ParentingSkepticism

On Santa…

Somewhere in the 100+ comments to Rebecca’s post on The Great Cracker Debacle, the topic of Santa came up.

I know it tends to be a touchy subject for people. My husband and I were quite surprised at the reactions from people when we said we weren’t going to be telling Moose that there is actually a real live Santa. Our loved ones quietly disapproved of our choice to raise our son without religion, but not so quietly disapproved of our choice to raise him without Santa Claus. I can’t understand how I’m supposed to tell my kid that Santa is real, but Jesus is fake.

As a skeptic, I stand by my decision.  There was no room for compromise on this one.

I’ve gone back and forth on posting this. It’s not quite in line with the general tone of Skepchick. It’s very personal, but no more personal than anything in Parenting Beyond Belief (nor as poignant). But I think the topic of Santa does deserve it’s own post and separate discussion.

After the jump is a letter I wrote to our son on December 20, 2007, just a few days before his first Christmas, explaining my decision to him.

Dear Maximus,

As I write this, you are 4 months old. You fall asleep wherever you want, convenience and comfort are inconsequential. Your days are spent learning the basics of the world – like that things have names and that I don’t slip out of the universe just because I’ve disappeared from view and that people laugh when you laugh. You are adorable. I can’t help but worry that I am not up to the task of being the mother that you deserve, and that I am so much more than under-qualified to raise such an amazing boy. I look at you and I don’t know whether to be humbled by you or to feel like a god for creating you. To say I love you is almost a lie in its understatement.

Some day you are going to want answers from me. You are going to want to know why I’ve made the decisions for you that I’ve made, and your father as well. While I know your father better than anyone else, I cannot speak for him. You will have to ask him yourself. This letter is about my motives.

Tonight is less than a week before your first Christmas, and as you fell asleep on my shoulder I began to wax philosophic about your life and the decisions I am making for you. The first one that may set you apart from your cousins and your friends is that you will probably never believe in Santa Claus. Some people think it is a tragedy to deny a child the magic of Santa, and that by not pretending that he’s real, I am not letting you have an imagination.

Maximus, I want you to have the biggest, dreamiest, kookiest imagination ever to have existed. I want you to imagine things no one has ever imagined before.  I want you to think and I want you to dream. I want the universe inside your head to be further reaching than the universe outside of it. I want you to have brilliant fantasies and adventures in your mind. But you have to be the creator of your own magic.

If I looked at you and told you there was a Santa, and he is watching you, and he flies around the world in a sled and he has presents and he is real; I would be lying. I would also be telling you that magic is real, that it happens effortlessly, and it is everywhere. Forcing you to believe in a tired old lie just because it is a tradition is not going to help you to build a world of magical fantasy. It will stand in your way.  Instead I want you to look at the story of Santa Claus and say, “This may not be real, but I can imagine a world where it is.” I want you to find a way to make it real. Making it real for you, and then taking it away is not fair. I refuse to stand in the way of your imagination. I won’t package someone else’s magical world and hand it to you and expect you to treat it like it’s yours.

It is my job to be your role model, Maximus. I will fail at times, that I promise; but I will do all that I can to lead an exemplary life for you. I want you to grow up to be proud of your mom and the job that she did. To do that, I need to set a precedent of honesty.

So you are not going to have a belief in a real Santa as you grow up. Some people think that’s strange. But, my sweet boy, I am giving you something far better than anything any crimson-fleece-suited man can ever leave under a tree: your own imagination and the truth. It will be years before you understand these gifts are better than the newest toys and gadgets topping your wish lists, but that’s okay. You’re not being denied the glorious packages that come along with the tradition of Santa, you’re getting those as well. You are going to love opening presents and all the excitment that comes along with getting two carloads of toys in one day. But you will never love getting those gifts as much as I will love being the one to give them to you.

Merry First Christmas, Maximus.

Love,
Mom

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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87 Comments

  1. I can’t remember a time when I beleived in Santa. I do know that by the time I was 3 or 4 I was faking it to make my parents happy. I also know that if you compare santa to ged religious people get really really pissy and don’t want to have sex chat with you online anymore. You can talk all sexy nasty until you compare god to santa. Then they don’t want to talk to you anymore. Then you are just an intolerant jerk.

  2. I was always told Santa was a fiction. For some reason when I was 2 I would always cry if my parents even said the word. They never did the Santa thing with me like they did with my sisters, and I was glad. Funny thing is that one of the main reasons they did not do it was because they were very religious and didn’t like the idea of Santa stealing Jesus’s thunder or the commercialization of christmas.

    Anyway, I never felt like I missed out on anything, and I liked knowing something other kids didn’t. And at least when the kindergarten bully beat me up, I could at least tell him there was no santa, easter bunny or tooth fairy and make him cry. :-)

    1. My parents were similar to SkepGeek’s. They never did the Santa thing with my siblings and me, and we always knew that presents labled as coming from Santa were really from Grampa. I actually have know idea where we heard about Santa. Probably on the streets where we weren’t provided adequate information to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe if we ever had intercourse with Santa.

  3. You know, I knew there wasn’t a Santa, but I still believed there was one. A late bloomer (and a bit naive), I believed until I was 10 when my mom finally broke the news to me.

    My reason for believing? Because if there was no Santa, then poor kids didn’t get all the same wonderful gifts I got… no matter how good they were. And I refused to believe something so unfair could be true. That was the hard part for me.

  4. Elyse, I respect your decision on this issue. I agonized over it myself, although I came to a different conclusion in the end. Like most parenting decisions, I suspect I’ll never know if I made the right choice. When all is said and done, you just have to hope that the sum total of the right choices overcomes the wrong ones, and hope like a madman for LOTS of good luck along the way.

  5. Great letter.

    My parents brought me up in a Santa-and-Jesus-less environment, and I must say that I turned out mostly respectable. It definitely didn’t stunt my imagination, as a common pro-Santa argument would suggest. I applaud parents who do likewise and refuse to lie to their children.

  6. I told my daughter that Santa existed, and that he brought presents, but we never tied it to morality, because kids figure out that Santa doesn’t really punish them for being bad.
    But I can’t believe this a major question. There are a million better or worse but more important decisions to be made as a parent, so relax, and remember that kids can get through real traumas when they need to, so a phoney-baloney trauma like this will be easy.

  7. I wish I would have been as brave. I was afraid that my son would tell all the other children and their parents would be upset, or worse, not want him around their kids. So I took the coward’s route.

