Did you believe in Santa when you were young? Do you plan to make your kids believe in Santa? I did believe (too much) in Santa when I was a kid. In this article, I will tell you why I will not let my kids believe in Santa. And how you should tell your kids the truth if they already believe in him.
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The time when I found out that my father was Santa
As a child, Christmas was always my favorite time of the year. I grew up in Hong Kong, where Christmas is one of the biggest festivals. Starting in December, you can hear Christmas music everywhere in Hong Kong. For example, you can hear it in the supermarkets, in the metro stations, in shopping malls, etc.
In my school, we had a Christmas party every year and we exchanged gifts with other kids. My mom always bought me and my sister a lot of Christmas cards. I loved to write them and gave them to my friends at school. Receiving Christmas cards from my friends always made me very happy and I loved to collect them.
The most exciting part of Christmas was Christmas Eve on the 24th of December. That was the night when Santa visited us and gave us our Christmas gifts. We would put our big backpacks next to our beds, with a letter to Santa inside. Every year, I spent a lot of time writing this letter. I told Santa what I had done well this year, and what gifts I would like to get.
Then, we went to bed, trying to keep our eyes open, and waited for Santa to come. I looked out of the window and hoped to see Santa riding on a sleigh pulled by his reindeer in the sky. Unfortunately, despite all my attempts, I never managed to stay awake until he came. The next morning, we would find all the presents in our backpacks. And I knew that Santa has received my letter.
I told my best friend about Santa
When I was nine years old, I told this magical experience to my best friend in school. She told me that there was no such thing as Santa. That must have been my father.
“No!” I answered with absolute certainty. “This cannot be my father. This is Santa. He comes every year since I can remember. If you don’t believe me, try putting a backpack next to your bed on the 24th of December. You will then find a present in it.”
So, my friend followed my instruction and put her backpack next to her bed. On the 25th of December, I woke up with all the presents in the backpack. I called my friend and asked her if she found her presents too.
“No,” she said. “I have only an empty backpack here. There is nothing inside. I have told you that it IS your father!”
I asked my father why my best friend did not get her gifts from Santa
Being confused, I went to my father and told him the story.
“Why did my friend not get her Christmas gifts? She has done the same as me,” I asked my father.
“Your friend is probably not a good kid,” my father said. “Santa only gives gifts to good children.”
I accepted the explanation from my father without a second thought. I mean, why would he lie to me?
I discovered the truth by myself
In the following year, I was ten and I was looking forward to Christmas Eve as usual. I had only this one chance every year to try my best to see Santa.
Like every year, I tried to keep my eye open for as long as I could. And this year, I managed to stay awake until 1 am. And this was when the magic happened. I saw that someone opened my door. But, instead of Santa, I saw my father coming in and put the presents carefully into our backpacks in the dark. He was quiet. I held my breath and pretended that I was sleeping. I couldn’t believe my eye. And until today, I still remember this scene of my father sneaking into our room.
After my father left our room, I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was crying. My sister was still asleep. I so much wanted to tell her what had just happened. But I couldn’t. I had to wait until the morning.
Having an emotional breakdown
I felt embarrassed because I had believed in Santa for so many years until I was ten years old.
I felt sad and disappointed because Santa Claus was not real. And I so much wanted him TO BE REAL.
I felt angry because I had trusted my parents. And they lied to me. I even defended them in front of my best friend. How stupid I was.
For me, the excitement of Christmas was not so much about the gifts, but more about my fantasy of Santa.
This night was very long.
I told my sister what happened
It was finally morning again. We got up and the first thing I did was to tell my sister what I had found out.
To my surprise, it didn’t seem to bother her. Not at all. She was only interested in the gifts and busy unpacking them.
Later on, we went to the living room with our gifts. My sister said casually in front of our parents that our father was actually Santa.
No response from my parents, as if they didn’t hear it. But ever since then, we did not put our backpacks next to our bed anymore on Christmas Eve. And Santa (my father) did not give us Christmas presents anymore.
And that’s it
Yes, this was the end of the story. No communication on this topic between our parents and us until today. My parents probably thought that it was not a big deal. I don’t think they knew about the emotional impact on me (as I also didn’t communicate to them).
This was sort of our family culture. We were not used to expressing our feeling. I kept the catastrophic feeling to myself. And I swore to myself that I would not tell this Santa lie to my own kids in the future. I can still feel my watery eyes now when I am writing about this.
Christmas traditions with Santa
The image of modern Santa Claus was originated from St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a saint who helped others in need. His legend slowly turned into a Christmas tradition in many countries. That is why many kids believe that they can receive presents from Santa on Christmas Eve (if they behave).
How does Santa come into the house?
Santa visits children differently in different countries. In my case, we didn’t have a big Christmas tree at home. So, my parents told us to put our backpacks next to our bed so that Santa can deliver Christmas gifts there.
