November 24, 2009

When Should You Reveal the Truth About Santa Claus to Your Kids?

Mary writes:
I've been reading your blog for a while now and I think you may be just the person to help me with this question. My oldest is 7 and in 2nd grade. Last year this little s*^t (I mean precious little girl) in my son's class told everyone that there is no Santa. When she said that, in first grade, my son spoke up and said that there is one, he eats breakfast with him every year. (St. Nick's breakfast event) Anyway, I think over the past year the conversation has come up again and he has said to me, in front of our other children, that he knows that Santa, or The Tooth Fairy, or sometimes it's The Easter Bunny, etc... is really your parents. I try to quiet him when he brings it up and try to convince him otherwise because I feel like this is just WAY too young for him to not believe and it makes me very sad.

Here's my dilemma. Do I keep what I'm doing and risk that each time he brings it up, it puts thoughts into my 6 year old kindergartner, and their 3 younger sisters that cause them all to not believe at an early age. The benefit of this is maybe 7 year old will come around, maybe he's really not ready to let go of the beliefs but just trying to see how we react, so we keep him believing for just one more year. OR, do we take him aside, explain it all and tell him to Shut the F up already in front of the others(of course we would never say it that way). The sad part of this is we lose his innocence and wonder at Christmas. The good side is we can shelter the others from giving this up too soon.

SO..... if all that made sense, what would you do?

We weren't sure, as our firstborn approached the age when he could understand the Santa Claus myth, if we were going to introduce it or not: Paul grew up believing in Santa Claus, but my parents told me right away that it wasn't true (a minister and a Christian school teacher? they don't want to confuse children about the supernatural). I was instructed never---NEVER---to reveal this to other children (because you can't tell which kids still believe), and I didn't.

We started out telling Preschooler Rob about Santa Claus, but he is the sort of child who had better be a successful rich lawyer who gives his parents cruises for Christmas when he grows up or all this arguing is going to be even more annoying. He was immediately skeptical, and he was THREE. We lacked the strength of conviction, so we fumbled through a few questions about how Santa can get to all the houses in one night and then both of us were like, screw this. It was WAY too much work and we felt so foolish pretending to believe it. Also, we didn't like the idea that later we'd have to say, "Surprise! We've been totally lying to you for YEARS! That guy you love so much doesn't even EXIST! Merry Christmas!" We've instructed the kids very, very firmly to NEVER tell other children---even the fifth-grader gets reminded each year, just in case. They are wide-eyed about this sacred duty to protect others.

So, clearly, the Santa Claus story didn't work out at our house and I have no good answers. Does this mean I won't offer my baseless advice anyway? Of course not! I'm giving you all this background info, though, to demonstrate clearly that it would be better to give more weight to the advice of commenters who DO have actual experience with this.

It sounds to me as if your second grader already DOES know it's not true, and he is looking for your parental confirmation that he correctly understands the situation. Since he IS correct, and since his unconfirmed understanding is causing wobbles in the story for the rest of the family, I would vote for your plan of taking him aside, revealing the truth, and asking him to play along and not reveal what he knows to the others (or to kids at school).

If you think he may still WANT to believe, you could say to him tenderly and with a Significant Tone of Voice, "Do you really want me to tell you?" He may think it over and decide he WOULD rather participate in the belief for another year (and therefore stop questioning it in front of his siblings), but without you having to actively lie to a child who's asking to be told the truth---which is where I worry that the Santa Claus thing could start causing actual trust issues.

Now. Would some of you who know what you're talking about please take over?

63 comments:

bessieviola said...

I remember when I realized the truth. I told my older sister that I thought maybe Santa wasn't real, and she immediately bellowed for my mom, who seemed crushed by this news and I immediately felt badly for figuring it out.

In any case, Mom took me aside and explained that yes, it was a story, but that now I could help spread the magic for other kids and essentially "take on" the role of Santa along with her, my dad, and my older sister. From then on I got to come out of bed on Christmas Eve and help Mom stuff my younger sisters' stockings (she wrapped everything, so I never knew what was coming for them either).

I haven't decided what to do with my daughter yet; she's not quite 2 so I have time. Still, I'm looking forward to the comments!

Clare said...

My son (5) wants to believe in Santa, but I am uncomfortable perpetuating it, mostly because I dislike the commercialism associated with Santa Claus. (for religious reasons, but more for environmental/non-materialistic ones) I don't tell him that Santa isn't real, unless he asks me point blank, and then I do explain that Santa is based on St. Nick and tell him the story of the Bishop bringing treats for people who couldn't afford to buy them. In our house, St. Nick brings the stocking stuffers just like in the story of St. Nick. Mom and Dad do the big stuff.

If I may refer to another excellent advice column, askmoxie.org had a wonderful discussion about this a year or two ago. What I really liked in that discussion was how many parents incorporated their older children into the myth and magic of Santa -- they were totally in on the secret, but understood that Santa is the concept of love and generosity, and didn't burst the bubble of their younger siblings. And this still preserves the wonder of Christmas, I think.

Shelly said...