    Is not the biggest deal in the world, but I hated lying to my child. He’s 10 now, so no more faking it for us. We’re past it now ;)

  8. Allison451 said:

    I was afraid that my son would tell all the other children and their parents would be upset, or worse, not want him around their kids.

    That would be the best part, for me (assuming I ever have kids of my own). It would be early training for them in how to deal with telling adults that God doesn’t exist. :)

    And this all reminds me of the McSweeney’s article about Richard Dawkins talking to a Kindergarten class. Hilarious.

  9. My parents never tried to make me actually believe in Santa. We put cookies out for “Santa” on Christmas Eve, but it was no secret that “Santa” was actually my Dad.

    On the subject of Santa, I often find that people either want their children to believe, or don’t want to play pretend about the character at all. I think that the middle ground of treating Santa in the same way as Batman, a scary monster, or another fun character is a nice way to enjoy the myth of a character that symbolizes generosity without crossing the line into belief. For example, Superman, Batman, etc. are characters that have some really neat abilities, and kids like to imagine that they have those abilities as well. However, there is a general understanding that these characters and their abilities are not real (although some young children do believe them to be real). I think that it can be the same with Santa. While some children will confuse pretend with reality, there does not have to be an organized push for belief in Santa for children to enjoy the Santa myth. Just as children are able to enjoy pretending that their friends are Batman, Superman, a lion, or an alien, they can enjoy pretending that the mall Santa Claus/their Dad/their neighbor is Santa without believing it to be true.

  10. I’ve never lied to my kids about Santa. I’ve always found a way to word what I say carefully.

    It’s not, for example, a lie to point to a guy in a red suit and say “that’s Santa” any more than it is to point to a guy in a suit at Disneyland and say “that’s Mickey Mouse”.

    I’m not sure what the elder one thinks. She’s autistic and can’t really describe the sometimes quite complex concepts she has in her head. But I’m pretty sure that to her, “Santa” is no more real than a character in a movie, but that doesn’t stop her liking everything about Christmas.

    The younger one, at the age of five, worked out on her own that Santa is a “metaphor”. Yes, she really came out with that word without prompting. I’m not sure if she fully appreciates what a metaphor is, but from now on, she’ll always have the word “Santa” and the word “metaphor” linked. Good stuff!

  11. My atheist parents for some reason wanted me to “enjoy Santa Claus” (which I just noticed I made the same choice of words as Ariel). I had suspicions about the whole thing and formally made the decision in 2nd grade that I did not believe in Santa, but that I would keep this to myself because I was unsure about how it would affect the quality and/or quantity of gifts I would receive.

    A friend of mine’s son, Kyle, was told that “Santa was based on a real person from long ago who made a point of giving gifts to children and people remember him today by pretending to be him and give gifts to children.” Kyle distilled this to its essence and announced to his kindergarten class “Santa is dead!”
    For some reason, the teachers wanted to meet with his parents.

  12. Hey Elyse,

    I’m a skeptic with a 5 year old daughter so I had to deal with the same issue. But in my opinion you’re reacting like a skeptical fundamentalist.

    Children have and need rich fantasy lives. I think you’re taking something away from Maximus and it makes me sad.

    In my opinion, until they reach a certain age, a completely honest relationship with a child isn’t realistic and can even be damaging. Let me give you an example.

    When my daughter found out that the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid she really pressed
    me if the same thing could happen now. She was really worried about it. I could have told her the truth that although unlikely, it could happen at any time and there probably isn’t anything we could do to stop it. But instead I told her that astronomers were monitoring it very closely and we could do something about it. Sure it was a lie, but I didn’t want her crying herself to sleep for the next 10 years.

    The point is I think this may be more about you and your belief system than about Maximus and his needs. Don’t forget, you are the Skeptic, not Maximus (yet anyhow). Let Maximus be a kid for now and enjoy this special time. He has his entire life to learn the scary depressing truth of it all ;)

    1. Although I wouldn’t say she’s a ‘non-religious fundamentalist’ (I don’t judge other people on the way they choose to live their or their family life), it’s not what I would choose to do.

      I personally like immersing myself in the holiday traditions and would probably keep the myth alive with my next child. But I’m toying with the idea of telling my Child that it’s Cthulu that brings the gifts and the whitebearded santas are his minions (how else would Cthulu give gifts to all children).

      I think some skeptics tend to rebel against holiday traditions and I wonder why that is. Personally I was raised by atheists and we did all the holiday stuff anyways (sans Jesus) so I don’t have a big deal repeating it with my children.

      In any case, all hail Christmas-lord Chtulu! I still believe in you!

  13. awbranch:

    In my opinion, until they reach a certain age, a completely honest relationship with a child isn’t realistic and can even be damaging.

    I think that it’s always possible to avoid lying by not telling the whole truth.
    What you said about asteroids actually wasn’t a lie: astronomers are monitoring things as closely as they can under the circumstances, and we can do something about it, for some definition of “something”. (Underground frozen gene banks count as “something”, for example.)

  14. Awbranch, I disagree with you that children have to believe in Santa to get enjoyment out of playing pretend with the Santa character. As someone who did not believe in Santa (or much else), and was a very imaginative child, I don’t find that lack of belief hurt that imagination. When kids play pretend, they generally know that it is pretend. While some children do confuse pretend and reality, I don’t think that pushing for an actual belief in Santa adds much to the enjoyment of the myth.

    On a side note, I am very glad that my parents did not say that my gifts were from “Santa”. I liked knowing that my parents bought me gifts because they loved me – especially when they got me something that I really wanted. That was much more special to me than getting gifts from a bearded stranger.

  15. awbranch,

    I’m not sure why it would make a child sad to be told Santa isn’t real if they were never taught the fiction. Only if you start the lie and later tell them otherwise is there a let down. To me, Santa was no different than the Grinch, Superman or Little Red Riding Hood. BTW, I enjoyed pretending to be superman a lot even though I knew I wasn’t superman, and I knew he wasn’t real.

    I am just going to be honest with my kids, and we’ll make it a fun game of pretend. I won’t treat it any different than any story book character. Most parents don’t try to trick their children into believing Cindarella is real, and I won’t be doing any elaborate tricks or lying to get my kids to think Santa is an extra special story that is somehow more real.

    But to each his own. This is far from the most serious issue I face as a parent. I am much more concerned that my wife wants my toddler to go to sunday school. Heck, Santa has a secularizing effect in my fundie family. The less talk about Jesus at xmas, the better to me.

