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A Dad Wonders ... What to Do About Santa? 

My wife and I are struggling with what to do about Santa. Our oldest son, Aaron, will be three years old this Christmas, making this the first year he’ll be able to start to understand the holiday.

Photo by premier-photo.com on Flickr.My wife has many fond memories of a variety of family Christmas traditions, including many that involve Santa. She loved the mystery of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa, the footprints coming from the fireplace, and gifts appearing Christmas morning. She also remembers when she started to put things together:  “Why are there presents in the closet with Santa’s special wrapping paper?” “Why does Santa’s writing look so familiar?” Even those are fond memories for her, because she was able to participate in the fun of it.

I don’t have as many memories, though I do remember getting gifts from Santa. I knew from a very early age that “Santa” was really just my parents – his writing did look suspiciously like their handwriting! I also have a vague recollection of my parents telling me that the lights from an airplane overhead on Christmas Eve were really Santa out delivering presents. I’m very logical and literal, so this never made sense to me, and I don’t remember ever enjoying Santa as much as my wife does.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality inventory that categorizes individuals into 16 “types” based on four preferences, I’m an ISTJ and my wife is an ENFP.  Yep, that’s right – we’re exact opposites. Needless to say, this can make for some interesting discussions. 

It’s relevant here because the T in my ISTJ is for “thinking,” and the F in her ENFP is for “feeling." As I noted before, I’m very literal, and so the thought of making up a story to tell my son about this character named “Santa” makes me very uncomfortable. My wife is very much more on the “feeling” side of things, and she doesn’t see it as an issue. She loves those memories she has, and doesn’t view it as a fabrication at all. To her, it’s more about the wonder and mystery behind the jolly old elf from the North Pole. She remembers finding out, but doesn’t remember it as breaking any trust barriers with her parents.

I posed the question of Santa to my Facebook friends, and it’s one of the few things I’ve done there that’s actually generated some discussion. The suggestions shared were across the board, which made me feel much better that I wasn’t the only one with misgivings. Many of our friends are at the same point in their lives with young children, and we’re struggling with same issues. Some have decided to leave Santa out of the gift-giving process altogether, while our neighbor’s eldest son (age 4) has dubbed him “The Christmas Guy,” which is now being adopted by his younger siblings. I also have friends with older children who have enjoyed the myth, and still to this day do not admit that Santa isn’t real – even though everyone knows he isn’t. Just knowing that there really isn’t a “right” way to handle the issue was very comforting to me.

My primary concern going into this discussion was trust. I want my sons to trust what I say. I want them to believe in science and fact. I want them to look at the world critically, and to question and verify information they’re given. On the other hand, I wonder if my own reliance on facts detracts from the wonder that others can enjoy by suspending their disbelief – something very difficult for me. Am I limiting the ways my sons will be able to experience the world? By making everything literal, am I denying them some opportunities? Will their lives be less fulfilling if everything has to be taken at face value?

Interestingly, the Facebook discussion was more helpful than I expected. I don’t know anyone who has experienced that break in trust from finding out Santa isn’t a real person, but I’d read about a few while researching the question online. What I came to realize and believe is that those situations where trust was broken and children were scarred for life were likely related to other trust issues within the family. The more I think about it, the more I’m comforted knowing that my boys are in a home filled with love and support.

Aaron is only three, and so of course has absolute trust in us, but I know he and his younger brother Ray (5 months) will keep that feeling as they grow up and maintain their trust in us. Finding out that Santa isn’t “real” isn’t going to break that. If it could, what would that say about the trust we’d built?  

In the end, I’m glad my wife and I took the time to have this admittedly somewhat difficult conversation. I’m always more comfortable with a decision knowing that I took the time to think through the consequences and to make sure all options were considered. We’re still not sure exactly how we’ll proceed, but I’m comfortable including Santa in our traditions. We’ll have a couple gifts for Aaron from Santa, and I’m sure we’ll make some other references as well. And I’m confident he’ll enjoy being “in on it” when the time comes, and he can help explain Santa to his little brother.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to eating some cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. Errr… I mean, leaving some cookies and milk out for Santa to eat. Yeah, that’s what I meant!

