How old were you when you figured out the bad news about Santa?
September 14, 2004 11:36 AM   Subscribe

How old were you when you figured out the bad news about Santa? How did you find out? I ask because my 6 yr. old son still believes. Fervently. And sooner or later, I'm gonna have to answer some tough questions.

Earlier this year, a little girl he plays with tried to tell him the truth. He told her she was crazy, that he had seen Santa himself.

Explanation: when he was 3, we were on a trip and Santa came to visit him where we were staying, with a special present just for him. We went through a lot of trouble to make this happen, and it stuck in his mind.

Anyhow, he reported this encounter to me, and I agreed with him that she was crazy, and didnt know what she was talking about. However, it's just going to keep getting tougher to maintain this illusion, and I am now thinking maybe we didnt do ourselves any favors with this event we created.
posted by Irontom to Grab Bag (46 answers total)
My parents never told me he existed. So one day I yelled "fraud" at the Santa at the mall when I was about 4. I hated that shit!
posted by inksyndicate at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2004

If he's like most kids, myself included, when he figures it out he'll be so proud of his discovery and that he pulled one over on ol' Mom and Dad that he'll forget about the fact that he was duped for so many years. Remember, kids that age really like thinking they're smarter than everyone else.

I found out because I heard my mom and dad setting up the easter candy, pouring the M&Ms, etc, and I figured if the Easter Bunny was fake then Santa must be too. I think I was about 8 or 9. Old enough that it wasn't a big deal.
posted by bondcliff at 11:49 AM on September 14, 2004

Also, if I was the type of person to ignore the MeFi laws Of etiquette and create joke threads, I'd go start a thread on MeTa asking Matt to delete this thread based on the lack of spoiler warnings. I just hope no six year olds read AskMe.
posted by bondcliff at 11:53 AM on September 14, 2004

Any six year old reading this far has most likely seen much worse.
posted by Songdog at 11:56 AM on September 14, 2004

I found out when I was about 5 or 6 [so my little sister was 3 or 4] when my parents and Santa managed to use the same wrapping paper on my presents. I asked some tough questions, my Mom was ready with some tough answers and it's been fine since. My personal feeling is that, if you want to tell them yourself, that you should do it sooner rather than later because it's not great to have to deal with the "Is my friend crazy or is my Daddy a liar?" situation and once they're in school, all bets are off as far as what other kids will tell them. I had a much harder time with the "Does Jesus really exist?" arguments with my little friends than the "Does Santa Claus really exist?" at that time of year.
posted by jessamyn at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

I figured it out from first principles when I was like 4. I told my (older) brother who was all like "well, duh", and made me promise not to tell our Mom & Dad so we wouldn't spoil their sense of wonder.
We kept this up for a couple of years, when my dad was all like "you know it's bullshit, right?".
Plus we figured we'd get better presents if they had that added performance anxiety.
posted by signal at 12:10 PM on September 14, 2004

What do you mean bad news?
posted by caddis at 12:10 PM on September 14, 2004

One odd thing (about me) is that I called "bullshit" on God before the Big Red Fat Man or the Tooth Fairy.
posted by signal at 12:14 PM on September 14, 2004

He's okay right? What happened? He didn't get drunk and wreck the sleigh again did he?
posted by keswick at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2004

I'm with caddis and keswick. I don't quite know what you guys are talking about, but from the gist of the conversation, I am thinking it can't be good....
posted by rglasmann at 12:18 PM on September 14, 2004

I don't know how old I was but it was pretty young, maybe 3 or 4. Even as a kid I was an insomniac and I'd already honed the ability to fake sleep very convincingly. Couple that with the typical pre-Christmas hyperness and I heard something like the following "Michael! That's not supposed to be a Santa present, go wrap it!"

I know I wasn't in kindergarten yet. I never let on though. Early on I assumed that it'd be the end of presents, later on because I didn't want to hurt my little sister.
posted by substrate at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Not sure how old I was, maybe 6ish. My big brother's friend told us he'd seen his mum and dad filling the stocking (so to speak) and we put our parents out of their misery by telling them we knew.

bondcliff's right, we were chuffed to have outsmarted our parents, didn't occur to us to be disappointed that they had been stringing us along all this time...