  16. Also, if my parents would have said gifts were from Santa, I think I would have felt worse when I got to school wondering why I got such crappy gifts. I knew it was parents buying gifts and that most of the families at school had a lot more money than us.

    1. Here, it’s my dad who has something in common with SkepGeek. My dad, whose family was poor even for the Depression era, stopped believing in Santa when he saw that Santa seemed to give unto them that hadeth and not unto them that hadeth not.

  17. awbranch:

    How exactly am I taking away a rich fantasy life from Moose? Because I’m not feeding him the fantasy and telling him it’s real?

    Growing up, I knew that princesses and fairy godmothers were fiction. In no way did that stop me from having a fantasy life involving being a princess with a fairy godmother. I still was able to dream about living in a pink castle with a unicorn for a pet where I could wear ball gowns every day of the week, and even to bed.

    A kid doesn’t need to think there is actually a man breaking into the house to leave presents to have a vivid imagination.

    I don’t get why you’re calling me a fundamentalist. It’s not like Moose is going to tell me about his imaginary friend one day and I’m going to demand empirical evidence. I’m just not going to lie to him about Santa.

    Like I said in my letter, giving him a Santa to believe in is not about his imagination. He never imagined it. It’s not his creation. I don’t get how it has to do with his fantasy life.

  18. My parents never pretended Santa was real. Their reasoning was that if they deceived me about Santa, how could I trust them regarding anything else they told me? We all had great fun using our imaginations and pretending there was a Santa, while still knowing the truth.

    As far as telling other kids about it, my parents told us that other parents told their kids Santa did exist, and we should let the kids find out on their own. So we did.

    My wife and I plan on doing the same with our children.

  19. awbranch: This really gets my goat. Just cos ‘everyone else is doin’ it’ doesn’t mean I have to. I was raised without Christmas and for me it is kinda like a blind person who never misses the ability to see cos they were born that way. But that’s where the similarity ends – Christmas is not an essential part of the human experience – and I think most people are so immersed in this society and its constructions that they forget that.

    In fact, Christmas is but one holiday out of the many religious holidays a family could choose to celebrate. If I and my family are not Christian…….. why the HELL should I be pressured into celebrating Christmas, and forcing it on my children? Why not Ramadan? Or the Sabbath? Or… whatever else there is. Why don’t we all just fast for 30 days like some families do? Do you see how rediculous it is?

    Then there’s the Santa Claus aspect. Let me tell you, I will give my kids the best start in life that I can, which includes teaching them how to think skeptically. Lying to them about a jolly fat man does not fit anywhere in that picture.

    Just because Christmas has gone past the point of critical mass doesn’t mean we all have to celebrate it, and in fact I resent being EXPECTED to, especially when I didn’t grow up with it and am not used to it! This whole issue is clearly still a big dilemma for a lot of you skeptics – for me, who never had Christmas, it’s a non-issue!

    I’ll have plenty of good times with my wife and children, all throughout the year. They’ll get gifts and love a-plenty – we’ll wish good tidings on whoever we please, whenever we like. But I’ll take my family on vacation during that one stressful, expensive, over-rated time of the year and leave Christmas and all its trappings to all the peer-pressured, pseudo-christians out there, thankyouverymuch.

  20. When I was growing up my parents told me and my siblings that Father Christmas (thats Santa for americans) existed, but that he was just the guy who filled the stocking at the end of your bed. Their reasoning was that he had to visit all the boys and girls of the world so he could only give little gifts, that way they got to get the credit (rightly so) for the big gifts.

    I can’t remember any specific moment when I found out he wasn’t real, I imagine I have my older sister to thank for it. I am pretty sure I was more disappointed when I found out Star Wars wasn’t real, who am I kidding I am still disappointed :(.

  21. What a sweet letter, Elyse! It actually made me a little teary.

    *sniff*

    I agree with your position. I plan to hopefully have a child in the next couple of years, and I’ve put some thought into the Santa question. I plan to tell the story of Santa but not pretend that he is real. I also plan on sharing the Christian story of Jesus being born in a manger with emphasis on it being a story and not a true historical event. I don’t think this would take away from the joy of Christmas for a child. Christmas is all about getting presents when you’re a kid anyway, so the rest is just details. ;)

  22. But yeah, I agree with a few of the above posts. By all means don’t lie to your children about Santa Claus – or anything else for that matter, but tell them that some of their school mates do believe and should be allowed to do so.

    Just a POI, you are the third Elyse I have known and all of y’all feel the same about honesty for your children.

  23. People get touchy about Santa? Um… why? Santa seems like such an unimportant part of life, I’m not sure why we should care one way or another, much less to advise other parents on the matter.

    Maybe my view is colored by my own upbringing. My parents told me santa was real, but with the same half-hearted effort as when they told us about the tooth fairy and easter bunny. I grew up thinking, “Wait, was I supposed to believe in those things?” Speaking of which, if people are touchy about santa, why aren’t they also touchy about the easter bunny? Because it’s not as commercialized or something?

  24. I never said that christmas was an essential part of the human experience. But from the sounds of it Elyse’s family and friends all celebrate christmas.

    If her family came from some other background or celebrated some other fun childhood tradition, I would feel bad if she spoiled that too.

    For me, christmas (the Santa part) was a fun, positive and harmless experience. Its not the same as religious belief, and to equate the two is a mistake. I doubt very much you could find people with childhood trama from belief in Santa or the Tooth Fariy.

    My cousins were raised by fundamentalists and were not allowed to believe in Santa. Let me tell you, christmas at thier house was a real downer and I know they felt left out. IMO, Elyse is making the same mistake, but for different reasons.

    Sometimes the Skeptical community reminds me of the Fundamentalists. They’re so concerned about being right, that they miss the larger picture.

    All I’m saying is to me, a 3 year old skeptic who doesn’t believe in anything but cold hard facts is just kind of sad.

  25. “Christmas is all about getting presents when you’re a kid anyway, so the rest is just details. ;)”

    That’s why I quit celebrating Christmas when I turned 18. I think it is a great, fun holiday for kids, but when I watched all of the bitterness and jealousy and competition among my adult relatives (not to mention the fact that I am an atheist) I decided it was time to boycott. (And even further off topic, I feel the same about Halloween. Kids need to stop trick-or-treating before their voices change.)

