The Truth About Santa Claus

Handling this tough parenting dilemma with grace, aplomb and love

My daughter came to me one day this summer in hysterical tears. She wanted to know if Santa was real.


I was in the midst of a rare nap and had no idea what was happening. It was August, after all. I was not prepared for this question.

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My sweet 8-year-old girl had been reading in her room, and a popular children’s author had apparently just ruined the magic of Christmas. Judy Blume — I’m looking at you.

By the time my head had cleared enough to digest this seminal parenting moment, I realized two things. First, I had hesitated too long to reassure my child that yes, of course, Santa Claus is real and is busy making toys for you in the North Pole as we speak.

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And second, before coming to me, she had gone to her younger brother with the distressing news.

In most circumstances, I try never to lie to my children. Omit certain truths? Sure. Evade tricky questions? You bet. This was one of those moments, though, when I wasn’t sure how honest to be.

At what age do you answer the Santa question truthfully? While it’s true my daughter was about to turn 8 when she came to me, and I desperately wanted her to hold onto the magic of Santa, I also wondered if it was unfair to lie to her when she asked me directly.

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Instead of either reassuring her or being honest with her, I took the third option, which was to pull her into my lap and cry with her.

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As soon as this sad display ended and my daughter went on with her day, I deeply regretted my reaction. How could I let the magic slip away so easily? No. I had to backtrack. I had to get it back. I had to save Christmas!

When I tucked her into bed that night, I told her I wanted to talk more about our conversation from earlier and that I needed to clarify. I said that Santa is only real if you believe — and that in our family we believe.

I had been so sad when she came to me, because I did not want her to stop believing and lose the magic, and I should have been more clear about that. This seemed to satisfy her, and at least left the door open for her to allow herself to continue believing.


Now that the holiday season is in full swing, this issue has not been raised again. Our Elf on a Shelf still dutifully reports back to Santa each night and returns to a new spot, often doing something silly that delights my children. They are as eager as ever to write their letters to Santa and count down the days on their Advent calendars.

All the traditions we hold dear are just as special to the kids this year as ever. The magic is still very much alive in our house.

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I honestly don’t know if they truly believe that Santa is real after all, or if they have just decided it doesn’t matter. And this has made me wonder: Why does it matter so much to me? The Christmas season is magical in so many ways, and that does not stop when you discover the brutal truth about the North Pole. It’s real if you believe.

In many ways, it is all still real to me, even though I am the one who fills the stockings and eats the cookies. (Well, to be fair, my husband always helps with the cookies.)

Choosing to believe in the magic of Christmas never has to end, and as much as I want time to slow down and for my children to stop growing up so fast, I’m willing to forgive Judy Blume and let the magic take on new meaning for us.

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