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Santa Isn't Real?!

Note to readers: If you've got a "reading" child near you who still believes in Santa, please go somewhere else and come back later.

Now, onward...

Sorry, kids. I know that you still believe in Santa, but he's just a figment of your imagination. That "ho-ho-ho" gift giver is really your mom and/or dad. ... You mean you didn't know?

While that may not be the exact conversation in an elementary school classroom in Britain, that was the effect on a classroom of 7-year-olds when their teacher broke the truth to them. And parents weren't pleased. After parents complained, the teacher offered an apology and won't be stepping foot back in that classroom.

It's been my big December fear since I first told my 7-year-old that Santa isn't real. Somehow, even from a young age, he has understood that he can't spill the beans to kids who believe in Santa. He came home this year telling me who in his class believes in Santa and promising not to reveal that Santa's not real, thus letting me breathe a little sigh of relief that the Jewish kid wasn't going to ruin the holiday for anyone this year.

Still, even with his knowledge about jolly old Santa, he firmly believes that the Tooth Fairy flies into our house and puts that dollar under his pillow. And while I've always been a big believer in truth-telling, he loves the image of the Tooth Fairy he and his brother have created and revised with each tooth that's come out. And who am I to break that myth now?

Eventually, some other kid will break the news that Santa and the Tooth Fairy aren't real. The question is, how will our kids react? Will they ask why we've lied to them all this time? And what will we say that they'll understand? That part of childhood is believing in magic, even for a short amount of time? That their joy was worth a little character play?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  December 19, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Preschoolers
Previous: The Best Dads Are Fathers Even Before the Baby Arrives | Next: Family Life Circa 2008


Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus?Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 19, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Hey, even after some 56 years on this earth, I still believe in Santa. I look for that new Ferrari under the tree each year!

But the tooth fairy? Haven't believe in him since an Army dentist pulled my wisdom teeth.

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 19, 2008 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm ruefully awaiting the day they get it. 8 year old is suspicious but the Elf on the Shelf has really reawakend the magic for us especially when he showed up on vacation! This may be our last magic year.

I don't think they will like we lied to them. Let's not overthink this. Any psychiatrists out there ever have somone on the couch talk about Santa. There are many more things we can do as parents to screw them up, don't think Santa is one of them.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 19, 2008 8:16 AM | Report abuse

When my parents told me (and I clung to the believe for way too long), they emphasized the spirit of Santa - the joy of giving - and that spirit is in everyone. It did soften the blow.

Posted by: mdem929 | December 19, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I am with moxiemom1. Lets not overthink this. Most of us believed in Santa and our parents let us. Are any of us on a couch talking about how our parents deceived us regarding Santa Claus? I found out at school. I don't remember what my parent's said when I asked them but I also know that I don't have any issues with the 'lies' they told to give us memorable Christmas' while we were little.

If our kids end up on a couch over lies at Christmas it will because of things like this... like how we blatantly lied to my step-daughter about the little bed/bath set on our balcony. We have NOWHERE to store anything big. I bought a second-hand bed/bath playset for her. It was already assembled obviously and I didn't want to disassemble it. We decided to hide it on the balcony under a blanket. Worked for several weeks until the wind blew off the blanket and she saw the gift. She wanted it and she wanted it right now!!! She started crying and wouldn't stop until we removed it from the house. We told her we were storing it for a little girl for Christmas and she couldn't play with it. Ok... not technically a lie but we certainly implied that it wasn't for her. I ended up storing it in my car for two weeks and we couldn't use my car to take the kids anywhere. Oh the joys of keeping secrets at Christmas.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 19, 2008 8:26 AM | Report abuse

even if a child that believes in santa is told there's no such thing will believe what mommy and daddy tell them. at least it was that way for me. mom and dad were always right.

by the way my dad use to tell me that as long as i believed santa would always give me what i wanted. i believed til at least 14 yrs old! at least!! heck i wasn't a dumb kid :)

Posted by: nall92 | December 19, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

When my 10 year old asked me last year, I said that there is some magic that is real as long as you believe in it. She wrote him a letter this year like her little sisters. I am not sure if it is because she still has an inkling of belief or if she is just helping carry it out for them. Either way, we're still enjoying the santa years.