  26. imo lying to children is worse than giving them less presents. However, there is no better way to make children skeptical than to completely destroy their ability to trust people. Lying to them about santa can probably do that.

  27. Awww, c’mon guys! Calling Santa a lie is like the ultimate I’m-an-adult-now-so-I-can’t-have-fun thing to do! ;-)

    Maybe I just have no sense of perspective because I’m nowhere near having a kid of my own, but I don’t see how participating in the big and fun game of let’s-pretend-there’s-a-Santa is worse than letting a kid talk to the stuffed animal guests at a tea party with invisible tea… well, except that one is more expensive and commercialized.

    But seriously… a kid’s going to hear about Santa whether or not the parents do anything… it’s how I learned (my family moved to the US from a country where Christmas was not a big deal at all). And at that point, it’s just a matter of sitting the kid down and explaining that the tea at the tea party ain’t real, or continuing with this game of make-believe. I don’t think our grown-up dichotomies of truths and lies have a place in this childhood wonderland… so ease up! No skeptical sensibilities (the kid’s or yours) are being stunted by Santa!

    Anyway, it’s all a matter of personal preference/comfort in the end. If/when I ever have a kid, I certainly won’t try to prevent the fanciful belief in Santa… though I’ll do my darnedest to not go as far as having to leave midnight cookies for Mr. Fatty McToymaker.

  28. My main problem with the myth is that it completely went out of control. This whole fantasy of the Happy Holidays grew to the point of absurdity due to a belief in a complete fantasy that no-one dared go against for seeming like a spoilsport.

    Personally I hated being lied to by my parents. It was confusing and creepy. Them being wrong or not knowing something was one thing. However having them stand there with little fake grins on their faces telling me “of course there’s a Santa” when i questioned them was freaky and disturbing.

    I was a born skeptic as you can probably tell.

  29. When I have kids, I think I will tell them the story of Santa, but only as a mythical figure. I’ll make sure they know he’s not real, but that many people believe in him “So don’t tell anyone he’s not real. It’ll be our secret :)” or something to that effect.

    I know personally, I figured out that Santa wasn’t real when I was 6 or 7 with a little help from my mom. She asked these leading questions like “how do you think he does these things?” and such.

    Having conversed with several of my good friends about when they realized santa wasn’t real, however, I’ve come to realize that for many kids it feels like a betrayal. Many of them felt hurt because their parents had been lying to them the whole time.

    I don’t want my kids to ever feel that way. I want them to know they can trust me.

  30. awbranch:

    …a 3 year old skeptic who doesn’t believe in anything but cold hard facts is just kind of sad.

    ‘Believing’ is different to learning about a festival, or celebration and the narrative that goes with it. Children can learn the story, just like they can learn about Beowulf, Jesus, or Rapunzel, just so long as they aren’t led to thinking these mythical creatures are real.

    Next, you’re making out like belief in fairytales is a valuable part of growing up. It isn’t. Fantasy, imagination, and creativity are. There’s a difference. Revel in Harry Potter, and play Superman… but know that there’s a line between make-believe and real.

    If her family came from some other background or celebrated some other fun childhood tradition, I would feel bad if she spoiled that too.

    Again, we forget that these are all religion-inspired exercises in how to look like stupid sheep following everyone else. Chasing eggs around a backyard laid by a bunny. Bringing a tree into the house to stand in the corner of the living room. The only holiday that makes any sense to me is Hallowe’en, because you get to actually dress up like a mythical creature and play make-believe for a day. But at the end of the day you don’t believe in a Frankenstein monster!

    Come on, this is the whole ethos of skepticality. What the hell did you think this site was all about? Being skeptical of things when they suit, but belief in the paranormal is OK for your kids? When you blur that line between reality and fantasy – not in play, but for real – it opens the door to believe a twig can find water, that chii flows through our bodies, or that bad things come in threes!

    Its not the same as religious belief, and to equate the two is a mistake.

    It is the same as religion, and varies only in that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny lack the intense guilt through sin that comes with many religious doctrines.

    Question: why don’t most kids mind that their parents lied to them about the easter bunny, santa, or the tooth fairy? Because they are not very believeable things in the first place. But, reveal to a child at the age of 18 that they were actually adopted and see how they react! Are the two lies different? Yes, but they share the fact that they are still lies. I am not concerned that a child will be damaged by the lie, I’m more concerned with a commitment to reality.

    Sometimes the Skeptical community reminds me of the Fundamentalists. They’re so concerned about being right, that they miss the larger picture.

    If anything, the bigger picture is mostly what we are focused on! And ‘fundamentalist skeptic’ is an oxymoron. A skeptic is only committed to freethought. The ‘Parenting Beyond Belief‘ website comments:

    The defining value of freethought is, unsurprisingly, the right of individuals to think for themselves. Childhood indoctrination of any kind denies that right. Parents instill values, but choosing a worldview that expresses those values must be in the hands of the individual.

    Bottom line, I will not encourage my child to believe (or, in other words, indoctrinate them) in anything I don’t actually believe in myself. To do that would be to condescend to them, like their little under-developed brains are ripe for planting nonsense in (which is partly true, but shouldn’t be done!). Nope, not my child. No thankyou.

  31. ycul:

    I don’t see how participating in the big and fun game of let’s-pretend-there’s-a-Santa is worse than letting a kid talk to the stuffed animal guests at a tea party with invisible tea…

    One is an elaborate hoax, perpetrated by parents, toy manufacturers, greeting card companies, department stores, cartoon shows, the media, and religion.

    The other is a make-believe tea-party.

    There’s a difference.

  32. The start of the post is about not perpetuating the Santa myth, but the letter ends with “Merry Christmas”… Why christmas, but no santa? Christmas is the celebration of a dude that may never have existed, Santa (St. Nick) was at least more likely to have been a real person.

    1. “Christmas” is this culture’s name for a holiday on Dec 25 with a certain gestalt of traditions, probably none of which (in itself) is essential, bound together into a package. Use of the term no more implies that Jesus is part of my celebration of the holiday than use of the term “galaxy” implies that the Milky Way is the entire Universe.

  33. All I’m saying is to me, a 3 year old skeptic who doesn’t believe in anything but cold hard facts is just kind of sad.

    And my mom thinks it’s sad that I don’t believe in God.
    Awbranch, facts are not cold and hard per se. What you’re actually doing is putting the problems in terms of grim reality versus comforting fantasy. That’s too simplistic and ignores everything that’s wonderful and real.