I guess your son will be hacked off if he gets into an argument with kids at school and is standing up to them saying "No, but my dad says..." Maybe you could engineer the discovery so he thinks he's worked it out himself?
posted by penguin pie at 12:28 PM on September 14, 2004

I was about 7. I found stuff hidden in the attic that latter appeared in the Christmas stockings. I felt guilty for years, for having snooped and spoiled the fun. But I remained a snoop 'til sometime in my 30's.
posted by Goofyy at 12:29 PM on September 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

I was 5 when I realized that Mom and Santa had the same handwriting, but as the oldest I wasn't allowed to say anything until my little sister was 7.
posted by Coffeemate at 12:30 PM on September 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

I heard from older kids at about 4 which made sense to me.
I am now thinking maybe we didnt do ourselves any favors with this event we created.

Though the excitement will be ruined when he finds out. It will find its way in his child hood memories. Couldn't see it not being one. One of my memories was tricking myself into believing in Santa later on.

The first Christmas I fully understood not to ruin the Santa allusion for the other believing children was when I was 5. I came into the house one day surprising my mom while wrapping Christmas gifts. I asked what she was doing and she said wrapping empty boxes to fill the space under the tree. My mom was pretty sure I had seen the gift being wrapped and that I were playing it off. This was the gift from her to me so she hoped that by lying it would not ruin the surprise factor when I opened her gift which was a canteen. I was so clueless that it made perfect sense because there were only two people in our household at the time and we needed empty wrapped boxes to fill the bare spaces beneath the tree.

Christmas day I open all my gifts yet the one I asked for didn't come. So while cleaning up, I see the wrapped empty box and ask my mom could I open it for fun, yea we were that poor. Guess she had forgotten about me thinking that this box was empty and most likely wondered why I hadn’t opened it. Again this was her gift to me and I thought I was opening an empty box for the hell of it. There to my surprise is the gift I asked for, a canteen. I looked up at my mom and said, “look what Santa did.” Thinking only he could fill a wrapped empty box with the gift I wanted. Being that the gift came form my mom she had to argue the truth on that one for months…especially since it said from mom on the package. Today it is a favorite Christmas memory.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2004

I don't remember ever really believing in Santa, I always knew it was my mum and dad, but that didn't make Christmas any less magical.

Corny as it sounds, I rather think that the best way to handle it when the cat's out of the bag is to explain that Santa is how the people who love you act at Christmas (assuming you don't have dysfunctional family Christmas at your house), Santa's about people who care about each other thinking about what makes each other happy, he doesn't have to be a real person, it's the idea of Santa that matters. It's not any less wonderful for being that, and it has the added benefit of being true. It's the whole "Yes Virginia" aspect of it.

That said, I think the best answer when kids start asking about it is to ask what they think and take it from there - just as with "where do babies come from", sometimes the kid's not looking for all the details.
posted by biscotti at 12:42 PM on September 14, 2004

My big brother's friend told us he'd seen his mum and dad filling the stocking

*blink*blink* .. I'm glad I never walked in on my parents doing that...
posted by SpecialK at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2004

I think I was about 7 or so when I decided Santa wasn't real. I was afraid to tell my parents! I figured if I told them, the jig would be up, and they'd stop with the ruse of putting presents in my stocking, and I'd see a dramatic decrease in loot.
posted by furiousthought at 12:48 PM on September 14, 2004


My parents went through the effort of making the Easter Bunny real when I was four. There were the hidden eggs, plus baby-powder footprints across the coffeetable and out the door, and little bits of fake fur, plus just as I came out of the bedroom they excitedly ran to the window exclaiming they'd seen the Bunny and, "Quick!, come see! Oh, you were too late, sorry."

I swallowed it all hook, line, and sinker.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:49 PM on September 14, 2004

*blink*blink* .. I'm glad I never walked in on my parents doing that...

Well it was Christmas...

