Santa or no Santa?
October 28, 2006 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I am struggling with my son and the truth about Santa. Unwrap the box, there's

My son is 11, loves Christmas and was always a believer in Santa.

He's very smart and I think he "knows" the "truth," but he is such a one to hold on to tradition that in his heart, he doesn't want to turn the harsh light of day on this cherished myth, which has so much warm fuzzy childhood-ness wrapped up in it. He also doesn't want to force me to admit that I perpetrated a lie. And I don't want to have that conversation either.

But he's a smart kid and age 11 is (some would say past) the age when the scales fall from the eyes in this area. He wants to know the truth because his nature is to be informed, to gather information, to have all the facts and not let himself be duped (I wonder where he gets THAT).

When he has asked me about it, I tell him, "Santa brings presents to kids as long as the believe in him. When they stop believing, or find that they just can't keep believing, Santa stops and the parents start providing the gifts." But even that doesn't address the whole issue.

The clock is ticking on this (Target has its Christmas trees up already) and I am really struggling.

Whenever I sense that another layer of "being a kid" is being stripped away from him, it breaks my heart that much more.

Those moments will only come faster and closer together as the months and years advance. That's what being a parent is, I know. It just doesn't make it any easier.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Human Relations (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure he's even going to ask again? He may have decided by now that there is no Santa, and is perpetuating the myth for your sake. That's what I did as a child.
posted by saffry at 7:37 AM on October 28, 2006

My parents always told me that Santa brought presents to children who believed in him. That said, they never told me that he wasn't real, and I never asked. I just figured it out (and, like your son, I held on for a long time, not because I believed in a jolly old elf who traveled around the world every Christmas Eve but more because I wanted to believe).

Still, at Christmas time, we talk about Santa as though he were real, though there are no children around. I kind of like it that way.

I guess this is a roundabout way of echoing saffry, though. You may not need to say anything. I mean, if he asks, you may want to explain. But, maybe consider not saying that Santa isn't real, but he is more the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas or something, and he isn't a real person, but he fills the hearts of real people at this time of year or somesuch (though maybe say it a little nicer than I just did).
posted by synecdoche at 7:44 AM on October 28, 2006

Whenever I sense that another layer of "being a kid" is being stripped away from him, it breaks my heart that much more.

Tell him the truth. Sometime soon this will come up in school and if he claims there is a Claus, he will be ridiculed like you wouldn't believe. You don't want to be a cause of pain like that.

Also, you say he's a smart kid. Treat him like one. Smart people shouldn't be tricked into believing something so you can drag out your game to make yourself feel better.
posted by The Michael The at 7:47 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

When he has asked me about it, I tell him, "Santa brings presents to kids as long as the believe in him. When they stop believing, or find that they just can't keep believing, Santa stops and the parents start providing the gifts."

That was brilliant. Keep doing this.

Realistically, he is probably maintaining the facade as much for you as for hi.
posted by caddis at 7:58 AM on October 28, 2006

oops, I dropped this: m.
posted by caddis at 7:59 AM on October 28, 2006

After my brother and I knew the truth, my mom would continue (and still does now, even though we are grown) to fill our stockings on Christmas Eve after we went to bed. That way we still had a bit of a surprise on Christmas morning, which is what believing in Santa is all about. A nice compromise, I thought.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 8:07 AM on October 28, 2006

I'll be 26 this Christmas, I still pretend to my parents that I believe in Father Christmas, and they still claim he exists. Obviously they know I know, and I know they know I know, but this is hilarious. There's a lot of concerned musing about Santa getting past the gas fire, breaking his neck from rapid acceleration etc.

I don't remember ever really thinking it was all real, but it never occured to me to call my parents out on it, it's just suspension of disbelief because it's fun. I don't really get why anyone would treat it as a big traumatic loss of innocence type thing. I would be very, very surprised if a smart 11 year old honestly believes this old guy goes around the world giving out millions of gifts, but not at all surprised if he likes all the storytelling and specialness that go along with christmas and wants to keep it going.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:23 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I really doubt an eleven year old kid believes in Santa. me and my brothers "held on to the truth" long after we knew it was bogus (that point was at like, age 5 or maybe 6) and we definitely knew enough not to boast about Santa in front of other kids. I really, really doubt teasing about this very thing hasn't come up before in his life. the fact he's never come home from school crying at an earlier age probably indicates he "wised up" even if he continues to believe. (I am basing this more on recent work in an elementary school than my memories of childhood--which I know are suspect. Even 6 year olds get taunted by other 6 year olds for believing in Santa.. )

