To Santa or Not to Santa

My relationship with Santa has not always been sunshine and lollipops.

My relationship with Santa has not always been sunshine and lollipops.

So, spoiler alert: Santa Claus isn’t real.

Oops. Were you reading this post aloud to your small child? My apologies for ruining his/her innocence. I have a bad habit of spreading truth at inopportune times. There are about 25 women who still resent me for being That Kid who, in 1990, told their eight-year-olds that Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t get invited to a lot of birthday parties when I was in third grade. I can’t imagine why.

But back to the truth-telling.

Santa Claus isn’t real, but pretty much every child under the age of eight thinks he is. (Except yours. Sorry again about that.) And this Christmas, I am going to perpetuate that myth to C. Last year at Christmas, she was only nine months old so B and I didn’t feel the need to make much ado about jolly ol’ Saint Nick. She was still getting used to the general concept that she was a human, so we didn’t really want to overwhelm her with the idea that a giant elf was going to come down our chimney in the middle of the night and bring her gifts. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

This year, things will be different. We’ve been talking Santa up to her and we fully plan on taking her to the mall to sit in his lap even if this time-honored Christmas tradition does put her at risk for contracting some rare flu strain. Starting this year, we will do the whole Santa thing, and once you commit to it, you can’t very well stop. We’re locked in for another solid five to six years. Santa is basically a horrible wireless plan or a really rigid gym membership.

What’s funny to me is that nowadays, the tradition of creating an elaborate scheme to perpetuate the Santa myth is something that a lot of parents struggle over, and rightfully so. Children believe in Santa because the people who work the hardest to make him real are the very people they trust the most: their parents. When you’re three and your parents tell you that you are going to the doctor to get a shot, you believe them (even though you don’t want to.) When your parents tell you that drinking milk is good for you, you believe them too. So when they sit you down and tell you about a kindly, portly old gentleman who lives at the North Pole with a bevy of elves and reindeer whose only job is to make toys for you, you tend to eat that stuff up. It’s as real as a shot but a whole lot sweeter.

Some parents struggle with the perpetuation of that gingerbread-flavored lie, and I have to admit that the nagging Santa question has perplexed me too. Will telling my kid about Santa fixate her on the consumer-driven aspects of the holidays? Will she be motivated to do good only because Santa Claus is coming to town and he’s got his top-of-the-line SpyCam honed in on her? There will come a day when she meets the 2020-equivalent of 1990 Me, and that kid may tell her that what she believed all this time was a big sham. Will she call me out for being a liar? Will I have eggnog all over my face? (See what I did there?)

I don’t think I will. I often worry about betraying my daughter’s trust, and I know that there will come a day when she questions every single thing I say and do. Teenagers, anyone? The thing is, she is going to be faced with existential dilemmas throughout her life, most that are a lot tougher than the realization that Santa isn’t real. Kids are smarter than we often give them credit for, and they don’t break into pieces when they find out the real meaning behind “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” It’s a rite of passage.

So we’ll do Santa, if for no other reason that I want to finally be the one to eat those cookies she’ll leave out on a plate for him. Once again, it appears sugar will make a liar out of me.

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78 comments

  1. It’s crossed my mind too, whether or not to play the Santa game. But I agree, it’s a rite of passage and tradition all in good fun. My mom did a great job leaving me a letter from Santa. She was really sneaky. I’m aspiring to be more sneaky. :-)

    1. My dad left me a letter from Santa one year too, and the best is that he and my mom got a videotape of my brother and me reading it. Pure magic. What’s funny is that I totally didn’t make the connection that Santa’s penmanship was remarkably similar to my dad’s very distinctive penmanship.

  2. I worry about this too, but I don’t have any terrible memories of when I learned the truth about Santa. I remember staying up late with my brother and cousins, trying to catch a glimpse of him, and learning the truth over time. I don’t know, I think along with the other traditions it just adds to the excitement and joy of the season. And I also want the cookies :)

    1. Oh my gosh, the Christmas Eve night anxiety! I remember so many times peeking down the stairwell to our living room to see what Santa had left and listening for reindeer on the roof. Such good times. Being a kid is amazing.

  3. I ruined the Easter Bunny for my kids before it got out of hand, but not Santa. No way. That man is the single most powerful motivator I have right now. The mere mention of The Big Guy will snap a tantrum in two like it’s nobody’s business.

