprived is so common. I think it comes from the fact that adults who believed as children associate learning that Santa is a myth with an early loss of innocence, but if you never believed in Santa to begin with, you never had that to lose. A child's sense of wonder comes from paying attention, it seems to me, and seeing the world for the first time. They don't have to hear every big, terrifying thing about the universe to be awed; an anthill is "real magic" to a kid, mostly because a kid will pay attention to it.

  68. I was one of those kids who was devastated about learning the truth about Santa. I had a lot of traumatic experiences in my childhood and so when even Santa wasn't real, it made the world much scarier and more menacing.

    And yes, my mother did try the "he's a symbol of goodwill" thing on me, but he'd been represented as a real live person. Turning a real person into a symbol didn't work. If he'd been a metaphor from the beginning I think I'd have appreciated it more. I'd have understood the work she did in order for me to have a good Christmas because she'd have told me it was her from the start. I think that's a much better lesson to teach children than "if you don't behave you won't get presents". That's what I intend to do with my kids, when I eventually have them.

    (And no disrespect intended to those who love Santa. My heart broke when I found out he wasn't real, and I want to spare my kids from that. I never want to set my kids up for heartbreak, and that's what it would feel like I was doing because of my own experience.)

  69. My daughter is nearly 15, and I don't think I've ever actually told her that Santa isn't real. Then again, I'm not sure that I've ever told her that he is. When she was about 6, she told her dad that she knew Santa was just pretend, but, "Don't tell Mommy, I don't think she knows."
    We've since discussed, at some length and in a more general religious context, the difference between what we know to be true and what we believe to be true. Some people choose to believe in the Christ God, and some to believe in Odin, or Lugh, or Artemis, and their companion gods and goddesses. And who are we to say that it couldn't possibly be true? We operate on the understanding that Santa falls into this category for us – along with the likes of dragons and hobbits – we both choose to believe.

    Personally, I think I've had more joy from Santa as a parent than I ever did as a child. And I loved Santa as a child. The myth allows me to give without expectations. Santa gifts are a bonus, not an obligation. There's no Christmas magic, in my humble opinion, that could equal hearing your awe-struck child Christmas morning, "you'll never GUESS what Santa brought me!"

    1 agrees
  70. Me and my partner don't want to tell our children about santa, toothfairy, etc. I grew up never hearing these stories and I'm glad. My imagination wasn't stifled, i didn't grow up not believing in the unknown. I still believe in things that haven't been proven but i didn't need to be lied to for years from something my parents didn't "believe" existed. It's about having an open mind and showing your children anything is possible. I don't believe you have lie to do that. I look at it this way. You want your kids to be honest with you so how do you expect them to do that when for the first years of their life you lied to them..

  71. I was raised to know that Santa Claus was a story, in the same way that Cinderella is a story. My brother and sister-in-law plan to raise their children the same way. No deprivation of the magic of Christmas, but no nontruths either. I feel it worked well for me 🙂

  72. I am not recommending anyone tell this story to their children. I don't, but it is hilarious to me as an adult…. This is what my FH's father told him about Santa, the tooth fairy etc.. It is rather long though!

    I never really believed there was such a thing as an actual Tooth Fairy – the idea demanded a level of credulity too great for even the seven-year-old mind. There was talk around school as my classmates began to lose baby teeth: your Dad (or Mom if he wasn't available for some reason), would sneak into your room while you were sleeping and leave money in place of the tooth, which you must be sure to put under your pillow. He'd probably wake you up, but you were supposed to pretend to be asleep. I recognized the story at the time for what it was, a cultural tradition full of shared pretense and good humor, passed down with a nod and a wink from one generation to another.

    I was thus well-prepared as one of my front teeth began to come loose. Not wishing to reject the traditions of my society – indeed, relishing the things I could buy with the money I was sure to get – I carefully placed the thing under my pillow, and soon enough fell asleep.

    I awakened the next morning to find no money under my pillow. The tooth still rested there, where I had placed it. I stumbled into the kitchen with the tooth in the palm of my hand and there was my Dad, enjoying one of his curious breakfasts. I was a bit diffident, thinking perhaps my friends had deceived me, or that this was not the tradition of our family, just everyone else's. I was reluctant to demand to know where was my money lest I shame this wonderful man who was otherwise a source of constant delight. I set the tooth carefully beside my place at the table, got my cereal, and sat down.