I never had a problem with the whole Santa/ Easter Bunny thing, but my hubby did. My parents did pretend, I did find out somewhere along the way that it wasn't real. No big whoop. Apparently, when my hubby found out he was devastated that his parents had lied to him. It was VERY important to him that we not lie to our children. So what we told our daughter when she was old enough for Santa was that Santa wasn't real, but that it was a fun game that we all play. That way, when the grandparents (and other adults) asked her about Santa, she could participate, but we did not lie to her. So far, it has worked out well.

Mel said...

I was just asked if the tooth fairy is real the other day by my eight year old. I asked her why she was asking which of course was due to what the kids had been saying in school.

So I asked her what she thought. She pondered it for a moment, started to answer, then stopped and said "I want to beleive".

She will be 9 in 2 short weeks and I will continue to let her decide what to believe and let the discussion on the topic go the spirit of each character in question. As well as the joy that comes from the spirit of giving.

MoMMY said...

I'm going to throw my 2 cents in here. Not sure if it will help anyone. I have 4 boys ranging from 14 - 9. The party line in our house has always been, "Santa only brings to those who believe." I have never said either way. I just repeat that mantra. You'd think that we'd be done with all of this by now but I think my youngest may still be participating in the "wanting to believe" aspect of Santa. And this very bright 9 y/o in 4th grade still believes in the tooth fairy. I'm sure if he thought about it he wouldn't but where is the fun in that?

Amanda said...

I went through this last year (son was in 2nd). I decided that once he's asking questions, there's no good reason to continue to lie to him. I explained all about how parents love to pretend to be Santa because it's a lovely story and makes Christmas special. I told him that he was being told a grown-up secret and that he was never ever permitted to tell another child (especially his sister who still believed), that it was THEIR parents' decision on whether to tell them or not and ruining it for another family would break their hearts. He assured me he'd never tell. Then I had to throw in a little heavy hand as he wouldn't mind breaking his sister's heart, and threatened that he'd get no presents if he revealed the truth to her. That it was MY job. We did great. This year when my youngest (now first grade) told me that parents are Santa and I shot an evil eye to my oldest, he shook his head furiously as if to say "I didn't TELL". ;-)

All this to say, I think you should tell him and let him in on the secret and give him the responsibility of keeping the magic alive for his siblings!

Fran said...

With our kids (ages 2, 6 & 9) we tell them this when they ask: "Well, if you believe in Santa he brings you gifts and if you don't believe in Santa he doesn't bring you gifts. You still get gifts from Mommy, Daddy and everyone else, but your Santa gift is usually pretty special. So you decide what you want to believe." We have told them the basis for Santa (St. Nick) and we watch all the Christmas themed movies and cartoons. So far this has worked out very well with our kids. When I was about 10, I overheard my mom telling my grandma about how hard it was to find my "santa" gift that year; that's how I found out. But I never said anything to my parents about it. To me it was like, okay there's no fat guy coming down my chimney, but my parents (who were very poor) always had gifts for us and we were warm and well fed and together so maybe that is what the spirit of Santa Claus does for people. Obviously kids today know that he doesn't make the toys, but maybe, just maybe he helps your parents find them?

Anonymous said...

We tell our boys, "Those who believe, recieve!"

Emily WK said...

Okay, take this with a grain of salt as I was raised without Christmas (religious reasons) and do not have kids and don't plan to tell them that Santa is real in the first place.

How old does a kid need to be before they can understand the point of it?

That is -- can't you tell your kids things about how Santa is a symbol of the holiday, and little kids believe in him because it's fun to believe in a little magic sometimes. And the real magic is that we all love each other and want to be together. Like, a kid who can get that could pick a present for his parents and mark it as "From Santa Claus" to learn how everybody plays their part in keeping this magic alive.

or something. That was kind of a hippie dippie answer.

Erica said...

Seeing as my daughter is only three, I can't tell you how we're going to handle the "Is There Really A Santa" issue. However, I can tell you how it went down when I was a kid.

Santa always brought me presents. When I was old enough to realize that Santa's handwriting on the gift tags was the same as my mom's, I figured out that there wasn't really a Santa. My mom told me that Santa couldn't possibly get gifts to all the kids in the world, so he asked parents to help out. I was supposed to tell him what I wanted (in the form of a letter) and he would tell my parents whether or not I had been good and what presents I wanted.

I believed for another couple of years, but by then it was an ingrained family tradition. Santa still brought presents for me and my parents up until my mom's last Christmas.

He doesn't come anymore and I had to admit that I miss him.

Brooke said...

Well, my stepkids ruined this for my daughter. Their mom is too lazy to even keep up a pretense, so she told them. I didn't try to convince my daughter otherwise, I took the Polar Express approach. I told her if she didn't believe, well, I guess Santa wouldn't bring a present. She professes every year to believe in Santa, with a wink and a smile. I know she will take great joy in passing on the tradition of Santa to her half brother, who is one and a half now.

I did read another cool approach on an "I refuse to lie to my children by teaching them that there is a Santa" site, and this woman said she tells her kids that Santa/St. Nick are wonderful ideas and we should all be Santa. We should find ways to give to others during the holiday season and be examples of charity and good cheer. This is a lesson no child is ever too young or too old to learn.

