I Ask: Do You Lie (Or Tell Your Kids To Lie) About Santa Claus?

So one thing I pride myself on is telling the truth. I don’t lie. Anymore. Not since the lying incident of 2002.

But I want to give my children Santa Claus. I DO give my children Santa. And I think about the letter to Virginia and how Santa embodies the SPIRIT of christmas. GETTING STUFF. LOTS OF IT. And I want my children to have that magic. And also I’d like them to be good for four weeks and not have to play the bad guy for once.

But really, I’m giving them a guy in a red suit. And we also talk about Jesus. Who must have been REALLY good to get all that gold, frankincense and myrrh. Which is today’s equivalent to an x-box, a bike and a football jersey. Probably.

I want to claim: I’ve never lied to you. But now I can’t.

And on top of this, I have Christmas-celebrating friends who don’t DO the whole Santa thing. They’re living the TRUTH-TELLING DREAM. One friend was asking Facebook what she should have her children say to all our children who have been defrauded by their parents. Facebook didn’t answer, but I suggested isolating her children during the month of December to not destroy the hopes and dreams and magical world of lies that we have so painstakingly created. (Who’s doing newspaper and boot marks with ash? So you know what I’m talking about.)

And of course, I have many friends who aren’t Christian or secular Christmas-ers at all. Although I’m sure my Jewish friends appreciate all the efforts to make Hanukkah JUST LIKE CHRISTMAS but with lamps and eight days and Adam Sandler, they still don’t have a charade to keep up. They just light the menorah and hand over the goods. And don’t even get my Hindu and Buddhist friends started. Or you can. Because maybe you DO have to keep up. Who wants to be the parent of the kid who destroys the mystery of the red guy handing off gifts in 1/1000th of a second? Do you encourage you children to play along or do you lie to your kids that the Christian’s get Santa and you get Shiva who seems pretty cool too?

So I ask my fellow liars and truth-ers: What do you do about Santa Claus?

The answer that will make me a hero. Kristin writes: We kept it up for our first until he was at least 10? but last year when our youngest were 7 and 9 we told them AFTER they had finished opening their gifts. We were heroes for a month. AND now, there really IS a Sant Clause watching them and they KNOW it so they actually liste much better. It just seems easier this way AND it’s still a LOT of fun. I find no difference after telling them at all. But we still do th Santa things just like my Mom did even when we were all in our twenties…

The answer from a bunch of people who apparently think too much but won’t write anything down. Mandy translates:
So…at the water cooler (figuratively speaking) yesterday, this post was a topic of conversation. Partly because the Santa Issue had coincidentally (?) also become a hot topic on my moms forum and partly because I was curious as to what people who spend their lives working with and learning about childhood development would say.
Since they’re not a bloggy crowd (sad), I thought I’d leave a comment with the gist of the conversation.
Apparently, Santa Clause is the perfect analogy for the trajectory of belief development.
1. Concrete belief. A child is told Santa is a man in a red suit who gives toys to all the boys and girls. This gives them a concrete example to explain the spirit of giving and generosity that accompanies the holidays. In non-Santa talk, this is why when you ask a child what love is, they’ll say something adorable like, “Giving someone half of your cupcake.”
2. Cynicism. At this stage of development, a child starts to understand that there is no logical way that a fat man in a red suit can, for instance, literally go down a chimney or deliver toys to everyone in the world in one night. They go through a period of “seeing is believing”.
3. Belief in the abstract. At this point in a person’s life, they once again believe in Santa, understanding in an abstract way that he is a manifestation of the spirit of giving and generosity.
Each of these stages can vary in length. Part of the reason that they thought some children were traumatized by the discovery is that they were not yet ready to transition on their own to the next stage with that particular belief.
As for the truth and lie thing…apparently children don’t understand truth and lie the way that adults do. It’s not a black and white issue to them, but rather various shades of gray.
Which spun the next topic of conversation around why it’s so hard to teach young children about lying because even when they lie, they think it’s truth just because they believe it to be.
I’m sure I didn’t do justice to the whole conversation. I wish I would have had my laptop to take minutes — especially when my boss started talking in his very excited professor voice.
I love my job. lol

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

54 thoughts to “I Ask: Do You Lie (Or Tell Your Kids To Lie) About Santa Claus?”

