Help me tell daughter Santa Claus truth
September 30, 2012 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Help me tell 8 year old the truth about Santa

Last year, my 7 year old daughter asked me if Santa was real? I panicked and said yes. She said some kids at school said he isn't real but I said, "Well, where do those presents come from then? I believe in Santa."

The part of me that panicked and said that was the part that has been telling her about Santa since she was a toddler, and I always tell her that Mommy tells the truth, you can always trust Mommy, etc. So now, if I tell her otherwise, I don't know how she is going to believe that I tell the truth and she can trust me.

How can I word it so she can understand why I did it, and why I am coming clean now, but that all the rest of what I tell her is the truth. Trust is a big issue with her and I.

I know the third graders are going to say it again this year and I want to be ready.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Human Relations (33 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My mom said that santa was real as long as we believed he was real, and that he wasn't real if we didn't. When we got a little older, the explaination became a bit more sophisticated; that he isn't real in the same way as you or me, but that whenever we did something good or kind on Christmas, we were helping make Santa real, and that the picture of Santa that we have in our heads exists to help make it easier for us to understand what Christmas spirit means and so forth. this was my basic introduction to the metaphor. I kept getting presents from santa for a few years after I "figured it out" because I still wanted to believe it. By the time they stopped coming, I didn't care anymore.

The transition was eased by the books I read; I remember specifically that it was one of the little house on the prairie books. There was a Christmas where the poor boy (Alphonse?) Didn't get presents and the girl (Laura Ingalls?) Asked her dad if it was because the kid was bad. Her dad explained that, no, it was because he was poor. It was done in such a way that it sort of pointed towards the truth without actually saying it. I think I had read a few other books that did the same thing, so I "knew" before asking my mom. I was always a big reader, so that worked on me.
posted by windykites at 11:55 PM on September 30, 2012 [28 favorites]

Why worry about it? Keep it up. Kids like getting presents, and kids like pretending. The general consensus around the jungle gym may be that Santa is not real, but then again there is always a rag-tag group of underground believers who, despite what the more rational mini-Dawkins's are cruelly proselytizing on the playground (sometime the villain exists within the home itself, and is an older sibling), will still silently hold faith in Santa Claus. In fact, I've noticed that it's possible for kids to believe two things at the same time - simultaneously that there isn't a Santa Claus, and that there is a Santa Claus.

Anyway, if your child asks you, just say what you believe ("I believe there is a Santa Claus") or that you don't know. They will surely appreciate getting presents from Santa on Christmas morning anyway.

In a few years they will become more comfortable with the fact there is no Santa, but will also not be bothered by the fiction.

But telling kids there is a Santa is not lying. It's called "playing pretend" and using your imagination, that's all.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Santa is based on a real person, who used to give gifts to people around Christmas time. It's fun to talk about Santa now, and it makes us all remember to be generous to the people we love. He isn't really living in the North Pole with his elves, but whenever we are kind to others, we are making Christmas just as magical, as if he were. The stories are really fun, and it's very important to not tell people that he's not real, because some people really enjoy believing that he is."

That's basically what we said to our kids, and they still love the Santa stories but have never thought he was "real."
posted by visual mechanic at 11:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

Santa is the embodiment of the spirit of the season, and therefore is real. He just isn't one person. Everyone who helps to make happiness for another person at Christmas is part of Santa.

Somehow, I think watching It's a Wonderful Life will help with this transition.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:34 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't remember ever "believing" in Santa, but I do remember being six years old and thinking how weird it was that everyone from toddlers to grandparents were pretending that the dude existed. I also remember pretending to believe until I was about 8 in order not to hurt my parents' feelings. Hell, I'm 35 now, and no one ever gave me the "santa isn't real" talk - and if I'm at my parents' house at Christmas, there are still Santa presents under the tree.

Maybe your daughter isn't the little cynic I was, but finding out that you didn't tell the truth won't be the worst thing in the world. If anything, it will be a good lesson in questioning authority and applying logic to crazy ideas (presents for all the children in the world in one sleigh delivered in one night? I guess the fact that the poorest kids don't get presents makes it a slightly easier job).
posted by cilantro at 12:37 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Play along? "You heard that Santa isn't real? Maybe we should investigate this...."
posted by mannequito at 12:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why don't you just keep it up until she knows that it can't be real?