Happy holidays!

Lawyerish said...

Well, I thought I was going to have such a clever, insightful comment but almost everyone else has already basically said what I was going to say!

But I'll say it anyway.

Some jerk in third grade went around telling everyone that Santa Claus wasn't real, but at the time I had enough conviction to hold fast to my beliefs anyway (I also used to go around insisting to other kids that unicorns were real, so...).

Nevertheless, a couple of years later I started waffling (undoubtedly because some OTHER jerk was mocking people for still believing in Santa), so my mom took me aside and explained that Santa is not a man who flies around in a sleigh and comes down the chimney, per se, but rather is a spirit and a magical feeling around Christmas that we can all keep alive no matter what. It was a good sell, and we continued to do stockings (but without the letters and so forth) for many years.

I am sure she must have had the same talk with my older brother years before, and in doing so convinced him to keep the magic alive for me as long as I believed. He gamely played along with the setting cookies out and the writing letters on Christmas Eve well into junior high (I'm four years younger), and I'd like to think it was fun for him to play that role even as he became a more cynical teenager.

Party of 5 said...

My 3 year old son is skeptical and it breaks my heart. My guess is next year he will really question and his believing in Santa will come to an end. I think we'll tell him that if he chooses to not believe in Santa that's ok but believing in the spirit of Christmas is not a choice. We'll explain what that means. He's a smartie, he'll get it. Sorry I have no advice. I'll be dealing with it soon, too. It sucks.

Anonymous said...

There's a big difference between "lying" to your children and letting them believe in the fantasy and magic that is Santa. I want them to believe as long as possible because there is nothing in this world like tucking your child in their beds on Christmas Eve wondering if those are sleigh bells you just heard. My almost 9-year-old has figured it out, but is smart enough to play along for the sake of her younger siblings.

Jess said...

OK. I don't know what I'm talking about in that I don't have kids. But I think you're right. If he's skeptical, and questioning, I think he's telling you that he IS ready to hear the truth. And honestly I don't think that seven is that young to figure it out. I kind of think it's weird when kids a whole lot older than that still believe in Santa. Personally I figured it out when I was five. And I have no regrets about that. There will still be lots of innocence and wonder at Christmas even when he knows there's no Santa, you know?

Misty said...

We believe in Santa at our house. My eldest has been getting to the point where he has been asking and I rely on the old standby, "What do YOU think?" And then we discuss his ideas, but I let him come to his own conclusions. But I have told him that if he decides to no longer believe, then he is not to tell his brother or any other children, out of respect for their beliefs.

This is probably an easier discussion in my household because we encourage critical thinking and the 'making up of one's own mind' regarding things-you-can-not-see. And the respect of other people who do not think as you do. I actually feel like this is a rare attribute.

And I personally always like Ma Ingalls' idea about Santa Claus. So when I am asked, I say I do believe in Santa. I believe in a good and wonderful spirit of giving during the holidays and that when anyone is generous, that is Santa Claus.

The end. :)

d e v a n said...

I like Misty's answer. :)

Gina said...

I used to use the "What do YOU think?" reply, and when he was ready, he went from "I think he's real" to "I really want to know the truth."

Miss Grace said...

I believed in Santa, no joke, until I was 10. And ONLY LAST YEAR I found out that my parents told my older sister that Santa wasn't real when she asked in kindergarten, but told her she should never ever ever ruin it for other kids.

The main reason I believed in Santa for so long? I was sure if he wasn't real my sister would have ruined it for me all ready.

Jen said...

Last year my son (the most innocent 9 year old on the planet) asked me if Santa was real. I asked him what he thought about it and he said he still wanted to believe he was real. I told him some people think Santa is a symbol of giving and kindness and of the Christmas spirit and that I still believed in that kind of Santa so he was allowed to believe as long as he wanted to. (We're a non-religious household so this didn't conflict with any religious reasoning for Christmas.) It seemed to go over ok because this year he informed me that he still believed in "the symbol of Santa who brings you presents".

Becky said...

I don't have kids (yet), but to this day my family is a "if you don't believe he doesn't come" family. And my youngest sister is 21.

My grandpa has some great stories about Christmas and Santa when he was younger - they would all be praying on Christmas Eve at home, and suddenly the door would open and all kinds of fruit and nuts and stuff would come rolling in, but no one was there. And my mom still insists that she's seen sleigh tracks in the sky on Christmas Eve.
All this being said, obviously every family is different, and you need to do what you think is best for your kids. :)

Annika said...

I don't have the slightest clue what I'm talking about, but I really like this story: http://balancingeverything.com/2008/12/14/yes-virginia-there-is-a-santa-claus/ (Be warned: I am enormously pregnant and re-reading that post made me sob.)

Mandy said...