The thing I found wierd AS (After Santa) was how the Royal Mail joins in the whole conspiracy by replying to all the kids who send letters to Santa. Your parents, fair enough. National corporation (or whatever they are now)? Wierd. Now he even has a webcam during the busy season, apparently.

(Scroll down to see some of the letters Royal Mail have received and replied to: John from Worcestershire - "I would like a scalextric set. My teacher would like a new husband. She is very nice to us and gives us doughnuts".)
posted by penguin pie at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2004

I was probably about 7 or 8. For some reason I decided to put "From Santa" on the tag of a gift I was giving my little sister. Of course she thought the present was from the actual Santa, and I suddenly realized that it was very likely that my parents were the ones behind Santa presents from years past. I remember being really satisfied, though, that I was able to join the grown-ups and keep the Santa myth alive for my little sister.
posted by jess at 1:01 PM on September 14, 2004

I was six when I put it all together. I wasn't the least bit bummed out, and I enjoyed getting to stay in on the joke for several years (my sister is four years younger than I am and believed until she was eight).

My parents also orchestrated an elaborate Santa prank for me one year, when I was four, and I have spent years trying to work out how they did it. My advice: even after your son has come to terms with The Santa Thing, never tell him how you pulled off the big event. Let him wonder. When he asks, just shrug and say that had nothing to do with you.
posted by padraigin at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2004

I guess my parents told me in a very subtle way. I don't ever recall or remember actually 'believing' in it at all. However, when I was about four or five my parents were bleating on about Santa, and I said: "If these presents were from Santa, then why are all the tags in your handwriting and say Love Mum and Dad?" They had no answer for this one, and my suspicions were confirmed.
posted by wackybrit at 1:19 PM on September 14, 2004

My parents never taught me to believe in Santa. I always knew that the presents from 'Santa' were really from my Aunt Judy. Why lie to kids?
posted by rhapsodie at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2004

Being Jewish, I never believed in Santa, but I have a clear memory of my father trying to convince me that the ghost of Elijah was sipping from his wineglass at the seder table. "Look, it's moving!"

I was skeptical but not 100% sure he wasn't telling the truth.
posted by callmejay at 1:22 PM on September 14, 2004

When I was about 10, I managed to find a little box filled with baby teeth in my parents' bedroom. I told my mother that I'd found it, and that I now knew that she was the tooth fairy and, I assumed, Santa too. She came clean.

Only later, during the trial, did I discover where those teeth really came from...
posted by jpoulos at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2004

If I may be chatty for a bit, I don't see the point in lying to kids to "give them a sense of wonder". Life and the world are pretty wonderfull already, why invent bogus crimson portly people? Just turn on National Geographic or teach them basic geometry.
Seriously, faith is way overrated.
posted by signal at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

I learned the truth about Santa when after I went to bed, my Mom was stocking the tree with Santa's gifts after having a bit too much eggnog. She tripped and fell into the tree, knocking it over. I thought my sneaky Santa-trap had worked (a noose around the plate of cookies like in the cartoons) and rushed downstairs to have my illusions shattered.

Eventually, Santa's presents were the ones that were left unwrapped infront of the tree to keep my sister and I from waking the house up in our eagerness to get at our loot.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:56 PM on September 14, 2004

When I finally acknowledged what I already (in my heart) had known all along, it was an awful experience. So, for some reason, I went to my younger sister and told her. She took it very, very poorly, but then, she was only 4 or 5.

So, Irontom, when the truth comes out, emphasize that other children still may not understand, they will learn when they are ready, and it is not nice to spoil their fun.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:06 PM on September 14, 2004

I don't remember exactly how old I was, but I think I was about 5. The conversation went something along these lines:
"We have a furnace, but not a fireplace, so if Santa comes down the chimney, doesn't he get burned up?"
"Well, at our house he comes in the front door."
"How does he get in if the door's locked?"
"We leave it unlocked for him on Christmas Eve."
"The rest of the year you lock the door so burglars don't get in. Couldn't they get in on Christmas Eve too?"
I don't remember exactly what my parents' response to this was--they didn't just come out and admit Santa didn't exist--but I pretty well figured it out at this point.