    Dad studiously ignored me for a moment, then seemed to notice me for the first time. A stern look flickered over his face. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a dollar, which he extended across the table toward me. "Here," he said, "This is yours. I'm afraid the Tooth Fairy failed in her duties last night, and I had to track her down, and beat this out of her."

    Dad never did talk to me or my brother and sister as if we were children. His discourse everywhere and with every audience was always the same. He talked to us in the same terms, using the same words, as he used with the learned colleagues in his mysterious job at the university. He didn't seem to much care whether we understood what he said, or whether we addressed him in similar adult language, but we all found ourselves aping his style from an early age.

    "I don't understand," I said. "Isn't the Tooth Fairy supposed to sneak in at night and trade money for your tooth?"

    "Well, yes, she is," he answered, "but something you have to know about the Tooth Fairy is that she's a drunk."

    "How could the Tooth Fairy be a drunk?" I asked.

    "Oh, I'm sure she has some excuse," he answered. "She has problems like everyone, and maybe they cause her to drink too much. But when it comes down to it I suspect she just likes beer. Anyway, she drinks, and lately she's been drinking when she should be doing her job. It's an international scandal – everyone complains about it. Congressman Grimm's Subcommittee on Fairy Tales and Children's Literature is looking into it.

    "When she didn't show up last night, I knew what had happened: she was down at Bobby's Broadway Bar, spending all that tooth money on beer after beer . . . and I decided it was time to do something about it. Other people might let their children be deprived of their rightful wealth, but not mine! So I went down there and sure enough, there she was, three sheets to the wind. She didn't want to give me the money, but after I slapped her around a bit and threatened to call the cops, she finally gave in."

    Bobby's Broadway Bar really was a place, although by the time I was grown it had ceased to exist. It was one of those dives down on Vine Street before the Civic Center consumed the center of town, with a police car permanently parked out front, ready to collect the perpetrators of the nightly brawl. For us it developed a unique significance as our childhood mythology unfolded, becoming a mysterious and exotic place where notables of the family mythology hung out when they should have been engaged in the serious business of fulfilling childhood fantasies. But this was the first I'd ever heard of it.

    I don't know if my Dad just made up the story on the spot to obfuscate his own dereliction of duty, or if he had been crafting this story for some time. Every encounter with him always had a quality of spontaneity, but everyone around him knew he had a rich inner life. Sometimes I think his real business in life was creating a personal mythology and drawing others into it, just for sport. Much of it had an extemporaneous quality, and sometimes I think he was just glibly spewing fantastic ideas to see where they led. But at seven I was too young to think of such things, and I was tickled. I started giggling, he smiled, and that was the end of it.

    Every family is of course part of the larger culture, but it also has its own particular traditions, shared experiences that forge the identity of the clan. Most I suppose involve Christmas with the grandparents or Saturdays at the beach, or something of the like. We had those experiences too, but they had little to do with our family identity. Instead, the experiences that formed our sense of identity involved the evolutionary elaboration of a shared mythology that was more than a bit mad and always entertaining. My Dad's sister, once I was grown, remarked to me that the problem for me and my siblings was that we had grown up inside a Marx Brothers movie. It fit, but I had trouble seeing why it was a problem. Aunt Sally never did have much of a sense of humor.

    I learned soon enough not to voice the family culture to my playmates. Mostly the family mythology brought incomprehension, but sometimes – particularly when some adult got into the act – I found myself confronted with shock, or even hostility. The reaction seemed to be related to the salience of the particular icon in the culture at large. Someone might find the idea of the Tooth Fairy as a drunk curious or even mildly amusing, but the notion that she spent most of her evenings carousing with Santa Claus was clearly, to the minds of other children and their parents, an aberration of some seriousness. I guess you had to be there to get the joke.

    After a few adventures with uncomprehending or hostile playmates and their parents, I ceased to share the family mythos with outsiders. Dad didn't seem to care one way or the other: he floated these aberrations in the family culture to accomplish whatever purpose he had in mind at the moment, and where they went after that was of little interest to him. Aunt Sally had a comment on that too: "You'd think a man with children would care at least a little what people think. But your Dad never has cared for anyone's thoughts but his own, not even when it cost him."

    Maybe Aunt Sally was right, but after many years of thought I have come to a different conclusion. Dad was otherwise a realist in just about everything, sometimes rational to the point of self-immolation. For him, I think, myths were too important to be treated as real. He didn't think it appropriate to muddy the facts, and thought to do so was a lie. But myths could be altered at will, giving you an opportunity to create an escape from the unrelieved bleakness of reality.

