Do You Tell The Truth About Santa?

A few decades ago I indulged in some concerns about the likelihood of Santa’s existence while playing with a neighbor kid. A reasonably science-minded kindergartener, I wondered aloud how reindeer could fly without wings. I speculated about the chimney girth problem and the issue of children who lived in fireplace-free homes. And then, as if no one else had encountered these breaches in holiday logic, I asked how Santa could fly across the whole world in one night.

I was torn, wanting my friend to take me seriously but also hoping he’d prop up my fading sense of magic. I was disappointed when he dismissed every one of my speculations.

Later that day his mother called my mother. Her son was upset. According to her I’d ruined his belief in Santa. She said I wasn’t a nice little girl at all. That we were the same age didn’t seem to matter. My mother, who held politeness up there with God and cleanliness, insisted I apologize to Mrs. Barton right there on the phone.

After that particular trauma I badgered my mother for days until she fessed up. The truth stung. My older sister was in on the falsehood. Other kids at school probably were too, but by some twist of propriety they knew better than to tell believers, even if they felt superior to Santa holdouts. Clearly a victim of my mother’s politeness gene, I felt awful when it hit me that I’d been opening packages every year thinking that Santa owed me for my good behavior when all along those gifts were lovingly bought and wrapped by my parents. And I’d never even thanked them.

Fast forward a few decades. I vowed I would not follow the collective Santa lie with my own children. Sure, the truth might lead them right into the same minefield of logic versus belief with some other kid. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s how kids learn to think for themselves (as long as their parents don’t run interference). But I had no intention of killing Santa entirely. That’s because small children inhabit a different world than the rest of us. They don’t make clear distinctions between fantasy and reality. There’s probably something to that. Ever notice how happy little kids are? So I wanted an approach that kept wonder and excitement alive.

The philosophy I decided to use with my own four kids was based on the classic 1897 newspaper column titled “Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” written by Francis Pharcellus Church. It reads, in part,

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”

I took the casual approach. I never hyped Santa, any more than I promoted the whole commercial side of Christmas. No “better be good for Santa.” No Santa at the mall (pretty easy with our mall avoidance lifestyle).

Sure, we still like Christmas carols that mention Santa. And my family cheerfully accommodates the thing I have for that early 60’s special, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, even welcoming my teary-eyed joy at the scene when hope returns to the Island of Misfit Toys. But we keep the holidays simple.

My reply to “Is Santa real?” has always been, “Everyone who loves children is Santa’s helper.” The few times I’ve gotten more questions, which happened rarely because kids like to keep that possibility alive, I explained that even grown-ups like to believe too. By the time kids reach a certain age, they know what my answer means. Either it means there’s no Santa or their Mom is a believer. Maybe I am. I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s magic everywhere. I just call it by different names: love, hope, faith, and compassion.

Oh yeah, and forgiveness. By the next day Mrs. Barton’s kid was already over it.

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" (subversivecooking.com). She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
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17 Responses to Do You Tell The Truth About Santa?

  1. Tatiana says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for the honesty and perspective. I’m facing the Santa question with my seven year old and wondering what to do. You helped a ton!

    Like

  2. I’ve handled it similarly. I treated it in a low-key way, we seldom go to malls, I never suggested behaving well for Santa’s sake. When asked, I’ve said that Santa is a spirit.

    When someone close to my son had died when he was 5, we wondered about her spirit visiting us. I am neither a believer nor a skeptic; I guess I’m agnostic on questions like that. As a pagan, the idea of spirits of the recently dead visiting us seems quite possible.

    And so calling Santa a spirit gives both the sense of the spirit of the holiday season and the sense of a spirit-being. I guess I kept it vague. He’s 8 now, and knows. The main thing that came from Santa was the stockings full of candy. That was likely to make him believe, since mama is so anti-candy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura Weldon says:

    @Tatiana. It’s a tough call isn’t it? We want to be honest with our kids, especially since we expect them to be honest with us. That all adults who love kids are Santa’s helpers is my truth. And I still get a little shiver reading The Polar Express, so my truth leaves room for ME to believe!

    @Sue. I love the word “spirit” and all the possibility it evokes. I think Church’s words honor spirit any way we choose to see it. To that I say “amen.”

