Talking to Kids about Santa

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Parents disagree about what to say about Santa

Sept 2008

Hi there,
So, my wonderful husband and I are having a discussion (read...disagreement) and I could use some advice. He wants our 3 kids to know that he will ALWAYS be honest with them. Great sentiment. However, this idea extends towards Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny... I think it's OK to foster a little light-hearted belief in these characters and he does not. If they ask him if Santa is real, he is planning to say, ''No''...because he doesn't want to lie to them. What do you think?
I LOVE Santa and the Bunny

I had to respond to this. In what I have now come to see as one of the low points of my parenting career, I gave in to my discomfort about ''lying'' about Santa and told my son when he was six.

He was very angry at me. He said ''Mom! I could have had several more years!'' He (14 now) still gets mad when it comes up.

My point, it was my discomfort I was alleviating. I do not think I taught him anything about honesty at all. It's a cultural myth that is usually a joyful part of childhood. I think taking that away is NOT the right thing to do. anon

I think there are many excellent responses in the archives. All I want to add is that it can depend upon the child and situation. e.g. If they grow up in a stable, loving home, where all their needs are met and they feel safe, secure, knowing people and things will be there, then the ''fun stories'' are icing on the cake.

If a child has a life of unfulfilled needs, never knowing what to expect, then either the ''fun stories'' provide potentially dangerous escapism, or are another example of lies and broken promises. You and your husband should talk about his childhood - did he suffer from feeling lied to, needs unmet, etc? Why the intense promise to ''never lie''? That's the real issue. Mom of Two

By the time they ask, they are ready for the truth. In addition, I think a direct question deserves a truthful answer. If you want to do the whole Santa Claus/Easter Bunny myth because YOU enjoy it, fine, but long about kindergarten, they will question it, and if you insist that these mythical creatures exist in real life, the kids will lose trust in you. Just not worth it, in my opinion. anon

But they ARE real! Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't real. I checked this with my 12 year old son, and I have it on good authority that the above statements are true. Something is ''Real'' as long as it remains so in your heart. My son has known since he was about 7 or 8 that Santa does not literally go from house to house on a big sled pulled by large, flying deer. When common sense began to be at odds with his natural credulity, he asked me if I believed in Santa Claus. It was his wording of the question that gave me my answer. My heartfelt answer was, ''Yes. I believe in Santa.'' I believe in the power of myth to touch people's lives, to bring them hope and joy, and to teach us lessons about love and giving and kindness. I have never heard of a child being emotionally crushed or crippled upon learning the ''truth,'' that Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy were creations of adult imaginations. My husband is not too keen on Christmas, but he indulged my desire perpetuate the spirit of Santa. There is nothing like the expression on your child's face when he/she sees that Santa's cookies and milk are gone, or notices the smudgy footprints leading out of a very small wood burning stove! My son's and my advice is to enjoy and celebrate whatever ''myths'' your culture fosters. You are not telling lies or being deceitful. You are opening hearts and minds to bigger truths and a whole lot of fun. CA

My parents never pretended that Santa was real, and I don't remember being upset or feeling left out or even really thinking about it much at all, and Christmas was always fun. I got presents from family, and I think I even sat on Santa's lap at the mall once or twice, but I never believed he was a real guy who lived at the North Pole. With my own kids, I've been up- front about Santa being make-believe, just like their other favorite storybook characters, which they enjoy without me pretending they're real. Sometimes (usually after reading ''Polar Express'') they've said things like, ''I think Santa is real'' and I don't argue the point with them or anything; if they want to believe, that's ok, just like some days they believe there are really giant red dogs named Clifford, but I'm not going to make up a big charade about it, and that way I won't have to deal with a disillusioned kid later on. Kids have such great imaginations, the concept of real and make-believe is pretty fluid for them, anyway. I'll bet you can find ways to introduce Santa and talk about giving and sharing and make the season special without actually saying he's a real guy. Sorry My Kids Are Going to Ruin It For Yours Someday

I had the wish to be honest with my son too, but also didn't want to spoil the fun. This is what we did: When my son asked if Santa was real, I said ''What do you think?'' And then I did not contradict his opinion. It went from ''Oh yes,'' to ''Yeah, I think so,'' to ''So-and-so at school said he is not but I think he is,'' to ''Well, I think it's really you guys,'' between about 4 and 6. At 7, he asked me point blank ''Are you guys really Santa? Tell me the truth.'' So then, and only then, I did tell him the truth. Now, at 7, he knows it's us on one level, but loves to pretend on another. So we always talk about Santa and the Tooth Fairy and so on... even though he knows who they ''really'' are. Karen

I personally believe that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny ARE real. :-)

They're very real ideas and roles that real people play. When and how you choose to explain this to your children depends in some ways on your approach to religious beliefs and to fantasy or pretend play in general, and on your particular children's personalities. Keep in mind that you can have a lot of fun ''playing Santa'' even if/when your kids know that it's ''really'' their parents filling their stockings -- and your husband should know that lots of kids never feel that they were betrayed or lied to when they discover the ''truth'' about these thing, but instead get a lot of pleasure out of having grown old enough and smart enough to ferret out the special secret of who hid the eggs -- and to play along!

