THE SANTA CLAUSE // ho ho ho, or no no no?

Santa Claus + me + tree

My first Christmas (on the left)

I’d been dreading the moment for eight years and four months, and the other day it happened.

We were watching The Santa Clause, and as the characters discussed whether Father Christmas was real or not, Big Sis turned to me.

‘Mum,’ she asked. ‘Tell me the truth now… are you Santa Clause?’

For a microsecond my body froze. ‘Pfffffft,’ I laughed (hopefully) nonchalantly. ‘Have you ever seen me with a beard and a red suit?’

She stared at me for a moment, then smiled and nodded, seemingly satisfied by my answer. I let out a breath. Phew. I’d pulled it off with my deft deflection, AND I hadn’t actually lied to her, so morally I was on still on the high ground.

OK, I’d lied by omission. But that was fine, right? Because I was only doing it so she had a magical childhood memory. Or was I actually setting her up for a life of distrust, rooted in the knowledge the person she trusted implicitly had actively deceived her for years? Aaaaarrrgh!

I was a little older than Lil Sis when I started questioning Santa. My younger sister actually planted that first seed of doubt in my mind. We’d woken at my Nana’s house on Christmas morning to find a bulging sack of pressies at the foot of each bed.

‘Santa’s been!’ I shouted. To which my sister replied bluntly: ‘It wasn’t Santa, it was mum – I woke up in the night and saw her.’

My whole world took a big, lazy loop. Wait, what?!

I remember feeling confused, and a bit deflated. Of course I’d asked myself all the questions – how did he get to EVERY house in the world in just one night? And how did he know we were at Nana’s, rather than at home?

My rational brain had doubts, but my imaginative brain just wasn’t ready to give up the Christmas magic. Still, I never asked Mum outright – I preferred to keep that sliver of possibility alive.

A few more years passed, and the weight of evidence finally grew too heavy to ignore. Sure, the magical sheen wore off a teensy bit, but it didn’t make me look forward to Xmas any less. Instead, the focus shifted away from Father Christmas and more towards family, which was just as lovely.

Looking back, although I was disappointed to find out Santa wasn’t real, I wouldn’t have changed the experience. For me, it was better to have loved and lost Santa, than never to have loved Santa at all.

Now I have my own children I’m able to relive that magic through them, and I ADORE it. But I have to admit to having some conflicting thoughts.

It’s always been important to me to always tell the girls the truth – with some age-appropriate fudging every so often, of course.

So am I being a hypocrite by allowing them to believe Santa is real?

I’ve always been careful how I present them with information. OH and I aren’t religious, so I don’t like bible stories being presented to them as fact – instead I encourage them to find out about all sides and opinions, and decide for themselves what they believe to be true.

So I decided to do the same here. I asked a group of mums what they thought about the Santa story – is it a magical tradition, or a potentially damaging lie?

Santa Claus Elfie's Letters

Emily is a mum of three, and the founder of International Elf Service, which sends a box of elf-written letters from the ‘North Pole’ for you to pass on to your child from December 1, until Christmas Eve.

While she agrees that telling children about Santa requires a white lie, she believes it’s more than counterbalanced by the joy it brings.

‘For many of us in the UK it’s part of our culture, and it’s one of the Christmas traditions I couldn’t wait to pass on – the anticipation, the suspense and the whole wonderfulness of Christmas Eve,’ she says.

She says she’s received so many wonderful messages from families who’ve received her Elf letters, thanking her for extending the magic of Christmas and for giving their children a window into the magical world of the North Pole.

However, she does draw a ‘line in the snow’. ‘I cannot look my children in the eye and say Santa is real,’ she says. She skirts their questions by asking one in return, putting the ball back into their court and allowing them to draw their own conclusions.

‘It may sound hypocritical, but I think you naturally grow into the truth,’ she says.

‘I think if I’d been traumatised as a child when I found out it was all a myth, I may have thought differently about passing it on, but I SO loved all the magic around it as a child, and I still do.’

She adds: ‘I see it as a precious part of our childhood days, when we genuinely believe that anything is possible. How wonderful is that?’

Lizzie is a mum of two and blogs at Maybe It’s Just Wind, and has a different take.

She remembers believing in Santa Claus as a child, but can’t recall a particular moment, or feeling upset, when she discovered otherwise.

I do remember being asked to help my mum get my little sister’s stocking ready, which was a neat way to make me feel part of the magic, even though I was a little bit too old to believe it myself any more,’ she says.