Sadly, I was the kid who ruined it for others. I don't think I ever believed in Santa, and I remember in the first grade getting in trouble with my teacher because I told my classmates he wasn't real. Oops.
My parents' approach toward the Santa thing was to tell me that no, he isn't real, but it's fun to pretend. So I always put out milk and cookies for him and wrote my wish lists, even though I knew it was Dad eating the cookies and Mom doing the shopping. It was a fun tradition, and I never felt like I missed out on anything or that I was being lied to. My first child is due in January, and I think this is how I'll handle it with her. Of course, I'll try to make sure she doesn't spill the beans like I did. =)

pickles and dimes said...

I don't have kids, but last year, one of my neighbors' kids came over to me in the yard and almost tearfully asked, "Is Santa real? Because some kids at school said he isn't."

This kid had a rough life (divorced parents, moved 3 times in the last year, got bullied by other neighbor kids, etc.) and I didn't want to ruin it for him even though he was older (8), so I said, "What do you think?" And he said, "I think he's real." And I just said back, "I think you're right."

Laura said...

Thank you thank you thank you for your response to the Santa Claus question. Every year I grit my teeth at the idea that I'm expected to lie to my child in order to preserve "wonder" for someone else's. I hated finding out that my parents lied to me, and won't lie to my girls. We teach them to respect what other people and not to argue about beliefs, the same way we as atheists we teach them to approach religion. Lying, misleading and bribing? Not the Christmas spirit for us.

Marie Green said...

I don't think 8 is too young to stop "believing". It's at that age when they start actually understanding Time and Distance, beyond just rote repitition, and the idea that one man could make it around the world in one night becomes OBVIOUSLY false.

When I started asking my mom, it was about the tooth fairy and she would say "what do YOU think" which, frankly, DROVE ME MAD. I didn't KNOW what to think so I was turning to her for some help. I was eventually let "in" on the secret, and as the oldest of 4 felt privileged for YEARS in helping to "keep the secret". I liked being introduced to the "magical world of adults" just about as much as I like believing in Santa, and I STILL enjoy seeing what Santa has left in my stocking.

If I were her, I'd probe a bit to help myself judge if he's really ready to know. Probably, I'd end up telling him. He'd still receive a Santa gift for "believing in Christmas" and because it's just plain fun.

My almost 7 year olds are still believing with their whole hearts, and I'm cherishing this Christmas. B/c next year they may or may not figure it out.

jird said...

I went with, "Tell him the truth if he asks outright," preceded by the "do you REALLY want to know?" question you suggested, and followed by the promise that Santa will never bring him presents again if he tells his little brother before little brother is ready to ask himself.

We are religious, and I've always tried to emphasize the Jesus aspect of Christmas over the Santa aspect, so I explained to him that it's kind of hard for little kids to get the whole Christmas thing just by talking about it, so Santa is sort of a way for little kids to understand the wonderful present that Jesus was at Christmas, and the way that Santa gives to everyone out of love is something that we can all do, and once kids have been on the receiving end of that, they can understand why we should want to be on the giving end.

Only I didn't do it all in one awkward sentence like that.

Christy said...

I grew up believing in Santa, but with my own kids I wanted to tell the truth. HOWEVER, everyone (everyone!) in my big family, including my husband, made me out to be evil for not wanting to lie/keep the magic alive. So, I went with it, vowing to tell them the truth if they asked. I have three kids, and my oldest is the only one that asks probing questions about Santa. I usually answer with a "the story goes..." or something similar. My kids have always thought Grandpa was the easter bunny after seeing him hide eggs. My oldest knows I am the tooth fairy. We decided to tell her from the start on that one because she was terrified at the thought of a strange fairy coming into her room at night. And also, she wasn't so sure she wanted to part with her teeth. So, absolutely no consistency here, except maybe tell if asked outright/tell if child has extreme anxiety about mythical creatures breaking in. If my kids start to show serious doubt about Santa, I'll probably pull the doubter aside, ask if she wants to know the truth, and swear her to secrecy.

HollyLynne said...

Ooooh, "Do you really want me to tell you?" ABSOLUTE GENIUS.

Jewels said...

Wait. There's no Santa?

Anonymous said...

I never recall believing in Santa as a kid, but i never spoiled it for anyone. My 3 year old has always been terrified of Santa. Last year, when she kept hearing (from TV, preschool, teachers, anyone and everyone) that Santa was coming to our house she was absolutely terrified! It just broke my heart! We had to convince her over and over that he wasn't going to come down our chimney in the middle of the night. That kinda solved our dilemma - we didn't have to pretend - we had to tell her the truth so that she wouldn't be so scared. I'm really kindof glad about that. We've got another baby girl on the way - we'll see how it pans out next time!

Nicole said...

My five year old asked if Santa was "real" and I just told him that Santa was a story that a lot of kids like to think about. I explained that Christmas isn't really about "Santa" but more about giving, family, etc. In fact, I told him that if someone gives a gift to someone else, it's like they are Santa! So neither of my kids - age 4 and 5 - believe that some fat guy in a red suit comes down their chimney, but I don't think they have lost the magic and wonder of Christmas. I liken it to Halloween - we talk about witches and ghosts, and they aren't real either. "What's real is in your heart" - awww.

Kelly said...