  1. I was opposed to the Santa myth and tried my hardest to tell him that Santa was more of a representation of a feeling of blah blah blah… then he went to school and he came home certain that I was wrong, his friends were right, and Santa is real. I figured, if he wanted to believe that badly then who was I to deprive him of it, and I went a long with it, finally, when he was five. He’s never looked back. Santa’s real!

    1. That is hilarious. Although moms are pretty much ALWAYS wrong. You need to get him some friends who think cleaning up their rooms is fun. And you can tell him how horrible it is. Voila! clean room

  2. I’ll fess up to being the friend who polled Facebook…although I’d like to point out that I was very careful to avoid accusing people of lying! The L word is a big hot-button and as the extensive, multi-status-thread discussion showed (thanks to the many friends who set aside defensiveness and contributed), there’s no one way to “do” Santa and the idea of “belief” is also multi-faceted.

    My mother found out about Santa in a really traumatic way, and she felt very strongly that carrying out the tradition was lying to children and wrong. Santa was absolutely banned from our house when I was a kid. No Clement Moore, no Father Christmas figures, nothin’. And you know, none of my siblings or I feel cheated in the slightest. There was still wonder and magic and joy in abundance. My husband grew up with full-on Santa (his parents have never admitted to faking any of it) with boot prints in the fireplace and all. He loved it. But he also thought about my family’s viewpoint and could see validity in it, and he understood that the “magic” wasn’t entirely dependent upon Santa. We have chosen not to lead the kids in belief, but we do tell stories and have some Santa-type decorations. Griff came home from Kindergarten loudly attesting to the truth of Santa for a season, like Stay at Home Babe’s child did. We do a lot of “here’s what I believe” and “what do you think?” and “hmmm”.

    The bottom line for me: compassionate, thoughtful parents will find a way to bring sensitivity and joy to holiday celebrations, with or without Santa (or without Christmas, even).

    1. Thanks so much for putting yourself out there. And I actually didn’t think the whole idea of it being a “lie” was going to be controversial because it didn’t even occur to me that people saw it any other way. I wonder if it’s because I’m not a “white lie” kinda person either…. hmmm…

      1. I didn’t originally see it that way, either. To me, something is usually either true or not, and if I say something that I know to be untrue, I’m lying, be it a white lie, lie of omission, malicious lie, half-truth, fable, etc.

        But a fear years ago I got schooled on the “spirit of Christmas” aspect of Santa. I have at least one friend who firmly believes that she is NOT telling an untruth even though the straight facts do not line up with the child’s belief, because she believes her intent and the spirit of Christmas make Santa a truth. It’s an interesting perspective!

  3. Ugh! Why did you write this post?! Hah! But seriously this is something I go back and forth on. My mom gave us the choice growing up whether or not we wanted to play the “game” about Santa. She said that there was once a real man that did give toys and help the needy but no magical sleigh and all. I went back and forth with it and never felt deprived. I have friends that do it and it’s so fun to pretend and get all excited. That’s what being a kid is all about right? The magic, the expectation, the fun, the staying up late to catch the big man in the red suit,…But I also have friends that don’t do it for they “lying” aspect and not wanting their kids to think they are lying about God as well. SO! My conundrum because I see both sides and want to do both! Robby wants to do the Santa thing so I do go along with it. And it is so fun. Making the list, mailing it off, getting excited to talk about him, reading books. But I do also tell Riley the only true Christmas story is about Jesus. And THAT is why we exchange gifts – ultimate gift being given to us from God, his son Jesus. And the Wise Men brought him gifts also, so we do that in honor of Christ, not Santa. Also, Santa never gives the coolest gift. We do, cuz let’s face it. Robby and I are way cooler than Santa…right? ok, maybe it’s more because WE bought it. Santa usually does the stocking gifts. We’ll put out cookies this year and carrots for the reindeer, but I have already asked Riley if he thinks the Santa thing is real. He does, but I am ready to tell him it’s a story when he asks. I will not tell him it’s real.

