If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard that dreaded question… “Is Santa real?”
Four years ago today, Santa made an early delivery for my 5 year-old daughter. He left the North Pole on an expedition to deliver a puppy! Santa is incredible, right? I mean, a puppy almost four weeks before Christmas! Magic was in the air!
Fast forward two months. It’s a cold February day in 2013. I had no idea what was in store for us that day, but it took a turn towards “oh crap” when she looked at me and said, “Mommy, will you talk to me about Santa?” #uhoh
How odd that this should surface in February, right? I assumed I misunderstood the question and asked for clarification.
“Santa, you know, Santa Claus… I want you to tell me about him,” she said.
“What do you want to know about him?” I gulped.
“Well, I want to know if he is real,” she inquired.
“Mom, is Santa real?” she repeated.
As I sat thinking for a couple of moments, I remembered the response I gave her two months prior when she asked the same types of questions. “No matter what you hear, you can believe whatever you want to believe,” I would answer. My heart would sink a little each time she looked at her older brother who already knew the secret and say, “See! Mommy would never lie to me! Santa is real!”
“Uh…” I squeaked incomprehensibly.
Before I could open my mouth any further to speak, she said, “Mom, you know what? I really need you to be honest with me. You need to tell me the truth about Santa.” There was desperation in her eyes. Her eyes darted towards her brother.
Crap, she’s only FIVE YEARS OLD!
The seconds seemed like minutes as my mind raced. I kept coming back to her sensitivity, her trust in the world, and the faith she placed in me to guide her, in an honest way, through this life.
My son, only two years older, and “in the know” interjected unapologetically.
“Would you be sad if mom told you that Santa is not real?” he asked, with a suspicious twinkle in his eye.
“No, I would feel good that mommy was honest with me,” she replied, her big brown eyes staring at me.
That did it. There was no more thinking, no more contemplating the fact that she is only 5 years old, no more skirting around the truth.
In that moment, part of me felt proud that her curiosity about how the world works led her to be so direct and upfront with me. This was not the first time this had come up, but it was the first time she brought it up in such an adamant and determined way.
The other part of me felt sad, for this was the moment that she would realize the world isn’t all that it appears to be. It’s the first bluff we are told in a series of SO MANY as we grow up. Beginning with Santa, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, which then lead to bluffs about politics, religion, and fear inducing lies to maintain power and control. Oh geez, here we go. This is where the world begins to chip away at her innocence.
The difference about this bluff, though, is that it was created out of love, generosity, and kindness.
So that’s exactly what I told her.
“Santa represents love, and generosity, and kindness. He is the guy who helps families show little children about love. The moms and dads are there to help spread the message of love and so it is us… the people who love you the most, that deliver the message and the gifts… so WE are Santa, just in a disguise.”
“So Santa is not real?” her lip quivered.
The tears began to well up in her eyes as I explained that Santa is everywhere, all of the time. He is love, he is light, he is kindness, he is beauty, he is generosity, he is understanding, and he is selflessness.
Her sweet, sensitive soul listened to my words as she curled up in my lap. The whimpers began and then the sobbing. Full-on, body trembling, earth shattering tears.
She was so devastated.
An hour passed and the tears continued, but thankfully, so did the questions.
“Does this mean that you and daddy bought Bonzai for me?” she asked.
“Yes, we picked him out special just for you,” I replied.
Met with a big smile, she started to reframe her idea of Santa. “You did that just for me?”
“Of course we did! He needs you to love him and take care of him,” I replied.
“Oh, I see, so I kind of get to be like Santa to Bonzai and show him love too?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s it! You are just like Bonzai’s Santa, giving him all your love!”
When my husband got home later in the evening, he had no idea what kind of Santa storm was about to hit!
“Daddy, today I asked mom if Santa is real. Mommy told me all about Santa and love. Mommy said that Christmas is about love and people use Santa to show about love. But do you know what else daddy? Bonzai has BROTHERS AND SISTERS! He didn’t come from Santa’s workshop! Did you know that we might get to meet his brothers and sisters when he has a playdate with them? I’m so happy for Bonzai about his brothers and sisters! And guess what? Bonzai also has a MOM! This mom is a dog mom, not like a person mom. Her name is Dharma. I’m happy about that because everyone should have a mom!” she exclaimed.
This sweet dissertation, which followed her devastating afternoon, was full of empowered energy and a sense of responsibility. She knew something that other kids didn’t.
After the kids chatted with each other at bedtime, they both decided that they do believe in Santa because they believe in love.
Four years later, now nine years old, when people ask her if Santa is real, she says, “If you think love is real, then Santa is real.” ((Wink, wink.))
Revealing Santa’s true identity doesn’t have to be so earth shattering for our children. It can simply be a matter of reframing the story.
Talking Points and Reflections:
- Santa’s story brings more love, gratitude, and kindness into the lives of little children.
- A child’s fantasy world, which is healthy and important, is enhanced by the story of Santa.
- Parents use Santa’s story to help spread love, kindness, and generosity. Some adults still use Santa’s story to bring kindness to other adults. For example, many adults participate in a secret Santa exchange at their jobs. No one is ever too old to stop celebrating Santa’s story in some way.
- When kids learn about the real Santa story, they shift into a new role by delivering magic and kindness to others. Older children are able to help prepare Santa’s delivery for their younger siblings, for example. Donating gifts to a toy drive in Santa’s name is meaningful in a different way once kids realize how those gifts are really distributed. In this way, the magic shifts a bit, but it doesn’t go away!
- The response you see from one child to another may vary drastically. My son, for example, didn’t even tell me when he heard the secret about Santa. One afternoon he had been unusually quiet one afternoon and I asked him what was wrong. He told me in a very matter-of-fact way that he found out Santa wasn’t real and he was sad. He didn’t cry like his sister did, but it surely affected him and required some processing. Take the cues from your child as you navigate the conversation.
- There is no right or wrong age to break the news about Santa. The maturity level of the child and the presence of older siblings can have a big impact on the timing of this rite of passage. Use your intuition to determine if the timing is right for your particular child’s circumstances.
- If you are a teacher facing difficult questions from your students, I think it’s most safe to defer them to their parents. My standard reply is always, “I believe in Santa. If you have specific questions, it’s always a good idea to talk with your mom and dad about it.” As a general rule, I also leave any religious references out of the conversation.
Share your stories, tips, and comments about breaking the Santa news to your own children. What worked well? What didn’t? How can we make this difficult conversation more graceful?
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