A possible approach, which works well for a lot of families, is basically to neither confirm or deny. If confronted with a direct question (''Is Santa Claus real?'') you can respond with, ''What do you think?'' The child's answer will give you a sense of whether or not he would prefer, and is ready for, the literal truth. Yes, Virginia....

I am on your side. Does your husband want to always be honest with his kids or does he want them to have a nice childhood? Is he going to be honest and tell them their imaginary friend is nonsense and their drawings don't look like what they are supposed to either? There are ways to get around Santa Claus without saying ''No he doesn't exist!'' like by saying, ''I don't know, what do you think?'' or ''Well everyone seems to think he does!'' or by watching Miracle on 32nd St. anon

We always told our boys that Santa was real for those who believed that he was real. They were always satisfied with this and now (at ages 16 & 17) still say that they ''believe'' in Santa. let kids be kids (at any age...)

What does Santa do when there's no chimney?

Dec 2006

We moved this year into a house without a fireplace. I'd love to hear what creative solutions/stories others without fireplaces have used regarding hanging stockings, explaining how Santa gets into the house, etc. For example, it seems like it ruins some of the magic to say Santa just comes through the front door, and might also create fear that if Santa can do that, who else might? But then how does Santa get in?
Happy Christmas to all

We've never lived in a place with a kids are 3 and 5 and we just say that Santa comes to our place, not the logistics of how. They may ask this someday, but not yet. I'm curious what other people say.

promise you won't laugh at me!!!! when I was a kid, we didn't have a chimney either and I became VERY concerned about how santa would get into the house. I asked my parents and they turned it back to me ''how do YOU think he'll get in?'' I gave this some thought and knew that we locked the doors every night so clearly that wouldn't work....I remember taking a walk around the perimeter of the house and found the dryer ducts. I asked my parents if they thought he could get in that way. We left the dryer door open and sure enough, it must have worked because I still got heaps of presents on Christmas morning! (please, stop laughing!) So why not turn it on your kids? Let them come up with something creative and then go with it

We have the same issue and I told my daughter: ''It's magic!''. He has to use magic at our home. She loves that! JOJ

A wonderful book I read and re-read to my child was ''On Christmas Eve'' by Peter Collington, New York : Knopf, c1990. I discovered this treasure when we went to visit over Christmas where there was no chimney. The story as described by the Albany Library catalog online is: dozens of tiny fairies guide Santa Claus to the home of a little girl who lives in a house without a chimney. It is much more than that. It is a charming and delightful story where the details are in the beautiful illustrations, it is a story without words, and the small nuances you can see unfolding with your child as you read the book. I hope you enjoy it!
- was also worried once

When I was growing up, we did not have a fireplace. My mother tied ribbons to the stockings and then hung them from the closet door (in the living room) using flat thumbtacks to attach the ribbon to the top edge of the door. She still hangs the stockings in the same place when we all come to visit, but ''Santa'' usually has to cut them down and lay them on the dining room table so that all the gifts can fit in and around the stockings.

In our own house, we have a gas stove with the flue running up the chimney. Our kids (no dummies) have asked how Santa can get down the chimney with the flue in it. We have always told them that Santa is a magical person and is able to find ways into houses that do not have chimneys and they always accepted that answer. They never seemed to think that other people could get into the house, if Santa could. He is a special case.
Santa's helper

I grew up in South Florida - definitely no chimneys! We were told (and this might or might not be a Cuban tradition or a creative mom, not sure) that Santa shrinks into a tiny little mouse size and comes in through the bottom of the door and then becomes big again once inside. Jenny

Don't you know that Santa is magical and can make himself so small that he can come under the door. (Only he can do this) The window is another good option.

Stockings can go at the end of the bed or make your own mantle using hooks. Ask your child where they should be, they might have some interesting ideas.