I am going to dodge actually answering the question because there are alot of good answers here. I am a deeply spiritual person, raised in the Lutheran church and have always been a believer in God and a follower of Christianity. I don't really understand why Santa and Jesus have to be mutually exclusive. (Nor do I understand why the idea that aliens may exist may contradict Christianity but that's way deeper than I am prepared to delve on one cup of tuesday coffee!!)

I have always told my son, who is 6 and still totally believes, that Santa loves Jesus and celebrates Jesus' birthday by taking gifts to all the boys and girls and helping them behave all year long because that helps Jesus out. LOL We have Santa's phone number and I call him every year starting in the Fall to report on my son's behavior and discuss Xmas tactics.
I totally use santa as a way to leverage good behavior. judge me. whatever. LOL
My friend told her son that santa always knows what you're doing because he has a camera in their smoke detector!!! LOL!! And she's a Christian too!

Anyway, to me, Santa doesn't need to be a spiritually confusing thing. Magic is magic and I think it should be a part of childhood.

I don't remember how I came to the conclusion about santa. I think it was just a slow realization over the years. I was probably 8 or 9. I still chose to believe in my heart. =)

If a child is asking questions, I think the parent should ask questions back, to determine if the child is ready for the answer or not. Some may want to still believe and some may be way over it, already.

good blog topic.

I love the "promoted to elf" answer. OMG that is precious!!! and also love the "do you really want me to tell you?" answer.

Sarah said...

I hate to say this in response to some of the comments, but I really think the "if you don't believe, you don't get anything" mantra is crappy. Would you really stop giving your children presents if they stopped believing in Santa? Gifts should be given out of love and goodwill, not because of compliance to a myth. And punishing chidren for using critical thinking and reasoning skills is completely unfair.

StephLove said...

I agree with Swistle that he already knows and it's time to confirm it. My son stopped believing in first grade. It was sad for me, but it's part of growing up. I wrote about it on my blog (12/10/07 entry).

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

Didn't have time to read the other comments yet, sorry if I'm repetitive.

My parents NEVER revealed to us if Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy were real or not. Never. I'm 24 now, so clearly I've figured it out, lol, but it was never a conversation. I have two younger brothers, one was 3 1/2 years younger than me. For his sake, even when I think I knew Santa was fake, I always kept up the charade on my own and never even asked my parents for the truth. I didn't want to lose the magic of it. I actually used to have anxiety over finding out it was a lie, but I kept it up in my head because I really wanted to believe. It may have gone on for too long, I think I was 12 or so before I finally gave in and let myself truly know it was my parents (it wasn't until I was thirteen that my mom even uttered the words, "you know about Santa right?"...but as I said, it was otherwise NEVER a reveal/conversation). It just sort of ran its course.

But as I said, when I was 12 my brother was only 8-ish... so for him, it was all very real, so the charade was always kept up even for me... and it was kept up until I was in high school (we had "santa gifts" that were always unwrapped and laid out for us in certain chairs in our living rooms). The high school thing is contributed to my brother who was born when I was 13 -- so that when he was a toddler he saw us getting our Santa stuff too.

Now, only Scooter (age 11) will still get "Santa" stuff, and that's how it's been for the past bunch of years (except Mike and I still get Christmas stockings from Santa). My parents NEVER say Yes or No about the reality of these things, they just set the stuff up when my brother is in bed and that's it. If asked, their line is, "If you don't believe, you don't receive".

I guess they just took the stance of letting these things run their own course, and they stayed elusive until it was all on us for figuring it out. Frankly, having lived that way, I'll do the same for my kids. I *love* the magic of Santa and the Easter Bunny, and I want my kids to feel that sense of wonder and magic too.

Anonymous said...

My eldest is 11 and in 5th grade. His bugger friends have been telling him for years that Santa isn't real, but he has kept on believing.
He is ready to ask "the big question". I suspect it will come this year, I love the promoted to elf idea! We have in the past just answered the questions with "what do you think?"
I think he will understand when the time comes we will tell him the truth, I will wait for him to come to me though.
He has always understood the "don't ruin it for the other kids" aspect of Christmas. He is observant enough to know that the Santa whose lap he sits in occasionally changes, and once was a close friend.
I have 2 youngers, 3 and 5 years old I know my eldest is kind enough to keep it going for their sake. Santa and what he stands for is a huge part of Christmas for our family.
So, yeah when they ask, REALLY ASK I think it is better to lay the truth on them.

Mom of 3 boys

Anonymous said...

Warning: this post comes from the perspective of a child and not a parent (as I do not have the privilege of that role yet).

My parents both felt very deceived and confused when, as children, they discovered that Santa was not real. They chose never to pretend that Santa was real, but to let us come to our own conclusions. They said every year they could tell that we really wanted to believe in Santa, but that we never really did. We were also told in no uncertain terms that some children believed in Santa and we weren't to tell them Santa wasn't real.

My father is a minister and Christmas therefore had great spiritual and religious significance for us. Maybe that made it easier for us not to believe in Santa - we just didn't feel the need in order to enjoy Christmas because Christmas was never just about getting gifts.

My husband and I will likely not raise our kids to believe in Santa (he was raised similarly to me). Even if you aren't religious, Christmas should be about so much more than gifts - time with family, the opportunity to give to the needy, etc.