Let's face it, you can't conceal presents from your kids. The myth of Santa makes it so much more "surprising" and allows you to ignore the bags you see, allows you to not make the connections, because you know first and foremost it is a "surprise".
posted by shownomercy at 8:31 AM on October 28, 2006

There's no way to know if he's humouring you unless you flat out ask him, which is unadvisable if he still believes. I would wait until he asks you again and then ask him what he thinks. You should be able to gauge from this if he's buying it anymore and then you can act accordingly.
Instead of making it seem like a sad, dream-breaking dose of cold, grey reality, try to frame it as a positive thing for him: that he's now able to handle some new grown-up information and you can let him in on some of the fun of making Christmas such an exciting time.

Then tell him about babies.
posted by chococat at 8:55 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

My parents asked me whether or not to continue telling my little brother that Santa was real, and I thought we should do it.

He ended up getting a lot of grief at school, and passionately defended the Santa thing to his friends up until age 10 or so.

I have felt guilty my entire life for making that decision. I'm pushing 40 now, and I still feel really awful about it. Don't make the mistake I did. Avoiding the issue because it's uncomfortable just means he's going to embarrass himself at school more, particularly if he is stubborn.
posted by Malor at 9:00 AM on October 28, 2006

He's eleven years old. Tell him the truth. You silly, silly person.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 9:10 AM on October 28, 2006

Seconding what 23skidoo and chococat (among others) have said: learning the truth doesn't have to mean spoiling the wonder that is the Christmas season. You can't shield your kids forever, but you can help them to appreciate the richness that is there.

I don't remember how I found out, or when, but I do remember one year when I was clearly on the fence. That year we put out cookies and milk (something we'd never done before or have ever done since), and I think I even wrote Santa a letter. Of course the cookies were dutifully nibbled on the next morning. But the pièce de résistance was the little bit of Santa's red suit that had gotten snagged in our (fake) fireplace.

It might have helped if the ripped fabric he left behind wasn't in a perfect rectangle.

Despite such trickery, my family is still pretty close around Christmas, and this story is just one of several that we get to share with each other.
posted by metabrilliant at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2006

I think your son might be trying to figure out if he should reveal that he does know, because he is picking up loud and clear that it would break your heart for him to not believe. I'm pretty sure this is exactly that's going on with my brother, 10 years my junior, and 12.5 this Christmas. My mom has had conversations with me that sound very much like your post: worried about "ruining everything" for him. I try to counsel her with the fact that I was pretty well aware by about 9 that Santa was a fairy tale, and I kept it up for my little sister and then for my brother when he was born, and that absolutely nothing was ruined by the dawning realization that my parents were behind it all. My brother asked very round-about questions on the subject these last two Christmases, but I suspect he will not ask again this year. My parents' method of just putting out fewer presents each year labled as "From Santa" worked fine to transition into treating Santa like the fun make-believe spirit of the season that he is. Eventually, the jolly old fat man is just a concept to leave offerings to, in the form of milk and cookies.

Your answer to his question is actually the best I've ever heard, I think it will be okay. If you don't fret so badly about it, your son will live through this part of growing up, just like you did.
posted by nelleish at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2006

My mother always responded to my questions with 'Santa is love, that's all I can tell you.' Then one day I told her 'He's your love for me, isn't he?' And she said Yes, and that was pretty much it. No pain involved.

In your case, just saying 'Santa is the way I show you I love you on Christmas' might be good enough.
posted by bingo at 9:41 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

11 was my son's last "Santa" Christmas and he knew perfectly well that year that his parents were Santa. I had been using the same "if you believe" approach for a couple of years by that point and we all liked the Santa magic enough to hang onto it a bit longer.

We never really sat down and had a talk about it, although we did once or twice talk about how my son wanted to keep Christmas "magical" and that not believing in Santa any more was a little sad. We acknowledged that his belief was evolving as he was growing up. I also made less of an effort to make sure that "Santa" used different wrapping paper and had different handwriting than mine.