I remembered that I caught my mom in the act of stuffing my stocking. She confessed to everything right away and I was so crushed. I cried a bunch and kept trying to prove that Santa was real.

I was a little younger - six years old, but I think that if my mother had made something up, I would've taken it and went right back to sleep because I wanted so badly to believe it.

Kids like to pretend and I would just let them grow out of it. Why ruin the fun for them?
posted by cyml at 12:53 AM on October 1, 2012

Is your eight-year-old daughter named Virginia?

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:31 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another vote for gentle metaphors (read the original "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter!) and turning it back on her ('what do YOU think? Is Santa real?'). The thing to remember is, she WANTS to believe in Santa. At age 8, she probably already knows the truth, but is still clinging to the belief: it's both fun and comforting, plus kids on the cusp of believing/not believing are aware enough to want to ensure they still get those Santa gifts. It's rarely necessary to flat-out say There Is No Santa.

Heck, if you lived near me, I'd arrange to come over to your place in my Santa suit for her.
posted by easily confused at 3:40 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

We took a similar approach with our oldest: There used to be a "Santa", of sorts. He was a real person and is no longer alive, but people told stories about him and loved him. Some of those stories got bigger and bigger; some were made into movies and got even crazier. But people wanted a Santa so much that all parents decided to become "Santa's Helpers" every Christmas to keep the fun and giving alive.

This worked perfectly with our son. Maybe he was just ready for it and already developing the healthy, skeptical curiosity that we encourage in our household. He liked that he was now in on a "grownup secret" and got to keep that going for his little brother and younger cousins a while longer. He got to retroactively revisit the real story behind that new bike, the puppy, etc. He thought it was cool how we plotted and maintained the secrecy to pull off those surprises.

The Santa part is easy. Explaining Black Friday is what I dread.
posted by skypieces at 4:14 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yesterday scanning in a box of paperwork I found an angry letter from my then-ten year old son to "Santa" where he explained why he wasn't real (no chimneys, no way someone that fat could go down one and carry presents too, reindeer can't fly etc) and concluding that parents are horrible liars and he is very angry but won't tell the little kids because they like Santa.

This is the kid that believed in the Tooth Monster for another year after that though.

I said it was a wonderful tradition that many many families had, and that I had had as a little girl, and that learning Santa wasn't real was also a big part of growing up. I remember emphasizing that it was a big responsibility for him to keep the story alive for smaller children and not spoil Santa for them, now he knew the other side.

We spoke about Saint Nicholas and traditions and he was upset for a day, then forgave us as long as his present from Santa was replaced by a family present like his older siblings got.

If you can get another year or two, that's great, but curious kids figure it out pretty early.

The Raymond Briggs' book about Santa is marvellous for that age btw.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:05 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was 7 when I figured out that Santa was not real. It may have had something to do with reading Little Women and seeing how the poor family didn't get any presents until the Marches stepped in, it may have have had something to do with growing up in India and being one of the few families around that celebrated Christmas to such a large extent and it most definitely had something to do with my dad writing a Christmas letter to me from Santa in pink highlighter in his characteristic sharp sloping hand. Santa or no Santa, I knew that letter was written by my dad. After that they stopped trying to pretend and I think I would have been annoyed if they had kept trying in order to preserve my innocence or something like that. I was a mature little kid and loved figuring out how the world worked.
posted by peacheater at 5:59 AM on October 1, 2012

A lot of what people are saying (that "Santa" is an idea rather than a physical being, etc.) is what my parents said too.

I think, as well, that you telling the truth now will make a bigger impression on her than the initial "fiction". What's going to matter to her is the fact that you told the truth now, when she flat-out called you on it; trying to deny and cover up for a while may be a bigger problem.

If she's a studious child, you may also want to look into "what other kids in other countries have instead of Santa," becaus some of that stuff is wild. And sufficiently distracting - I remember starting to have doubts when I was eight as well, and then coming across a book of "Christmas traditions in other countries", and some of them were so fascinating that I just plain forgot the whole "Santa question" altogether until Christmas rolled around again (and then I was nearly nine and had figured out that I should keep quiet for my little brother's sake).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 AM on October 1, 2012

We started out from the get-go by never including Santa in our Christmas traditions (we're scary Christians). Eventually, our kids started getting asked in public if they were excited about Santa. After my precocious four-year-old shocked an elderly woman with a dry "Tehre is no Santa Claus", we decided to strategize.