    1. Ha! Good point! I can’t wait for C to get the entire impact of the word “Santa.” Right now, she just thinks he’s some person who’s bringing her a potty. Setting that bar good and low.

  4. As a parent, I hate the whole Santa thing. We finally broke down and told ours that Santa did not bring the presents. After that I didn’t care if we saw Santa all over town. No longer did I have to explain why his looks changed all the time or how he could be in multiple places at once. Call me a grinch if you must, but there are still presents under our tree every year.

    1. Not a Grinch at all! Don’t MB and David still do Santa for their whole brood?

  5. When I found out there was no Santa I was a little sad, but I think that turned into “Does that mean we don’t have to wait until Christmas morning to open presents anymore?” very shortly after. Kids are resilient!

    1. Ha! That is the logical presumption, methinks.

  6. My youngest, 8, just asked me two days ago. So now both of my kids know. I wish they had both found out from some snotty-nosed kid the way I did, but I had to be the one to tell them I lied all these years. You know what? They were OK with it. Have fun with it.

    1. It’s a credit to you that they took it so well. You clearly did things right. ;D

  7. I have along drawn out story of how Santa finally met his fate in our home. I won’t bore you with details but it involved me and Santa and a showdown involving a trip to Mexico and flight cancellation due to snow. Enjoy every moment!

    1. Now I want more details!

  8. We don’t give kids enough credit. We’re always worried how things will affect their emotional state, like finding out we lied about Santa. My daughter just found out the truth two weeks ago, and she was like, “Okay. Cool.” Done deal. No long term damage. I think by the time most kids find out, or figure it out for themselves, they are ready to know. I’ve screwed up in much bigger ways than lying about Santa.

    So enjoy the Santa fun this year!!!

    1. “I think by the time most kids find out, or figure it out for themselves, they are ready to know.” So true, and I’m finding that that is true for a LOT of things when you’re raising a kid. Kind of like how you can’t potty train them unless they’re really ready. Learning to take cues from them makes life for the whole family a lot easier.

      1. A to the men on the potty training. I learned that hard way with G. I did not make the same mistake the second time around.

        Girl, the fact that you have so much of this figured out already…you are WAY ahead of the game. I want to come back as you in another life :)

  9. Santa is such a bag of conflict. There’s the “thank god it’s Christmas and I finally have a big stick to threaten with” and the “Holy crap. I’m using a great big lie just to get my kid to drink her milk.” I don’t know if I’ve blogged this (there’s a reason successful writers have assistants), but my son overheard me talking to his much younger sister about Santa and said, soto voce, “So, you’re going to lie to her, too.” I shriveled just a little and then told her to drink her milk.

    1. Oh my gosh, I would have been mortified. Kids say the darndest, most obnoxious things.

      1. And thank god they do or what would I write about?

  10. We do the whole Santa thing, and at age four, some little stinker pants said there wasn’t a Santa at PreK. Mine are still eager to believe, so I just replied with a “how sad for A that she doesn’t believe in Santa!” when what I really wanted to do was text her mom and ask her to hush up the little Grinch Girl! ha!

    1. That’s what I fear! I am almost scared *not* to do Santa because I don’t want my kid to open her mouth and blab all over kindergarten that he’s not real, thus incurring the wrath of fellow parents!

      1. Ha! That’s what you call damned if you do and damned if you don’t. :)

  11. I struggled with the Santa thing, too. We didn’t play it up too much, but we also didn’t point out he was fake. But my oldest was always a bit skeptical (his 30-year-old brain in a toddler body), and when he was barely five he asked me if Santa Claus was real. I didn’t want to lie to him, but I didn’t want to ruin the fun either, so I asked him what he thought. He pondered it and then said, “I think it would be impossible for one man to go to all those houses, so I don’t think he’s real.” I said, “Hmm, but it’s kind of fun to pretend, isn’t it?” He responded, “Yes, I think I’ll pretend a little longer.” Of course, having such a savvy older brother meant my youngest probably never believed, but we still had fun with the tradition.

    1. Is this the same son who went on to be one of your beta readers for your second novel? He sounds like the most level-headed kid ever!