Despite this, she’s never felt entirely comfortable repeating the story to her own daughter.

‘My daughter is so sweet and trusting,’ she explains. ‘I don’t get much pleasure from telling this enormous lie when she relies on me to teach her about the world.’

She believes that children can get just as much delight from knowing it’s just a story. ‘She doesn’t need to be lied to in order to experience the feeling of magic, kids find magic in stories and play all day long.’

She also encourages her daughter her to find just as much wonder in things that are real – science, nature and the arts.

However, she often finds it awkward to find that perfect balance between encouraging imagination and remaining truthful, particularly since everyone else is ‘in on the act’.

Father Christmas is such an ingrained part of British life often other people will add confusion: assuming you’ve told your children about Santa Claus they’ll ask what they’ve put on their Christmas list.

‘Plus, if I tell my kid, categorically, Santa is not real then she might go and repeat it to other children.’ Lizzie adds.

Santa Claus B&W

Meeting the big man, circa 1979

Psychologist Dr John Kremer adds another side to the debate. He brings up the sociological theory that relationships are a process of social exchange.

Put very simply – when we give we expect something of equal value to be received back. This reward could be something tangible, like money or possessions, or intangible, like time, affection or support. For a social relationship to work there must be the right balance between what you give out, and what you get back.

Christmas is a prime example. Yes, it’s (supposedly) the thought that counts, but hands up who’d be miffed if you splashed out on a pricey gift for the other half, and they only got you a card in return? It’s not the monetary amount that matters, it’s the perception that they haven’t put as much effort in, and thereby they care less.

As Dr Kremer points out, young children find themselves tangled up in these unwritten rules of social behaviour at Xmas time. They’re receiving gifts, but don’t have the resources or social skills to respond appropriately.

The character of Father Christmas gives children an ‘out’, as his very role is to give presents without expecting anything in return (parents, however, are still expected to play their part in the exchange by leaving a mince pie and a glass of milk).

‘When the red cloak is pulled aside what is revealed is a bearded philanthrope playing out a crucial role within the minefield of social exchange we call Christmas,’ Dr Kremer explains.

‘It can be argued that Father Christmas is best described as benign, surely the whitest of white lies?

Laura Dove, who writes at Five Little Doves, agrees completely – in fact, she goes so far as to say she will never tell her children Father Christmas doesn’t exist, because, at the age of 36, she still chooses to believe in the magic.

Laura believes that ‘is he real or isn’t he?’ feeling is actually part of the fun.

‘I think that every child should get those butterflies in their tummy on Christmas morning, when the lounge door is flung open to reveal the presents,’ she says. ‘Christmas IS the most magical time of year and I will do everything I can to carry on that magic for as long as possible.’

Santa Claus - T'is the Season

Sara isn’t so sure; she grew up with parents who were very open about the fact Santa wasn’t real.

‘I don’t think it made Christmas any bit less magical,’ she says. ‘We still had stockings and the excitement of going to bed and knowing that my parents would have filled them full fit to burst before morning was enormous.’

She also makes a good point – that her parents wanted her to understand the presents didn’t just appear by magic: they had been bought with their hard-earned money and they wanted them to appreciate that. ‘And we did,’ she says.

I must admit that has bothered me too in the past – spending all this time and money to get the perfect presents, only for someone else to take the credit. Hurrumph. Plus, I always found it hard to keep track of what OH and I have given the girls, and which ones ‘Santa’ has left them.

Sara also has concerns about Santa being used to blackmail children into behaving properly.

‘I visibly squirm when I see a parent ‘phoning Santa’ because their child’s having a meltdown in Tesco in July,’ she shudders.

Nor does the premise of an intruder coming into the house sit well with her. I can see her point – we teach our children not to speak or interact with strangers, yet at this one time of year, we encourage them to do exactly that.

‘At the end of the day, it’s a big lie that parents tell their kids. And I do believe it causes confusion, anger when they eventually find out the truth and possibly even resentment and mistrust towards parents,’ she says.

Despite her own strong feelings, Sara was careful not to force her own views on to her children.

When my first child – probably aged no more than two – asked me if he was real, I replied: “What do you think?”,’ she explains. ‘When he said no, I took my lead from him.’

She doesn’t feel her children have missed out on any of the festive magic.

‘My children both love Christmas and with no Santa myth in place, they have nothing to lose when the bubble inevitably bursts,’ she says. ‘With Santa out the equation, Christmas is all about family and not bearded men in red suits.’

