My birthday is December the 22nd. I was brought home from the hospital Christmas morning and put under the tree. Because my birthday is so close to Christmas, my parents always went out of their way to make sure that it was a separate celebreation and special.

On my eighth birthday, Santa came to my birthday party, at my house. We all sat on his lap and told him the gifts we wanted. When he left out the front door, my mom told us to run to the back sliding glass door so we could wave to him as he flew off in his sleigh.

So eight little girls ran to the back window — and within seconds we saw a red blinking light on something flying across the sky! I thought it had to be Santa’s sleigh and Rudolph who was leading it. We had seen him in the flesh, and we had seen him take off in his sled.

Those who didn’t believe ran to the front door, but Santa was nowhere to be found. There was fresh-fallen snow, totally untouched everywhere we looked. There were no cars on the street, no footprints in the snow, no tire tracks — nothing!

All eight of us became absolute Santa believers in that moment and for years there was nothing you could do to convince me otherwise. If someone told me Santa wasn’t real, I had a logical reply, “But I saw him! I saw his sleigh flying with Rudolph with my own eyes! There were no footprints, etc.”

Eventually, when I was almost twelve years old, other kids tried to convince me that Santa wasn’t real and I finally my parents to tell me the truth. I asked them to explain the red light and my mom said it was just a coincidence that a plane flew over our house at that exact moment. They couldn’t explain the lack of footprints, other than to say the man had parked really far down the street so he could make a sly getaway while we were looking out the back door.

It was only then that I finally accepted that Santa wasn’t real. It was sad and I missed believing — until I became one of Santa’s elves and found that I actually enjoyed preparing and giving gifts even more than receiving them.

As the December Holidays arrive, you and your spouse begin discussing whether or not to do Santa with your toddler. She is old enough now to understand presents.

Your husband has great memories of Santa, the fun, the excitement, the anticipation of wondering what Santa brought, leaving cookies for him and carrots for the reindeer. It’s a fun practice he wants to do with your toddler.

You, on the other hand, remember the fun of the Santa tradition, but also felt terribly betrayed when you learned that Santa wasn’t real. You don’t want to lie to your toddler and prefer to just be honest.

Neither of you feel strongly about your positions and don’t want to argue about this. You’d like to find a win/win compromise that’s fun but doesn’t require lying. Is that possible?

Is Santa an Okay lie?

If you are concerned about encouraging your children to believe in Santa, it’s probably because:

  • You want to focus on the original meaning of Christmas.
  • You don’t want your children to be materialistic or manipulated by commercialism.
  • You teach your children not to lie and want to be a good role model, but telling children Santa is a real person is a lie. Plus, in order to answer your child’s questions about how or why Santa does something, you have to tell more and bigger lies to keep the first lie alive.

So during the December Holidays, you not only need to consider if you are going to do Santa, but if you do, how you will do it.  Here are the three main options and the pros and cons of each:

  1. Do Santa and lie about it as good and as long as you can.  The goal: To have fun with the fantasy and downplay any possible negative consequences. This option carries the highest risk for devastating the child when he/she finds out the truth and destroying the child’s trust in you, because you have been lying to them and laughing at their gullibility. It is clearly the most humiliating, unethical and risky option.
  2. Not do Santa at all. The goal: To be as honest, factual and value-based as possible. This option is the most respectable and ethical. It’s also the easiest, with no lies to tell or uphold.You need to be aware that your children might feel left out or resentful that you were deprived of a fun tradition widely practiced by their peers. To avoid or minimize this, you want to make an extra effort to have fun non-Santa traditions.
  3. Talk about Santa as honestly as possible and let children decide what to believe.  The goal: To have fun with the fantasy and still be honest. Here are some tips:
  • Tell children the stories about the original meaning of Christmas, the history of Santa Claus and the real St. Nicholas, and learn how people around the world, from all cultures, practice various Santa traditions.
  • Approach Santa as a fun fantasy that you play along with, by setting out cookies and milk, gifts from Santa, etc.
  • Never force the issue. If you express doubts, don’t tell blatant lies to convince them otherwise. If children don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap, don’t force them.
  • When children ask questions, make every effort to respond honestly:
    • To logical questions, ask them “What do you think?” Or say, “No one knows for sure, but it could be…” You can weave in value messages with your answer.
    • To questions that point-blank ask you for the truth, like “Is Santa real?” you can be totally honest and say “no” or can gradually ease away from the fantasy, saying “Some people believe…” or retell the story of St. Nicholas, talk about the history of Santa Claus or give a “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” kind of answer.

One mom sums it up well saying, “I have taught my kids to be truthful and that lies only get you into trouble.  I don’t see Santa as being a lie but a make believe person.  It brings out the creative side of my kids as you try to come up with where Santa would live, what he does during the day, and what he does in the other seasons.  Santa is just a fun addition to Christmas.  My kids were not brought up thinking that Christmas is all about Santa and getting gifts but are taught the true meaning of Christmas.  If you choose to believe in Santa, that’s fine but it’s not something we push our kids into doing.”

Generally, this last option usually results in positive memories of Christmas and Santa, minimal or no distrust about being lied to, and likely no devastation from gradually figuring out the truth for themselves.

Ultimately, the Santa issue is up to you to decide and carry out however you deem best. As long as you avoid the extremes and pay close attention to the unspoken messages you are sending, you can use Santa to have fun while teaching positive family values during the December Holidays.

Some day, when children stop believing, they become a Santa’s helper. Now they become more involved in the gift selection, buying, wrapping and giving. They are ready to replace the fun of receiving with the deep satisfaction and Spirit of Giving.

You can prevent or resolve parenting challenges that crop up around the December Holidays, such as: how to shop with your children without whining, begging or tantrums; avoiding embarrassing gift-giving faux pas (like insulting Aunt Susie’s gift); get rid of the Holiday Gimmees and instill the spirit of giving in children; and tell children about Santa without lying.  Just get a recording of the Holiday Parenting Issues Teleseminar to learn how. Go listen to a free sample right now!

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.

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