Dear Dr Justin,
My husband and I go out of our way to make Christmas a special occasion for our two daughters aged eight and 13. Of course, Santa is a big part of this and we do the whole snow footsteps in our house on Xmas morning and leave out food for the reindeers and Santa etc. But my concern is that my 13yo daughter still seems to really believe in Santa (she’ll be 14 in April). At first, I thought she was just having us on to still get gifts, but then the girls both wrote their Santa letters and when I opened my eldest daughter’s letter, it gave me the impression she still really believed. Always, when the girls have came home with stories about a child telling them Santa wasn’t real and that their parents bought the presents I have told them that Santa is only real when you believe, that by believing you create the magic. When you stop believing, you break the magic, so for those children who don’t believe, Santa is not real anymore. I feel like I’ve done too good a job on the whole make-believe lie and now my concern is my 13yo will get picked on at school if she reveals she believes in Santa. I wanted to sit my daughter down and have a “chat” with her about this, but my husband disagrees and thinks we should let her believe for as long as she can (or wants to). What would you do??
It’s tempting to get a little preachy, wag my finger, and quote a pithy couplet like Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion poem:
Oh! What a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.
But… probably not helpful for you.
If your kids have made you watch as much Disney as mine, you’ll recall a scene in Aladdin where Genie is pleading with a lovestruck Aladdin to just “tell her the truth!”
And that, quite simply, is what we as parents are best to do regarding the Santa myth from the first time our kids ask. Honesty has always been, is, and will continue to be the best policy.
Let me debunk the most common myths around why we should lie to our children about Santa.
First, parents say “oh, it’s going to spoil the magic of Christmas if they know the truth”. My response: Bunkum!
Can you watch a movie and enjoy it even though you know it’s not true? Or read a novel and enjoy it while knowing it’s fiction? Of course. Kids role play, enjoy make-believe games, and have imaginary friends and this enhances their wellbeing and their lives.
Second, parents say, “but it won’t be as exciting on Christmas morning.” Ummm, your kids are getting gifts. They’re going to be excited. Guaranteed.
Third, parents worry that if their kids know Santa is a myth, they’ll lose power over them. The kids will play up because Santa isn’t real. Are you really going to be that much of a Scrooge at Christmas that you’re going to give gifts based on the naughty/nice list?
Here’s what I recommend instead:
Let the kids believe because it’s fun. Once they get old enough to start to ask about Santa’s reality, ask them what prompted their questions. Encourage them to think critically. Can one guy really fly around the entire world (except for the nations that aren’t white/European) and deliver that many gifts in one night? Has anyone ever seen a flying reindeer? How is anyone going to get down the chimney – really?
Have fun with it. Then ask them why you think you’ve encouraged them to believe in Santa. (Hint… it’s because you love them and want to give them special treats.)
Now comes the tough bit. Ask them how other families would feel if we spoilt their surprise. Pretty lousy huh? Remind them that it’s best if they don’t tell anyone because it’s up to other people’s parents to do that. Same goes for little brothers and sisters.
And promise them that even though they know the truth, “Santa” will keep visiting for a few years yet! In our family, this has allowed us to be more creative with the way gifts are distributed. We do stocking fillers and one gift from “Santa”, and the really cool gifts from parents. The kids are always excited to see what they’ve been given, and they’re happy to tell the grandparents what “Santa” brought them. But they’re even more excited to tell them what mum and dad got for them.
Maybe they can even get in on the fun with you by being a secret Santa for friends, neighbours or their younger siblings on the night. Because, as we all know, the greatest joy at Christmas isn’t actually the getting. It’s the giving.