In the U.S., Santa comes down the chimney. He puts gifts under the Christmas tree while the children are sleeping. It is also common for families to prepare some cookies and milk for Santa for his visit. When the children get up the next morning, they will see that some cookies were eaten and half a glass of milk is left. This proves the visit from Santa.
In Germany, infant Jesus is the one bringing Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. Parents drive their children away from the living room (e.g. asking them to visit the church). When the children come home, they will find a lighted Christmas tree with all the presents under it.
Why should you not let your kids believe in Santa?
Santa is not fair
You tell your kids that Santa is bringing Christmas gifts to only good children. This implies that children who do not receive gifts from Santa are not good.
This was the case for me when I asked my father why my best friend did not receive any gifts from Santa. His answer made me wonder why my best friend was not a good kid. Did she do something bad?
Your kids may also compare what gifts they received to what gifts their friends received. If they see that kids from wealthy parents are getting more fancy gifts, does it imply that they are better kids? Why is Santa more generous with wealthy families? Not dealing with these questions carefully may hurt your kids’ sense of self-worth.
You give all the credit to Santa
Your kids think that Santa is the one who gives them the nice Christmas gifts. The fact is that you spent your hard-earned money to buy gifts for your kids to make them happy. Why don’t you let your kids know that their parents are the ones being nice to them?
Your kids believe that Santa is magical and has unlimited resources. Then, why can’t Santa give them anything they want, especially if they want a very expensive gift? Is it because your kids are not “good” enough?
Avoid the stress
Many parents feel stressed about their kids finding out the truth. For example, when their kids play with other older kids or their older cousins. Some parents even talk with other family members in advance. They try to make sure that other family members will not tell the truth to their kids. Some even avoid visiting those families altogether during Christmas. But no matter what the parents do, there is always a risk that their kids will find out.
Do you know that parents can now install a google extension on their kids’ browsers? This will filter out all the websites that describe the truth about Santa. Then, parents can make sure that their kids cannot find the truth.
Our world today is digital. There is no exception to Santa. Kids can now call or text Santa. They can even track Santa on the 24th of December to see where he is. If the kids are still too smart, parents can also show a video to them. In the video, kids can see Santa Claus putting presents in their own living room on the 24th of December. There is enough proof for the lie.
You are lying to your kids
Your kids will find out the truth one day. How are you going to explain to them that you have built this lie for years? We always teach our kids that one should not lie. And why lying about Santa is an exception? How are you going to deal with the emotional breakdown of your kids when they find out the truth?
There are both psychological and moral issues here. And it may create a lack of trust between parents and their kids. It sounds a bit serious because not every kid will take this so seriously. But, you cannot know how your kids will react to the truth. In my case, I did feel betrayed by my parents as I had trusted them.
Why do many parents let their kids believe in Santa?
Believing in Santa creates a beautiful memory of one’s childhood
Most people I know believed in Santa when they were young. The time when I waited for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve will undoubtedly stay in my memory for the rest of my life. Childhood memories are beautiful. And my belief in Santa contributes to them. At least until the point when I found out that everything was a lie. But before I found out the truth, my belief in Santa made my Christmas special and magical.
Well, I guess one would need to weigh the benefit and cost of believing in Santa. If the beautiful childhood memory outweighs the disappointment of finding out the truth, then it may be worth it to believe in Santa. But everybody is different. We don’t know for sure if the benefit will outweigh the cost.
Most kids get over it
Lying is wrong and it may create a trust problem between parents and their kids. But most kids get over it pretty fast. At some point, they will forgive their parents for the lie. So, many people believe that it is still worth it to let their kids believe in Santa. It is because this creates a beautiful childhood memory in a lifetime.
The important words here are “most kids”. I do know kids who do not care as much. For example, my sister was not sad at all to find out that our father was actually Santa. On the other hand, I had an emotional breakdown.
Believing in Santa helps kids to behave
It is an easy trick for parents to tell their kids to behave so that they can receive gifts from Santa. The more the kids are into this belief, the more likely that they will be cooperative.
Using Santa to encourage your kids to behave may not be the best way. It is like giving material rewards to the kids in return for good behavior. Kids should behave because they want to be good kids. It should not be because they want the promised reward or to avoid punishment. Your kids may stop being good if they don’t care about Santa anymore. Same if they find out that Santa does not exist.
Believing in Santa fosters kids’ creativity?
Some people argue that believing in Santa can foster kids’ creativity by encouraging imagination. Small kids love to engage in pretend play and have imaginary friends. Fantasy is an important part of child development. So, they think that letting kids believe in Santa can benefit the kids with these skills.
I have to disagree with this. I mean, I agree that imagination is good for kids and can foster their creativity. But believing in Santa is NOT the same as pretend play or having imaginary friends. When kids engage in pretend play or talk to their imaginary friends, they KNOW that these are not real. They CAN distinguish between fantasy and reality.