      1. Yes. So smart and philosophical, yet at the same time, he can’t get enough of the penis and poo talk…

        1. He has an eclectic sense of humor.

  12. Fish Out of Water · · Reply

    Every year my father was one of the Santas that would ride around our town on Christmas Eve and pass out candy canes to kids, so I was wise to the whole thing. I wish I knew Carrie Rubin and had consulted her the year my daughter asked me if Santa was real. I was straight with her and ruined her tiny little life. I think she’s forgiven me now, but I’m scared when it comes time to put me in a home she’ll remember that day and put me out with the trash instead.

    1. Ha! If that’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made, I’d say you’re doing pretty well.

  13. I remember the year my sister and I figured out Santa wasn’t real, but we pretended to keep believing ’cause it seemed to make my mother so happy. The following year, we broke the news to her that the Carson kids across the street had told us their father was Santa at their house. Mom looked blank for a moment then said, “You mean our NEIGHBOR is Santa Claus?!?!?” She’s 75 now and will still say, “I wonder how Mr. Carson gets to all those houses every Christmas?”. Mom is usually so logical and non-sentimental that we kind of enjoy seeing this side of her!

    1. I love that! Also, assuming you don’t live on the North Pole, who would have thought that Santa was operating out of a residential house in the US!

  14. I completely support the perpetuation of the Santa lie. I really think Santa Claus is the closest thing to magic kids will ever believe in, and even if that comes along with consumerism later in life, I think the wonder and joy outweighs that not so good parts.

    1. Agreed. Plus, Santa gets them to go to bed earlier, so the magic exists even for the parents.

  15. I feel your struggle! I just I back and forth about it (in a schizophrenic manner). I go along with it and then when she asks too many specific questions I tell her she canals it up since he’s not real anyway. She persists in her belief since she already thinks I have no idea what I’m talking about.

    1. Just so curious about why I don’t proofread my comments. I wasn’t meaning to talk about canals.

      1. Ha! Autocorrect is the best thing that ever happened to the Internet.

    2. Sometimes I wish my kid doubted my credibility. Then all I’d have to do is tell her that naps are horrible and she should never take them.

  16. I have some CLASSIC pictures of me with the big guy when I was younger. . . totally worth it. My favorites now are the ones where I’m screaming!

    1. I should reaaaaaaally do a linkup where we can all post them. You in?

  17. You should read David’s recent posts about the perils of NOT believing in Santa Claus!

  18. I played this charade with the twins, too. They weren’t heartbroken are anything when they found out so I’ll do the same with Baby C.

    1. Please tell me you dress up as a stormtrooper and then put a Santa costume on over it.

  19. I questioned this same thing when my oldest child was about 2. I didn’t even want to do the whole Santa thing. My friends yelled at me she can’t be the kid that knows the truth and ruins all the other kid’s Christmases. She’s 7 now….another year visited by Santa.

    1. That’s my fear too! I don’t want my daughter to be that kid. I want her to be weird for some other reason ;)

  20. We’re all going to scar our children and cause them to consider some form of therapy or counseling once they hit adulthood. It’s inevitable. We’re going to scar them when we lose our tempers and don’t always convey that to them properly. We’re going to scar them when they want to drive a sportscar at 16 and instead you give them a jalopy (or you don’t give them one at all). Be it big or small, we’re going to damage them. They’re going to hate us for something or other. Just as, at times, we’ve all hated our own parents and we’ve all had our own share of issues to work through thanks to them.

    So…you’re going to screw up your kids. You just are. And believing in Santa and giving your children a few years in childhood of magic and bliss seems worth it to me. And if the worst thing my daughter can tell her future psychologist is we “made” her believe in Santa, I’ll feel like I rocked the heck out of this parenting thing.

    1. Pretty cool comment Tamara – just wanted to compliment you…..I’m done now. :)

      1. She’s the best, isn’t she?

    2. A.To.The.Men. They may be screwed up, but they’re screwed up out of love. And they got presents.

  21. It’s worth it. My years of magical Santa-related activities (The cookies and milk! The “reindeer poop” marshmallows! Waking my folks up at 4am because OMG THERE WERE TOYS!!!) were all so worth that few moments of sadness when – already kind of knowing the answer – I asked my mom, “Is Santa real?” She asked if I really wanted to know (Dead giveaway, much?), and then told me no. There were a few tears, and then she cheered me right back up with the news that Santa gifts would keep coming unto eternity, so no worries there, and now I could join the grown-up club of keeping the younger kids in the family convinced that the big dude in red was real. Instant cool points, and I never blamed my mom for “lying” to me… she was just spinning a beautiful story, like she and my dad did every night before bed. Lots of things can be real and not real at the same time.

