If you have introduced the popular concept of Santa Claus to your child, the question “Is Santa Claus real?” is almost an inevitable one. I have a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old and have been actively dodging forms of this question for a couple of years. I have a feeling that this year will be the pulling back of the curtain for my 9-year-old, and I want to be prepared with an answer that won’t necessitate thousands of dollars of therapy in the future. So, here is how I plan to answer the question “Is Santa Claus real?”
My Childhood Experience with the Santa Claus Story
Apparently, I asked this very question of my mom early on in my belief. My mom, ever the crafty woman, came up with her version of a true but slightly evasive answer. “He is a mythical man,” she calmly informed me. Me, being in the low single digits, had no idea what the word mythical meant. I just knew it sounded close to magical, so figured it was something in that realm. Satisfied, I kept up the belief of the “mythical/magical” man that popped down my chimney and made a holy mess with ashes from the fireplace (we carefully laid towels down in a straight path from the hearth to the tree, successfully catching all of the soot that fell from his big, black boots).
I don’t recall the moment when I discovered the meaning of the word mythical, I don’t have a memory of being forever in doubt of my parent’s honesty. I eventually grew out of the firm belief but clung to the warm, fuzzy glow that the concept of Christmas still brings.
What My Children Believe
Honestly, I think my kids know the jig is up. They are incredibly perceptive, intelligent beings who deep down know that a dude with a sleigh can’t truly slide into everyone’s homes on one night and bring the exact toys each child desires. The questions have been asked- “Why do some kids get tons of presents and others get two?” and “Mom, I thought you said Santa brought this, but then you said you bought it on Amazon…” Oh, dear.
Here is what I DO know my children believe:
- They are loved
- The holidays are a time to spend with family, cherishing a shared history and traditions
- That to give can be just as rewarding as to receive (ok, I’m not going to kid myself, they aren’t fully feeling that yet but I strive to instill that love of giving a bit more each year)
- That experiences are gifts as well
- That our family has privilege and other families might not have the same level of privilege we do
Beyond this, the tale of a physical being that flies around the world, delivering gifts to only those on the nice list and tossing a hunk of coal into the unsuspecting stockings of those deemed naughty by some The Good Place-type scorekeeping system, isn’t one that I feel the need to perpetuate.
Where I Found My Answer to the Question “Is Santa Claus real?”
I don’t think I can dodge the question again this year. I have been ruminating on the answer since holiday decorations are out in FULL FORCE at Costco. And just like that, the answer came from a podcast, like many answers in my life seem to do these days.
Kristen talked about ALL things parenting, from how she and Dax call each other out to how to juggle career, kids, and life in general. She exemplifies conscious parenting- she is conscious of the lessons she wants her children to learn, as well as the fact that parenting is a process, not perfection. One topic that made me literally stop in my tracks (I was driving and pulled my car over to listen intently for this discussion) was the explanation of how Kristen explained Santa Claus to her kids.
Her story went like this. Kristen’s 3-year-old asked whether Santa Claus was real. A mom that she respects told her, “Don’t ever let, especially a daughter, look at you when she’s older and say ‘What else have you lied about?'”
Ugh. This is the dilemma many parents have encountered. Do I bust up the myth in honor of total transparency and truth, or do I keep the concept of Santa Claus magical for my kids?
Kristen explained her take on this dilemma in a very intelligent way. She said she wants to reward her child’s inclination to question a concept that doesn’t seem right. She wants her daughter to ask questions and be a critical thinker. Don’t we ALL? I hadn’t thought about it in this respect before. If my kids are asking questions, they have been tipped off by their intuition that something isn’t right. Is it a good idea for me to dismiss their intuition, telling them to ignore it and blindly follow a (mythical) story that has been told to them? And PS- she discovered that her daughter was actually worried about someone breaking into their house once a year. Damn straight, girl!
Kristen went on to tell her daughter that no, Santa Claus is not an actual person. He is a fun game that our culture plays, and people believe in him like other fun things you might believe in, so we never want to extinguish that belief for other children.
She found a book called The (Wonderful) Truth About Santa, which reframes the concept of Santa Claus. The story talks about how anyone can be a Santa Claus if you give a gift without expectation of praise, without putting a name tag on it.
How I Plan To Answer the Question “Is Santa Claus real?”
Kristen Bell is obviously a master of acting, speaking, and expressing her beliefs to her children because she is a) an actress b) has a husband who positively challenges her, and seems to be highly involved in the parenting process and c) is a conscious parent. I really need to put down on paper what I am going to say when this question inevitably comes up, or I sense that my children need/want to know.
My plan is to read The (Wonderful) Truth About Santa with my child. My children still love to sit on my lap and read (yes, even the 9-year-old) so I want them to feel loved and secure when we read it together. After we read, I plan to have a “feelings exploration” with them. I find the best way to talk about feelings is over a craft or activity. Hands are busy, minds are open.
Depending upon the age, here are a few creative activities you can do with your child while chatting about their feelings. You can make gifts for others as you discuss the concept of Santa Claus, and what their feelings are on continuing the tradition, and how they can be Santa for others:
Bracelet Making Kit: Kids can make bracelets with different words to represent how they are feeling, or the feeling they want to inspire in others.
Tile Art: My kids painted these magnets for my mom for her birthday, and they hang on her refrigerator. Kids can make holiday magnets for family members. The small size ensures that they won’t get bored.
Wind Chime Kit: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” After reading the book, you can cozy up and watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” (currently included in Amazon Prime membership). Chat with your child about the themes in this movie and what they mean. Paint these wind chimes in holiday colors and gift as angel bells.
Wrap It Up
Please make sure that after you open up to your child, they understand the importance of keeping the magic of Christmas alive for other kids. You don’t want to get THAT text from another parent- you know, the one where they say in all caps YOUR CHILD DESTROYED CHRISTMAS FOR OUR FAMILY.
Teach your child the importance of honoring other families’ beliefs and traditions. This can be a true lesson in sensitivity and context for your kiddo and what the holiday spirit is all about.
Cheers to preserving the spirit of the season no matter what your children believe!
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