Psychologist Dr Christopher Boyle and mental health researcher Kathy McKay throw yet another perspective into the mix by musing whether Santa Claus is, in fact, more about the parent than the child.

Writing for a psychiatry magazine, the pair suggests telling our children about Father Christmas might actually stem from our own desire to return to the joy of childhood.

I’m definitely guilty of that – part of the joy of seeing my kids all excited is getting to feel that magic all over again myself. But are we inadvertently damaging our kids by doing so?

Professor Boyle, of the University of Exeter, says: ‘The morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned.’

He wonders if a child’s trust in their parents may be undermined by the Santa lie. ‘If they are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?’ he asks.

However, the article does go on to concede that sometimes white lies can be overlooked because of the comfort they bring, and perhaps the harshness of life requires us to occasionally suspend reality and let a little magic into our lives.

Santa Claus + girls

The girls with Santa

Sharon grew up in a family that always made a huge fuss of Christmas. She remembers listening in awe as her dad revealed he’d had a drink with Santa Claus and has no resentment about the fact he was dishonest with her.

‘I didn’t grow up with trust issues because my parents chose to tell some white lies,’ she says. ‘I love the fact my parents made all our Christmases so special, and still do.’

She was around 11 when she accepted that Santa wasn’t real – although to this day her parents have never actually said the words ‘he’s not real’ out loud.

The knowledge didn’t spoil the season for her. ‘When I think back to my childhood I’m only filled with warm, magical memories,’ she says.

She gets huge joy from passing that same love to her children, now aged 9, 10, 14 and 16.

Her Christmas countdown begins in early December with letters to Santa. They have advent calendars, and ‘Chocolate Fairies’ leave a little sweet treat for each child every morning. All the children get videos from Santa – even the older two, who happily take part in the fun. ‘I tell them: those who don’t believe don’t receive,’ she reveals.

On Christmas Eve all the kids sleep in one room, so Sharon carefully lays down footprints down the hallway, and a sparkly train on the front lawn where the reindeer have landed. She takes a photo of ‘Santa’ piling presents under the tree, and even leaves a tiny scrap of red fabric on the fireplace, so it looks as if he’s torn his coat going back up the chimney.

Sharon sometimes questions why she makes so much work for herself. ‘But, really, I wouldn’t have it any other way,’ she admits. ‘Kid aren’t kids for long, and all too soon they’re out in the big world. Why not light their road up with some magic along the way?’

So, now you’ve heard all the sides to the argument I’d love to hear your thoughts – should you tell your children Santa isn’t real?

• have you read about the time we made handmade Christmas baubles to send to the grandparents?

16 Comments

  1. Brilliantly balanced post Jacqui, it’s a hard one as I don’t like white lie-ing to my kids but I make an exception for Christmas as suspending their disbelief at this time means a lot to us all. The same goes with the tooth fairy.. I remember how special Christmas felt when I believed myself as a kid and as others have said, childhood doesn’t last long so I want to keep the magic alive for as long as possible. Merry Christmas x
    Honest mum recently posted…How To Pack For Christmas Holidays with Jet2.com & Jet2holidaysMy Profile

    • Yes! So hard to know what’s ‘right’ but I remember those moments being some of the most memorable and magical of my childhood. xx

  2. I think like so many things in this kind of bracket, it is acceptable to do as you feel right. I don’t feel there are any hard rules when it comes to Father Christmas and parenting. But I do feel that if I child starts asking, then it is time to explain. Which is what happened with my three older ones. They asked. It was school related, other children talking. So I explained that it was a tradition that stems back from a real man; thus in truth, Father Christmas is real because it is about the giving of gifts. Not about magic etc. It didn’t seem that it was a hard blow that way. I now have a four year old, and gone back to believing. But have never really gone over the top with the magic again. And when he starts asking questions, then I will give him the answers.

  3. Very well said Jacqui. Having grown up in a culture where Christmas is not one of our festivals, I was never much in to Santa as a kid. I have tried to keep the myth and magic for A but I think she knows and I think she is fine with it. For her the tooth fairy was always the most important and I am trying to keep that magic alive but yes, it’s hard as I don’t like white lying to her yet I think the excitement the tooth fairy has brought her is magical. I think she already suspects the tooth fairy isn’t real but I’ll wait for her to figure it out fully xx
    your DIY family recently posted…The easiest DIY wooden stars (plus free download)My Profile

  4. I was petrified of him! Absolutely had a massive fear, but my parents continued with saying he is real so I wouldn’t spoil it for other kids and in hopes that as I got older, I’d get over the fear. I do like the idea of it and I know lots of parents use it as a behaviour strategy – “better behave, or Father Christmas will put you on the naughty list!” Worked wonders for my primary school. There was this alarm thing and whenever a red light would go on, they’d say it’s Father Christmas watching. We were eating it all up and behaved.