Santa still fills stockings at our house, just like my mother still filled them for me and my siblings into our adulthood. It's a nice little nod to the childhood Christmas excitement & mystery.
posted by CoffeeCake at 9:41 AM on October 28, 2006

My mom and dad told me the same thing as another poster said - as long as you believe in Santa, he will keep bringing you gifts. Now, as I've gotten older, "Santa" gifts are the surprises, the things I didn't help her pick out for me or the things I didn't find out about by accident. I'm fine with that.

BTW, I smugly told all the smartypants disbelieving kids in school that if they didn't want Santa presents, that was their business, but I wasn't going to worry about whether or not Santa was real becuase it didn't matter. And I was like, 10.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2006

My friend beat me to the truth. He had two photographs as evidence. Both were of him with Santa; one from that year, one from the year before.

The giveaway, Santa's beard. One year it was short with tight curls, the other year it was long and wispy. This proved to my friend that, beyond all reasonable doubt, these Santas were fakes and the whole Santa thing was a massive scam.

We were six years old. I tried to tell him that these weren't meant to be Santa anyway, just his helpers, but he was adamant.

I kept my beliefs for a few years more but I don't think I ever really believed in Santa anyway -- I just liked to believe in him.

But if you want to tell him, you might as well do it wholesale and get them all out of the way: Santa, Easter Bunny, Jesus, God, King Kong... At one point, I believed in all of these.
posted by popcassady at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

There's about 160 comments on this similar subject in this AskMefi thread from about a year ago.
posted by jeremias at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2006

I simply don't believe any 11 year old with average intelligence could really believe in Santa (with a few rare exceptions excepted). I mean come on. When I was a kid we would talk about "Santa" but I don't think anyone believed that he was anything 'real' about him.

But if you're kid really believes in Santa at age 11, that's just weird. You should definitely tell him.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 AM on October 28, 2006

At least he hasn't asked you for a handwriting sample. That's what I did to my parents. I suspected (maybe age 7 or 8), and went into the kitchen with a pen and a legal pad and asked each of them to write "from Santa" for me.

They refused; case closed.

(My younger brother didn't buy my evidence and continued to believe for a while longer.)
posted by sevenless at 10:27 AM on October 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

What crabintheocean said (except I'll be 27 this Christmas). And though I did believe in him at one point, I can't actually remember when I stopped: it wasn't a traumatic thing or some kind of coming out. It just happened gradually and now it's still fun to play along.
posted by dame at 10:33 AM on October 28, 2006

I was 5 or 6 when I recognized my mother's handwriting on note Santa left thanking me and my brother for the cookies and milk we left him (plus carrots for the reindeer, naturally.) My mother's response: "Santa is magical." And then I think she either ran out of the room or quickly tried to change the subject.

My parents still fill stockings for me, my brother and sister, and they do ones for each other, too.
posted by emelenjr at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2006

I think it's too bad that Santa's going to stop giving him presents when he acknowledges that the big guy doesn't exist. That may be a big part of why he carries on the facade -- even if he knows Santa's not real, he doesn't want to give up the magic.

I had the conversation with my parents when I was in first grade. At first, they told me he was real, but I didn't really believe them. Eventually, my badering got them to tell me the truth.

I still got presents from Santa that year, though. And I still got presents from Santa last year, when I traveled more than 2,000 miles to be with my family. I'll be 28 this Christmas, and I suspect there will still be Santa presents under the tree for me.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:44 AM on October 28, 2006

posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2006

I remember when I figured out the Santa thing wasn't true, but I went along with it for another year just to cover my bases. When the presents happened anyway I knew I was safe.

Did the same thing with Jesus a few years later. Same result.
posted by bink at 11:34 AM on October 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Man, my Mom yelled it out in the midst of an explosive family fight. So you're already doing well. Try asking him what he thinks and why. In other words, next time he asks, get him to answer his own question.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:34 AM on October 28, 2006

I'm with crabintheocean and dame. At some point, it became a collective joke. Once in a while I still get a present from Santa. (But I have brothers who are much younger than I am, so I was partly playing along as my parents' accomplice.)
posted by salvia at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2006

If he's 11, he can understand metaphors, so be straight with him. Santa is a beautiful story about the magic that happens when you give to others. When we grow up, we all get to be Santa sometimes.

And right on, popcassady, same goes for the rest of the crew.
posted by maniabug at 12:09 PM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I never told my kid "the truth." He never asked. He's 24 now, I'm guessing he probably figured it out.

