Terrance Heath

Yes, Parker. There is a Santa Claus?

Filed By Terrance Heath | December 19, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Christmas stories, is there a Santa Clause

I suspect these are words I will find myself repeating again and again as a parent: this is happening sooner than I expected. The “this” in question, is Santa Claus.

I was relieved, after reading Dear Prudence this week, that I’m not the only parent who’s dealing with “this.”

Dear Prudence,

My child’s father and I split up when I was five months pregnant, and I’ve raised our 8-year-old son by myself. I’ve always told him that Santa Claus exists. For the past two years, he’s been writing a wish list to Santa and putting it in the mail. Last year, his father told him that Santa does not exist, that it’s a lie parents tell their children, and that parents buy presents and tell the kids they’re from Santa. Two nights ago, my son asked me, “Mommy, does Santa really exist?” to which I replied, “What do you believe?” He said, “Papa told me Santa doesn’t exist, and you tell me Santa does. I think he does, but I don’t know.” I always knew that I would have to tell my son the truth about Santa, but I don’t want him to think that I’ve lied to him all these years. How do I tell my son that Santa doesn’t exist without losing his trust? And what’s there to live for when you don’t believe in all the things that make a moment special?


Ugh. Here’s how it happened in my case.

Being seven-years-old now, Parker is right at that point where he’s starting to question the “magic” of childhood. It started when he lost a tooth a few weeks ago, and questions about the tooth fairy abounded. They were the same kind of questions he’d ask about Santa Claus later. How does he get into the house, since our chimney doesn’t really work? How does he know where we live? How does he know who supposed to get which present?

They’re the questions I remembered asking my parents in some form or another. I don’t remember how they answered, which is why I fumbled for my own answer when Parker asked me a more direct question.



“Is Santa Claus really just you going out and buying presents in the middle of the night?”

“Huh?” (I heard him he first time, but needed a few seconds more to fumble for an answer.)

“Is Santa Clause really just parents going out and buying presents in the middle of the night?”

“In the middle of the night?”

“Yeah, do you just go out and buy presents in the middle of the night?”

“No, Parker, we do not go out and buy presents in the middle of the night. On Christmas Eve, we’re right here at home with you and Dylan in the middle of the night.”

“Oh. OK.”

Whew! I’m told I have no poker face at all, so I hope it didn’t play out across my face as I was answering Parker’s questions that his presents were already upstairs in our bedroom closet. (I don’t know if he’s graduated to hunting for presents hidden around the house, but he hasn’t looked there yet.)

Of course, the questioning hasn’t stopped there. Here’s the latest:

“Why does Santa write our names in pen on our presents”

“To make sure everyone gets the right presents.”

“So comes to our house and then writes the names on the presents?”

“Well, maybe he writes them at his workshop before he leaves on Christmas eve.”

“All of them? By himself?”

“I suppose the elves might help…”

That exchanged was shortened by the need to extract Dylan from the Christmas tree and replace the bulbs he’d removed and placed in his dumptruck.

But I suspect that’s not the end of it either. My inquiries into the source of his questions got little response, but I suspect that he’s probably heard some of his classmates (who may have figured it out or been told) talking about it. The nature of his questions suggests that he’s figuring it out, or has it figured out. I’m not sure what answers I’ll come up with, but thanks to Prudence, I don’t feel bad about not telling him.

Telling your children about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy is not lying--it’s sprinkling a little magic dust on childhood. While people have funny, even poignant stories about realizing none of it is true, I’ve never heard anyone rail against those elementary-school years of deceit. But at 8 years old, your son is coming to the end of his belief that these figures are real. You’ve done a good job handling this, so continue to take your cues from him. If he really seems to want the truth, then tell him. If he’s ambivalent, you can say you’re not going to disagree with his father, but it would still be fun to believe in Santa Claus again this year. When she was 8 years old in 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun, posing the same question as your son. The editorial in response, “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” is one of the most famous ever written, and I’ll let the author, Francis P. Church, have the last words: “Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! … There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

That’s exactly what I want to preserve for both Parker and Dylan.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

I’d much rather let him figure it out for himself and be there support him or at least follow his lead. But I’m not going to be the one to take away a part of the innocence that’s allowed him to look at the world with a sense of wonder and curiosity thus far. The same goes for Dylan. I want to let them be children for as long as childhood lasts, because they’ll grow up soon enough.