A tradition I like is we go to a vista and look for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. Many planes make for an easy Rudolph siting. Then we hurry home to get to sleep before Santa gets there. He won't come until your asleep of course. anon

In the Christmas movie starring Tim Allen, ''The Santa Clause'', you can actually see a cast-iron heater and small roof vent magically turn into a chimney, then Santa comes through, then it turns back to a heater and pipe. It's pretty cool, and answers the question of how Santa gets in. This is actually one of my favorite holiday movies (although I'm not so fond of the sequels...) - movie fan

At our chimneyless house we hang our stockings on the front doorknob on Christmas eve and Santa uses the door. After all, if he can magically fit through the chimney, he can magically fit through the keyhole, too. If we want to display the stockings before that we put them up wherever and move them to the doorknob Christmas eve.

Should kids believe in Santa?

Dec 2006

I feel like it might be decietful to have kids believe in Santa. Is is everywhere-- news, post office, teachers, parents, etc. It seems like when the kid realizes that all the trusted people in her/his life have fooled them they will not be pleased. I don't know. I only have a 5 month old so it's not an issue but next few years it might be. Wondering what others thought.

Should kids believe in Santa? Well, should they believe in bible stories? Or even god? I don't mean to say that Santa is equal to god in terms of cultural importance.... but just that there are many culturally popular ''stories,'' myths, etc., that serve the purpose of instilling a sense of wonder and delight in people, and giving them a sense that there are things out there bigger than themselves, and not entirely understandable. Some last only for the few magical years of childhood, and some are lifelong, and I think that most would agree that only you can decide what ''stories'' you want your children to participate in.
mother who wants magic for kids

My husband and I are talking about this also (2.5 y.o.) and I say no. My mom says she didn't have me believe it because when she and her sister found out at school, she was enraged and she has a vivid memory of her sister sitting on their mom's lap and crying her heart out.

My feeling is, Christmas is so wonderful, why on earth does it need ramping up? I mean, can anyone say, ''Oh, the fun will go out of Christmas if my kid doesn't believe in Santa.'' Christmas is magical in so many ways, it does fine on its own. I think it's fun to use the icons -- the Easter Bunny, Cupid, ghosts, whatever, without doing so in such a way that the kid thinks their real, and for example, thinking of them all year in a loving way and then bringing them just the gifts they want on Christmas. Jenny

All I can say is that I'm grateful I was deceived. We only get a few years to actually believe in magic. Then it's over. If the adults don't take it all so seriously and make a giant trust issue out of it, most kids will enjoy believing and then gradually come to realize the truth when they are ready. Parents should let it all end gracefully, following the child's lead. I suspect that most kids, without the words to explain it, understand the difference between a myth and a lie. anon

Santa is about fun and magic and mystery. And what's so wrong with that? It's not about tricking someone or being deceitful; I really think that particular line of thinking is reading way too much into it and overanalyzing the whole thing. I remember finding out that Santa wasn't real from a second-grade classmate (who shall remain nameless)--and I wasn't upset with my parents, I just wished that my classmate hadn't spoiled it for me. I even continued to pretend to believe in Santa for a couple of more years just because it was fun and I wasn't ready to admit it out loud. Speaking for myself and nearly everyone else I know, finding out the truth about Santa never made it on my list of things to resent my parents for or great traumas of my life. I don't think kids need to believe in Santa or be raised with the Santa myth, but really, I don't think there's any harm in it, either. It was fun. That's it.
I heart Santa

I was about to turn 7 when I noticed the uncracked walnuts in my Xmas stocking were the same ones we had on the table the day prior. I said ''Hey, wait a minute'', and then I suddenly knew. I queried my mother, who said ''Santa is in your heart''. While I knew that Santa was fiction at that point, it was a good answer and I was sated. I guess it's all how you spin it.

The question is... are you the type of person who doesn't want to read any fairy tales or read any books that have magical or unrealistic elements in them? If so, you will be very very limited. No Dr. Seuss. No Curious George. No Disney. And countless others. This isn't necessarily a bad choice - there are whole child-rearing philosophies surrounding only stating what is physical and real (Montessori). If you're okay with reading Jack in the Beanstalk, Clifford the Dog books, and watching Little Mermaid and The Secret of Nimh, well then... why not Santa too?

It's a fun tradition and story. I enjoy the Santa thing.

I was worried about the same thing. I have told my kids that Santa is the spirit of christmas, the Spirit of loving and giving. When they stop believing in Santa, this statement will still be true. You'll see when your kid is older that enjoying the magic of childhood is really important, like fairies and imaginary friends. And who says there is no Santa Claus anyway!
Still believing int he spirit of Christmas

Before I had kids I was convinced I would not let them believe in Santa Clause. Now that I have kids I see how magical and special to them Christmas and santa clause is. I wouldn't dream of denying them of this Magical treat. Like someone else commented life is short and they will learn the facts soon enough but until them let them enjoy this special moment.
santa lover

I did not see the original post but saw the responses. I don't understand what the question is. I believe in Santa and I continue to receive gifts year afer year. I see the delight in my children's eyes and the awe and wonder. It just makes me so happy. There are so few purely wonderful things in this world that I cannot see why someone would choose to reject one.
Still believing

How do you deal with Santa Claus?