  34. Just to share my “santa” (papai noel here in Brazil) experience. I never believed he was a true person, maybe is the fact no houses Brazil have chimneys or that there are no snow whatsoever in Rio’s 40°C summer. I always knew that my parents were the ones who bought the Christmas presents, and I loved Xmas anyway.

    In fact I was really surprised when one of my friends, Iris, whose mother is American Chinese and the father is Chinese Chinese, did indeed believed that Santa was real once. I simply did not understand that, not one friend of mine had ever even hinted to me that he actually believed that Santa was real, and for me was natural that every one just like the icon or representation of Santa.

    My parents are either atheists or very shy Catholics. My mother did baptized me, and even enrolled me in a class to receive the first communion(*), I can only guess that this terrible experience convinced me to abandon Catholicism for good, it was both boring and, … how do I say this, ah I know … boring! I asked to stop, and my mother took me out, and that was it.

    One experience that I was told was that once I very ill and was staying in my grandmothers house. I can imagine that it was very boring, but she did caught my attention when she told me that the spots on the moon were St George fighting the dragon. So later when my father, who obviously knew everthing at the time arrived, I told him “I know something, that you don’t know, look there’s st george fighting a dragon on the moon!” and he just told me that no those were craters and mountains on the moon. I was disappointed at first, but I think it was good that he told me that. :-)

    *) not sure if that is the name in English

  35. awbranch:

    Next you’ll tell us it’s “sad” to tell a child that rain is condensated water falling from clouds, and not tears from angels. In all cases (so far as I’ve experienced), reality is much more satisfying, awe-inspiring, and thought-provoking than any supernatural explanation.

    “Cold, hard facts” are a myth. You’re acting as though truth is depressing and joyless, which is precisely the opposite of what most skeptics believe. It’s not like she’s going to beat the child if he expresses joy in the fantasy of Santa Claus, denying him any Santa-related pleasure. In fact it appears she’ll encourage it, but just ensure he understands it to be fantasy, in so far as his little mind can discern the difference at any given point.

  36. I know this dilemma! And I had the excitement of having a spouse who was actively interested in pushing the Santa myth. The upshot was that I determined never to push the myth myself, but also that I would be upfront about the truth should my daughter ask me about it. So I am trying to help my daughter develop skeptical thought processes rather than give her all the facts. She has recently decided that magic is real but only in certain places (as she has never actually seen magic in person, only on TV and in movies.)

  37. I’ve had to narrow path on the subject of Santa. My kids are 10 and 5. Their mother and grandparents do the whole Santa thing and would be very upset if I blatantly contradicted them. What I’ve done instead is listen to what my kids say about Santa and ask questions. “Really? How does he do all that in one night?” “What if you don’t have a chimney?” And they explain to me what they can. And the more they explain, the more holes they find in the logic.

    As it sits, my 10-year-old figured it out a few years ago but is going through the motions to avoid upsetting grandma. My 5-year-old will probably catch on soon.

    An interesting side-effect is that the kids are extending their critical thinking to more everyday subjects. The outrageous claims of toy ads are often met with “yeah, right”.

  38. I find it interesting that so many posts say something along the lines, “when I have kids I will never lie to them..”

    I can see you with your imaginary children now….

    Child: Daddy, what do you think of my drawing?

    Mr. Truth: Well first of all, peoples arms don’t come out of their heads. You colored outside the lies and the composition is all off. Basically it sucks, try again.

    Child: Daddy try my mud pie, isn’t it delicious?

    Mr. Truth: First of all I don’t eat dirt and this doesn’t even look like a pie. Yuck!

    Child: Daddy why do we have to put Fluffy to sleep?

    Mr. Truth: It will cost $500 and around the clock care for 3 weeks to keep your Hamster alive. Frankly he isn’t worth that much to me.

    Child: But daddy, why can’t I say “F**k”?

    Mr Truth: Really there’s no reason you can’t, its just a word. Go ahead.

    Child: Daddy could I ever get leukemia and die like Timmy next door.

    Mr. Truth: Leukemia is fairly common in children your age so there is a statistical chance that you could, but probably not.

    Child: Daddy, do you love me or the new baby more?

    Mr. Truth: Well the new baby is actually mine, your mother was pregnant with you when we met and so you’re not really mine, so I feel closer to the baby, but you’re OK despite the hyper-activity, bed wetting and constant screaming.

  39. I find this discussion fascinating. It very closely parallels the consternation that fundamentalist christians feel about Santa: “Won’t my child question the existence of Jesus when he finds out that Santa isn’t real?”

    As for me, I have to agree with Elyse. I just never could see lying to my children. I might limit the soft-pedal the harsher realities of the truth, buy lying never seemed right.

  40. I find it interesting that so many posts say something along the lines, “when I have kids I will never lie to them..”

    I can see you with your imaginary children now….

    Child: Daddy, what do you think of my drawing?

    Mr. Truth: Well first of all, peoples arms don’t come out of their heads. You colored outside the lies and the composition is all off. Basically it sucks, try again.

    I found my daughters misshapen drawings charming, delightful and evidence of considerable talent given her tender years. Maybe I can tell my kids the truth because I like kids more than you do. :-p

  41. awbranch:

    I think the important difference here (if you will indulge me in a bit of linguistic foo-fraw) equating “telling” a lie with “selling” a lie. I tell lies to my children all the time (though in virtually every case it takes the form of omission, rather than fabrication) in the manners you suggest are productive. But my wife and I don’t “sell” the lie of Santa. If my son wants to pretend that Santa is real, more power to him. I won’t foster the notion that anyone but his family and friends are supplying the presents, or that someone other than his mum, dad and sister are with him in the house at any point on Christmas eve. I am not sure that everyone above is advocating sharp and brutal correction every time a child says something that is not immediately verifiable. This is not an issue of extremes, but of a policy influencing minor words, decisions and actions over the course of many years.

    I apologise for the rambling, but you seem to have taken Elyse’s post as some sort of attack on childhood, instead of the kind of thoughtful and careful parenting (and I am talking not about the decision she has made, but the process of coming to that decision) that too many people don’t bother with. She has made an effort to balance her own principles with what she thinks is best for her son – what more can we ask of a parent?

  42. What a gorgeous post! We did the Santa thing, but I’m fine with the choice to forgo it as well.

    We did it in a very particular way that allowed the kids to find their own way out of it when they were ready to do so. It ended up being a rich opportunity for critical thinking and a “dry run” for potentially thinking their way out of religion.