We explained that although Santa isn't real, that a lot of people like to play "The Santa Game", because it's fun for kids to talk about Santa. We stressed how it's not fun when someone comes along and ruins a game you're playing, and that you shouldn't ruin other people's games.

No problems since.

The "Santa Game" explanation has worked for us; it might work for you and yours. Good luck!
posted by DWRoelands at 6:13 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mom just said, "Well, what do you think?"

And I more or less said, you know, I think maybe it's a little too magical to fit a fat guy down a chimney and so forth, but eventually we settled on Santa's realness being something that we could choose or not to believe in, and and that believing is more fun than not.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:14 AM on October 1, 2012

Anyway, if your child asks you, just say what you believe ("I believe there is a Santa Claus") or that you don't know. They will surely appreciate getting presents from Santa on Christmas morning anyway.

The problem with this is that this isn't like belief in God. OP doesn't believe there is a Santa Claus.

The thing is, believing in Santa might be fine until one day it isn't. I was kind of traumatized by the truth--I was ten, and had held on to the belief for a little longer than most kids, but when I put the pieces together (on Christmas Eve, when I heard my mother and my sister setting out the presents), I actually felt lied to and pretty foolish. The other kids had connected the dots, and I hadn't. They'd probably all kinda been laughing at me. And I was ten--a grown-up.

As a kid who was traumatized by the reveal--or lack of it--I really like the metaphorical explanations that simultaneously initiate kids into adult culture; now that they know the truth, they can help bring joy to others. Don't hold out just because it's fun to let kids play pretend, because these beliefs are pretty serious for many kids.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:15 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if my mom told me this or I made it up, but I always thought that Santa used parents as his assistants or sub-contractors. This helped also explain why I couldn't have anything I wanted, only what my mom was able to get and also why she was the one who actually filled my stocking. (Of course, even if I figured out everything, I wasn't going to tell my mom or "Santa" would stop leaving presents.)

As for the chimney thing: that's silly. Everyone knows that you hang a magic key on the outside of your apartment door that only Santa can use, and that's how he gets inside. (Either that, or he lands on the balcony and comes in the back door).
posted by jb at 8:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends --- are you going for the truth that Santa as a person is not real and only that? Or are you going for an abstract concept of giving and getting and good will?

What do you want your 8 year old to have learned from Santa? I'd tailor your response in that manner.

I think if you're going for the abstract, then the Yes, Virginia story could explain it quite well for you.
posted by zizzle at 8:33 AM on October 1, 2012

These are some great ways to discuss the complicated concept of "emotionally real but not factual". But part of your question was about how to explain to your daughter why you lied to her last year - vigorously and vehemently stating that Santa was factually real, chimneys and all, and you say so and she can trust you to tell the truth. That's a really complicated thing. I'd try to hold back and not get defensive until she says something. It sounds like you feel that you overstepped a little last year and are regretting it - I can totally see why you're worried, but she might not call you on it. Unless she's the type of girl to not say what she's thinking, assume that unless she brings it up explicity she's not remembering exactly what you said, or going to take it as a personal betrayal or sign that she can't trust you, that you said one thing last year and you're saying another this year.
Start answering questions this year with "well, what do you think?" and see where she's at. If she says "I don't believe he's real, but you said he was," your best defense is probably "I was telling the truth because he's real to me - I *do* believe in Santa, but that doesn't mean you have to." and then you can talk about exactly what it is you "believe", the concept of "emotionally real", etc.
Basically, even though you feel guilty about this, try not to get defensive - the whole point of Santa is to be loving and giving, and fun and enjoyable, so if skeptical/confused/hurt/dishonest starts playing too big a role, it's time to step back and re-evaluate. Like many other kinds of untruths, the bigger and more elaborate you let it get, the harder it'll be to deal with the aftermath, so starting right now, don't make a big deal of any of it.
posted by aimedwander at 8:34 AM on October 1, 2012

I've always been uncomfortable with lying to my child about what's real and what isn't, even about fun things like the existence of Santa Claus. This is because I am a strong atheist who wants to let him make his own decisions about religion, when it comes to that time.

(I don't recall exactly how I learned that Santa was fictional, but do remember the lightbulb going on over my head of "hey wait a minute, if that guy is fake, what about this God person?")

