I can’t even tell you how often Santa comes up in my office. Most of the time it’s just pure excitement that Christmas is coming. Sometimes it’s curiosity about whether or not Santa comes to my house or to my office.
Occasionally, it’s questioning all things Santa. Here’s what those conversations usually sounds like:
“Santa has the same handwriting as my dad...” Or “I know that Santa isn’t real, but I still want to get presents from Santa and from my parents. Don't tell. ”
Younger children are much more imaginative and much more likely to just believe in Santa than older kids. When children start to develop more concrete reasoning and thinking, they start to really question the logistics of Santa’s big night - like: how exactly does he travel all around the world? And, how does he get into the houses? How many cookies does he eat in one night!?
So, how do you know when to break the news that Santa isn’t real?
First, get curious about what your child is thinking. If your child asks: “Is Santa real?” Instead of saying “of course he is!” Consider trying: “What do you think?”
You can get a lot more information this way than if you just answer the question. (This is a great strategy for lots of situations). In terms of Santa, your child’s answer can really help you decide if it’s time to confirm their suspicions. If they answer you question and say something about how they think he is real, or that they hope he is, you can probably hold off on telling them. If they give you a very logical answer about why they think you’ve been playing Santa all along - you can probably let them in on the secret. Sometimes kids will say “I just want to know the truth!” And, they may actually love “being right” about Santa.
Lots of kids enjoy being in on the secret. They may even enjoy keeping Santa a secret from their younger siblings or friends, or helping you come up with ideas for Elf on the Shelf, or making the gift tags from Santa.
The magic of Santa.
Regardless of whether or not your children believe in Santa (or if you even celebrate Christmas at all), the holidays can still be magical. You can share the story and history of Santa (and St. Nicholas) and what Santa represents now. The magic and generosity of the story can be a fun part of Christmas magic into adulthood.
Santa and your child can also donate a present to a child in need, or maybe inspire other acts of kindness. Speaking of presents, one other thing to consider is to have Santa not bring the very best gifts and let another family member take the credit for those.
Recently, there was some discussion that kids are misled when Santa is a part of their lives and that it can lead to a break in trust with the parents.
While it’s typically recommended that children are told the truth, Santa is a make believe part of the magic of Christmas, just like how little kids engaging in imaginary play that’s part of the magic of childhood.
It’s up to individual families to decide how to incorporate Santa into Christmas, but I have to say, I’ve never had a kid, teenager or adult tell me “I can’t believe that my parents lied to me about Santa. I’ll never trust them again.” In fact, I hear the opposite from adults on occasion - that they feel loved just thinking about their childhood and how hard their parents must have worked to make it special.