    Eno captured the spirit of this, quoting fundamentalists: “Won’t my child question the existence of Jesus when he finds out that Santa isn’t real?”

    (My essay “The Ultimate Dry Run” in Parenting Beyond Belief describes our approach in more detail. Tom Flynn offers the anti-Santy counterpoint.)

  43. awbranch:

    I’ve decided not to argue with you anymore on this. You obviously must have had a miserable childhood and the only joy you ever got was from the idea that Santa will come and give you presents as a reward for all the suffering you endured. I’m sad for you that you cannot imagine a happy childhood without being lied to about Santa.

    I’ll just let you know that not all children have to be told either there IS a Santa or have no joy or imagination whatsoever. Clearly you did not read the letter I wrote to my son.

    For the record, Moose turns one in less than 2 weeks. He spends most of the day giggling with me. Yesterday, we crawled around on the floor with our dogs, pretending we were dogs, panting and barking. Is he old enough to understand the difference between us and the border collie? I don’t know. I do know that even if he knows we are not actually dogs, it was still hella fun and I plan on doing it again with him today.

    According to your mock dialogue, awbranch, you don’t know the difference between telling the truth and being an asshole. That, too, makes me sad.

  44. Ariel, I agree with your sentiments re: Santa = Batman etc. I intend to present Santa as a fun pretend so that they are not left out with the kids at school etc., but they never have that odd push to actually *believe* that a man breaks into your house every Christmas with presents.

    That is, if we decide to celebrate Christmas at all…that’s the one I’m still wrestling with. My partner and I don’t celebrate it currently, as it’s just the 2 of us. I do hang the ornaments that I have received as gifts in the past as a reminder of family (I live far away from them) on a tiny novelty tree. Currently my partner and I exchange gifts when we want to throughout the year when we see something the other will like. Christmas is spent visiting family. It’ll be hard to switch back to the awkward “forced gift” situation of Christmas “for the children”. I don’t want to instill a sense of entitlement for gifts just because it’s December 25th, but the rest of the family is just going to give them gifts anyway. :( Oh what to do…

  45. I think the important difference between ‘teaching’ your kids about Santa and ‘teaching’ them about Jesus is the simple fact that Santa is FUN. And it -always- goes away. There’s nobody on EARTH who believes Santa is real by the time they’re in college.

    Also, the Santa mythology is harmless, unless you consider ‘intellectual deception’ harmful to your child (on this level anyways). There’s never been a Holy War because of Santa. Santa does not encourage persecution and intolerance to be practiced by His followers. He does not encourage active recruitment. If anything, the Santa mythology could actually be helpful in instilling a sense of skepticism in your kids. You could avoid actively spreading misinformation to your child, but when he or she inevitably picks up the idea from friends, family and TV, you could pull them aside and teach them a little bit about faith and belief in irrational, unlikely figures like St. Nick. You can mention how the Santa myth is symbolic, and actually kind of beautiful (like religion), but not at all based in fact. You can explain how it’s fun to make believe and pretend in fairy tales, but at the end of the day, one needs to realize the difference between fantasy and reality.

    And the big, big difference between Jesus and Santa is… Santa doesn’t ask you to conform to his wishes so he can save your soul. Santa does not promise life after death. The very worst case scenario is Santa asking your child to be “good” in order to get some Legos, until they’re maybe 5 or 6 when they realize that the wonderful, generous person who was buying them all the schwag was actually their parents.

    Incidentally, I was told Santa wasn’t real by my Catholic Kindergarten teacher. My parents were furious. Looking back, it’s hilarious.

  46. Elyse,

    I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I was just trying to add to the conversation and make it interesting.

    I guess I forgot you can’t see my winks and smiles when I was typing. Sorry if I came across as an “asshole” ;)

    You’re obviously a great parent and your letter was very thoughtful.

    The whole Santa thing is obviously not a bit deal.

    My daughter picked it up on her own and we haven’t pushed it. I don’t feel like I’m lying to her and I was just trying to make that point, I guess in a bit of an inelegant way.

  47. awbranch: You’re just not getting it. All those things you mentioned are either things that are play-time make-believe, or circumstances where tact is required. Not the same as perpetrating a hoax on your own child!

    “Does Santa really bring presents, Daddy?”

    “Yes he does dear, it’s really true! Believe it! He know if you’ve been naughty or nice, so make sure to pack up all your toys like a good girl!”

    Yech!

    Lying is different to make-believe. At the end of a make-believe session, like Elyse’s dog-barking thing with her kid, we all know we’re not dogs. We take the cape off and we know we’re not Superman (I personally went to sleep with the thing on, and tried to jump off the roof, but reality kicked in and spoiled all the fun!)

    Look, don’t question my future parenting skills, alright? Every single one of your hypothetical arguments are nothing even remotely like the Santa lie. So… just… realise that some folks wanna stop the cycle of lying to their kids with the story from a religious celebration that has been forced on us by society. Parents have been peer-pressured into convincing their kids Santa’s real and they think they’ll be worse off than other people’s kids if they don’t. It’s like treating your children as accessories in front of the other parents.

    BMW, Toshiba, Westinghouse, Jeremy, Prada, Nike, Sarah-Jane, Motorola …

    Kids are not worse off without Santa! But… we have anecdotal evidence that some kids feel really upset when they find out that their parents have been swearing black and blue all these years that Santa is a real guy….

  48. @ awbranch:

    “Child: Daddy try my mud pie, isn’t it delicious?

    Mr. Truth: First of all I don’t eat dirt and this doesn’t even look like a pie. ”

    That’s awesome. That’s exactly what I’m going to say to my kids.

    But then again, I really hate kids.

  49. Elyse – beautiful letter.
    Awbranch – exaggeration to make a point and playing devil’s advocate are cool – but saying “I think you’re taking something away from Maximus and it makes me sad.” didn’t sound like either.

    As for my opinion on the subject – I’ve known so many christians in my life whose idea of god seems to be a kind of Santa-in-the-Sky – he knows when you’ve been bad or good, he’ll only give you presents\rewards if he thinks you’ve been a good kid, etc. – that I have to wonder if the Santa Claus myth caught on with christians as a kind of god-lite, you know…for kids.

  50. @31: “I don’t see how participating in the big and fun game of let’s-pretend-there’s-a-Santa is worse than letting a kid talk to the stuffed animal guests at a tea party with invisible tea… well, except that one is more expensive and commercialized.”