    1. I like the idea that you give them the coolest gifts. I always saw it as not wanting to take credit for the gifts. Like a humbling thing. But maybe it does set up Santa to be too big… hmmm…

      I, too, will tell them the truth when asked. I just may tap dance around being asked… we’ll see!

  4. Yes. I lie. I’m a lying, liar who lies. About Santa, anyway. We also lie about Bingle, the elf who hangs out at our house watching the kids, and then flies back to the North Pole every night to report to Santa.

    Here’s how I look at it… Santa is a feeling, as much as a person. The whole Santa thing is part of the magic of Christmas for children. When it’s time, we’ll tell them the truth. Meanwhile, we make sure to talk a lot about Jesus and the true reason for Christmas, too.

    And honestly, I’m a sucker for Santa movies, books, etc. I WANT to believe. It’s a really nice concept. Who wouldn’t want to believe it? So I let my kids have this for as long as I can, and when the time comes they can help me perpetuate the myth for other children. 😉

    1. Ooh, I love a good Santa movie. I’m all teary-eyed and joyful at the end.

      PS> I want to meet the liar who tells the truth. Now THAT GUY probably knows how to deal with the whole Santa thing 😉

    1. It IS nice to have something besides Angry Birds to hang over my son’s head… Do you do the birthday cake for Jesus? Because I’m a sucker for cake so I think that we should totally incorporate that in my house.

      1. Yep, we do the birthday cake for Jesus. I’m not even a cake fan, but the girls and the husband loves it, and I like the idea of the birthday celebration.

        Maybe I should do a birthday ice cream cake this year? I love those things. Especially from DQ.

  5. First: frankincense and MIRE?? Baby Jesus got caught in quicksand? Or are we talking existential miring here, what with the whole weight of an eventual faith and holiday season creating some major pressure?

    Sorry…will shut up now. That one was just too good to pass up.

    Santa isn’t lying to me. Didn’t feel that way when I was a kid, didn’t feel that way when my son was little and believing in Santa. That being said, Santa was a modest part of the holiday. One gift. No mall trips or photos or “be good or else…”, so it didn’t feel like I was skewing the holiday towards something imaginary. We skew towards presents. It is our way.

    There are a lot of exaggerated concepts we teach our kids because developing brains don’t do nuance or shades of gray. We conceptualize ideas into physical manifestations because it’s easier to teach things that way. (Don’t let Mr. Bossy be in charge! The Happy Potty…etc. etc. I made those up, but you get the idea.) I don’t see Santa as much different from those things. It is an embodiment of generosity, seasonal celebration, myth and tradition with a little actual history and lesson learning thrown in.

    I never begrudged my parents letting me see magic in the world and creating celebrations for me. Ever.

    There’s just not enough of it as there is. There should be more.

    So I’m going to go off and look for unicorns now.

    1. The unicorns are all here. With my myrrh.

      I definitely saw Santa as lying even as kid. But it didn’t bother me. My parents also told me I looked good with one eyebrow. And I appreciated that pre-plucking/waxing.

      Honestly, I didn’t realize the lying part would even blip on people’s radars as the issue. It’s interesting…

  6. Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice,Yuletide, Haj and Tet. Season’s Greeting, Happy Holidays, Good Shopping and Enjoy Your Winter Break.

    I should so be a guest blogger. Now I have to go post a reply over at The Lucky Puppy because I have a really good answer. I haven’t had coffee yet. This is like waking up to Mom saying I forgot to do all my homework last night.

    Jeez….I hope I get the punctuation right. How come no one has come up with a punctuation checker.?

  7. I don’t lie. Santa is real. But we’ve already established that I believe in UFO’s, Big Foot, Nessie and fairies so Santa’s not a huge leap.

    Every year, we track Santa on NORAD. Even after the kids go to bed. And every year, when he’s flying over our house, Chad and I run outside to see him.

    Are we delusional dorks?

    Probably.