October 2006

We are a non-religious family with a 2 1/2 year old. We have given one or two gifts and a small stocking for Christmas, but have not introduced the idea of Santa Claus. I would rather not, but know she will get it from her new preschool and from the world around her. I would love to hear more (some older posts address this) about how families are creatively dealing with Santa Claus, etc. I would rather have gifts come to/from people she loves than from Santa. Thanks. anon

Why not just take away superheroes too, while you are at it? I mean, people can't fly, dragons aren't real, and wishing on a 4 leaf clover brings nothing. There's no rule saying Santa has to be excessive. Why not just one gift from Santa? The delight in my 4 year old's face when my in-laws have told him that Santa just delivered something for him is immeasurable. Why would I want to take that away? Santa is not Jesus, and does not have to be celebrated as a religious figure. heather

If your child asks you point blank, ''Is there a Santa,'' ask him back ''What do you think?'' and then take your cues from him. I'm one of 5 kids, and my parents handled Santa by simply not encouraging the Santa belief, and for all 4 girls, that worked fine...we just never really believed. My brother, however, nearly came to tears his 5th Christmas when we were done unwrapping presents and he said ''But where is my present from Santa?'' My Mom said that Santa actually left it in my parent's bedroom, since they were on the top floor and it was easiest to for him to get too, and sent me upstairs with a wink and a smile to go grab one of his ''12 days of Christmas'' presents from her closet. (We celebrated every holiday tradition my mom could get her hands out for St. Nick's day, St. Lucia's day, 3 wisemans, etc, and so had ''12 days of Christmas presents'', which were always small things, but made the holidays last, and were probably why we didn\x92t go in for Santa\x85we saw that so many different cultures had so many different traditions, it became apparent that Santa was a tradition, not a real person.) My brother was so delighted that Santa didn't forget him, but that was the only Christmas he ever brought ''him'' up. Our Nanny did have a very frank discussion with my two youngest sisters, when she realized that their closest friends (our neighbors) DID believe in Santa. The girls were told that believing in Santa was a very special and important thing in our neighbor's lives, and so even though my sisters didn't believe in him, it would hurt Katie and Laura if they were told he wasn't real, and so it was important for us not to hurt them, and let them discover what they would choose to believe in on their own. alycia

I tell my daughter that only a couple of her presents at Christmas come from Santa, and the rest come from all of us who love her. I allow the Santa/Christmas fantasy to remain intact because it just makes Christmas more fun for her. The situation works well for her. She knows that the special favorite book was a present from mommy, and the art supply kit came from Santa. When she does realize there is no Santa, she will already understand the concept that gifts are from loved ones. Meg

The Santa ''Lie''

Dec 2005

I am wondering if there are passionate feelings about whether it's a good thing, or not a good thing, to perpetuate the Santa Claus thing with kids. Or to even introduce the concept at all. I didn't see anything in the archives about this (but I could have missed it). I hear some parents being so adamant that they won't ever lie to their kids, including that there is a Santa, because it destroys trust. Others say what's the harm. I loved believing in Santa myself, but I don't want to ''harm'' my child. This seems so ridiculous and so over-parenting to ask, but I thought I'd try to seek advice on this.
-To Santa or Not?

Well, of course this is a very personal decision and each family has to deal with it in the way that works for them. I took my own parents' cue -- they never copped to the ''there is no Santa'' admission, and I actually never asked them, because I didn't want to know. Each Christmas, there were ''interpersonal'' (ie, to Daughter from Mom & Dad) gifts as well as ''Santa'' gifts, a few each year. Generally the ''Santa'' gifts were the ones that were more indulgent or things that you really didn't think your parents would ever get you. (ie, ''Santa'' brought my daughter her rabbit, when her parents had been adamantly anti-pet for months) This continued on through the time I was in college. Of course everyone knew that there was no ''true'' Santa, but we didn't speak about it. Now my children are 11 and 15 and they know that ''Santa'' will come through for them even if their parents feel a little ambivalent. This year Santa will probably bring the Tivo. :-)
Santa's Helper

I think Santa is such a fun part of the holidays but I also don't want my kids to accuse me of lying. I have been telling my kids that Santa is the Spirit of Christmas. It seems like this will translate when they realise that Santa isn't a ''real'' person but more the personification of giving...if that makes sense.
trying not to lie

I have never heard anyone say they really resented their parents for ''lying'' to them about Santa. Ditto the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Curious George, the Cat in the Hat, and all the other imaginary creatures of childhood. For many adults in our culture these wonderful made-up people and animals are a happy memory of our childhood. What if you allow your kids only the cold hard facts and they grow up to resent you for depriving them of the fantasies other kids get to enjoy?