    ….no, there is a huge difference. Do parents sit down and introduce the stuffed animals to the kid and tell them they are alive? No.

    Nobody had to tell me about stuffed animals because I used MY OWN imagination…with Santa, it’s the parents telling the story. I just wanted to point out the difference.

    and @28: “I doubt very much you could find people with childhood trama from belief in Santa or the Tooth Fariy.”

    Like I said in the comments of the post that led to the inspiration of this post, my ex’s parents were so good at the lie that he was very disturbed when he finally put it together that there was no santa. Not just because he realized that a beloved character that he thought WAS REAL (not make-believe, like other beloved characters)was not, but because his parents had very elaborately deceived him for six years.

  51. I never actually said if there was or if there was not a Santa, but I would always answer every question truthfully.

    For example, if asked was there a Santa, I would say that some people do, but that I had never seen him, but then I had never been to the North Pole. I treated it more as a way to teach critical thinking.

    One time, on Christmas day I was bring my children (~9 and 5) over to my house and said I wanted to warn them, that “I did not hear reindeer on the roof last night”. The older one got a little bit exercised about that, the younger one knew that I was joking.

    The older one reported that he had heard a calculation that Santa would have to travel 1000 miles per second to visit every house in the allotted time. I did a few calculations and estimated that would dissipate ~100 MT of energy in the atmosphere, per second . So if you wake up Christmas morning and the Northern Hemisphere is not incandescent, you will know that Santa did not make his rounds.

  52. My wife is a secular Jew, and I’m a nothing. Our parents are Christians, and my sister and her husband are SO Christian that they see Santa as a false idol.

    We’re figure we’ll tell our kid “Santa isn’t real, but if you play along with Grandma and Grandpa, you’ll get presents.”

  53. @62: “I never actually said if there was or if there was not a Santa, but I would always answer every question truthfully. For example, if asked was there a Santa, I would say that some people do, but that I had never seen him, but then I had never been to the North Pole. I treated it more as a way to teach critical thinking. ”

    Ding ding ding ding! We have a winner! (IMHO) There is something in-between the poles (ha) depicted in this thread, and this is it.

  54. Santa was always wink, wink, nod, nod around our house and I’ll admit to enjoying Christmas and many of the seasonal traditions. We even have a book fairy who visits our house who brings books on alternating days to our two kids during the twelve days of Christmas (Books given on Christmas to often get ignored). And every year we read the letters JRR Tolkien wrote his kids from Father Christmas at the North Pole which were great silly fun fantasy and clearly put the whole Santa thing in the realm of story book fictional tales. Santa was always left some single malt scotch and dark chocolate in front of the fire place and the kids always knew their parents drank the scotch and ate the chocolate while we got their stockings ready. It was and is fun (kids are now 14 and 17) and no pretense or hedging the story has ever been part of the equation.

    As an agnostic/atheist (cant know/no evidence) I have no problem participating in some of the cultural and family traditions around Christmas. My kids went Halloween trick-or-treating when they were younger and they and I have never believed in ghosts, spirits or the reanimation of the dead and never saw that as a prerequisite to getting a bag full of candy!

  55. Forgot to respond to Elyse’s actual post: like others have already said, it is a wonderfully thoughtful and eloquent letter… I’m sure your son will have a fantastic childhood, Santa or no Santa.

    anyvainlegend:

    ycul:

    I don’t see how participating in the big and fun game of let’s-pretend-there’s-a-Santa is worse than letting a kid talk to the stuffed animal guests at a tea party with invisible tea…

    One is an elaborate hoax, perpetrated by parents, toy manufacturers, greeting card companies, department stores, cartoon shows, the media, and religion.

    The other is a make-believe tea-party.

    There’s a difference.

    I guess you are much more concerned about Santa and less concerned about tea parties than I am! I actually got the idea of a tea party from American media. Then I made my mom buy this special tea party doll from this cartoon (I swear the whole thing was about having tea parties, because all they did was wear pretty dresses and eat desserts) to make my parties more excellent.

    Also anecdotally: my fake-Jewish friend (only his dad’s Jewish, you see) LOVES Christmas and fully intends on doing the whole Santa thing with his kids.

    But I’m not trying to argue for the pro-Santa camp. I’m in the “isn’t this really kind of moot?” faction. For some, Santa is a big deal conspiracy of lies, for others, it was a small but fancifully fun part of childhood, and for others still, Santa is something they never cared about in their youth. It’s been an interesting intellectual discussion, but it really frightens me a little when people can come to derisive comments because of SANTA. For me, it’s a choice as personal as when/how/if you teach your kids about human reproduction… I have my own opinions, and there are plenty of myths around it, but ultimately, kids will learn the truth.

  56. awbranch:

    My feelings were never hurt. I know I’m not a terrible parent and I truly believe I am making the right decision.

    daedalus2u: I love how you handled that. That is really beautiful.

    ParentBeyondBelief: I read your essay in your book… in fact, I’ve read all of the essays… in fact, I’m going to need to get a new copy soon as mine is almost worn out and Moose is only 11 1/2 months old! It’s really an amazing resource.

    whitebird:
    I’d also like to add about it being traumatic by saying that something doesn’t have to be traumatic for it to be wrong. Parenting decisions have to be made based on what’s best for the child not based on what’s not traumatic for the child.

    And I’m from the Chicago area.

    Also, is anyone else totally creeped out by parents who do the whole NORAD tracking thing?

    1. //Also, is anyone else totally creeped out by parents who do the whole NORAD tracking thing?//

      I object to this whole “keeping the Santa myth is wrong” thing.

      I totally support you in telling your child that Santa is not real, and that’s a good way you’re choosing to do it I think. All parents have to make their own decisions and if that’s what you feel is right, then I support you in doing that.

      However, I think this community tends to judge those who choose otherwise as somehow hurting their children by doing so. And I resent that because we’re totally NOT hurting our children :P.

      I teach skepticism by telling my children to question everything they’re told and by teaching them how to do science/engineering (i.e. logical analysis) so when my Children questioned me, I told them the truth, and they appreciated it.

      But when they were young, they enjoyed it and I don’t really feel bad for them being happy every morning that Santa brought them something.

      So please guys, don’t judge parents on whether or not they’re telling their kids about Santa or not. Every parent has to make choices their family and it’s not really someone else’s place to tell the parent what they should or should not be doing.