When we let them believe in Santa, they DO think that Santa Claus is real. Would you want to believe in a beautiful lie only to find out that it is not real in the end? There are many other ways to foster creativity and encourage imagination, without giving fake hope to our kids.
Believing in Santa encourages critical thinking?
Some people argue that letting kids believe in Santa can improve their critical thinking skills. It is because when they grow older, they will start to question things that don’t seem logical to them. For example, they may start thinking, how can Santa Claus visit all the kids in the world in one night? How can he fly in the sky?
But I don’t agree with this. Parents are an authoritative source for kids. When parents tell their kids that Santa Claus is real, the kids may believe in it even though it does not sound logical to them. It is because they TRUST their parents and do not expect that their parents are lying about these things.
Letting your kids believe in Santa actually will do the contrary. They may not question Santa because their parents tell them that he is real. This leads them to believe in fantasy. It is not the same as watching fiction cartoons where someone can fly or toys can talk. Because kids know that those are not real. You also wouldn’t tell your kids that those fantasies in the cartoons are real (to improve their critical thinking skills). Would you?
How to tell your kids the truth?
If you decide to let your kids believe in Santa, how should you tell your kids the truth when the time comes? Many parents find it hard when their kids discover the truth. It is because it means the end of a Santa Claus era for the parents. Their small kids have now grown up. Sometimes, parents may also be the ones who are not ready yet to tell the truth.
There are different possibilities for how kids get to know the truth:
- Parents initiated a conversation and tell them the truth
- Kids ask their parents and their parents tell them the truth
- Kids see their parents being Santa Claus
- Kids find out the truth from their friends or on the internet
When your kids find out the truth, it is important to have an open conversation with them. This was what had been missing for me in my childhood. I wouldn’t have felt as bad if my parents would have TALKED with me. Parents are the ones who created this fantasy for the kids. So, they should be the ones who finish it as well.
Should you tell the truth if your kids ask?
In my opinion, yes. When I was nine, I asked my father why my friend didn’t get a Christmas gift from Santa. He could have taken that opportunity to tell me the truth. But instead, he told me that my friend was not a good kid. And I had trusted him. This made me feel really bad when I found out the truth.
It is okay to not answer the questions directly. But it is not okay to lie, especially when the kids are already old enough, e.g. when they are in school already. Even if the parents lie, the kids are going to find out soon in another way. So, why not take the opportunity to talk about the truth?
Reactions from the kids when they find out the truth
Different kids can have different reactions when finding out the truth. And not all kids will have a negative reaction.
In my case, I felt embarrassed as I had believed in Santa for so long. I was sad because Santa was not real. I was angry because my parents lied to me.
For my sister, she had rather an indifferent reaction.
For some other kids, they may feel excited that they find out a secret. Some may even be proud of it because they can now keep the secret from their young siblings.
I have also heard that some kids pretended that they didn’t know about the truth. This was so that their parents continued to act as Santa.
How to talk about the truth?
Parents will have to decide if their kids are ready to know the truth. When the time comes, they should let their kids know why they created this fantasy in the first place. Ask them what they think about Christmas and Santa. Be sensitive and take it seriously when the kids are sad about it. They have all the right to be sad about it, especially when they were too serious about Santa.
Parents can focus on the spirit of Christmas during the conversation: generosity, selflessness, gratitude, happiness, kindness. Share the story with the kids about St. Nicholas, who was always trying to help the poor and sick.
To minimize the disappointment from the kids, parents can continue the Christmas tradition of gift exchange. They can encourage their kids to create gifts for others as well.
I once saw a great idea on Facebook from a mother. She initiated a conversation with her kids and told them the truth about Santa. Then, she told her kids that they had now grown up and were ready to be Santa themselves. She encouraged her kids to prepare gifts for someone else (e.g. a neighbor) without disclosing their identities. This taught her kids how to be kind and generous to others without looking for credit or reward afterward.
Will you let your kids believe in Santa?
If you ask me, I will say no because of my own childhood experience. But every kid is different. Not everyone will be very sad when finding out the truth. For some, the beautiful childhood memory of Santa may outweigh the cost (the sadness of knowing the truth).
I think a kid will not be as sad if he knows the truth early. But believing in Santa for too long (as in my case) can result in a big disappointment. You will have to judge if it is worth it. Many parents like to introduce Santa to their kids, especially when they also grew up believing in Santa themselves.
But not for me. Too dangerous. And I don’t want to lie. Sometimes, I feel like the whole Santa thing is more for the fun of the parents. That is also why it is hard for some parents when their kids find out the truth.
But not letting my kids believe in Santa Claus does not mean that we don’t practice a family tradition on Christmas. We will still set up a Christmas tree at home. We will tell Christmas stories to our children. We will remind them of the spirit of Christmas by encouraging them to create gifts for each other. Our children will still find their presents under the tree. But this time from us, not from Santa Claus.
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Did you believe in Santa when you were young? How did you react when you found out the truth? Will you let your kids believe in Santa? Leave a comment below and share your experience!
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