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  4. CaptiousNut says:

    Yeah, but adults believe in a multitude of other *myths*!

    A child who believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy is far less dangerous and less tragic than an adult who believes in the cult of gov’t-sanctioned experts, that SUV’s are dooming the Earth, that *the other side* is responsible for all their personal problems in life, etc. – to give a few examples.

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    • Laura Weldon says:

      Which is why we’re raising kids who think for themselves, ask questions, and don’t believe “experts” until they check out the info. Then the Mrs. Bartons of the world will have to watch out.

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  5. debra says:

    I remember saying, “We all have the spirit of Santa within us, and we can all believe in magic.” Magic does exist, you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jeff says:

    Fantastic, I think taking the middle road is also what I’ll be doing with our kids. I just don’t feel right about blatantly lying to children, but I also deeply believe in the power and ideals of Santa.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well for me, the middle road was full of pitfalls. I tried to never say there was a Santa, but everyone was always asking my kids about him, mentioning him every 5 minutes throughout December and telling my kids to be good. I would always say “what do you think?” and “I don’t know.” to any queries about Santa. In retrospect I maybe I should have used different wording.? My older 2 kids were no trouble, passing from a mild belief to a non-upset non-belief but my youngest became Santa-obsessed and drove me crazy with it for several years and would NOT believe that there was no Santa. It’s hard to define where the middle of the road is. I didn’t want any of my kids telling other kids and ruining their fun, but I didn’t want to encourage it either. Santa is one area where I felt like a complete failure as a parent.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I always told my kids Santa was a spirit anyone could channel. Instead of asking what they “wanted”, I would ask how they were going to share their Santa spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. cass says:

    I just finished reading a fantastic book about the Santa mythology. It helps to know that the red-suited Santa as we know him is only a very recent development (100years) and the mythology began in the US, and represents a merging of a great deal of different xmas mythologies.

    Even after he was developed no one could agree on what he looked like and the pictures of a hundred year ago rarely show the red-suited man that we know today. Why is this important? It means that this mythology isn’t set in stone, and you shouldn’t be a social pariah for not investing in it. My gosh, 150year ago Santa was frequently accompanied by devil-like figures (Grampus) and even more recently Santa was frequently depicted stealing children (in his sack, no less) and tying them to trees to beat them.

    Again, my point is just that we have invest a little too much in this need for the Santa mythology to be delivered purely to our kids, and then worrying about when to tell them the truth. It is a cruel myth, it always has been.

    (For the record, we do similiar to the OP, I am happy for my kids to enjoy the myth, but they do so with complete honesty that Santa is an enjoyable myth).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nina says:

    Our kids are told the story of Saint Nikolaus and about the Santa traditions of our culture & we even read the Twas the Night Before Xmas poem each year on Christmas Eve, but they also know from day one that it is a make believe story parents teach their children to believe in and that in our home we don’t follow this practice as for us Xmas is about remembering Christ & celebrating together as a family so we do not have presents from Santa. We do however have a Christmas stocking from Mum & Dad. The hardest part for us is teaching our children that others will be hurt if they reveal the truth to them and that it is a parents responsibility to tell their children the truth when they feel the time is right. My kids have a hard time understanding this initially as like us they struggle with the idea that a parent would deliberately lie to children to make them believe in something false only to have to disappoint them & tell them the truth later. Always trying to be 100% truthful with our children was one of the main factors behind our decision to be a Santa free family.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Tanya says:

    I love Santa & still believe in Santa Claus! There is a magic to it all for me, always has been. I was never one of those children who said “Santa’s not real”, I just slowly learned more & more as I grew older but it didn’t take away the magic or the mystery for me. I teach my kids that Santa is the spirit of Christmas, to bring joy to children & to all people. I can’t stand all the stress & strain families put on getting their kids to think that every man with a white beard in a red suit is the real Santa Claus – in my eyes, no one can ever see Santa Claus – he is not a man of flesh, he does not literally come into our home in the middle of the night – creepy! So I refer to those people “Santa’s helpers”, which I truly believe, because anyone running around in a Santa or elf outfit is helping spread joy. In this way I don’t ever feel like I’m lying to my kids or tricking them – if anything, I am getting out of my own adult head & reveling in the joy & magic that my children so easily access.

    Liked by 1 person

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