The Question of Santa Claus

“Mama, is Santa Claus real?” Emily asked me recently.

I paused for a moment, reflecting on my own experiences as a child. I remember whispering to my Kindergarten teacher that “Santa wasn’t real” with cool confidence, feeling very grown up. I didn’t want to say it loudly, because I knew that many of the other children still believed, and I didn’t want to ruin it for them.

My father had been very clear on the subject early on. Decades later, I asked him why. “I didn’t want to lie,” he said, “Telling you that there was a Santa Claus would have been a lie.”

Some part of me longed for the whimsy of Christmas, the dream of a magical man who could appear in every child’s home, whisk down the chimney, through a flue pipe, or wriggle through a dog door to bring our children their most ardently wished for Christmas toy. So I began with Danielle when she was quite small. Santa always brought a gift wrapped differently than the others (it usually has his face on the wrapping paper).

We would set out cookies and milk, sometimes jingle some bells and call out our goodbyes to him.

I can’t say when Danielle figured it out, probably at the age most children do, at seven or so. During a brief few years when I was stepmother to three children, the youngest turned eight or nine and his mom announced it was time to have the Santa talk. He came to me and said, “Christine, I know Santa isn’t real, my mom told me.”

I stared at him for a moment, smiled, and said, “I don’t know what you mean. Santa lives in all of us and that means he is alive and well.” The kid just stared back at me confused.

My husband Dave has been reluctant to embrace the whole tradition of Santa Claus that I created with Danielle and now wanted to celebrate with Emily. He has said on a number of occasions, “I believed in Santa Claus, really believed, and it absolutely devastated me to learn that my parents were lying to me.”

Ah…the lying thing again.

The age of seven is supposed to be the age of reason…give or take a year per the individual…it is a time when, according to Scholastic’s article The Age of Reason

“…these children have a newly internalized sense of right and wrong. They are no longer focused simply on not getting caught or displeasing adults. They have made up their minds about what is right or wrong…”

Already though, I have seen Emily asking the same question over and over…”Is [it, that, he, she] real?”

And I find a conflict growing within me. I want to be honest with my child, to fairly represent the world in which she is living, without any sugar-coating or cream pie filling. But I also desperately want to dream with her, of worlds that do not exist, of creatures more fantastic than real, and I fear her losing her joy in the magical realm of make-believe.

So…do I tell her Santa Claus is real? Do I try to explain that the magic of Santa Claus lives within all of us? Or do I explain that Santa Claus is one of our favorite enduring myths?

How do YOU deal with the question of Santa Claus? What do YOU tell your children?

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5 Responses to The Question of Santa Claus

  1. Lara hampton says:

    My response was well, what do you think? And I would listen to whether they were reasoning through to decipher the Truth or whether they were reassuring themselves. I usually stayed away from actually offering much in the way of empirical input and led them lead th conversation where they wanted it to go.

  2. Melissa says:

    What did you decide?

    • Christine says:

      The jury is still out. She sat in Santa’s lap at Pancakes with Santa earlier this month. On the same day, she was at a library, where there was another Santa Claus (this one had an authentic beard!) and I asked her if she wanted to talk to him, and she shook her head no.

      Last night, we were talking about her trip to Union Station with her grandmother to ride the Holiday Express train and she mentioned that yes, there had been a Santa Claus and no, she didn’t go and talk to him. A few moments later she asked, “How many Santas are there?”

      I told her that there were many people who served as Santa’s representatives. She sort of nodded and said nothing more.

      I get the feeling that belief in Santa won’t be lasting much longer – she’s a smart girl, and she seems to be reading between the lines pretty well!

  3. Maura says:

    Dear Christine,
    As a mom, an educator, catechist at church, and a believer in the magic and spirit of this beautiful holiday season I have been wrestling with the same thing. Below I’ve attached a letter I found, made some changes to, and then included some personal touches. Perhaps it will help you too! Our son has been asking too many questions. We’ve prided ourselves in modeling and teaching our children about trust, honesty, and their faith. Having trouble sleeping last night, struggling with what to do I decided we must be honest, but in the right way, and that we couldn’t model lying for our children. If our son was asking that many questions, we were sharing that many lies. Hope this helps.
    Wishes for a beautiful, magical, holiday filled with blessings.

    Dear _______,
    Recently, you’ve been very thoughtful, reflective, and inquisitive. These are just a few of your wonderful traits. In wondering, you’ve asked some very good question: “Is Santa Real?”
    I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say. The answer is yes and no all at the same time. There is no one Santa, though there was only one Saint Nicholas. There is a Christmas Secret, it is held dear to those that believe in the magic and spirit of the season, those that believe it is more important to give than to receive, those that celebrate the birth of Jesus, for he was the most special gift. When a child is born it is the ultimate gift parents can receive, a true blessing, privilege, and honor. Jesus was a gift for Mary and Joseph just as you are an awesome and special gift to your parents.
    I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, the Daddy help with everything, too.)
    We imagine you will someday do this for your children, and we know you will love seeing them run down the Christmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights. You will love the excitement and magic on Christmas eve as they lay watchful trying so hard not to fall asleep, listening for sleigh bells and the pawing of hooves on the roof.

    This won’t make you Santa, though.

    Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch. It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, in your family, and in your God. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.

    Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy. He teaches us all the gift of giving to others, reminds us to spread love, joy, and belief, and he teaches us well.

    With full hearts, people like Daddy and Moma take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.

    So, no, we are not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. We’re on his team, and now you are, too. You’ve been entrusted with the Christmas Secret ~ Santa lives in all of us, that means he’s alive and well.
    We love you and we always will.

    Mama & Daddy

    • Christine says:

      Thank you Maura, that is a really beautiful letter!

      For this year, we have decided to let Emily believe in Santa Claus, although I can already see her working on it and trying to figure out the discrepancies (different Santas at different locations, etc).

      I will probably edit it myself and give it to her for next year. We are secular, but that letter is quite lovely, and makes some beautiful points. The thought of her someday having children made me smile and cry, all at the same time.

      Thank you!