    But there is so little magic left in the world. When I turn on the TV and see bombs, shootings, loss of hope, there’s something very comforting about believing in the innocent magic of Santa. And if I do my job right, my children won’t ever stop believing, even if it’s with a wink and a grin.

    If not, there’s always therapy.

  8. My son is 2 1/2 and is just starting to understand the whole Christmas thing.
    We are sooo lying our asses off. It’s great fun.
    I used to say I would be one of the “truth sayers”. But then I actually had a kid. Now I want the magic… lot’s of it.

    1. I loved Santa so I knew that I would do kids. I didn’t realize that I would feel so conflicted about it because I adored Santa as a kid. Even AFTER I was told he was not real, I believed.

      Although there are a THOUSAND things that I thought I would do or be pre-kids. And now they just make me laugh.

  9. Oh. Yes. The Santa paradox. Even when I knew it wasn’t true, I still believed. Does that even make sense? My Santa just put stuff in stockings and never left foot prints or whatever. We don’t have a chimney in our house, anyway. I love the magic, but the magic isn’t really in the man with the red suit. It’s in belief and hope and joy.

    1. I was the EXACT SAME WAY. I used to tell my friends that one of the presents each of my parents thought the other parent bought. But really it was from Santa. I did it for a good 2-3 years (AT LEAST) after I found out the truth.

      Wait until your kids start worrying about not having a chimney. Our tree was in the non-fireplace room and I was CONVINCED Santa would just leave.

    1. See, I didn’t realize people would take issue with using the word “lie” about it. So it just falls under all the ways we protect and cushion our children from the “real world”? Keeping magic in an unmagically world? (now I sound like a cynic. For clarification: I still think the world is magically even as an adult.)

  10. Oh man this is a debate me and my husband are having this year. Our daughter is only 2 and really doesn’t get the whole Santa Claus thing yet. But I know next year will be the time that she is old enough to love Santa and all Christmas stuff. I am fully on board with the lying and baking cookies for Santa. My husband wants to tell her the truth from the get go. I am like Hell No I am not having my child being the mean kid that ruins it for all the other kids. I believe I will win in the long run :-). Got to keep the wife happy right. I just think Santa is one of the best parts of being a kid and still dreaming and pretending. I mean first it will be Santa is fake, then the tooth fairy, and oh goodness last it will be the Easter Bunny. Yeah I just can’t do it. I love the memories of me and my sisters trying to stay up all night to catch Santa. And then getting up early to rush downstairs to see all the presents under the tree. But it is tough question to answer. I would just tell the kids that know the truth to be nice or else their parents won’t give them gifts. I believe older siblings should be the ones to ruin it for the younger kids it is the fact of life.

    1. I LOVED thinking that I heard Santa on the roof. And I was ALWAYS awake at like 4 a.m. anticipating when I could wake up my parents — poor things.

      And this “I believe older siblings should be the ones to ruin it for the younger kids it is the fact of life.” made me laugh…. although I couldn’t imagine having been the one to tell my little sister. DEVASTATING. It’s probably why we are still close.

  11. I lie.

    But he’s one.

    Convincing my Jewish husband this was important was a tough feat. But I prevailed.

    And now my Jewish husband is having more fun rejoicing in the spirit of the season than I’ve ever seen.

    So, I think it’s a worth it lie.

  12. I never lie. Especially about fantasy worlds.

    Critical thinking skills are an absolute must for kids to negotiate this big, weird world. Lying (and covering up the lie, again and again, making less and less falsifiable) is a disservice to the kids and a danger to society as a whole. Teach them to THINK, not to BELIEVE.

    1. I am surprised how many people don’t see it as a lie. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t… but you know that I’m a fan of belief… although we could go round and round when more importantly, I want to know:
      How do you negotiate your kids and your thoughts (beliefs 😉 ) with other kids/families who are doing the whole Santa thing?

      1. Mostly, I tell them that it’s not their job to raise other people’s children. That they’re not supposed to debunk their friends’ parents’ myths.

