The Truth About Santa: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by on December 27, 2011

I knew this day would come eventually but I never dreamed it would be so heart-wrenching.

You see, my daughter has been dropping hints about her wavering belief in Santa Claus for a several months now. Her questions about the existence of Santa, however, always came when my six year old was nearby so I tended to hedge a lot.

“Let’s talk about this later”

“Can we have this chat another time?”

I didn’t want to lie to her any more than I already have with the whole Santa myth but I also didn’t want to spoil it for my son, who is already fully indoctrinated into the Santa Claus Believers Club.

I figured if she asked me when we were alone, I could be honest with her. But she never did.

And I would assume she’d forgotten about it and exhale, thinking I’d dodged that particular bullet one more time.

A few days before Christmas, she asked me if I believed in Santa.

I said yes.

She replied that she wasn’t sure how she felt and I gave her the look that said “Not now, pleeeeease” and covertly nodded my head towards her little brother.

But she ignored my obvious attempt to deflect her questions and kept at me about the existence of Santa.

I gave her a vague answer, more or less saying that if you believe in Santa, then he is real. And if you don’t, then he isn’t.

She got frustrated with me and said “So you’re saying you don’t want me to believe in Santa?”

I never said that!

And so I replied with something along the lines of “No, I’m just saying that what you believe is up to you. I can’t tell you what to believe. You have to decide for yourself”

Total cop out.

She seemed satisfied with my totally non-committal farce of an answer and we went back to watching a Christmas movie while she searched for footage from SantaCams on Youtube. She wanted some kind of confirmation…not a confirmation that he wasn’t real…but that he was.


The next day, Christmas Eve, she spent all day watching the NORAD Santa Tracker and again, I thought I’d dodged the Santa bullet.

She still  has friends who believe in Santa, too, and for whatever reason, the fact that these girls are still innocent enough to believe made me feel really happy.

They weren’t growing up too fast. They are still little girls. My baby is still my baby.

Don’t think I didn’t feel bad about dodging her questions, about not being honest with her or about giving her nonsense answers. I did. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

But the idea of willingly and permanently taking away from her the magic of Christmas made me feel worse. I didn’t want to ruin it for her.

I thought about when I was a kid.

I kind of figured out Santa wasn’t real when I was 9 years old and my parents had left the Lionel Playworld sticker on the box of my Holly Hobbie doll kitchen. That pretty much confirmed what I’d been hearing from other kids for a few years. But I didn’t want there to be no Santa and it was a very unhappy realization. I never said anything about it to my parents, though, because I was afraid it would upset them or make them sad, too.

I can’t remember exactly when or if we ever formally acknowledged that Santa wasn’t real. My parents split a few months after that Christmas—I suppose Santa suddenly isn’t such a pressing matter when your dad is moving out, your mom is getting a second job and you are becoming a latchkey kid.


I just wanted it to be different for my daughter. I didn’t mean to perpetrate a fraud that would end up troubling her so much, as it clearly did.

Well…the whole house of cards kind of imploded on Christmas day.

We went to a late afternoon movie and saw Arthur Christmas. When it was over, my daughter and I went to the bathroom and in the bright light, I saw her lip quivering and she looked so very upset.

“What’s wrong, baby? You look like you’re about to cry”


“Hon? Tell me what’s wrong”

And in a shaky little voice she said “I don’t think I believe in Santa Claus anymore”

“Because of that silly movie? Oh, baby…”

And with tears streaming down her face and sobs choking her words, she said “I saw the electric scooter in your trunk back in November”

“I RUINED CHRISTMAS!” she exclaimed mournfully.

And then I started crying while I held her and put all the pieces together…

We had stuck a tag on the scooter that said it was from Santa, not us.

And she had seen this supposed gift from Santa in my car.

And now she’s blaming herself for ruining Christmas because she knows for sure that Santa isn’t real.

After a few minutes, we pulled ourselves together and went out to find my son and husband. I asked her to pleeeeeease try not to cry—for her brother’s sake—and that I had something to give her when we got home.

She didn’t say a single word the whole way home.

When we got home, I gave her a letter I had written a few months back. I had seen a similar letter earlier this year that was so perfect that I knew I wanted to use it to write a letter to my questioning eldest when the time came.

I sat with her while she read it and she seemed a little less sad afterward. We talked about all of it for a while and she finally said “So even though Santa isn’t a real person, the magic of Santa is still real?”

Yes, baby…that’s exactly right.

She’s had a few more sad moments since then and told me today that without Santa, Christmas is now pointless. That hurt my heart but I didn’t comment. I just let her get it out.

I don’t know what to do about my son but I can assure you that I will not have a repeat of what happened with his sister. While it will be painful, I will tell him the first time he asks, with no pussyfooting around, that Daddy and I are Santa Claus. And then I will give him his own copy of the letter.

I told my daughter today that when your child is a a toddler and you introduce the concept of Santa to them, it really does bring the magic of Christmas back into your heart and you’re not thinking of how you’re going to deal with it ten years down the road and that I was sorry…that I never intended to hurt or disappoint her…that parents do it because we want them to have that magic in their hearts, too.