My take on this one has always been, Santa is a story, just like all of the other wonderful stories we tell our kids. My parents told me this story, and as far back as I can remember, I knew at some level that it wasn't really true, but I LOVED ''believing'' in it anyway. I remember my dad jingling a string of bells and yelling ''Ho ho ho!'' and my brother and I would come yelling and screaming down the stairs to try to catch Santa - - even though we knew Santa wasn't really there and we couldn't really catch him. It was a great game. The key was, my parents never actually lied, just like they never lied about Snow White, or Puff the Magic Dragon, or the animals in Charlotte's Web. We don't (at least I don't) go through every last kids' story (most of which contain fantastic elements) and explain what is real and what is not. And kids continue to love the stories, even though as they grow, they sort out the fantasy for themselves. Santa is the same. I asked my mother once, when I was about 3, why all the Santas in the malls looked different. Her answer was a completely unconcerned ''Because they are, honey.'' That was OK with me. Last night, my 4 year old son asked me ''Mom, how do the reindeer get up in the sky -- because, reindeer can't REALLY fly?'' I didn't contradict him (and lie), I just said ''I don't know honey -- what do you think really happens?'' He made up something, and was satisfied. When he asks me more specific questions, I will answer them honestly -- but not with more detail than he asks for.

My husband is Jewish so never celebrated Christmas until he met me. My parents are Protestant but I am an athiest. I still like having a Christmas tree and presents and celebrating Xmas as a family/winter holiday. Now that we have a child, I told my husband that thinking that a fat man in a red suit would come down the chimney in the middle of the night to leave me presents was so great as a child that we have to do that with our kids. I don't consider it a ''lie'' so much as a fun tradition or game that makes life exciting for the little ones. I didn't feel betrayed when I learned that Santa wasn't real as a kid. (I think I was around 6 or 7 when I found out?? Not so sure....) Instead, I felt older/more ''adult''/more grown up once I knew the truth which made me also feel good. I also want to always tell my kids the truth and not lie, but I consider this a cultural tradition, not a lie. Do what feels right for you and your family. Follow your gut, and don't worry about what other people think or are doing. Happy holidays!

I just read about this in a book by Mike Riera and another author (sorry, can't remember the second name), called something like ''Right From Wrong-- Instilling a Sense of Integrity in your Child''. I really appreciated what he had to say. What I gleaned from it is that children live with a sense of wonder and excitement at things they don't understand. It's part of being a child, and part of trusting (as an adult) that wonderful but rather unexplained things will happen in life. He said that around the age of 7-8 many kids may start to question the existance of Santa Claus, when their more rational selves question the feasibility...but they may hold onto the belief. Then when they're really ready to not believe it any more, they'll stop. And be ready to pass on the wonder to smaller kids. He made me feel better about ''lying'' by showing how it isn't a lie, but building on a sense of wonder and the spirit that people will make magic happen for others without needing to get the credit. And that it isn't about the presents, but the thoughtfulness behind the behavior. I recommend the book -- you may want to check it out. maybe I still believe...

Oh yes, there are very strong feelings about the Santa Lie! I've had many arguments with (otherwise very progressive) friends because I don't feel that I ''have to tell my son'' (their words!) that Santa is real. Beliefs on this subject are usually based on how one was raised. In my family, we knew that Santa was never real. And we didnt really understand others' attachment to the concept. But here, yes in Berkeley, I've been on the minority side of the discussion many times.

I am introducing the Santa concept this year (3-years old)as a Christmas character in many stories, just so that he can hear it from me, rather than from a Santa-fanatic. I say, ''This is a wonderful story many people like to tell about Christmas.'' And, like many stories, people have their own ideas about what's real or not. I just feel that there is plenty of wonder with the holidays without Santa. Suzanne

Actually I started out assuming we would follow a typical Santa tradition in our house, but when it came to actually telling my daughter I found myself very naturally explaining after which ever story I happened to be telling her that Santa is a story.

I honestly don't think that knowing it is a story changes her happiness at seeing 'a santa' a bit. We get her dressed up like fairies, and at the Waldorf fairs she understands that the giant, the dragon, and the knight are all just people dressed up as those things, but she is still more than happy to make-believe, and indeed is too scared to approach even a pretend sleeping giant if he so much as stirs a whisker (and even then needs to be up in my arms to get within twenty feet.)