        However:

        My kids have been told they’re going to hell on the playground, that the Jews killed Christ (hubby is ethnically Jewish), that they are evil, and that they are responsible for all the bad stuff that happens in the area/nation/world.

        When that happens? The gloves come off. They are no longer required to hold their tongues and have my blessing (can I use that word?) to rip them to shreds.

        And trust me, they can.

  13. I hate Santa. I know that sounds terrible, but I hate that the magical Christmas season has to be tainted with a lie. Isn’t it enough that there are dozens of wonderful presents under the tree? Is it necessary that an imaginary man has snuck into the house and deposited them? I was crushed when I found out about Santa. I felt I was the butt of a really cruel joke. I could just see the adults all sitting around and laughing about how naive and stupid I was. Hey, I was a dramatic kid. Anyway, I’ve always been halfheartedly committed to the whole Santa thing. When my boys were younger, I went along. But I never worked hard to convince them. No footprints, no cookie crumbs, etc. However, somehow Santa ended up getting credit for nearly every gift and I stayed up til 3am on Christmas Eve wrapping Santa’s gifts. Now I get a do-over. My daughter is almost 3, and I plan to tone down Santa even more. He’s only getting credit for 1 or 2 gifts. This way, I can wrap throughout the season and put them under the tree earlier. Also, I’m hoping when she finds out that I lied to her for absolutely no reason, she won’t feel crushed because he was never that big a part of it anyway. Here’s hoping.

    1. Do you think that it’s HOW you found out? Because i was really sad but never felt hurt by it. But you aren’t the only person to write about how it was actually traumatizing. I wonder what the difference is. How old were you? I think that I was six. I can remember EXACTLY where I was when I found out. I cried. But mostly because I wanted it to be true. I don’t ever recall being angry at my parents about it. Hmmm….

      1. Yes, I’m sure its a bit about how I found out. I was six, and a thirteen year old babysitter told me. She was very mocking in her delivery. I’m sure that’s a big part of why it seemed so traumatic. But my younger son found out very gently (I fessed up when he asked), and he just cried and cried. I was really surprised he still believed. He was nearly ten. I felt so bad for having made him cry. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have some sort of grudge against Santa. I enjoy and appreciate him as a general symbol of the holiday season. I just hate the pressure to convince kids that he’s real.

        1. that’s stinks about your babysitter. what a loser.

          and i didn’t think you hated santa. much. JUST KIDDING! it’s kinda a weird concept, right? and i am clearly confused by it myself.

  14. I don’t see it as lying- I see it as giving our kids a little magic, before thy are too old to care or believe in it. When I was a child, Christmas was so magical and exciting and awesome that I couldn’t sleep. It was the most giddy, happy time. Once they outgrow the Santa side of Christmas, they may never experience anything again like it. And I think most kids don’t care that Santa isn’t “real” when they find out. The game just changes a bit.

    1. I was the same way. Giddy. And doing this for my children makes Christmas Eve/Day like that again. Actually, I always wake up early on Christmas. Even when I was 22 years old and had no kids or reason to be up at 6 a.m.. I was STILL excited! Is it about Santa? Maybe I just LOVE getting gifts. Haha.

  15. We kept it up for our first until he was at least 10? but last year when our youngest were 7 and 9 we told them AFTER they had finished opening their gifts. We were heroes for a month. AND now, there really IS a Sant Clause watching them and they KNOW it so they actually liste much better. It just seems easier this way AND it’s still a LOT of fun. I find no difference after telling them at all. But we still do th Santa things just like my Mom did even when we were all in our twenties…

  16. I can understand not wanting to “lie” about Santa. I remember my niece came home from school crying. She screamed “they told me the truth, there is no Santa is there!” My sis didn’t no what to say except the truth…and as gently as she tried to put it my niece cried and cried that they had been lying to her for all these years! Funny now sad then

    1. I wonder why some kids respond so upset and others are like: Oh well.

      I mean I was upset. But I wasn’t angry at my parents. I was just so sad that Santa didn’t really exist.

