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.

35 thoughts on “Do You Tell The Truth About Santa?

  1. 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

  2. @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.”


  3. 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.


    • 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.


    • Well, there is the difference that Santa Claus is a documented myth while the greenhouse effect on planetary atmospheres is accepted by every national scientific academy in the world. Only right wing nuts who are mainly informed by Fox News disbelieve it.


    • You are confusing ideology and myth with science based research.

      SUVs do damage the earth as do many other things. That is very different to potentially lying to your kid.

      what’s more worrying is the fake news trend, where charlatans are becoming more convincing than true factual sources. It’s like a the book Salem in the digital world….


  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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 2 people

    • Exactly that about not lying to them. We’ve never lied to the kids about Santa (Father Christmas here) and have had to intervene when a teacher started telling one of them that they have to be good to get presents. Our kiddos are adopted and come with sooo much baggage that adding lies in and using imaginary creatures to control behaviour is really going to cause so many problems. Plus like you I want them to know the real meaning of Christmas and also to make a distinction between a believe system/faith and fictional tosh that parents/cultures make up. We’ve never lied about it, and when they ask we tell the truth. That’s the safest option I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. 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 2 people

  9. When my son was 4 he asked me who Santa was (preschool influenced because we are Jewish and celebrate Christmas as a time to be with family but iuts not religous for us). So I told him that adults like to play pretend and they like to imagine that Santa helps deliver their presents to children on Christmas. And my sweet 4 year old son lookex me in tbe eye and said “No. I think your wrong. I think Santa is real and he brings presents to people.” So I said, oh, ok. And he smiled knowingly :). I think sometimes a desire to believe in something magical is just too strong to contradict and children are the very essence of magic.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I really struggle with this issue! We have always been honest with our son, but he just loves the idea of Santa. I myself grew up without Santa, as my parents didn’t celebrate Christmas. I must say that this left me crushed every single Christmas until all my friends learnt ‘the truth’ too. Once I put a plastic bag at the end of my bed because I thought, maybe just maybe he’ll come and see me! I cannot tell you how sad I was the next morning. Perhaps this highlights even more the problem with the myth. I like the idea of suggesting he is a spirit. But I think for me, because of my own experience, the magic is worth far more than the truth. I don’t think children have been mentally affected in to their adult life because they found out that Santa wasn’t real!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My boys have always known that Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. They know that some kids believe in Santa Claus. We aren’t hostile about Santa – and my boys knew not to say anything to other kids who might believe… but I think it’s easy to get way too wrapped up in Santa Claus, and Elf on a Shelf, etc. and forget about the real reason for the season. I do think it’s interesting and fun to teach kids about Saint Nicholas and how Santa and all of our other Christmas traditions were started… but as for believing that he is real? No.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m hoping by teaching my kids to question Santa they will question other religious myths and expose them to a scientific approach in general.


      • Posting this reply for Sue VanHattum, who can’t get WordPress to work for her.

        “He’s not really a religious myth. He’s much more a cultural myth. If you tell a young child unequivocally that there’s no Santa, then you set them apart from their peers. See my comment, and Laura’s lovely addition above (or below?). And in my world, magic exists. I also respect the process of science.”
        Sue VanHattum


  12. Great article! I’m curious where you are from. Barton is my maiden name and this totally seems like something my grandmother would do! Any chance you remember more from the Bartons?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi! I need suggestions! My son,will be 3 in February. He does not really know about Santa that much. People keep asking him if he is behaving, because Santa is watching and stuff like that, but he has never asked me about Santa. We plan to be honest with him. Explain just like some of you suggested above, refering to christmas spirit and Santa’s helpers.
    Here is the catch, where I need help. How do I guide him towards respecting other children’s beliefs, without asking him to “lie”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s part of why I always said Santa was the spirit of xmas – that spirit is what makes people want to give each other kindness and gifts. It’s vague enough that the kid can go with the mass ‘belief’ when they want to, but they also know you’re not saying Santa is a person.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with Sue on the spirit of Christmas thing. And the line, “everyone who loves children can be Santa’s helper” adds rather than subtracts the magic. Your son will believe as much as he chooses to believe. It’s kind to respect what his friends have been told, but they are far too young to parse out the meaning behind words like “spirit of Christmas” and “Santa’s helpers.”


  14. Big question – as the first year that my daughter actually understands some of Christmas, how do I “introduce” this to her. My mother will certainly be promoting “gifts from Santa” on Christmas morning, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care how I feel about it 😂

    How do I explain it, for the first time, to a 2.5-year-old?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps the way any of us welcome storybook figures into our children’s lives. As I have always said to my children, “Everyone who loves children is Santa’s helper” or “Santa is the spirit of giving.” Embracing the myth of Santa while not over-emphasizing it seems to work well. I say I “like to believe” which is the truth but not a lie. When asked, I’ve said that people dressed as Santa help keep the magic alive but the “real” Santa is an idea in our hearts. All of this is too esoteric for a toddler. Enjoy her joy, help her make gifts for others so she finds joy in giving, and it all sorts out.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to suevanhattum Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s