Christmas is a fun time for both children and parents; and Santa is a big part of that. But the time comes when every child begins to question the Santa myth. How should parents handle this transition? There are multiple options, and none of them suits every family.
1. Don’t Tell the Child Santa is Real to Begin With
This is what we did with our son. We enjoyed the Santa fantasy, sang the Santa songs, had prominent Santa decorations, and one year I even dressed up in a Santa suit for him. But we never told him Santa was real. We had great fun with Santa and I don’t think he missed anything by being aware that Santa was only pretend.
This was our choice, but I don’t necessarily think all parents should go this route.
2. Do Not Support the Santa Myth at All
One day I saw a mother in a store looking through a book bargain table for children’s books. There happened to be a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which I recommended highly. She was adamant: ‘I don’t buy fiction for my kids! I only buy them things that are true.’
I think this is so sad; fantasy and fiction often teach real lessons and truths in a way that children can absorb them. They also stimulate the child’s imagination and expand their minds to new thoughts and possibilities. Factual books are important, but I think robbing children of the wonder and enrichment of fantasy is a great loss. Children understand that fiction stories are pretend.
Some parents take the same path with Santa—no Santa, no way, no how! Some consider Santa incompatible with the ‘real’ Christmas, so Santa is totally excluded from Christmas. I believe parents must make their own best decisions for their children, but this would not be my choice.
3. Insist that Santa is Real for as Long as Possible
It is natural (and desirable) for children to begin, at some point, to question whether Santa is real; but some parents respond by insisting to their questioning children that Santa IS real! It is as though they want to prolong the child’s wonder for as long as possible; or perhaps they, personally, want to continue experiencing the child’s excitement instead of allowing them to grow and mature.
Whatever the reason, this can be a traumatic time for the child as they are torn between what their parents tell them and what they can see for themselves. I believed my parents when they told me Santa was real because I trusted them and believed anything they told me—because they said it was true. So I felt betrayed when they finally told me otherwise. It was a breach of my trust in our partnership of truthfulness.
There can also be other negative consequences. I remember kids at school being ridiculed and bullied by other kids for believing in Santa as they became older. And I recall kids who concluded that there is no God because ‘he is just a story like Santa’.
4. Introduce the Child Early to the True Story of Saint Nicholas
A number of readers of my similar post a few years ago shared a couple of positive and delightful approaches they use in the Santa transition. The first has to do with a the real, historical figure of Saint Nicolas:
Teach them about Saint Nicholas.
I love the idea of telling them about St. Nicholas!
As long as the kids are let down gently with that book about the real St. Nicholas or something, eh, no biggie.
I think introducing the story of the real Saint Nicholas is a great idea, whether it comes instead of treating Santa as real or whether it is part of the later transition. It explains the roots of the Santa Claus myth and also teaches about a genuine historical figure from early Christianity.
5 Participate in the Child’s Transition from Belief in Santa by Letting Them Become Santas
Several readers also introduced an approach I had not heard previously—letting THEM become Santas!
One related this story about a dad who:
Tells his kids when he starts to notice they’re guessing the truth. He compliments them on having grown up so much. Tells them he’s noticed their noticing that all the Santa’s at the stores are different people. So the folks have decided it’s time for the child to become a Santa too.
A project is assigned. To think of or find someone who probably doesn’t feel loved and come up with a gift that will let them know they are loved…to just leave the present from “Santa.” One could of course tell WHY we bother…because of Christmas day.
Another reader mentioned:
A parent who, when kids were old enough, let them in on the “Santa secret” – because they were now old enough to be Santa themselves! And then their Santa responsibility was to find someone who needed something and gift it to them anonymously. I thought this was amazing.
This was all totally new to me, but I loved it at once! It was even nicer when another reader shared this video.
There Are a Number of Ways to Handle The Santa Issue
It’s up to parents to decide how to talk to their children about Santa, and there are several good ways to go about it, though I think #3 is potentially very harmful. May you and the children in your life enjoy the Santa myth this Christmas in appropriate ways!
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.