As a story I think that Santa works very nicely into imaginative play, at least at 3 and 4. Kevin

What I told my eldest when she asked about Santa was that ''No one can prove there is no Santa Claus but, I know for sure that he doesn't visit houses where no one believes in him.''

Of course my motivation was to keep her from telling her siblings, but frankly -- as a 48 year-old I find it to be a perfectly reasonable explanation. I see no positive affect to (anyone) being stripped of child- like wonder, or belief in things unseen or unprovable.

Even for nonbelievers there is a line between lies and stories. I was told once that a lie is a story told for self-protection, or for gain... It seems like at worst the Santa story would be a myth or fable; a story told to teach or illustrate a concept.

Especially now, in a world so stuffed with ''reality'' programming, I urge you to relax and permit your child the luxury of belief in something that is wonderful... for as long as he or she is willing to believe. Heather

We are planning to pitch Santa as a legendary figure, like Superman or something, about whom there are many interesting stories but whose actual existence is a little suspect. I guess we will put out some milk and cookies, and label a few gifts ''from Santa,'' and then shrug our shoulders in the morning . . . huh, maybe it WAS Santa!? Can we get away with that?? I think my son has a right to enjoy this tradition, but I don't think it's one of those things that's important enough to merit an outright lie. I remember vividly when I realized that my previously-reliable parents had deceived me about Santa, and while it wasn't traumatic, I definitely lost some respect for them. I will look forward to other responses on this one! Santa Skeptic

I was one of those kids who was NOT raised with the ''Santa Lie.'' My mom's reasoning was that she didn't think some one else should get the credit for the presents SHE was getting for me (especially some one who didn't exist! :). So, I knew there was no such thing as Santa, but I thought it was pretty obvious, anyway, since I never received any presents from ''Santa,'' only from Grandma and Grandpa, Auntie so-and-so, (my parents, of course), etc. So, I thought the whole Santa thing was kinda dumb.

As an adult, well, I STILL think it's kinda dumb, and I don't get why people think it's so ''magical.'' There are a lot of other things that seem more magical (in a more meaningful way) than Santa. Also, I have a friend who told me she was actually TRAUMATIZED as a child when she finally learned that Santa wasn't real.

Finally, there's the whole association with the consumerist frenzy that Christmas has become, which really saddens me. For me, I want this time of year to be about gathering together with friends and family, focusing on community and interconnectedness, love and nurturance.

So, as you can guess, I'm not rearing my daughter to believe in Santa. Just seems silly to me. Don't believe it Santa

We took a middle ground, as my husband didn't want to deprive our kids of the magical Christmas Eve/morning. We read the ''Night before Christmas,'' etc., and filled stockings and left one unwrapped present on Christmas morning. (But we didn't emphasize where it came from, or ever say directly that it was from Santa.) When my kids asked us for a detail about Santa, we'd answer, ''The story says that Santa comes down the chimney,'' etc. When they asked point blank whether there was a Santa, we'd turn it around -- ''What do you think?'' As they get older, they figure out that one Santa for most of the world doesn't work out (and get old enough to read spoiler ads, etc.) --but they still want to pretend to believe for a while. It's a fun story, isn't it, honey?

I don't really see it as an issue of ''lying'' or not, just what your traditions and interests are. Since I grew up without believing in Santa Claus, it was never that important to perpetuate it with my kids. We talk about Santa with our 2yo son the same way we talk about Winnie the Pooh or Thomas the Tank Engine - he's a made-up character who's a nice guy and has nice things to teach us about giving, etc. My son enjoys hearing Santa stories (''Twas the Night Before Christmas,'' etc.) and pointing out Santas around town, and none of that enjoyment seems to be diminished by the fact that we don't pretend Santa comes down our chimney. Plus, we never have to deal with ''how will Santa find us if we're at Grandma's house'' and those other pesky issues. The only downside I can see is that someday he's probably going to be the kid who ruins some other kid's Santa beliefs, but c'est la vie. Gifts are from the people who love you

We're going the Santa way with our 2 year old. We have both sets of grandparents together, aunts, uncles, cousins, xmas tree, presents, the whole 9 yards. Santa for us is just part of the holiday season. Regardless of whether or not your child is up to date on Santa, he or she will ask, so the concept is there.

We have the opposite 'problem' in that my parents are Catholic (not bible thumpers) but they go to church, and when my daughter is with them on Saturday night to give us an overnight by ourselves, they take her to church. Then our daughter said ''Christmas is baby Jesus' birthday.'' This makes me a little uncomfortable, but I think that it is good exposure for our daughter as my wife and I are largely areligous. I like the idea presented that there is a 'spiritual' side to xmas as opposed to the consumerism that Santa represents. I don't want to address that the church chose December 25th to counter Winter Solstice, that is for when our daughter is much older.