I do know that as a child I had complete trust in my parents. If I had ever found out that they lied to me when I asked them a direct question, I would have been devastated.

To the person who wrote in to Swistle, I would suggest that you value the position of trust that you are in and do as some of the other posters have suggested: let your son in on the 'secret' and make sure that he doesn't spoil the fun for his siblings or other children. I know that as a non-parent I can't realize what it would be like to treat this situation as one where you want to preserve his innocence, but I think you should be proud of him for figuring it out! Critical thinking is a great skill that will serve him well throughout his life.

Melio (MelissaInk) said...

My mom told me, "If you don't believe, you don't receive." So, I believed for a very long time ;)

Leeann said...

I answered this on another blog yesterday so I am copying and pasting thusly:


Okay, I admit it, I was one of those kids who had a freaking nervous breakdown over the whole Santa thing. In retrospect, it might have been easier if my parents had told me a little earlier. You know? I asked, like Sam is now, several times for several years, starting around 4th grade. So by the time I really clued in, probably sixth grade or so, I was pretty pissed. It also really screwed with me in being able to really believe in religion as well but that is a whole nother thing.

So, my kids. Believe it or not, after what I just said, we did do the Santa thing with my kids. However, I was always sort of tongue in cheek with it. Santa used the same wrapping paper that is in plain sight in the house and that we use for family gifts. Santa's writing and Mom's writing are the same. As soon as they could rub two brain cells together, they started putting two and two together. My daughter figured it out the earliest- she was about first grade or so. Even after she knew, though, she still really enjoyed the pretending aspect for a couple of years after that, which we were totally cool with. My second child is a sixth grader this year. He never came out and said he didn't believe but I could tell that by last Christmas he knew there was no tooth fairy (maybe because she is a loser who kept forgetting) and hence, the others as well. I send a wink his way now when I mention Santa to my youngest, as a way to kind of confirm and "let him in on the secret."

The youngest is nearly 8. He still believes. He did ask this year but I could tell he wasn't REALLY asking and didn't REALLY want to know.

Long story short- I think you can tell when kids get to an age where they really DO want to know. It reminds me of when tickling or wrestling is funny and fun and then you can sense things starting to shift and it is becoming NOT fun. Even before they start really wigging out, you know by a change in their voices or body language. I think the respectful thing is to try to figure out when they are getting to that point and then help them over the bump.

Can you tell this was a big parenting issue for me?!

Stimey said...

I wrote about this exact same thing yesterday. Only I was a little less coherent.

mom, again said...

My mom was like bessieviola's mom, and did a wonderful job of teaching older siblings that they were a little bit adult for knowing the secret, and keeping it for the littler kids.

I attempted that. but my oldest was the little s*(t who spilled the beans to her class. Probably. I don't know for sure, but I do know she ruined it for her sister.

Of course, this year, they are dying to make Christmas completely over the top for their 2.5 year old brother. Adult sisters can be worse than grandparents!

carrie said...

Wait? There is no Santa Claus?!

I still believe in him. And when my girls ask me about him or get to the non-believing stage, I'm going to read them the letter I got from my Santa almost 20 years ago and hopefully they will find the magic and want to believe still, too.

Hotch Potchery said...

We are firm Santa believers.

12ontheinside said...

At my house, my mum and dad always said Santa only comes to those that believe.

Santa still drops presents off for me at my mum and dad's house because I keep telling them "I still believe!" Not sure they believe me, I guess because I am 37.

Karen L said...

Long story short - Santa will be coming to my house only because I'm a "victim" of imagined peer pressure.

Just the other day, I wrote a friend of mine asking what her exit plan was. Her oldest is 5. I specifically remember not believing any more when I was 5. No one told me, we never had a "big talk" about it, I just put 2 and 2 together. I do remember playing along like I believed just to make sure that the presents didn't dry up, although there was no threat of that. I also remember being reminded yearly thereafter that I was in no way to ruin Santa for my younger cousin.

Anyway, I'm still developing my entrance plan. My older child is 2.5, so he's old enough to understand people who will be talking to him about Santa Claus and we haven't said anything to him about it yet. Last year, we just called him "the man in the red suit" if a description was in order. I THINK our plan this year is to tell him about Santa Claus but let him in on the make believe aspect of it immediately. That way 1) he can play along, too; 2) he isn't scared about a strange man sneaking into our home; 3) people won't think we're some kind of weirdo killjoys robbing our child of cultural currency AND presents; and 4) we don't inadvertantly confuse making believe and lying.

I do think I'd feel a little bad for other parents if he blew the magic for their kids but, c'mon, if you live in Toronto (as we do), you gotta know that your kid knows other kids who don't even celebrate Christmas, let alone believe in Santa.

If it weren't for the weirdo-killjoy thing, I think I'd rather only have "St. Nick" come to our house to fill a stocking with necessities - in a more literal interpretation of the Bible story - and skip Santa Claus altogether.

Omaha Mama said...

