Christmas is a magical time of year. There are flying reindeer, mischievous elves and a jolly fat guy who deposits presents in houses worldwide. The house is decorated with twinkly lights, you’re allowed to eat chocolate for breakfast and school lessons are replaced with nativity rehearsals.
So it’s no wonder kids are living their best lives come December. But should you tell your kids the truth about Santa?
Parents are conflicted over whether telling their kids that Santa is real is ok. Some people feel very strongly one way or the other, whereas others are on the fence, unsure how they feel about the Santa thing.
Keep reading to explore both sides of the argument so you can come to your own conclusion about how to handle Santa in your family.
Santa Claus is important to the magic of Christmas
Some people have only fond memories of their childhood and the wonder of believing in Father Christmas. For these people, Santa is the very embodiment of Christmas belief.
To deny your children this would be to deny them the true spirit of Christmas. Adults are often viewed as cynical, whereas children have their hearts open to wonder. By telling your child that Santa isn’t real from the get-go, are you denying them the wide-eyed wonder of childhood?
Lying about Santa is wrong
To other parents, however, a lie is a lie. If you want your children to grow up honest, you need to model this behavior yourself. Lying about Santa is just as damaging as other lies.
These parents believe lying to their kids about Santa teaches their children that their parents are not trustworthy. Can you recall how you felt when you discovered Father Christmas was a fake? Did it change how you felt towards your parents and others who had perpetuated the myth for all those years?
Christmas is about more than Santa Claus
People who tell their kids the truth about Santa Claus don’t feel their kids are missing out. They argue their kids enjoy just as much festive magic as everybody else. There are many exciting elements to the Christmas period, from having your parents in school to watch your nativity to walking the local streets searching for the best Christmas lights display.
Kids love snuggling up as a family to watch Christmas movies and tucking into Christmas dinner with their extended family. And they love the presents, whether they came from you or from a magic guy dressed in red.
Of course, an added bonus of your kids knowing the truth is that you get the ‘thanks’ for all your hard work.
Being honest about Santa Claus avoids awkward questions
Why does Santa bring some children expensive electronics and other kids cheaper presents? Why does Santa give Lucy only one main present, but every gift in Marcy’s house is from the big man? Each household does Christmas differently, and this can confuse kids. Shouldn’t Santa be fair and equal to everybody?
I don’t want my child to believe in the Santa Myth
It’s totally up to you whether or not you go along with the Santa myth. If you’ve decided to be honest, telling kids the truth about Father Christmas, you can still incorporate Santa into your festive activities.
You can explain that the patron saint is a character in the Christmas story. You don’t have to say he’s real; there is no real harm in saying it. Kids can enjoy the magic of Christmas just as they enjoy the magic of Harry Potter while knowing it is just a story.
Using Santa as a threat
The Santa story is pretty harmless: he’s a fun magical guy who delivers presents to kids worldwide. Recently, thought, he has morphed into a threat for bad behavior. Many parents, teachers and other adults use Father Christmas as a threat in the run-up to Christmas.
This makes Santa’s magic only available on a conditional basis, to those who behave properly. And, in all honesty, what kid can behave 100% of the time, especially in the run-up to Christmas when they are hyped up to the max?
Is lying to your kids about Santa ok?
Many parents wonder whether lying to their kids about Santa is ok. Their views might be influenced by how they felt when they discovered the truth about Santa Claus. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research into the Santa myth specifically, but researchers have investigated how being lied to in childhood is a bad practice and affects people in later life.
For example, a small study by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore found that parental lies achieve short-term compliance but could come at a cost in later life. The researchers found that children who were lied to grew up into adults who lied (unsurprisingly).
Perhaps more surprisingly, however, the researchers also found these adults suffered from adjustment difficulties, conduct problems, guilt and shame. They also found they were more likely to exhibit selfish and manipulative behavior.
The study was small, so it’s difficult to make broader assumptions, and it was not focused on Santa Claus specifically, so you might want to take the findings with a pinch of salt. However, it’s clear that lying to children can have a long-term impact.
The research study focused on lies such as ‘If you don’t come with me now, I will leave you here by yourself’, which, you could argue, is vastly different from a white lie about a magical jolly fellow like Saint Nick. However, this could be an argument to avoid using Santa as a threat. You know you’ll never leave them presentless on Christmas morning, so stop using it as a threat.
Take a look at our article Please Don’t Threaten Kids With Santa This Christmas.
When should I tell my kids the truth about Santa?
If your kids believe, you might wonder about the right time to burst that bubble for them. How can you gently break the news that Santa isn’t real? Firstly, you need to decide when to tell your kids.
All children stop believing at some point – even those with rich fantasy lives. Do you want them to find out on their own (via Google or a mean kid at school, for example) or do you want to nudge them toward it gently? It’s totally up to you when you tell your children, but be aware that kids Google everything these days, and you might be unable to control how your child finds out if you don’t do it yourself.
Most kids will begin to question Santa’s existence at some point; how you handle their questions can set the tone for how your kid reacts to the news.
When your kid asks, ‘Is Santa real? you can reply by saying, ‘Yes, in a sense. Santa is based on a story from the olden days about a guy who gave out presents to all the children where he lived. But Santa as a magical guy with flying reindeer is simply the modern telling of that tale’.
You can also explain that we are all Santa Claus. All adults choose who to give gifts to and spread some Christmas magic.
How to decide what to tell your kids about Santa
How you celebrate Christmas is something only you as a family can decide. You will draw inspiration from how you and your partner celebrated Christmas your childhood Christmas.
Most parents perpetuate the Santa story, but plenty question it and choose to tone things down for their children. Your holiday season can have all the magic you want, even without claiming Santa exists. There is no right answer here; do whatever you feel comfortable with. It’s your time to be in charge of the Christmas magic, after all.