So from as early as he's been able to ask questions about these things, I've always stuck to the Fox News technique:

"Well, some people say [...]"

...which so far has satisfied him. If he ever asks me directly what I think, I'll answer truthfully, but so far that hasn't happened.
posted by ook at 8:35 AM on October 1, 2012

I wrote this a long time ago. Maybe it'll help. Change the language as is necessary.

Q. Why did you lie to me about Santa?

A. It depends on what you're prepared to call a lie.

When you're a child, the world is a magical place. A stick can be a rifle and you can keep yourself entertained for a whole afternoon pretending to be army men. Anything could be waiting around the corner, and anything could be lurking under the bed. There's a certain innocence there that, once lost, can never be regained. And you never really know how wonderful it is until you'll never have it again.

As parents, we see that in you, and we see the children that we were too, a long time ago. We also know that if we told you "hang on to your childhood for as long as you can," it would make no sense at all to you. We can't tell you that, and we can't go back to that time in our lives when everything was so simple and had that hint of magic to it. But there's something we can do.

By seeing to it that you have Santa Claus to believe in, we can kind of be a part of that magic again. And we can offer something that seems to be a tangible affirmation of the possibilities that a kid sees in the world. Sure, it's fun for you but it's also a lot of fun for us, taking you to see Santa's helper (not the real one 'cause the real one has a real beard) at the mall, and making sure you go to bed early and then in the morning seeing how you react when we tell you "Santa came!" It's as much for our benefit as yours, really.

Now, we told you that there was a man who lived at the North Pole who brought you presents, and there isn't. It was us that bought the presents and wrapped them and put them under the tree. So if you want to look at it in those terms, yes, it was a lie.

At the same time, though, we told you there was a Santa Claus. He may not live at the North Pole, but he's a representation of the qualities of childhood that are dearest to us. When you're a child, the worlds in your imagination are as real as any other - and Santa Claus is the territory of children in just about every way. Millions of kids all over the world believe in him, and they say he's real.

So for them, he is indeed real. And who are we to argue with that?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:01 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I struggled with this same problem when my kids were small, but I found the answer in a most surprising way that might also help you.

I vowed to never lie to my kids but the cultural pressure of Santa was too great and their belief in him moved too fast for me to stop. So what now? My answer came when I was asked to don the red suit for the Christmas party at my kid's daycare center. I reluctantly agreed (all the other dads had taken their turn) and being an old theater kid I got totally into character. And do you know what happened?!? Those little kids thought that I was Santa Claus! Oddly, it had never occurred to me that playing Santa would actually make me Santa in their eyes, but it did and I worked hard to not disappoint them. By the end of my two hour stint I was exhausted and sweaty but I was also thrilled to my soul by all the hugs and kisses I got from the kids. For two hours... I WAS Santa Claus.

And that's the real secret here. Santa Claus is made real by kids who love and some old dude like me who loves back. And it all makes perfect sense, now. Those shopping mall Santas are made real by the kids themselves.

So that's what I told my kids. Santa is real but he doesn't exist in only one person. Anyone can become Santa Claus if they want to be, and that doesn't make it any less real. It happened to me. And that was the truth.
posted by Jamesonian at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

My parents never told me Santa (or the Toth Fairy or the Easter Bunny) wasn't real, but encouragted me to ask questions and think about it. Which ended up with me at the age of 5 getting increasingly annoyed at my parents for continuing to insist Santa was real, because clearly and logically, he couldn't exist. But it turned me into a skeptic, and the reasoning skills have been highly useful!

As far as the Tooth Fairy, when I was 5 or 6 a friend told me she saw her dad sneak into ehr room and take the tooth out from under her pillow and leave money. I bore the news triumphantly back to my parents as sure proof that the Tooth Fairy wasn't real. Mom insists to this day that my friend's dad is, in fact, the Tooth Fairy.

I'd say to encourage your daughter to think about it and come up with her own conclusions.
posted by telophase at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

My next door neighbor told me that Santa visited her in the night, and she heard sleigh bells ringing and everything. I told her I didn't hear anything, and she said, "That's because Jews can't hear Santa." I decided right there and then that Santa is a jerk, and that's what I plan to teach my kids. "That guy's a total anti-Semite, and he's a slave-holder to boot! Elves my foot!"
posted by 1adam12 at 9:29 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I clearly remember the day my parents admitted that Santa wasn't real (I was around your daughter's age) was also the day I realized I shouldn't trust anyone, even my parents, 100%. It was also the day I realized God probably doesn't exist either.