    I guess that explains the family take on Santa Claus. Mom was from a fairly conventional family, full of Christmas good cheer every year, ready to bamboozle her children into believing in the jolly old elf. Dad on the other hand had grown up in a Fundamentalist household where any secularization of the True Faith was anathematized as heretical, and belief in Santa qualified as one of the worst examples of secular misappropriation of Christian symbolism. Dad had long-since abandoned his childhood faith, becoming a Methodist, but having never believed in Santa, he saw no reason why his children should either. At least not the Santa presented by the popular culture. Dad won out for no reason other than his refusal to support Mom – or anyone else – when they fostered the conventional Santa myth. She wanted to act as if Santa really existed: Dad insisted Santa was just one of those fictional creatures, like the Tooth Fairy, who are fair game for invention.

    I believed in Santa Claus very briefly, until Dad disabused me of the notion. It began with Santa's curious habit of coming down the chimney: when I mentioned this to Dad, he snorted. "How could anyone do that?" He demanded. "Come down the chimney? Have you ever seen a picture of Santa? As fat as he is, if he tried to come down our chimney, he'd get stuck. Then we'd have to call the Fire Department, and if he was very lucky he'd get rescued before he roasted to death. And what about people with no chimney? Does he come through that little hose in the heat pump unit?

    "No, son," he went on, "Santa doesn't come down the chimney. He comes through a hole in my pocket."

    This seemed as unlikely – perhaps even less likely – as Santa coming down the chimney. After all, narrow as it might be, a chimney is considerably bigger than a pocket. But of course, a challenge to one of Dad's stories was just an opportunity to widen the myth. When I mentioned my misgivings, he stared at me for a long moment, then slowly turned his pocket inside-out. "See?" he said. "There's no money there. Santa comes through the hole in my pocket and takes my money. Then he goes down to Bobby's Broadway Bar."

    Now I got it. "And drinks with the Tooth Fairy!" I shrieked, delighted to be able to participate in the family madness.

    "Exactly," he answered. "But before he goes, he leaves a big pile of useless junk under the tree, some of which takes hours to assemble." Then with a sigh he said, "You know, Santa is not a nice man at all."

    Just once as a child I told that story to a friend. I was dumb enough to do it in front of my third-grade teacher, who promptly took me aside and cautioned me in the strongest terms to keep such ideas to myself. When I told her my Dad had told me the story, she just shook her head. "Not everyone has parents like yours," she said. I don't think she meant it as a compliment – my third-grade teacher, like Aunt Sally, had no sense of humor.

    The curious thing is that what scandalizes small children and the adults who serve them may delight the adult mind, unfettered by the need to maintain cultural standards of childhood belief. I next told that story to a group of college friends, over beers a few days before the beginning of Christmas break. They were thunderstruck. "Your old man told you that?" One of them demanded. "Come on, now, tell the truth."

    "It's true," I asserted. Then I related the tale of the Tooth Fairy. They sat in silence for a while, then one of them said the one word, "Cool." Then silence for a while longer, and the laughter began, at first as a series of giggles, then loud guffaws. When the laughter ended, they began to tell stories, with laughter and not a little sadness, of how they had been disabused of the existence of Santa Claus. And I realized that Dad had presented us with a gift most children are never given, entry into a world of adult humor that somehow enriched rather than restricted childhood – and avoided the greatest common betrayal most American children experience.

    I have to credit my future father in law since I just copied his story for you. Mr. Terry Hibpshman 🙂

    1 agrees
  73. I have a one year old daughter and I fear this exact thing. I would like to make the choice not to lie to my child, but with the cultural beliefs it will be hard. This is what I have decided to do, but I can't promise that it will work well:
    Depending on my daughter's maturity level I intend to ignore the topic this year and next year. Surely she will hear about santa claus, but I don't intend to perpetuate the lie. I will have to wait and see if she will be ready when she is 3 or 4, but each year we "adopt" a family for the holiday. At the point that she will understand, I will have her help me pick out gifts for the family. I'll explain that some people believe in santa claus, and some ARE santa claus. We are a santa claus. We help to buy presents for people who don't have a lot . But the trick is that no one knows who is santa claus and who believes in santa claus, so we have to be very careful about who we talk to it about. You can talk to your family, but you can't talk to other people about it. Will this work? I don't know. She will probably be THAT kid who tells all of the kids in kindergarten that there is no santa. but hopefully I will be able to teach her not to.

    1 agrees

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