And when they do, they’ll learn some bitter truths about the world, no matter how much I’d like to protect them from it. I only hope that preserving the innocence of childhood as long as possible might inoculate them enough to confront those bitter truths about the world and the people in it, without becoming embittered themselves.

The funny thing in all of this is that we’ve never made a big deal of Santa in our house. Parker’s never written letters to Santa. He’s never actually been to the mall to see Santa. Well, we did goto the mall, but Parker never made into line because he was too frightened of Santa to do it and we weren’t about to make him. We have two pictures of him with Santa. One when he was just about a month old, sleeping in his carrier while we snapped it, and one years later when we settled for getting a picture of him near Santa. (Ultimately, Santa never made it into the shot.)

This year he says he’s finally ready to pay a visit to Santa. I’m not sure it’ll will actually happen, since he may decide (once again) not to do it. But if he does, I can only imagine the questions he’ll finally ask Santa himself, if he gets the chance.

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When Paige was around ten, she walks up to me and says, "Can we stop pretending there's a Santa Clause now?" I was shocked.

I said, "What do you mean?"

She says, "You and Santa have the same handwriting except when he writes like Grandma at her house. I'm not stupid." and walked off.

Um, hey, wait a second...

What do you mean there's no such thing as Santa Claus?


Years ago (just over 14 of them), I married a Witness. Jehovah's Witness. Yes, one of them. In doing so, she damned herself for all time in her faith, because I'm an unabashed non-judeochristian/abrahamic religion sort. I was raised that way.

She never had Santa Claus. She never had Christmas. No trees, no tokens of counting down, no pumpkin pie, no ornaments or lights, no happy holidays.

I did. I was raised with all the pomp and circumstance and celebration of the secular side -- multiple reasons, but most of us when asked said because it was fun.

And it is.

However, her side won out in that particular discussion, and so my son never got to learn of Santa or the elves or any of that in our home.

But he still learned the idea there, the concept of magic, perhaps because I do not merely believe in it, but I see it every day and can prove that it exists in ways we've long forgotten how to recognize.

Then again, magic is a subject that I study, and I have a particular awareness of it as a result of being able to see the world as our long lost forebears did.

And so I used the holiday season to teach him about magic, and about a special kind of power.

And perhaps the best time was the year I defied all of the little rules in our house, and gave out presents to my family Christmas morning.

My other four kids had never had a Christmas. The girls were all teenagers, my older son was a preteen.

And here they were, looking at the brightly colored and carefully wrapped gifts. I had spent a fortune on all of it, and I wanted this one to be special.

And later that day, my son came to me with his big smile and gave me a hug I joyfully returned, and he said to me words I'll always remember.

"Thank you, Santa".

So no one can tell me that Santa doesn't exist, so long as we have hearts and souls and minds and, most importantly...

the magic of giving...

Judas Peckerwood | December 19, 2009 6:20 PM

Just out of curiosity, what's the argument in favor of feeding children the Santa story?

It seems to fly in the face of every child rearing guide I've ever read, all of which emphasized the importance of being honest and open with kids and not betraying their trust. On top of which, it inevitably leads to an uncomfortable situation where you have to admit that you told a years-long lie and explain why.

My kids were not bothered by it when they figured it out. We are not Christian and do the secular celebration but Santa is part of it. They understand it as myth which is how they understand the gods that our people worship. So it just didn't bother them.
As for child rearing guides ahh I'll stick with my cultural approach which has worked for a long time and use Cormacs instruction for a king.

I remember the sense of betrayal, and the laughter, when I announced my realization that Santa was an elaborate lie.

Honestly, I don't understand the rationale for systematically lying to children. As Rob mentioned, perhaps it is a introduction to the idea that religion is a myth. But it really seems cruel and short-sighted.

Judas Peckerwood | December 20, 2009 12:20 AM

The thing that stands out for me is that the parents I know insist that they're doing it for their children's sake, when it really seems to be something they're doing for their own validation -- kind of a "I went through it and I turned out just fine" rationale. Not that the two are comparable, but that's the tack my dad always took to justify the abuse he dealt out.