As for whether to tell one's children that Santa exists, for a long time I was firmly in the "why would you lie to your own children???!!" camp. But now I have mixed feelings--I still probably wouldn't deceive any children of my own, but I can see that there could be value (in terms of a sense of pride, learning to think for themselves) in letting children figure out the truth on their own. (The cynic in me adds that another lesson kids take away from the experience is that no one can be trusted all the time, which is a good lesson to learn.) However, I still don't see the value in it if the parents are just going to tell the truth at a later date, rather than let the children figure it out on their own.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:25 PM on September 14, 2004

Best answer: My parents told us straight there was no Santa Claus. (When I think about it, their aim was likely as much to teach us the value of a dollar than any other reason.) In grade one I remember arguing with other kids that there was no Santa Claus. There were the two of us, a little girl named Tracy and me.

>when he was 3, we were on a trip and Santa came to visit him where we were staying, with a special present just for him
At Pierre Trudeau's funeral, his son, Justin, told this story.
posted by philfromhavelock at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2004

As of last Christmas, my 7 year-old seemed to be acting as though he still believed (though I have more sense than to ask him). Maybe he's just slow on the uptake, or maybe he's just taking after his older brother who seems to profess belief in Santa to humor his parents rather than to protect his little brother's psyche.

Maybe it's the physical evidence of his presence that has him persuaded. We have always eschewed the feeble milk and cookies and left Santa a chice of beer or Scotch with a note telling him to help himself. He always seems to leave a dirty glass!

Our only Santa related mistake was the "magic" wand that he brought a few years ago... It didn't work! If it had come from us then it would just have been a toy and no big deal, but because it came from Santa it was presumed to be real but defective.

Personally I still believe, not least becase that way I get a nightcap on Christmas eve!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:37 PM on September 14, 2004

I just sorta reasoned it out and asked my parents at around 6. Instead of answering, they made me read "Yes Virginia..." It's a nice sentiment and all, but when you're looking for answers to a straight question, it's a total cop out. If they had shot me straight I would have felt ok, but I ended up feeling duped and condesended to.
posted by samh23 at 2:40 PM on September 14, 2004

Coffeemate, I found out the same way. Or I got wise to it. I can't actually remember when (or even if) the parents sat me down and told me the news. My mother's explanation for Santa being able to forge her handwriting so well was that Santa was magical. I have a brother who's three years younger and a sister who's 12 years younger, so we were able to maintain the myth for quite a while.
posted by emelenjr at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2004

I figured it out when I was 4, when I caught my dad planting the tooth fairy money. I faked it, though, until I was about 8 or 9, partly to make my parents happy, partly to keep the secret from my little brothers and sisters. And partly, to be honest, because I was a little bit afraid that I was wrong and if I stopped believing, Santa would know, and I would stop getting presents.

I don't really get the whole Santa thing either. I won't be passing it on to my kids.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2004

I haven't heard a similar story yet, so I'll share mine. I was 6, and I was allowed to stay up to watch a Peanuts special on CBS. (It wasn't the Christmas one-- this was probably spring or summer). Anyway, as the magic 8:00 approached, my parents were in the kitchen.

I turned on the TV, only to see the last half of "Family Feud" with Richard Dawson. The survey question was "top things that are difficult to discuss with children." Number three was "no Santa Claus."
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:03 PM on September 14, 2004

At our house our kids were taught that Santa was pretend and that there was no such thing-but that it was still fun to pretend. There were a few sticky situations involving cousins that we had to sidestep-they were all True Believers and my extended family all thought I was nuts.

I on the other hand deluded myself about santa way up until fifth grade-mostly because I thought if I quit believing I quit getting stuff. That actually happened to MY cousins-as soon as they let go of Santa the presents turned practical and not fun.
posted by konolia at 3:06 PM on September 14, 2004

My parents got a family friend, Mr. Magliocheti, to pretend to be Santa while we were having dinner or something, and I recognized his voice. I don't remember anything else about him (in fact, just now was the first time I've ever written his name and I'm sure I spelled it wrong), but I'll always remember that.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:27 PM on September 14, 2004

I dunno when I stopped believing in santa claus but I'm sure it was before the 2nd grade. In the 2nd grade I remember bragging to all the little kids that I had eaten the easter bunny the day before (on easter my parents served rabbit).