I don't recommending lying if he asks (at 11 if he asks he knows the answer anyway), but try to find a way for you all to "pretend" to believe for at least a couple more years, it's more fun that way. (I like your answer, I'd say stick with it and keep providing at least a few presents from Santa for a while yet, without making a huge deal of it.)
posted by redheadeb at 12:15 PM on October 28, 2006

A smart 11 year old knows there's no Santa. I think the issue is probably more around the transitioning from his status of Santa-believer to Santa-nonbeliever.

I think I'd just quietly de-Santa-fy your family Christmas. Move the emphasis onto other traditions and ways of celebrating, and let him know that it doesn't matter to you that he continues to play along with the Santa story.

And instead of the broken-hearted loss of childhood innocence reaction, celebrate your son's growth and his journey into adulthood! Show him you respect him by letting him join you in your "grown-up" Christmas.
posted by sarahw at 12:31 PM on October 28, 2006

For the simple-minded among us, it is easier to teach your children to be truthful if you run a clear line on being truthful to them yourself. (And if you are trying to teach them religion, it pays to distinguish between stories like Santa and stories like Bible stories.)
posted by Idcoytco at 1:11 PM on October 28, 2006

Whenever I sense that another layer of "being a kid" is being stripped away from him, it breaks my heart that much more.

This isn't about your kid or your kid's feelings. This is about you.

This seems like one of those manifold circumstances where parents' behavior doesn't depend on what their kids are actually like, it depends instead on their rosy, nostalgic, programmed-by-hormones way they see their kids.

I mean, think back to when you were 11. Not to the way that your parents talk about your childhood. Not to nostalgia for your childhood. Think back to when you were 11.

Did you really believe in Santa -- that a fat man came down the chimney and left presents? Almost certainly not. Would you have been disappointed if your parents came to you and started including you in the Grown-Up Big People's Club Who Know There Is No Santa? What, are you kidding? That's as cool as getting to sit at the grownup table for Thanksgiving.

This sort of thing is about you, and your feelings about your kid's childhood, and how you want him to be your precious boo-boo forever. But he won't. Unless you hit him on the head real hard, anyway. While that attitude is common, it's not healthy. So bite the bullet and let him stop being six now that he's eleven.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:04 PM on October 28, 2006

If you want to explain it to him, try something like this, if it's true for you:

Of course there's no Santa. But when you're a parent, you get filled up with so much love that you wish you could give your kid a present without them knowing it was you, just for their unalloyed joy. Santa is a way to do that -- a way for you to get a present without it being from us, a way for you to just get something out of the clear blue sky. (It's also a way to manage disappointment in the things that inevitably can't get given -- it wasn't us that didn't give you a pony, it was Santa --- but you can probably let this one slide until later).

Well, here we are, and you're growing up. And you're still going to get presents from Santa under the tree, and you'd better not thank us for them, because that's why they're there. And, I'm not hinting or nuthin', if there's a present for you from Santa, you won't know whethere it's from your dad or me, and if there's a Santa present for me, I won't know whether it's from your dad or from you, ya dig?

All of which is pretty well in line with the Christmas spirit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:13 PM on October 28, 2006

I was almost 10 before my parents told me. I was pretty shocked. I'd had suspicions over the years, but my parents gave me open-ended answers. They never told me Santa was real and none of the gifts were signed by Santa. However, we had to write letters to Santa (still our 30s) and we left drinks and cookies and a carrot for Rudolph.

Why did I hold on to the belief? Well, it seemed to me that, if God and Jesus were real, then Santa was not quite so much of a long shot. I mean, what's more far out? A guy distributing toys worldwide one day a year, using a magic sleigh and thousands of little slaves? Or eternal life, heaven, arks, loaves and fishes, angels, a stone rolling away from a tomb, a guy floating up to heaven, a virgin birth, devils, walking on water, exorcisms, raising people from the dead, parting sea, and an omnipotent God? That's why I was able to believe -- Santa seemed like a pretty small player in a world of miracles.

The end of Santa was the beginning of the end of my faith. I'm not saying it's that way for everyone or that people are wrong to have faith. It's just that my then-faith was what allowed me to believe in Santa.
posted by acoutu at 2:15 PM on October 28, 2006

I'm not sure what question you're asking. Santa or no Santa? Does anybody ever really sit their kid down and say, "there is no Santa Claus"? This situation sorts itself out.