    1. “Lots of things can be real and not real at the same time.” THIS. Oh my gosh, THIS. Do your parents still do Santa for you to this very day, Jennie? I’m pretty sure my best friend’s parents still do it, and they are the best people in the entire world.

      1. They absolutely still do Santa gifts!! And in my husband’s family, when the youngest son finally figured out that Santa was a myth, they switched to everyone getting gifts from the family dog.

  22. Here’s the thing about spoiling Santa for kids. They don’t give up the belief until they are ready. I found my Christmas present by accident, and when it turned up under the tree a couple of weeks later, I still credited Santa with that Sit-n-spin. So don’t feel too guilty about ruining it for the other 8 year olds.

    We do Santa, but he’s not a huge part of the celebration. I don’t like Elf on the Shelf, and I don’t think I have ever used the “Be good or Santa won’t bring you stuff” card. It’s possible to have a balance. He brings the kids a present and fills a stocking, whether they believe in him or not. The only rule is that they let the younger one(s) continue to believe.

    1. SIT-N-SPIN!!!!!!! Are those still around, or did they go the same way as the SkipIt ball thing? My mom just mentioned Elf On the Shelf to me today, and maybe it’s because I equate it with crazy Pinterest moms who are obsessed with one-uping each other with their Elf On the Shelf creativity, but I’m not too enthusiastic about jumping on that bandwagon.

  23. I was all set to de-friend you and stop following if I had read some crazy parenting bullhonky about scarring your kids because you were lying to them. Thank goodness I don’t have to do that now! Perhaps no one has told you this or you’re really not reading my stories, but it is our job, our solemn duty to try to mess up our kids with innocent white lies, teasing and mockery. How else do you expect them to survive out in the real world once they’ve left the safe confines of your basement? All one has to do is to open up her Yahoo News to see there are at least a hundred Santas out there with their fake beards, (wrapped up in the form of the latest Ponzi scheme), or their fake stuffed bellies, (hidden by the latest adultery scandal) or their fake elves who manifest themselves in the form of the latest reports of our boys killed in useless wars.

    So damn it, yes – we all need a little magic in our lives. I still believe in Santa (I just make sure I bring along the disinfectant to use after I sit on that old guy’s lap).

    A fun read Emily – thanks. :)

    1. Hahahahaahaha! The line about the disinfectant is killing me ;D

      True words, my dear Rob. I am looking forward to many, many fun years of lying.

  24. My siblings are 7 and 5 1/2 years older than me. Instead of telling me that Santa was a crock of reindeer droppings, they played him up big-time — and that made it a lot of fun for me. I looked up to them so if they bought into him it HAD to be true. Years later, when my sister spawned my niece, NORAD had the Santa tracker. You must introduce C to that in a year or two. We had a lot of fun with it and I suspect C will, too. She’ll catch onto they myth soon enough. Hey, she’s your very clever Beatles loving kid.

    1. I love those little trackers! She’s well on her way to knowing exactly how to use the iPad (wish I were joking) so she’ll be ready to using something more high tech in no time. ;D

  25. I threw a fit one year when I couldn’t find my Easter basket, and screamed at my parents to tell me where it was. And so my dad had to break the news to me. The only good part was that I got to be in on the big secret for my younger brother’s sake.

    Before that, my parents went to great lengths to keep the secret. They even paid my older cousin to set out the gifts early while we were at church. Sneaks.

    1. That is one heck of a part time job!

  26. I hate the Santa lies. I wish I would have given this more thought when I was a first time mom. But, I suspect, I still would have made the same decision. Two year olds that don’t believe in santa might get bullied.

    1. That’s my thought too. And how else could you ensure that they go to bed early at least one night of the year?

  27. Teresa Pate · · Reply

    Santa is fun. Made Daddy sit in the living room to tackle Santa when he came into the house. He waited with me till I went to sleep. ONLY good memory I have of my father. Thankful for the memory.

    1. I never knew that. I’m glad you told me. xoxo

  28. I a big supporter of riding the Santa train (sleigh?). I figure if that’s the worst thing they can bitch to their therapists about in years to come, I’m doing fine.

