Handling the Santa Myth without Lying

I am willing to risk sounding like Scrooge to share my belief that children should be told the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. In Yes Annika, There is a Santa Claus, another attachment parenting proponent comes to the conclusion that she will perpetuate the Santa “fantasy” with her daughter. She says:

I’ve heard parents debate this topic, reasons that affect how new parents handle Santa almost always involve the way their parents handled it. It seems that the only angry memories involve parents who did not promote the Santa story. I have yet to hear any adult say, “Yeah, my parents LIED to me. Boy was I pissed when I found out there was no Santa Claus.”

Well, count me as one of the people who felt lied to and was angry about it (it’s okay Mom and Dad, I found it in my heart to forgive you at some point over the subsequent 32 years!) I found out the truth when I was six years old and some other children mocked me for not knowing the truth. I was terribly embarrassed in that moment and was angry at my parents for deceiving me when I trusted them to always tell me the truth. It was the first time I realized that people lie, whether with good intentions or bad.

How I Handled the Santa Story

I have told my children (7, 5, 1) that Santa a.k.a. Saint Nicholas was a real person long ago and now we continue the tradition in the spirit of giving. They enjoy being in on the secret and have not told any of their friends. Perhaps one day they will be sad that they did not get to experience the magic of Santa, but for now they seem to enjoy their gifts on Christmas morning just as much as I did as a child!

What My Oldest Daughter Thinks

I just asked my 7.5-year-old whether or not she was glad that we told her that Santa Claus was not a real, modern-day person. She surprised me by saying, “You didn’t tell me! I found out by myself!” She explained that when she was three she woke up in the middle of the night and went downstairs to ask her daddy to snuggle her back to sleep. She saw him setting out the gifts and that’s when she realized the truth. I reminded her that we had told her the truth all along and she said she didn’t believe us until she saw it for herself! I guess the desire to believe is strong, and perhaps Martha is correct when she says that how parents handle the situation depends a lot on how their parents handled it.

When I asked her whether she wishes we hadn’t told her, she said yes, because she knows lots of little kids who believe in Santa and they like it. Of course I agree. The problem with perpetuating the myth only comes when the truth is revealed! If you’re lucky, the child figures it out on her own. If you’re unlucky, she gets told by other children.

Gentle and Respectful Approaches

So what can we conclude from all this? As with many parenting questions, there is not one right answer. Here are some gentle guidelines no matter which way you decide to go with the Santa story:

~ Respect your child’s feelings about sitting on Santa’s lap. Photos of crying children on Santa’s lap are not “classic” or time-honored rites of passage.

Photo by Chippenziedeutch

Photo by Chippenziedeutch

My children were terrified of Santa and I saw absolutely no reason to have them sit on his lap unless and until they expressed an interest in doing so.

~ When your child starts to ask whether Santa is real, ask her what she thinks! If she wants to believe, she’ll conclude he is real (without your having to lie directly to perpetuate the myth). If she wants to know the truth, she will push the issue with you and you can decide to let her in on the secret.

~ Whether you plan to tell your child from the start or when she asks you, think about the best way to share the truth. I thought a gentle way to do it was to talk about the spirit of giving, about the real Saint Nicholas, and about how loving parents around the world have kept up the tradition of gift-giving to make children happy. This can also branch into a discussion of charity, and for the religious, a discussion of Jesus.

Your Thoughts

How did your parents handle the Santa story and were you glad about it? How have you decided to treat it?

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    • http://www.strocel.com Amber

      My parents told me Santa was real, and at about 7 or so I figured out that he wasn’t and my mother confirmed it. I was not at all upset, and I quite enjoyed being ‘in’ on the secret when my younger sister wasn’t.

      Because I enjoyed Santa and my husband enjoyed Santa, we ‘do’ Santa with our kids. Neither of us were traumatized, and my 4-year-old daughter seems to really WANT to believe. If someone tells her Santa isn’t real she won’t believe them. I am following her cues in determining what she wants as best I can.

