Santa: what the F**K do I tell my kids?!

Ariel Swift

I have never aspired to sell the Santa fib to my kids. Other members of my extended family swing firmly in the opposite direction, going so far as to have gifts with labels saying "from Santa" under the tree.

Honestly, it was never a thing between my husband and I. We never discussed it. And now my daughter is seven, and has fully understood for her entire life that the presents under our tree got there because Mom and Dad worked. We made money. We spent time buying and wrapping gifts, and in no way was magic or wishing a part of the process. Don’t worry: she still has gleeful amounts of holiday cheer and loves that jolly old elf, just fine, thank you. We didn't ruin her.

And we never lied to her about it. (Don’t ask me about the tooth fairy, though.) So we never have to come clean.

Cause that's the catch isn't it? If we want to perpetuate the magic of Christmas Eve and Christmas and Santa Claus, we have to be willing to have an awkward conversation at some point in the future about that person not being real.

Maybe that is part of growing up. Perhaps that is part of the magic itself - that it does get perpetuated, generation after generation. And maybe helping kids believe in Santa is harmless.

My husband grew up in a home where literally the night before, his parents would work late after he and his sister had gone to bed to bring out all the gifts that were hidden. And then those gifts would seem to just appear on Christmas morning. I just asked him what he remembers about that time and when he remembers learning Santa was not responsible for that sweet morning reveal.

"I know I was older than 4 and younger than 10 when I found out, but well into my teens and twenties I still loved Christmas morning and the tree going from nothing to the piles of gifts the next morning." And Santa? "Oh, I don't know. I don't really remember when I found out about him."

My experience was entirely different. I don't ever remember Santa being a part of our home tradition. Gifts were from our parents who worked very hard for them. And every year we would wait and wait for a box from my grandma who lived in North Dakota, and inside would be dozens of hand-made wool mittens in different sizes, scarves, and the occasional blanket. It was a blast.

And those presents from our parents? They would be wrapped and put under the tree early, and part of the fun for us was the shaking, guessing, poking and rearranging.  And, it seems pertinent to say we also celebrated Hanukkah, my mom formally converting to judaism when I was in high school. We spun dreidels and ate chocolate gelt. Lighting candles was fun, I remember, and we couldn’t stay away from the dripping wax.

My kids have a blend of those two traditions. Here with us, the presents are labeled from specific people: Mom & Dad, Bro or Sis. When we go celebrate with Grandma, Santa pops up as the special delivery elf he is.

Last year or the year before there was a letter circulating around the internet that revealed a lovely way to share the news that Santa is not real. I don't remember the specifics, but it goes like this:

When you think your child is starting to get suspicious, or flat out asks if Santa is real and it's time to spill the beans, "the beans" are a feel-good/take up the torch/you're one of us now stories. As in, Christmas magic exists because we all work together to keep the giving spirit alive! Now you get to help and be a helper, and isn't it great that there are so many helpers! When I first read it, I got the feels, and it was lovely. Thinking more on it, it is also practical for families with younger children who still haven’t found out the truth.

But I was reading that as a parent. I don't know how the kids being told that fancy story felt about the revelation. Did it make sense to them? Did they appreciate being in on the game now? Or did it suck?

I don't think there is a right way to do holidays and traditions like Santa. I think kids are resilient. I believe there are lessons either way. I think there is joy either way.

So if you are stuck and know what to do, maybe a few questions to help you guide your path:

1. What did your family do when you were a child? Did you like that?

2. What purpose does your choice serve? Are you teaching a lesson or sharing in the magic of belief? Generosity? Kindness?

3. Do you feel pulled to make a decision? How does it feel to imagine a different option? Perhaps freeing, perhaps disappointing?

4. Are you comfortable telling your child something hard when they ask to know the truth?

With a little bit of thought, you can take the fear out of this decision. You can also just wing it, and let this be one thing you DON’T over think, and see how the spirit of St. Nicholas moves you. Cheers!

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