  29. Kids these days grow up WAY too quick. The magic and mystery of life has been replaced with the urge to show our kids the “real” life. – Kids are innocent… they aren’t going to hold it against us for creating a magical childhood for as long as we can. -Soon enough the ugliness of reality will steal that innocence and wonder, and hope in possibility. I say let them have what little childhood this life allows them to have.

  30. Don’t fret – most! of us believed in Santa as kids and when we found out he was fictional did not become serial killers. All part of the fun of being young!

  31. Speaking as a parent of an almost 13 year old – Do not feel badly about the Santa myth. In fact, it’s magical and fun and while you may worry about perpetuating certain undesirable American propaganda tools, those issues will be forced upon them no matter what, and that’s when you step in later on to teach your child how to handle the undesirables. For now, I say, think back to the days you honestly thought Santa was real. The butterflies in your tummy the night before. The excitement so grand, you feel like your body is going to burst. The fact that you struggle with this says to me that once the myth is revealed, you are going to be prepared as a parent to teach that you can have both. You can have the myth and still be a responsible human being. My daughter loves doing the Angel Tree because we do it every year. I think the answer is for you to find balance, whatever way you feel fit and most comfortable. And P.S. – I loved the years when my daughter still believed in Santa and Christmas Eve came around and it always this awesome rush to wrap presents in secret, eat the cookies she left out (downed with some spiked egg nog, of course) and then the ultimate: the pure excitement on their face the next morning (before the sun comes up), while you down coffee and act surprised by every present they open. Let them be kids who live in a land we often wish we still lived.

  32. I wasn’t heartbroken nor did I think my parents liars when I learned there was no real Santa – and my kid wasn’t/didn’t either. I think we worry far to much about everything these days…it’s just one of those things that is part of some children’s lives – that magic of Christmas – I would never trade that look of astonishment of on my son’s face when he realized Santa visited.

  33. Santa isn’t real?
    NOOOO!!!!!!

  34. Hilarious. I’ve thought about this too for my 1.5 year old. My husband’s fam didn’t do santa since his parents were raised in greece….and I’m just kind of a scrooge. And an atheist. But……having to eat rhe cookies is certainly an incentive.

  35. Doodle knows vaguely who Santa is, and that Santa means Christmas, and that Christmas means presents, and so consequently that Santa means presents, but we still haven’t completely settled on our story for him, and he’s 3 1/2! He doesn’t care who the presents came from yet, and empty threats of a guy he doesn’t know taking away a holiday that will still happen aren’t exactly on my to-do list this year. And he knows that cookies left out on the table will only be eaten by the dog, regardless of who they’re meant for. Enjoy C’s wonder and joy this season, and know that even if she sits on a random robust man’s lap this year, you’re not entirely contracted in to the whole gig. Make Christmas magical for her, and however you do that will be the right way.

  36. […] referring, of course, to Santa Claus. Some parents feel guilty perpetuating the myth. Others do […]

  37. Sadly I have no memories of ever believing in Santa so I missed out on the magic. We all need a little magic from time to time, even as adults. What better way to start than to believe in the magic that Santa can be to a five year old.

  38. When my son was 8 he came across a five year old child in the school ground who was crying his little heart out. He’d just learned that Santa wasn’t real. My boy, being the kind hearted soul that he was then and still is now that he’s an adult with his own children told this little boy that Santa in fact did exist. It’s true that children believe in Santa because the people they trust the most tell them he exists, but why should we cynical parents disillusion them. Their turn will come soon enough.

  39. My mother refused to let us believe Santa was real. She had multiple reasons. 1 – Christmas is a time to celebrate God’s son and not some fat dude in a suit that brings you presents. 2 – I spent that money on my child and I don’t want an imaginary person getting the credit like presents just fall from the sky. 3 – If I lie to my child about something, even something so innocent, how am I then going to teach them not to lie.

    This didn’t go over well with a 6-year-old (me) with a big mouth. Once in an elevator a woman who had a daughter about my age asked me, “So are you ready for Santa?” and I replied very confidently, “Santa is a big fat lie! My mom is the one who gives me presents”. Her daughter proceeded to cry and my mother later gave me a long talk about how there’s a ‘time and place’ for such things.

    I don’t look badly on those who decide to repeat the tradition but I prefer the more face-on approach.

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