Judas Peckerwood | December 19, 2009 6:21 PM

Just out of curiosity, what's the argument in favor of feeding children the Santa story?

It seems to fly in the face of every child rearing guide I've ever read, all of which emphasized the importance of being honest and open with kids and not betraying their trust. On top of which, it inevitably leads to an uncomfortable situation where you have to admit that you told a years-long lie and explain why.

Judas Peckerwood | December 19, 2009 6:23 PM

ARRRGH! Sorry for the double post -- not sure what happened.

I wonder too, Judas. It is a bizarre cultural phenomenon, where people who rail against social conservatives who want to teach creationism in schools because it isn't "science" willfully lie to their children for years about something fairly inconsequential.

I remember when I found out, I was 7 or 8 I think. It wasn't a big deal, it wasn't a "betrayal of trust" or whatever the Prudence letter-writer thinks it is. I don't and didn't hold it against my parents - I didn't think that it had anything to do with "trust." All I remember is my mom telling me not to tell my little sister because she wasn't "ready."

My brother, though, found out when our aunt was trying to turn him Christian (our parents were atheists) and told him that Jesus is like Santa, which led to questions, which led to my mother telling him that they're both myths people believe in because it makes them feel better. He was 4 or 5.

While I'm thinking of it now, though, I do wonder why we tell this particular lie. It doesn't really help the parents, who could be taking credit for all those presents all those years. Kids don't come up with the idea on their own. And generally people are in favor of telling kids the truth.

Santa hasn't always been around and he varies from culture to culture. I'm sure this is the sort of thing that a sociologist has already studied....

I still remember finding out there was no real Santa from a Jewish friend. (she celebrated Christmas and Hanukah and I still remember being extremely jealous). I did believe my parents had been lying to me...So as a parent I did go along with the charade to an extent...but still emphasized the giving aspect of Christmas time and the story behind it. I do share info about St. Nick(who was a real person).....on the flip side I takes tons of photos every year with children and Santa...and to see them stare in wonder and tell him what they want is so great....I try to take notes at times and let the parents know what they said they wanted...

I think for many of us how we treat not only the cultural myth of Santa, but the overabundance of presents says more about ourselves and what we what or need from the holiday than what our children want or need. It is never to soon to transition to the idea of giving being a good thing...children love the feeling too, and it is real.

Xavier Deron | December 20, 2009 3:11 PM

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Xavier Deron | December 20, 2009 6:47 PM

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I still remember how utterly furious I was at my parents for lying to me over Santa Claus. I believe that parents should never, under any circumstances whatsoever lie to their children; it's okay to withhold information if necessary, but never ever tell a falsehood. I have every intention of teaching my kids that

1. Santa Claus is a lie.

2. Any grown-up who tells you Santa is real is a liar who thinks you are very stupid.

3. Any kid who tells you Santa is real was lied to by his or her parents, and you should feel sorry for him or her for having such dishonest parents.

My Partner's two children are in their thirties
now with children of their own. He recently discussed this topic with others who are who
Grandparents and the time they told their own
children the myth regarding Santa. In general,
they visited Santa as a "little lie" but since
their own children are now Santa to their children
if was justified.

As for my own experience, at age eleven, my Mother
simply said in my presence that I was to old to
actually believe in Santa. In my opinion, this was
not handled in the best manner.

correction (sorry - didn't proofread)

they viewed Santa

it was justified.

In our household, Santa only brings the gifts for our stockings. People have always gotten the rest of the gifts. (To this day, we still thank Santa for our stocking gifts, even as we look at the people who really filled them.)

I see no more problem with believing in Santa than I do in believing in Faeries, Unicorns, or anything else like that.

Anything that can help us retain our sense of joy and wonder while we make our way through this world is worth it, in my opinion.

Judas Peckerwood | December 21, 2009 2:52 AM

I manage to experience joy and wonder every single day without believing in Allah, the FSM, unicorns or Santa -- or deceiving trusting children into believing in them, either

Insurance Telemarketing | December 20, 2009 11:15 PM

I think Santa, and tradition is important these days.

Believing and hope. Those too, too.