Go West readers: How do you handle the Santa Claus issue in your house?

Dan Kernler is a community college math professor. He lives in Batavia with his wife, Veronica, and two boys, Aaron and Ray. He doesn’t believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, but he’s still not sure about the Tooth Fairy.

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Reader Comments (5)

We have taught our kids that Santa is not real; he's just a fun guy at the mall. We teach them we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus' birth. We did this because 1: we want them to know the true meaning of Christmas and 2: we don't want to lie to our kids- they'll wonder why we lied sooner or later! My coworkers thought we were awful parents, "stifling their imagination." They make up stories, role play, sing their own songs, etc, so I don't think we ruined them! Good luck!

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarla

I couldn't imagine not having my kids believe in Santa but my husband was VERY much like you, he did NOT want to lie to his children. So we sort of compromised. We let our kids believe in Santa for a little while. My 3 year old is still in full Santa mode this year and just finally talked to the big guy in red this past weekend for the first time ever. But my husband dispelled the lengend for each of my older boys when they were in second grade (last year for my oldest and just a couple weeks ago for my middle). My guys are thinkers too so they've been asking questions for awhile (however they've never seen a gift and I don't write on the gifts so I never left those clues) and we played up the magic for a short while. But it seems second grade is the year my husband felt it was less like playing and more like lying because their questions were more pointed and direct. It is also when it seems many other kids have learned the truth. I can't imagine having not been able to do Santa at all but I know some parents teach their kids that Santa is soemthing real 'in our hearts' or stuff like that. I think every family has to decide for themselves. My only pet peeve is when a family doesn't have Santa but then doesn't teach their kids that some people believe in it and you shouldn't ruin the fun for others. My older boys know the truth but the also know if they ruin it for anyone else then that's fewer presents under the tree for them (and "Santa" brings the GOOD ones!!!)

I think everyone needs to choose for their own family, but, my kids believe in Santa. We love the idea & hope it lasts as long as possible.
When I was a kid, my parents kept the secret well - always different wrapping paper, "Santa" wrote in big block letters & my parents wrote in cursive, & when I was old enough to start to question it they bought me two dollhouses to convince me it was still true (one from my parents & one from "Santa"). But they didn't really lie; when we asked questions, even direct ones, we got a discussion ("What do you think?" & a lot of talk about the "Christmas spirit"). I never felt betrayed or lied to when I realized there was no Santa; & I was the oldest & loved continuing the secret for my little brothers when I knew better.
I found a really cute letter that explains Santa to those who are starting to question it & I think I'll use something similar since it's similar to what I was taught: http://www.cozi.com/live-simply/truth-about-santa

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah P

I never grew up believing in Santa, partly because my half-brother spilled the beans before I'd even been told about him, and partly because we followed the Scandinavian custom of opening gifts on Christmas Eve, so it just didn't make much sense. We did always have a few gifts marked, "From Santa," anyway. My boys have had their pictures taken with Santa every year, and they used to put great care into their lists. Now that they're 8 and 6, they've mostly given up on Santa, but they still hedge their bets a bit by asking him for a few things during their visit. We do also go to church and try to do a variety of things to celebrate the meaning of the season. When my friend's little girl asked her about Santa, she said, "Well, do you want to know all about it, or do you want to believe in magic?" She quite intentionally chose magic. In the grand scheme of things, I think this is way down there in terms of child-scarring risk. If you hang out at your kids' school for any degree of time you'll see that there is no risk of any kid getting left in the dark about Anything for very long at all. I vote for hanging on to some of the gems of childhood as long as possible in whatever way works for your family.

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaegen


December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMATT KERNLER

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