She may have not questioned Santa at all until age 9, but she has never believed in the tooth fairy. When she lost her first tooth she thanked me for the money in the morning. I thought I was sneaky, but apparently not.

Just a warning...I have a friend (now 30) who is still bitter about the Santa lie. I don't really get it, but he goes on a huge tangent every time it comes up and never has told his kids that santa is real.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | December 19, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Billie: What was the harm in giving it to her right then? Why not say something like, "Santa ran out of room on his sleigh, so he delivered your gift early!" and let her go ahead and play with it?

Personally, I don't see why it's necessary to save everything for Christmas morning. If something is big and difficult to hide, why not give it as an early December Tuesday present? Then the kid has something fun to play with before Christmas! Likewise, when gifts come in the mail, why not open them that day? Then every day can be fun and special, instead of having an overload of fun and special on Christmas Day?

Posted by: newslinks1 | December 19, 2008 8:40 AM | Report abuse

For those of us with faith, Santa is certainly real and the stories of him flying around in a sled with reindeer on Christmas day is a legend, not a lie.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 19, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I've handled it like mdem929 describes and there never was a dramatic "what?! there's no Santa!" moment. I've always talked about Santa as a magical spirit (that's how Santa gets through non-functional fireplaces) and it seems like a fairly natural transition to go from believing in a magical spirit outside you to believing it's a spirit that lives inside you and in other people. So my kids believed in Santa for as long as they wanted to really. And now we kind of joke about it. "What's Santa getting me for Christmas, Mom?" younger DD recently inquired.

Posted by: annenh | December 19, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I just found this hilarious web site, fantastic gifts for the wife or friend - laugh out loud with an edge.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 19, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

The spirit of Santa is very real.

Posted by: Diner65 | December 19, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I love this time of year with the Pre-K kids! it is so much fun to listen to their discussions about Santa, and you can bet that I encourage every second of it! They only are this sweet and innocent for so long:)

Posted by: cookie75 | December 19, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse


The gift wasn't actually finished as I hadn't cleaned it up (it was filthy) and I had finished the bedding I was making. But had we even of thought of giving it to her....

Giving her the gift would likely have resulted in a meltdown for her brother. As far as I can tell you can not give her anything without giving him something. I only need to think back to her birthday to know the realities of giving her a gift without him getting something.

And since we didn't have any of his gifts yet... no way of making it right. One of them was going to get upset.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 19, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I knew someone once who told her kids that Santa is real, and that he goes to the houses of poor children whose parents can't afford to buy presents. But since she and her husband could afford presents, Santa didn't have to come to their house. She thought this was a great way to avoid having Santa but keep the kids from spoiling the myth for other children. I don't know why she didn't want Santa to come, but I wondered how she was going to answer the kids' questions once they realized that Santa visits many families who aren't poor.

Posted by: janedoe5 | December 19, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Moxie, you owe me $44, dangit! That website was absolutely perfect for my mom, so I just had to order a whole 'nother mess of stuff -- just when I thought I was finished. Sigh.

This is an interesting holiday for us. My 7-yr-old daughter is repeatedly asking if Santa is real, so this is probably the last year for her (I keep postponing the inevitable with, "well, what do you think?"). Meanwhile, though, for our 3-yr-old, this is the first year he is really old enough to be aware of Santa and all the stories and stuff, so as she is phasing out, he is phasing in. That whole "Sunrise, Sunset" thing in action. . . .

Posted by: laura33 | December 19, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse


I remember the day when my daughter (formerly known as AF dau) discovered there was no Santa. She was about 7 and we were sitting on the swing on the porch.

She said, Santa isn't real, is he?

I fumbled and mumbled. Why do you say that?

Because I found the presents you hid and they had my name on them! So Santa isn't real!