If the kid wants to wink-wink "believe" in Santa Claus for a little while longer, that's fine. That's actually what a lot of adults do until the day they die. If he ever asks you point blank, just don't lie to him, whatever age he is.

Just to get this out on the table: there is no Santa Claus.
posted by Hildago at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2006

You shouldn't have lied to your child to begin with. Now he knows you're lying. And the longer you keep doing it, the worse you're going to come out of it.

Just explain the whole thing -- Santa is make believe, a thing parents tell to little kids for fun, etc. I'm sure he already knows anyway.
posted by reklaw at 2:36 PM on October 28, 2006

When my little brother was about that age & still holding up the charade, my mom asked me, "Does your brother still *actually* believe in Santa?" I think she had exactly this concern.

Me, being the dutiful big sister, went & said incredulously, "Mom still thinks you believe in Santa!" My brother being the sweet fellow he always has been said, "No, but she would be so disappointed to not get to play Santa that I just keep pretending." Which I promptly (and discreetly) went and told her. She thought it was very sweet that he was kind of trying to protect her from his "loss of innocence."

"Santa" still comes to our house every year.
posted by susanbeeswax at 5:08 PM on October 28, 2006

I read the previous comments, so apologies if I'm echoing what has been said above.

I am one of four children. I'm 18 and my siblings are 20, 15 and 14. For my parents, Christmas has always been a time where they can get us something that we really want and will appreciate. It is a general policy of 'he who believes recieves', even though we're now much older and know that 'truth'. (Hell, I even bought my sister's present from 'Santa" last year). On Christmas Eve, we put out our stockings and without fail, they are full of gifts on Christmas morning. We still put out cake and beer for Santa.

Santa still has importance in our family because I have many younger cousins, and my older cousins now have children. So I think Santa will keep coming to or Christmas celebrations for a while yet. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if he was still coming when we're much older.

I know my mum still appreciates the fact that we play along. She was heartbroken when my older sister was 13 and refused to get a photo taken with Santa at the shopping centre. We surprised her and had one taken last year and she was so delighted she cried.

We all worked out for ourselves that Santa wasn't real. I know when I was about 11 I confronted my mum, and she basically told me without telling me, if that makes sense. I can't remember exactly what she said though. That said, my dad more or less spilled the beans to me that same year. I had asked for a pair of roller blades and on Christmas morning e asked me if I liked that colour. When I said yes he said that he bought them for me because he knew that I would.
posted by cholly at 8:32 PM on October 28, 2006

I havent read the previous comments.
posted by cholly at 8:33 PM on October 28, 2006

Slightly different question I asked but you may find something that interests you in that thread.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:35 PM on October 28, 2006

I really truly honestly believed that santa was real until I was 13 years old and a freshman in high school. my younger sisters had both realized that santa was bogus, but I was all about the claus. see, my parents were SO GOOD at xmas. Totally into it. Therefore I reasoned that it was more likely that santa was real than it was that my parents were ultra championship shoppers.

mom finally told me that it had always been them. I wasn't so much bummed at santa not existing...I was more in awe of how tuned in to the kids they had been.

ok so the best way to break it to son is not to tell him. if you do that, he'll feel like an idiot and that's bad. much better to stash the xmas presents somewhere that he can't NOT find them. he'll spend the next month learning skepticism on his own and he'll feel smart as hell. mission accomplished.
posted by modernpoverty at 8:59 PM on October 29, 2006

My sister told my five year old nephew that there wasn't a Santa Claus when he asked point blank. She then told him that many people like to believe that there's a Santa and that it's fun to pretend. He seems okay with that.
posted by KathyK at 6:31 AM on October 30, 2006

'Know the truth and give it up forever, or accept him as he is and enjoy...'
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2006

You obviously love your son, and your son is obviously smart. I'd wager that he already knows that there is no Santa.... you can either play along, or gradually change the 'From' tag on the presents. Don't get hung up on it, just enjoy Christmas as much as you can.

I remember once my (younger) sister hit 8 or 9, we gradually got less presents from 'Santa' in our stockings, and more from Mum and Dad which were placed under the tree as soon as they were bought and wrapped.

That said, Mum still hides some gifts and puts them in my childhood Santa stocking every Christmas - and I'm 24 and living by myself. And every year, there's always something (always I had no idea was coming to me) from 'Santa'.

Just because your little boy is growing up doesn't mean you have to stop with the spirit of things.
posted by cheaily at 3:56 PM on October 30, 2006

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