This is a hot topic! Teetering on religion...you are a brave one Swistle! :0) My six-year old first grader has been asking and asking this year because there is a child she knows who KNOWS there is not Santa because he didn't get gifts last year. His parents obviously did not give him the do not spoil it for others lesson. At this point I'm just sort of letting her believe what she wants, not providing much info in any direction. She's confident that there is a Santa. Although she knows that he has lots of nice helpers who sit at the mall and etc. because Santa could not possibly have time to sit there in all of those places...and get ready for the big night. It did bring up an interesting topic because I know that the child she's referring to is maybe Islamic? and goes to her before and after school program at our church, which is Christian. This is all well and good and she knows that he prays differently at different times and etc. So it brought up interesting points about whether Santa would even come if a family celebrates other holidays...way deeper conversations than I expected with my six-year old! But also a nice way to talk about respect for different religions, cultures, etc. I think you just have to know your own child...and try to go with your gut. I know I struggled with the "lying" when B was a toddler, but now it's just so much fun I got over it! I intend to enjoy it while it lasts!

M.Amanda said...

I was about 6 or 7 when I found out. I had suspected for a while, but everyone was dead set on keeping up the myth. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he wasn't real and just wanted everyone to stop treating me like a dumb little kid. However, others in my class did still believe and I had no problem with that. Each child is different. I agree with Swistle. If he seems like he really wants to still believe, go along. If not, let him be part of "creating the magic" for the younger ones.

Stacia said...

Caveat: I don't have kids. But I would like to suggest how NOT to deal with the situation. When I was 7, my mom said to me "You don't still believe in Santa, do you?" By that age I already knew what a loaded question was, and I said "No" to cover my butt, even though I did kind of believe. Mom said "Good, you're WAY too old to believe in that junk anyway."

Guys? Don't do that. (Now you know why I don't have kids.)

While my parents didn't instruct me to not tell other kids, I knew instinctively not to do it, and we had kids up to the ages of 11 or so still believe. Teachers were very good about not allowing them to be teased about it, too. So I agree that if you do tell your kids he's not real, teaching them to respect another kids' belief is ALWAYS a good lesson.

Misguided Mommy said...

I found out when I was about 4 and I walked out to see my mom putting my presents under the tree...the presents that said "from santa"

willikat said...

Um, I can distinctly remember knowing Santa wasn't real as a kid, but pretended I did because my parents seemed excited about it. :) Also, I didn't care! My parents still planned fun surprises, so it didn't matter whether I believed or not.

I was more crushed to find out Grover wasn't real.

Brenna said...

Funny, I had this conversation with my 3-year-old just today. She is a worrier by nature, and the thought of a strange man coming into her home when she was asleep was a little too much for her. I felt fine letting her know that it's just a fun, pretend thing. The look of relief on her face was priceless. And she'll still get presents and a stocking even if she doesn't "believe". My 6-year-old hasn't asked the Big Question yet. She knows the tooth fairy isn't literal, so maybe she understands about Santa as well but just hasn't vocalized it. Maybe not. I try to let my kids take the lead on issues like this.

Christina said...

My parents never explicitely told us Santa was "real," they just went along with us believing since we'd heard about him. Every year we had one big present under the tree, labeled from Santa. I think pretty early on - Kindergarten or 1st grade maybe? I started to catch on b/c it was stuff we asked our parents for, or our grandparents, or the tag was in my mom's handwriting. My brother was 3 years younger, so he was young too. I started asking questions and my parents sat me down and told me that Santa was based on old tales of Saint Nicholas, a man that brought fruit and candies to kids, but Santa the big red guy was in fact, not real. At that point we just talked about it being more of a "spirit of Christmas" thing -- that Santa means to spread cheer through the holidays and giving gifts to people is helping participate. I liked that b/c I never felt lied to, plus it had a positive message in there about the whole "giving is better than receiving" thing..

Oh, but they did tell us that we should not go around school telling about it, b/c other kids might still believe and it wasn't fair to ruin it for them.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Yes. What Swistle Whistle said.

I told my eldest (when he told me that he "knew everything already") that he was so lucky that he could now participate in the fun of keeping the magic alive for everyone else. He gave me a look like no other and agreed to lie with me.

desperate housewife said...

You know, Jim and I were just discussing how weird it is that Addy is over four now and the whole Santa issue has never really come up. As kids, we were told that Santa is a fun fairy tale and that it's fun to pretend. So we kind of did- our dad dressed up as Santa a few times and brought us a bag of gifts, etc. But there was never any attempt to make us BELIEVE! or anything. We were definitely told not to discuss it with other kids, though, so as not to spoil it for others. I remember a few of my friends, already seven and eight, hearing from other kids that Santa wasn't real and being SO upset. And uh, I remember thinking how weird it was that they still believed because, dude, the logistics of that one are so OBVIOUSLY impossible. (Interestingly, having that whole thought process about faith and/or religion didn't occur to me until years later. And the conclusion was quite different...)
So my advise would be maybe let them in on the secret around first or second grade, or risk exposing them to some pretty mean taunting. Because honestly I think most kids have figured it out by then.
I don't know WHAT we're doing about it. I guess just sort of halfheartedly playing along should she seem to want to? SHRUG. Still hasn't been mentioned by her, so I'm not going to open that can of worms if I don't have to! I think Christmas is plenty magical as it is.