Well, yes, I said he isn't real except in our hearts. But please don't tell your baby brother!

She said she would not because she did not not to spoil Santa for him!

So it became our little secret--at least until the next year when baby brother figured it out also!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 19, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Nice, Fred! You reminded me of my own childhood -- at 5, I said to my mom, there isn't a Santa Claus, is there? She confirmed it. But Christmas was a HUGE deal for my Grandma, and I didn't want to disappoint her or take away her fun. So I pretended to still believe in Santa until I was 13! We still get gifts from "Florida Santa," "Maryland Santa," etc. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | December 19, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

fr janedoe5:

>...I don't know why she didn't want Santa to come, but I wondered how she was going to answer the kids' questions once they realized that Santa visits many families who aren't poor. ...

At least 20 years ago, I worked with a fellow who quite plainly told his small children there was no Santa, but a "Christmas angel" who left 3 gifts for each of them. That wasn't NEARLY as bad as when he said that after Christmas they'd stick the tree in the backyard, and fashion it into a cross for Good Friday.

I often wonder just how screwed up those kids grew up as. Poor kids. He was misery synod lutheran, and bound and determined to raise the kids just that way.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 19, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Addendum to my previous post:

This mslc guy would overload his wife with cheap gifts, and buy all SORTS of computer stuff for himself. Like I said, I wonder just how screwed up those kids became, knowing what his priorities were. It sure wasn't the wellbeing of his family.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 19, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

If parents wouldn't lie to their kids, this wouldn't be a problem. In our family, we were taught that the story of Santa was based on a true person and became a myth and the giving spirit of the holidays was shown through the symbol of santa. We were also expected to make/give gifts and to properly thank our parents for the work THEY did to have them for us.

I think creating a mythical man as the ONLY source of presents every year robs kids of a lot of good gift giving and receiving learning experiences.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | December 19, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran and we always had a normal Christmas with all the presents, Santa, etc. I have three sisters and I always had nice presents. The fact that this guy was lutheran has no bearing on the way he chooses to live his life and treat his family. I know people of other christian denominations who tell their children there is no such thing as Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter bunny. Whatever this guy did to upset you, you need to let it go it's been twenty years.

Posted by: sarah32 | December 19, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

laura, glad you liked it. Yeah, I spent about $40 also, just getting things for everyone I knew. Its my new favorite thing! My favorite is "the hidden ingredient is resentment" hee hee hee.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 19, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I've got to add one last plug for this is the site where NORAD tracks santa as he makes his way around the world on Christmas eve. It is such fun for the kids and for my son, the fact that the gov't is doing it makes the whole thing really credible. We love it, enjoy!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 19, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Someone commented above that not all presents should be from Santa. Do people do that? Where I have lived, Santa gave you a stocking and maybe one other wrapped present. Your family/friends gave you the rest of your gifts. I guess it never occurred to me that you wouldn't get gifts from your parents or other family members.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 19, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Growing up, we always got one gift from "Santa" which was left unwrapped under the tree and with which we could play before our parents got up Christmas morning. All the other presents were from Mom and Dad, or from "Grandma in Louisiana", "Grandpa in Colorado", etc. It reinforced the point that even though we were in Germany, for example, there were a lot of people who still cared enough about us to send us gifts.

What we did with our own kids was, the cool toys came from "Santa". Practical stuff came from us.

I liked Fred's story; our experience was similar. As each child realized the situation with Santa, it was like they became part of a "secret club" and they promised not to let the younger siblings in on the "secret".

(We also made sure our kids knew the story of St. Nicholas, and of traditions like Nikolaustag in Germany - St. Nicholas' feast day is Dec. 6. It helps them understand the "real story.")