  5. Really fantastic post. I too am dreading the moment. I love the way you have included differing opinions here. I honestly don’t remember a specific time I questioned whether he was real, but I’m pretty sure I overheard someone at school. I saw this really sweet article the other day where the mum, when she feels the time is right, tells her child that she is ready to become ‘a Santa Claus’. It’s really sweet, you’ll have to google it. Have an amazing Christmas!

  6. Great post and very interesting look at all the angles. I can totally get different points of view, but from my perspective it’s important to a) not take it all so seriously and b) absolutely preserve the magic and the child’s ability to grow into their own understanding of what Santa represents. At 10, my eldest is on the cusp of not believing (most of his schoolmates don’t) but from what I can see he *chooses* to believe… because it does make Christmas all that more wondrous. I think the element of choice in our belief systems is essential, and I tell the kids ‘whatever you believe is true’. If you believe in Santa, then he’s as real to you as he isn’t to those who don’t believe. To paraphrase Roald Dahl, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it x

  7. I remember my brother telling me that Santa didnt exist when he found our christmas presents in my mums wardrobe. I was gutted and I am older than him!
    Nikki recently posted…My Perfect Cosy Christmas Night InMy Profile

  8. I do not have kids yet and never really believed in santa because it was never part of my childhood but I would love it to be for my future kids for as long as possible before breaking the bad news
    Anosa recently posted…Five Things week 8My Profile

  9. I think part of the magic of Christmas for kids is believing in Santa. For some the illusion ends earlier but you’re not a hypocrite for allowing them to believe x
    Rhian Westbury recently posted…First Impressions Of The Too Faced Melted Matte Liquid LipstickMy Profile

  10. It’s hard! I have a 4yo and he is excited about Santa bringing him a gift (we specified he brings ONE gift) and keeps shouting to our neighbours that Santa is going to climb down our chimney. I don’t ever remember being upset when finding out Santa wasn’t real, and I truly cherish those memories when I believed.
    Tamsin recently posted…Periods Going AWOL – Chronic Illness Side Effects?My Profile

  11. I really don’t think you need to worry re ‘lying’ to your kids about Santa – as you say it’s about giving them those magical memories. My brother and I never told our parents that we’d worked out they were santa – we were afraid we’d get less presents!

  12. It is hard. I remember finding out, but not telling my mum or dad until the following year. I want my kids to believe for as long as possible. Good post. I still believe in magic xx
    Susan Mann recently posted…Disney on Ice Presents Frozen – ReviewMy Profile

  13. Hi Jaqui,I’m with Laura on this one. I’m the upper end of 40 and have never in my life descussed the reality of Father Christmas, either with my parents or my children who are 20 &17. For me Father Christmas is the magic of Christmas and not so much real person.

    xx

    • I kinda love that – what’s the famous Roald Dahl quote: ‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’? x

  14. Hmm. Not all sides have been represented. Only one in fact. You see, all of your canvassed opinions come from people who don’t believe Santa actually exists or has ever existed. You assume that is self-evidently true. It’s not. You could have presented my opinion as someone who believes in Santa. Truly believes and I don’t mean believes it’s a nice little lie to tell children. I mean truth.

    I read that for truth you need to read a Bible, facts can be proven. I believe ‘Santa’ or St. Nicholas is real and this is what I tell my children:

    Santa’s real name is Nicholas and he was born in the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. He walks among us today in spirit and every Christmas he visits the hearts and minds of parents everywhere and inspires us all to be generous and giving as we celebrate the Lord’s birth. Merry Christmas.

    What about the red suit, Mum?
    That was an ad campaign by Coca-Cola.
    Does he live at the North Pole?
    Brr far too cold! But then where do spirits live? It might be the North Pole, it just might…. 🙂
    Has he visited you, Mum?
    I suppose we’ll just have to wait for Christmas day to find out but I do know you have to be deserving, you have to be good.
    I’m good, do you think I’m good?
    I think you’re the best x

Leave a reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to site top