  17. For me there are two big issues for me… the lying..and the fact that as a Christian raising my child up in the faith (or trying to), we talked about Jesus and God – things we can’t see or know of and we ask our children to believe (although I will support them when they choose to question and decide for themselves)…. and so when we do that with Santa and then say “SIKE, I was just lying to you the whole time”, it can quickly go to well, if they lied about Santa, whats up with this God junk? And that’s not something I willing to sacrifice.
    That being said, we LOVE Santa. We do all the traditions and pretend. We go on Santa trains and read the stories. My kids don’t need to think something is REAL to play a sweet game of make-believe, they do it all the time. But I do struggle with what are we going to tell them in regards to other kids ‘believing’ versus ‘make-believing’ so as to not crush some kid in preschool.
    I actually blogged about this a few weeks ago.
    http://iamtotallythatmom.blogspot.com/2010/11/santa-lets-play-pretend.html

    1. So this is my take on the whole God/Santa idea: “I find God so tangible that it never occurred to me that Santa would affect this. I also am okay with my children not believing in God. The idea makes me sad but not concerned. I don’t know that everyone needs to believe in God. And I don’t think that God needs everyone to believe in Him to exist. I know that *I* need God. I don’t know about my children.”

      But a friend on facebook wrote in response: “[I told my daughter] there really was a St. Nicholas and Santa Clause, they were repeated characters in Europe and Russia throughout history. These individuals were practicing what Jesus preached. They were celebrating the spirit of Jesus on his birthday. We adopted this tradition yet it got commercialized. The reason we give is to remember the birth of the gift to the world. But, it is easier to explain a Santa then to expect young minds to grasp Jesus/God. Non Christians even understand the benefit of the Christmas season, even if they exclude God out of it. They give to one another, and even do good deeds for other too. But as Christians we are first asked to believe in things others find hard to, ours demands faith. The faith is not broken in dispelling the truth. Santa did not come down your chimney… we do this in remembrance of a special group of Christians who did it in memory of Jesus. Now that you are old enough to understand the truth hopefully your mind will allow you to believe in the the unseen, and believe that a life lived in pursuit of a Heaven is not a waste of time… we have been given eternal life if we do so. I may be wrong but I’ll take that risk.”

      Off to check out your post!

  18. I don’t really look at it as a lie. I mean technically it is a lie but it’s also a make believe game. I will do Santa with my child for as long as we can keep it going.

  19. So…at the water cooler (figuratively speaking) yesterday, this post was a topic of conversation. Partly because the Santa Issue had coincidentally (?) also become a hot topic on my moms forum and partly because I was curious as to what people who spend their lives working with and learning about childhood development would say.

    Since they’re not a bloggy crowd (sad), I thought I’d leave a comment with the gist of the conversation.

    Apparently, Santa Clause is the perfect analogy for the trajectory of belief development.

    1. Concrete belief. A child is told Santa is a man in a red suit who gives toys to all the boys and girls. This gives them a concrete example to explain the spirit of giving and generosity that accompanies the holidays. In non-Santa talk, this is why when you ask a child what love is, they’ll say something adorable like, “Giving someone half of your cupcake.”

    2. Cynicism. At this stage of development, a child starts to understand that there is no logical way that a fat man in a red suit can, for instance, literally go down a chimney or deliver toys to everyone in the world in one night. They go through a period of “seeing is believing”.

    3. Belief in the abstract. At this point in a person’s life, they once again believe in Santa, understanding in an abstract way that he is a manifestation of the spirit of giving and generosity.

    Each of these stages can vary in length. Part of the reason that they thought some children were traumatized by the discovery is that they were not yet ready to transition on their own to the next stage with that particular belief.

    As for the truth and lie thing…apparently children don’t understand truth and lie the way that adults do. It’s not a black and white issue to them, but rather various shades of gray.

    Which spun the next topic of conversation around why it’s so hard to teach young children about lying because even when they lie, they think it’s truth just because they believe it to be.

    I’m sure I didn’t do justice to the whole conversation. I wish I would have had my laptop to take minutes – especially when my boss started talking in his very excited professor voice. 😀

    I love my job. lol

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