Anonymous said...

I suspected there was no Santa, but when I asked my mom about it she would always say, "what do you think?" I wanted to believe, so I said I did. I came from a small town where the post office posted our Santa letters with a cancellation from the North Pole. My mom would go to the P.O. Box, pull out the letters and show them to us. Dude. They came from the post office and you know they can't lie. This went along way in helping keep the dream alive.

I knew, my sisters knew, but when I was in the 5th grade by father took my two younger sisters out to shoot guns, he was drunk (yes, I know!) and he told them then. They came home very ticked off that he had ruined our illusion. We were not happy girls. I think my mom was relieved that she didn't have to pretend anymore or try and hide the presents very well (we never peeked).

I'd figured out the tooth fairy early on. I went to bed in my sleeping bag on the living room floor with my tooth under the pillow. I guess the sleeping arrangement made it hard for my mother to find my tooth. She left the money, but I found the tooth later on. I didn't say anything to her and went and put the tooth on her dresser. It was a test to see if the tooth fairy really exisited. When I checked later the tooth was gone. I was so sad, I realized that my parents were the tooth fairy and if they were the tooth fairy, then they had to be Santa and the Easter Bunny too.

In raising my own daughters, we always said that when they wanted to know we would tell them. When they would ask, we would say, what do you think? If they said yes then we agreed with them. When they said no we told them the truth but asked them not to spoil it for other children. They seemed to be fine with this arrangement. I also told them what my mother used to tell me, that Santa Claus lives in our hearts, and so in a way, he is real.

A couple of years ago someone from our congregation announced it from the pulpit in a talk she was giving. I know quite a few people where very upset with her.

It's such a personal thing. You know your children better than anyone. I would do what you felt good about.

Bethtastic said...

I don't have strong opinions about the Santa thing - do what feels right for you and your family.

I do LOVE when you share little tidbits about your life though, Swistle...

"my parents...a minister and a Christian school teacher"

The tidbits. I love the tidbits.

Monique said...

We follow the "Santa only gives to those who beleive", so the 15 year old will tell you she believes. My neice came up with the great compromise: parents really do buy the Santa gifts, but they're more special because the elves made them - IPod, cell phone, studded belt, doesn't matter - elves can make anything. It's how we get around why Santa gave Johnny *insert big huge expesive gift* and brings our kids something much less expensive. I have talked to the 15 year old about the real truth of the matter, and she's totally cool. By the way, I figured out the no Santa thing because my Santa gifts were wrapped in same paper as the rest of the gifts. Now, I use a separate special roll for Santa gifts and since Santa leaves that roll with us each year, it goes in the general pile for the next year and I get to pick out a new Santa paper.

Jenny (Bring A. Torch) said...

One thing I'm curious about, for Swistle and any others who knew the truth from the get-go: was that knowledge a burden? Was your holiday diminished by seeing other kids believing and having fun with it? Was it difficult not to tell?

I'm a little torn. I remember a local bank sponsored a hotline for kids to call and speak to Santa, and it blew my mind. I also remember that one year Santa left a note thanking us for the cookies and saying the reindeer enjoyed the carrots, and that Santa's handwriting looked suspiciously like my dad's, but it was still the coolest thing ever. I'd love to able to do that for a kid, but I also don't want to set them up for a fall either. Because I remember that day on the playground, too, and that sucked.

Swistle said...

I wish I remembered better----the mists of childhood are a little...misty. It wasn't a burden or a struggle, and it definitely wasn't a diminishing thing. I don't remember it being much of an issue.

Andrea said...

My siblings and I are now all in our mid to late twenties, and each year gather around the tree to write letters to Santa each Christmas Eve. In the morning (without fail for the past 25 years) there has been an absolutely hilarious letter from Santa. As we grew up, the letters became political, wry, clever, and we all appreciate the tradition of howling and laughing at the anecdotes from Santa on Christmas morning. I've saved all the letters.

The magic of Santa shifted into adulthood. The stockings continue -- the kids receive them, lo and behold, it has evolved that my parents receive them as well in the morning!

I don't know if my siblings ever had the conversation about what is Real. I never did, and really enjoy how this tradition has shifted into something balanced, recipricol, and still as magical as when I was a child.

Kim said...

We were raised in a half Jewish/half not-really-anything way, where our menorah & Hannukah candles were set up right next to our Christmas tree and my parents were insistent on Santa, to the point my dad used to race us home from dinner at friends' on Christmas Eve so we wouldn't see the sleigh and reindeer flying across the sky...this was upheld well into our teens and none of us wanted to give it up.
It's no wonder I'm so messed up.

Susan said...

Swistle, keep it going, everyone is disappointed when it is over but my god it's so magical until then. My son had friends that did not believe because their asshole dad was traumatized by it and spoiled everything for them. They never believed and I feel so sorry that they missed one of the magical moments in life. Of course I was angry when I found out. And then my dad said, "If you don't believe, you don't receive." It softened the blow and I maintained for my cousins and all.