However, my mom still writes "from santa" on my presents - of course, that's on the assumption that they still wrap my presents. For the last five years when I'd celebrate christmas at home, we did our Christmas shopping on the day after.
posted by Stynxno at 3:28 PM on September 14, 2004

I know I never believed in Santa Claus, I think because a friend of my parents worked as a mall santa when i was little.. But my little sister believed in santa quite strongly. And that's putting it mildly. The way she found out was when she found receipts for all her presents a few days after christmas.

Then some time later my mother says she said to her "mom, how am I supposed to believe in God if you always told me there was a santa claus and that was a lie?"
posted by Space Coyote at 3:30 PM on September 14, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - some of these are really neat. Especially you phil!

Konolia, that's just... wow. Words fail me. My sympathies to your cousins.
posted by Irontom at 3:41 PM on September 14, 2004

I believed in Santa until around my fourth birthday. Afterwards, I started believing in the Blue Sears Big Rig. Seriously. I listened for it to roll into our driveway. Blame the 1976 Wish Book ...
posted by grabbingsand at 8:04 PM on September 14, 2004

I've loved reading this thread. I can't remember how old I was , but it was fairly early on, and it didn't come as a sudden revelation but just as the logical conclusion to any bit of deductive reasoning I tried to apply to the question. I suppose the biggy for me was that the presents were obviously from stores, and not "made by elves". I figured either elves made and packaged all the toys that are sold in stores, all the time (which was obviously ridiculous), or Santa bought his toys at stores and lied about the elf thing... or, my parents were Santa. I didn't have any kind of confrontation with my parents about this, or feel let down or disappointed, I just did what I've done all my life (and what I did a few years later with the whole God-question), which is to consider all the evidence and come to my own quiet conclusion about things. The fact that my assessment of the situation was at odds with other beliefs and the information being handed out by the media never really bothered me, and I never thought of my parents as "lying" to me, but rather playing a big, fun game that I had managed to figure out and was now able to participate in on a new level. (This all makes me sound like a rather dry little child - but really, I wasn't!)
posted by taz at 10:51 PM on September 14, 2004

I keep *trying* to tell my kidsn it's not true (I find it difficult to reconcile teaching them to be truthful and honest while telling them bullshit about a strange man who breaks into the house). But there's so much peer-pressure and commercial imagery (and Grandparents) that my kids won't believe me!

(They're 5 and 3)
posted by Pericles at 4:18 AM on September 15, 2004

I always had my doubts, but it when I was six that my younger brother and I staged a secret all-night vigil and caught our parents in the act. (The act of placing presents under the tree, not shagging, you pervert.)

Truth has always been a really big thing for me; as a kid I got extremely frustrated whenever I didn't get a straight answer to anything.

I wonder if there's a strong correlation between faith in santa as a child and faith in More Serious Things as an adult.
posted by cell at 5:08 AM on September 15, 2004

This is such a cute thread.

I don't remember ever believing in Santa. But one Christmas my nephew, then about eight, was toughing it out. He refused to go see Santa or write him a letter as his sisters were doing because there was no Santa. Then on Christmas Eve he whimpered to his mother that he hadn't written a letter to Santa and so he wasn't get the presents he wanted. His mother told him he could write a letter and put it in his stocking and Santa would read it, and perhaps he had some extra presents he'd brought along just in case.

This same nephew is now 17 and hasn't a qualm about trying to spoil things for his little sister, aged 7. A few Christmasses back she told me that she was leaving milk and cookies out for Santa. Her brother scoffed, "Dad's going to eat them." She looked stricken, so I said, "...and Santa will just say, 'That E.! He's always eating my cookies. No presents for him.'" All was well again.

I'd agree with most people in this thread that it's just as well to let kids figure things out on their own when they're ready. Or you can tell them from the beginning that there's really no Santa, but it's fun to pretend. I just don't think it matters much.
posted by orange swan at 6:21 AM on September 15, 2004

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