So if you want to retain your parental infallibility or your daughter's faith, I'd tread lightly.
posted by el_yucateco at 10:41 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

A sick sad scenario that most parents don't visualize in their fairytale world is that moment in school when other kids tell your kid Santa isn't real, and your kid tries to defend his/her position by saying "My parents said he was real and my parents wouldn't lie to me."

So what does your kid tell his friends the next day after you admit you'd been lying to them their whole lives?

Your kids aren't dumb, you parents who think its all fun and games are messing with the core fabric of your kids minds. The kid has already convinced themselves to put aside all logic or reason and accept their parents words as fact. Is it smart then to brush them off with a weak explanation/justification and lose their trust right before they turn into teenagers?
posted by el_yucateco at 10:48 AM on October 1, 2012

Not sure an eight year old needs a whole lot of detail here. Instead of saying "yes, santa is real" any more, you could just ask your eight year old to talk about their belief and doubts.

But the line I take is that Santa is real when people make them real. There are some things that exist because we believe in them. And if you (kid) believe then there you go.

But I don't think I'd go into that much detail.
posted by zippy at 11:02 AM on October 1, 2012

I seem to remember a vague story from my dad about staying up all night to watch for Santa and not getting any presents as a result! Or maybe that was passed on by my grandmother? It all seems a bit cruel!

Anyway I came in to say that little skeptic me had a SCREAMING match with my mother when I was 8 about the Tooth Fairy - same deal, an older kid (bully) at the bus stop had let me on to the secret. I hounded poor Mom for several hours, in front of my confused little sisters, until finally, after they were in bed, and I was sobbing hoarsely, Mom admitted that she didn't exist. It was all around a terrible situation and no one handled it well and I was pissed, if triumphant.

BUT I just want you to know that it didn't cause any lasting damage, nor did it make me question my mother's frequent promise never to lie to us, which I tried to catch her out on ALL THE TIME - but this seemed different, somehow, and I kind of respected her for holding out. And I played along for my sisters.

That's how I remember it, anyway.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 11:07 AM on October 1, 2012

Geez, Birds, now I have something in my eye.
posted by tuesdayschild at 1:28 PM on October 1, 2012

My mother has always said that the day I stop believing in Santa is the day he stops bringing me presents. So now, approaching 30, if my mother asks me if I believe in Santa, my response would be, "Of course".

But seriously -- Santa is sort of a fun game parents and kids get to play, even past the time when they know that no fat man flies around the world on a sled. Teach them to put aside their disbelief and play the game.
posted by custard heart at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I liked Terry Pratchett's explanation from Hogfather (where Santa is substituted for Hogfather):
"All right," said Susan, "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need ... fantasies to make life bearable."
No. Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meet the rising ape.
"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers?"
Yes. As practice. You have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
"So we can believe the big ones?"
Yes. Justice. Duty. Mercy. That sort of thing.
"They're not the same at all!"
Really? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet you act, like there was some sort of rightness in the universe by which it may be judged:
"Yes. But people have got to believe that or what's the point?"
My point exactly.

You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?
Which is similar to These Birds' linked article, now that I've read it.
posted by CancerMan at 2:56 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Similar to el_yucateco's response, my (hard core Christian-based) friend told me that when she has kids, she's not going to tell them that Santa or the Tooth Fairy, etc. are real because when they get older and they find out that they aren't real, she doesn't want them to make the same connection with God and assume that he's not real, either.

With me being Jewish, I obviously never remembered a time when I believed that Santa was real. The Tooth Fairy, though, would always leave me notes with any money under my pillow and those notes were always in my mom's handwriting and it didn't matter how often I confronted my mom about it, she'd deny that it was her. It never turned into a "I trusted you and now I can't!" issue, because I always knew that she was looking out for me. Of course, the issue stopped becoming one once I stopped losing my baby teeth, but I'm sure if the Tooth Fairy were still leaving me notes, my mom would still be denying that she was the Tooth Fairy and she and I would both know that it was just a game that we played together.
posted by lea724 at 8:14 AM on October 6, 2012

« Older Are there any private tour companies you recommend...   |   Kingsquest can be cool again. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.