Alex - no telling how screwed up those kids turned out, but it's pretty clear how screwed up YOU turned out. I don't think I've ever seen you post anything nice or complimentary about anything or anybody, except yourself. Whatever happened in your past, you need to get over it.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 19, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Billie- IME yes, that's part of why santa not being real is so bad for some kids, they think it automatically means no more presents.
I don't see how santa not being a real physical being makes the holidays any less magical.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | December 19, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

What I don't understand about my 5 year old son is that he knows that all the Christmas presents under the tree for him and his sister are from either his parents, his grandparents or his sister - in other words, no present from Santa and yet, he believes in Santa. I don't believe in giving a present from Santa but I like children believing in the magic of Santa. (yes, I realize this doesn't make sense)

when my daughter questioned me about the Tooth Fairy, I looked at her in the eye and said, "you have to keep a secret - you're right - Daddy is THE Tooth Fairy. That's why some mornings he is kind of grouchy. He hates wearing the pink tutu because it's scratchy." She wasn't quite sure how to take the news but the picture of her father in a pink tutu was good for a giggle.

Posted by: slackermom | December 19, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

We'll be doing the same thing that mdem929 did when our kids get older and emphasize that the spirit of Santa is embodied by everyone who shows what the season is all about...the spirit of goodwill towards others. Until then, we're having fun explaining things like "how does Santa get the presents in the house when there's no chimney?" We used to move frequently, and I've had to deal with that one already because of living in apartments and a house with not one, but TWO boarded-up fireplaces (and now we're in a house with all electric and aren't putting in a gas fireplace for a couple of years). I pull out my battered old Christmas activity book that I've had since I was a kid and tell them about how Santa saved a leprechaun named Sean Paddy Begorra from an Irish bog and was given a magic key that will open any lock in the world as a way of returning the favor the first time Santa encountered a house with a tiny chimney. That's become one of our traditions, along with the reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve. This most recent (and permanent this time) move when we moved to our new house days before Christmas, we even set out a letter to Santa asking him to divert to my parents' house nearby because we didn't have the furniture set up in the new place yet and didn't want to confuse him. I've also managed to divert questions about too many or expensive gifts thus far by telling my older daughter to restrict her "Santa list" by citing space concerns on his sled and how we don't want to overburden his poor reindeer. The "Santa presents" are always unwrapped, while the presents from the rest of the family are, so they can tell the difference, and shopping for them after they see Santa at the local park and tell him what they want is great fun.

I hope that the magic lasts a long time. Even if they still believe as teenagers, I'm not going to stop that. Like Ponyboy Curtis was told by Johnny in "The Outsiders," I want my kids to "stay gold" for as long as possible. Believing in Santa is not just a mark of innocence, but also of faith in something larger than themselves and honoring his giving spirit. Now that they're getting older, we are also having more fun balancing out the secular aspects of the holiday with the religious aspects and traditions of our Wiccan faith and point out how the Christmas holiday was descended from traditions and holidays centering around Yule, the Winter Solstice. It's all part of the fun and celebrating this time of year.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 19, 2008 9:02 PM | Report abuse

fr sarah32:

>... Whatever this guy did to upset you, you need to let it go it's been twenty years.

I grew up misery synod, and trust me, it was NOT a happy kidhood. I'm glad I left that bunch, as it was (and still IS) frighteningly paternalistic and extremely right wing.

fr armybrat1:

>...Alex - no telling how screwed up those kids turned out, but it's pretty clear how screwed up YOU turned out. I don't think I've ever seen you post anything nice or complimentary about anything or anybody, except yourself. Whatever happened in your past, you need to get over it.

I am NOT "screwed up" by speaking the TRUTH about how those kids were raised. "daddy dave" was a materialistic nutcase who cared about himself first, his poor wife second and the kids a VERY distant third. He didn't like the FACT that I told him that beating a child with a paddle at a so-called misery synod church "school" was child abuse, either. He was more concerned with buying his sci-fi crap and paying for counselling for his 11-year-old stepson, which I find horribly sad. No telling how Troy turned out.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 22, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

sorry, that should read "instead of paying for counselling".

Posted by: Alex511 | December 22, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Alex is determined to miss the point. He only sees bigotry in others, never his own mirror.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 22, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

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