      Honestly, I’m not all that fussed about the lying. I tell my kids a lot of lies. I think that most parents do, if they really think about it. Like, say, my preschooler smells chocolate on my breath in spite of my efforts to hide it. Or I am really just not in a position to have a long and drawn-out discussion about what that newscaster was saying. I don’t deliberately set out to deceive my kids, but in the course of life I am frequently less than honest. Santa at least has the advantage of being fun for them. ;)

    • http://www.momsoap.blogspot.com Martha

      Thanks for your differing viewpoint, Angela. I do find it interesting that your daughter said she wished that you had played up the Santa fantasy. Fantasy is important to children, if not Santa, I hope that you help your daughter enjoy fantasies and magic in other parts of your life. One of the greatest things about childhood is fantasy and magic. Kids need it to relieve stress and learn about things that are too complex for their immature minds to grasp.

    • http://babyfingers.blogspot.com Jenny

      We have struggled with this as well–basically beginning with this year, as Suzi is 2.5. Due to severe scheduling conflicts, we told Suzi that her daddy would call Santa and ask him to bring her gifts a night early. We got them all set out and then I asked Jordan if he thought we were doing the right thing. She’s two, and it seems like the rest of the people she’s in contact with are partaking in the Santa tradition. I hate lying in general, but Jordan and I both loved believing in Santa as children and decided we would continue for now. I remember lying in bed awake most of the night, unable to sleep for the excitement of whatever Santa might bring. The excitement continued on into high school (college? now?) although of course at some point along the way I realized Santa was not real. 6 years old? 8? I don’t honestly remember, but I was not angry, and my parents didn’t go out of their way to perpetuate the fantasy. I didn’t really care to talk about it, from what I can remember; I guess I was more interested in important things like where babies came from :-)

      Anyway, I really like your guideline about allowing the child to lead and asking what they think about whether or not Santa is real. Most importantly, we want the emphasis to be on Jesus and I believe that at our house it is.

      Great post!

    • Jim

      I believed in Santa until I was around 10 years old, far longer than is probably normal. I had been exposed to the truth plenty of times, but refused to believe any of it – complete denial. Authority figures like NORAD, NASA, and local weathermen doing things like “tracking” Santa on Christmas Eve really didn’t help things – any time I had to deal with the unpleasant reality in my mind, I would remind myself of those official sounding lies to comfort myself.

      When I finally came to terms with it, it was pretty dramatic. The world seemed drained of all its magic, and I couldn’t understand why my parents had lied to me, or why I should now accept what they told me about the existence of God.

      I think if I had been simply told there had been an original Saint Nicholas, and that now the tradition is continued by others, I would have been perfectly happy with that. As a child it would have been like seeing Mickey Mouse, and realizing it was someone in a costume, at yet still Mickey Mouse.

      So when I think of Santa now, I don’t think of childhood magic. I just think of the trauma. I never bring this up to anyone because it seems embarrassing to admit I believed in Santa for so long.

    • http://nicoleandtim.blogspot.com Nicole M

      My parents never allowed me to believe that Santa was real since they “didn’t want to lie to me.” One of my earliest childhood memories is of being pulled aside after Sunday school to have a conversation with my parents and teacher about not telling the other children that Santa wasn’t real. While I know my parents’ intentions were good, I deeply, deeply regret not having the childhood experience that all of my other childhood friends took for granted. I was very bitter and angry about this for a long time, well into my college years. My husband and I are already looking forward to sharing the Santa Claus experience with our future children.

    • http://www.onlinestressrelief.com Judy

      It’s funny that such a big deal is made of it – I actually don’t remember what we did with the whole Santa thing. We celebrated xmas in the European tradition -that is on Christmas eve, all presents, food and celebration took place then. There was no waking up to surprise presents under the tree.

      I don’t feel deprived by it….my parents did the whole Easter bunny thing and I believed in the tooth fairy for a while too.

    • HeathenMommy

      I felt lied to and betrayed by my parents when I learned the truth.

      My father has the world’s most distinct handwriting. When I saw that was the same handwriting as “Santa,” I calmly said to my parents, “I know it’s you. You don’t have to trick me anymore- I figured it out!” And I was so proud of myself.

      But they went on and on and on about “No he’s real! You’re wrong.”

      And while I understand that most people aren’t traumatized by the harmless Santa myth, it hurt me deeply that my parents would try to cause me to doubt myself. And while it doesn’t rule my life, I do have to say, I never saw my parents as the most trustworthy people I knew and I was saddened that they thought I was “stupid” and needed to be controlled by the promise of no toys from Santa if I was “good.”

      Just my experience. YMMV

    • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      Of course! Fantasy and magic do not require lying. Books and imaginative play and storytelling and dress-up all provide those things.