So for us there is a balance. My dad was taught that Santa is 'the spirit of Christmas' and I like that. Jeff

You say: ''I loved believing in Santa myself, but I don't want to ''harm'' my child.'' That sounds like your answer right there. I have yet to meet an adult who felt harmed in any way by their parents' stories of Santa (or the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, etc.). I personally felt mature and wily when I figured out these things weren't real -- like, ''Ha, Mom and Dad, I've got you now!''

Having said that, my husband and I have decided to tell our son (now only 14 weeks, so maybe we'll change our minds) that these stories, while fun, are not true. My husband grew up without them and feels they detract from the true meaning of the holidays. For example, we give gifts to each other because we love each other, not because we were good. We thank the individual who gave the gift for thinking of us, not some made-up person.

But my husband's brother heard that Santa was real from his schoolmates and decided they were right; nothing his parents said could change his mind! That's the opposite of what peers usually do... No Santa

When do they find out the truth about Santa?

December 2003

My daughter, is 5 and very inquisitive. After many, many questions about Santa, I find it harder to keep up the stories to explain how Santa gets down the chimney, and back up, how he gets Christmas lists, does Santa know if children are 'good', etc.? When do kids usually discover the truth about Santa, surely some must find out thru friends starting in elementary school. My husband is very emotionally attached to perpetuating the Santa myth as long as possible, whereas as I am uncomforatable telling too many untruths regarding the same. When did your kids find out and how did you handle their disillusion, or did they mind finding out the truth about Santa.
merry merry mom

I think that kids want to believe. It is a wonderful, magical thing for them to believe in Santa. My 5-year-old daughter also asks lots of questions. I try not to say anything that is patently false. Usually I say I don't know. I say I've never seen Santa. I say I love the spirit of giving that gives Santa his magic. And I engage her imagination to answer her own questions. How do you think reindeer could fly? Or I come up with silly suggestions, but I don't present them as the absolute truth. I guess I am letting it evolve into a conspiratorial agreement that we want to believe in Santa because it is wonderful to believe. susan

I agree with you that it's better not to lie to your daughter, it's more important for her to be able to rely on you and what you say than to believe in Santa. What you could say to her is that you don't know how he comes down the fireplace or how he compiles the list, etc. anon

My daughter is 8 and still seems to believe--not entirely sure. I suggest you turn the questions around to the child. When he asks ''how do the presents get here'' you say ''what do you think?'' You'll get a good idea then of how attached he is to the myth. If he turns it back to you, you then have to choose whether to lie: ''Santa,'' fudge: ''I don't know, it's a mystery'' or tell the truth. Santa's elf

We kept up the idea of Santa until about two years ago. As with other families, we never out and out lied about it. My son was always rather skeptical about the idea and would always ask if we were the ones giving him presents from Santa. I generally responded to that by asking what he thought. His answers were usually along the lines of I think it's you but I don't want to really know that it's not Santa. We finally had to give in and explain Santa when my daughter at age 7 started asking why Santa didn't visit the poor kids too, as she had noticed the Toys for Tots drive. As with our son, we prodded about to determine how disturbed she would be if she discovered there wasn't actually a Santa. It turns out she was quite relieved because it had always worried her that ''some guy'' could get into our house and do things in our house (like eat cookies) without her or us noticing or knowing that he was there. I had not realized how worried about this she was. After this, her constant questions about what would happen if people broke into the house stopped. I think it also helped that we told them that they could be Santa's themselves by sharing with others and we started volunteering with the Family Giving Tree and donating to the Toys for Tots where they got to spend a particular amount and choose the toys themselves. I think you need to figure out where your child is with the whole Santa thing. If they are really attached to the idea, get them to answer what they think happens when Santa comes down the chimney rather than telling them. If they seem ready to know it's you, let them know. Good luck! Sharon

I know this is late, but oh well. A colleague of mine in anthropology has written a nice book called Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith, concerning belief in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. She deals directly with parental concerns about ''lying'' to their kids concerning these imaginary figures, and comes to what I think are compelling and interesting conclusions. I would encourage you to read the book yourself (it's U of Chicago Press, I think), but in short, she concludes that imaginary figures can be developmentally important ways to cultivate the capacity for faith (not just religious faith, but also faith in people, community, giving, and other abstract concepts that are socially significant). Not that your kid HAS to believe in any one of these figures to gain that capacity, but that such a belief is not necessarily damaging or bad. Donna