  57. Also, is anyone else totally creeped out by parents who do the whole NORAD tracking thing?

    Aww, you’re no fun. I used to watch Santa coming over the DEW line when I was a kid. I thought it was cute, even when I was old enough to know the truth. It’s just adults having fun and playing along with the kids, like the Post Office delivering letters addressed to the North Pole, or the neighbour who dressed as Santa and handed out candy canes in exchange for rum.
    I only occasionally lie to my kids, and I respect not wanting to lie to yours, but there is a difference, I think, between deliberately lying and playing along. I’m kind of happy to see that someone at NORAD is showing some human qualities.

  58. So I never really believed in Santa that I can remember, so there was no trauma to learning that he wasn’t real… but seeing my parents lie to me and to my brothers and sister put a Hell of a lot of strain on their credibility re: everything else they ever said to me.

    There’s a difference between playing along with a fantasy and lying to children, and they’ll figure out the difference at a pretty young age.

    Also: “Child: But daddy, why can’t I say “F**k”?

    Mr Truth: Really there’s no reason you can’t, its just a word. Go ahead.”

    I’d amend that with, “but your teachers are fascists, and you’ll get in a ton of trouble for saying it at school.”

    It IS just a word.

  59. oh man…first off, I love reading comments simply for the intense discussion.

    Second, I was told about Santa when I was a child, but it was always in that sort of tone that is given when talking about fairies or unicorns. My siblings and I believed in him, but we never honestly thought that he was real (does that make any sense at all?) To be honest, I was impressed with how much my parents put into the pretend in order to keep the magic alive. One year, there were OBVIOUS cookie crumbs on the plate we left, tinsel was left in a trail from the toys back to the fireplace, and there were bits of hair (that I later realized was from our dog) around the half eaten carrot we left for Rudolph. (We could never figure out how he managed it down the chimney that year) I appreciate the time they put into making Christmas what it was every year.

    And thirdly, my father always LOVED to pull up NORAD so that we could see where Santa was. It was mostly always a ploy to get us to bed. (“Oh goodness! He’s in Scotland – you better get to bed quick!”)

    I respect what you are doing for your child, and while I have no children of my own, it has honestly sparked contemplation for future years.

  60. joshsmom:

    To make a long story short on how I became a skeptic:

    1. became disillusioned with the Catholic church and tried to find my way into a new religion/philosophy
    2. really amazing genetics professor introduced me to Dawkins and the two helped me free myself from religion
    3. realizing there was no God, I came to the conclusion that there were no ghosts, no spirits, no afterlife.
    4. this meant I had to admit I had been ripped off by the psychics who told me all those wonderful things about my loved ones who had passed on
    5. I got angry
    6. I got smarter

  61. I grew up in a religion free environment (my dad is an atheist, like me) but as a kid my parents told me santa was real. I kept telling my parents i don’t believe in Santa, and i always tried to stay awake on Christmas nights to catch a glimpse of Santa or my parents, cause i wasn’t 100 percent sure he didn’t exist. I set up traps, ink bottles tied to the door in case he was invisible or something. I remember talking to some of my friends and we were theorising about how can he get in through a locked door to drop off parents.
    Once my uncle dressed up as Santa, and i remember thinking at the time how strange it is for santa to require so many shots of alcohol. :D

  62. my parents (being the non-religious, fair, wonderful, inspiring parents they are) explained Sanat to me as an idea, rather than a reality. Mom never disguised the fact that “Santa presents” were meerly more gifts from her that she didn’t put under the tree until christmas. she explained that the idea of stana was the important thing – rewarding good people for being good, giving to those who we love, etc. I believed in Santa because he represented that my mom and dad brought me presents, but I never thought some guy in coca-cola colors lived at the North Pole.

  63. LMAO! Ok, for the record, when I brought up the Santa analogy I NEVER CONCIEVED that it could be a source of such debate or import. I come from the school of thought that “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift which is why they call it the present.”
    Of course, if a child doesn’t experience “Santa” they way I did they will likely not “miss” that time the way I do. Or they will. Or they won’t. Or they will. Or they won’t. The point being, its all conjecture based on a subjective experience that some found enjoyable and others didn’t. As a child and even into adolesence I lived in a world FULL of magic, magical thinking, and irrational beliefs that allowed for amazing possibilities. My naturally inquisitive nature evenutally exposed me to rational thinking and the wonders of the observable world. The question I have to ask myself is whether I am richer or poorer as a result of this “revalation”.

    The answer: who cares? My experiences largely shaped for me the career path that I find fascinating. While rationality HAS in large part managed to kill some of my enjoyment in pure fantasy, I still retain a small part of the child in me. Occassionally my rational and magical sides even have just watching a movie.

    I’ve found my own balance.

    Likely all of you, your childdren, and your children’s children will find their own balance as well. Some of your children will likely look at kids sitting on Santa’s lap as “stupid-heads” who don’t realize its just a guy in a costume. Still, some of those “stupid-heads” might feel bad for that “rationally raised” (I’ would’ve said weird, but whose to say in a few generations, right?) kid because he or she could NEVER experiene the same impossible world that they can’t, but is still somehow a world all their own and of infinite possibilities.

    Like I said, its all subjective.

  64. Late to the party due to my modem getting zapped by a whizzbanginthurderboomer storm the other day and it taking 4 days to get a new one. =sigh=

    I was 4 years old when I figured out Santa Claus wasn’t a real live person. There were way too many holes in the story, including several violations of the laws of physics (I was one of those weird kids who learned to read almost as soon as I learned to talk, and had already gotten my first adult library card by this time). Then I had to put up with another 5 or 6 years of stupid adults trying to convince me I was wrong.

    So I decided as soon as my son was born that I was going to be honest with him about it, but I wasn’t going to be a meanie and bust his bubble by saying flat-out, “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.” So when he asked me about Santa shortly after his fourth birthday, I told him:

    “Santa Claus isn’t a real live person; he’s pretend. But it’s fun to pretend, isn’t it? And if you do something really nice for someone that make them happy but they don’t know who did it, you’re sort of like a Santa Claus. And you know that doing something that makes someone happy is fun.”

    “Yeah.”

    “But you know what? Let’s keep it a secret, OK? That way you get to know something none of your friends knows.”

    He got a really serious expression on his face for a few seconds, then said, “OK,” and went right on having fun pretending. And as far as I know, he never spilled the beans.

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