What to Say about Santa

On the subject of Santa, here's a story from last Christmas at our house. I hope someone else can learn from my mistake. I also wasn't sure how to present Santa to my daughter, then 2 1/2. We decided he is truly everywhere and so we had to offer some explanation, so we'd tell her the basic story, but not play it up too much. Well the basic story involves Santa coming down the chimmney to deliver presents. This REALLY scared Madelaine. It hadn't occured to me that the idea of a stranger coming to your house while you're sleeping isn't cute or exciting to a little one, it's downright frightening. It seems really obvious to me now, but I had not thought it through well enough before I said it. So I told her if she wanted, I would go meet Santa around the corner at the 7-11 and bring the presents home myself. She voted for that option, so that's what we told her we'd do. Also, she did not want to get anywhere near Santa at any of the parties we went to (he's pretty big and loud), and we just respected her wishes and went to the face painting, or other activities she loves. I'm sure this year will be a whole new thing and as usual, we'll make it up as we go along. Good luck. Anne-Marie

This was an issue for us also--especially the lying part. I don't have all the answers, but will tell you what we do. First, I found that I didn't have to do anything to introduce the old guy--the kids magically learned about him from other people, TV etc. For us, preserving the true Christian meaning of the holiday is important. So, I talk about Santa as just another part of the Christmas fun--decorations, cards, food, gifts, etc., but I don't overdo it. (Though I have been known to say Maybe Santa Claus will get that for you a few times throughout the year.)

Santa does bring a few family gifts to our house (videos, books, games), but the gifts for each individual child come from the parents or other real people. My husband is adamant that no child of his will grow up believing that Santa gives them better presents than his/her parents and other family members do. This is because he never wants his kids to think that Santa loves them more than we do. A conclusion that a very small child might reach if Santa brought the bike and mom and dad only gave a new bathrobe.

Last year, when my then four-year-old son was asking me some questions about Santa, I casually explained that Santa was not real, and that he was made up by grown-ups to make Christmas more fun for children--just like other cartoons and fun stories. He took in stride, no sweat. My mother was quite shocked that I would tell him so young, but to tell you the truth, I think he has chosen to forget this detail--for now anyway. This is okay with me. I feel good that he knows and that I was honest. I figure he will stop playing along with the myth when he wants to/is ready. I myself tried hard to believe in Santa up until the fourth grade and remember feeling a little irritated and embarrassed that the fraud had been perpetrated on me for so long. I guess I felt lied to by my parents and then I trusted them a little less because of it for a while.

In sum, we downplay the guy and focus on other more valuable aspects of the holiday--Christ, giving, family, etc. We indulge in some of the fun like seeing him at the mall and reading ~Twas the Night Before Christmas~ etc. He brings gifts to our home, but only a limited few. And when asked, we tell the truth in a matter-of-fact way, rather than a I'm-so -sorry-to-burst-your-bubble sort of way. I hope this helps you. Rebecca

And when asked, we tell the truth in a matter-of-fact way, rather than a I'm-so -sorry-to-burst-your-bubble sort of way. Applause to the parent who said this about Santa Claus. The world, and all its many images, is confusing (and exciting) enough to our children without purposely deceiving them. Especially when they are wise enough to ask direct questions. There are ways to continue the fantasy and excitement of holidays (keeping the bubbles intact) and still keep trust and truth. Laura

My daughter is still too young to ask questions, but when the times comes I might not have a Santa Claus coming to our house but I will let her see what's going on in the malls/in public. I will tell her that many, many years ago there was a nice old man, called Nikolaus, in Germany who wanted to do something nice for kids (originally of poor families) at the start of the cold season. On Dec. 6 he gave out candy to all kids. (In Germany Dec 6 is still celebrated as St. Nikolaus day). I assume that Santa Claus means Sankt Nikolaus and the whole thing got merged into one date with the birth of Christ (who apparently wasn't born on 12/24 either). But to sum it up: I plan to tell my child that we still celebrate the original idea of giving to others we care about (poor or not) - that may be our own family, or friends and food/clothes donations for people of need in the community. In some places people dress up as Santa Claus to celebrate/remember the old Nikolaus who died a long time ago. My child will know that the gifts at home come from the parents/relatives, delivered by a Santa Claus dress-up or not. And I will certainly n o t tell my child that only good kids get something. This gesture is about love and caring and not about judging of behavior. (That should be dealt with all year around). It also is a gesture and not a buy/get everything hype. And if her friends get all kinds of expensive stuff, that just shows that the original meaning got distorted. Of course, she won't understand all of this at once. But this is how I plan to introduce the whole thing step by step as she grows older. No lies necessary. Heike