She insists I have nothing to be sorry for…that she ruined Christmas for herself by peeking under the sheet in the back of my car while helping me unload groceries.

But the fact that she blames herself for the loss of Christmas magic and a bit of childhood innocence makes my heart ache in a way that I can’t even articulate.

And this makes me think that if I had it to do over, I probably wouldn’t have lead my kids to believe that Santa is real.

No. I don’t think I would…

Have you had to deal with the dreaded “Is Santa real?” question yet? How did you handle it or how are you planning to handle it? Or did you dispense with all of the fantasy and tell your kids the truth from the beginning? Please share your story.




  • Bethany says:

    This is making me seriously rethink the whole Santa thing. I’m sorry it caused both of you so much sadness but writing about it may help someone else avoid the same pitfalls so thanks for that {{{Hugs}}}

  • Anissa says:

    I’m no help on this one because my kids haven’t done the Santa thing ever.

    It has a lot to do with how our kids perceive the truth and the promise that we would never lie to them. We didn’t want them to believe everything we said could have been untrue.

    and then there’s this

  • Apryl's Antics says:

    I was in third grade and DEVASTATED when I discovered Santa wasn’t real. I came home after school and told my mom that all my friends said that your parents buy the presents. Having been caught off guard, my mom decided to just rip the bandaid and tell me the truth. My whole world came crashing down. “Then does that mean the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Mickey Mouse aren’t real, either?” My mom confirmed these, as well. It was like the day magic died. I’ll never forget it. I don’t blame her, though. Furthermore, I don’t think we should banish the myth of Santa Claus (or the other holiday icons) because we fear a day such as the one I experienced.

    My own daughter confronted me at age nine. Her cousin, who is a couple of months younger revealed the truth and a few other choice facts about reproduction all in one visit. I was fortunate enough to have my daughter corner me while we were away from her younger brother. I was still blindsided (and SUPER PISSED at her cousin and for countless other reasons still am).

    My son, who is now 8 still vehemently believes. I even arranged to have one of those “portable North Pole” videos sent to my inbox for him. He was astonished. I highly recommend it (it’s free).

    Luckily, my daughter understands the importance of maintaining his belief, which is magical in and of itself!

  • gorillabuns says:

    we are here right now. i’m not sure what to say to my oldest who is talking to my youngest. Ummm… we are santa in our hearts? the season is about giving and expecting nothing in return? crap. it’s a total snowball effect.

    • IzzyMom says:

      Maybe start talking about the “original” Santa (St. Nicholas) and talk about how there are lots of people who fill in for him as Santa since he’s no longer alive and then from there maybe you can transition to telling them in your family Santa is really Daddy (or something like that). I’m not looking forward to dealing with this with my son, either *cringe*

      Good luck to you :)

  • Karie says:

    Thank you for posting this! I had been second-guessing my decision to always be clear that Santa is ‘fun to pretend.’ My five-year-old has (very loudly) informed everyone who asks if Santa is coming to his house that SANTA ISN’T REAL! which has made me seem like a large, green Grinch. And my husband, who was in on the decision all along, has been giving me crap for it, too. Traitor. So we have now had discussions about letting other people pretend in peace, and I’ve explained St. Nicholas, which cuts down on the problem a little, but it still has been weird to have been honest.

  • Miss Britt says:


    My son is 12 and has been kind of hinting for the last couple of years that he doesn’t believe in Santa. I’ve been giving the same kind of answers you have.

    In my experience, the truth kind of evolved as I grew older, and I’m hoping that’s what will happen for my kids, too.

  • Sugar Jones says:

    I can remember the day that I was sure Santa wasn’t real. It didn’t crush me, but I was sort of sad. I thought about the night I saw my step-dad sneaking the gifts under the tree. It made me feel loved that they cared enough to carry on the myth for me. After that, we talked about Santa in more of a wink-wink kind of way.

    As a mom, I haven’t really pushed the Santa thing. I got so used to the wink-wink Santa, that that’s what my kids’ ideas of Santa is now. We are sure not to spoil Santa for others, though. We kind of like talking about magical things with others. :)

  • JW Moxie says:

    Ditto what Britt said. For me, my realization about Santa progressed as my general maturity did. I don’t remember there ever being a big, Earth-cracking revelation that Santa didn’t really exist. I suspect that for my twins (age 10), it’s going along the same way. I think my daughter (Twin A) might be a bit on to us, but she is much like me in the sense that it didn’t spoil the magic. My son (Twin B) doesn’t seem to suspect a thing. He spent Christmas Eve checking NORAD every 30 minutes, then every 5 the closer to bed time we got. My 8 and 5 year old still believe in Santa.

    I know that wasn’t much help for your situation. My heart broke reading that your daughter feels like she ruined Christmas for herself. xo

  • We had to tell our son a couple of months ago…in 6th grade I was worried he would fight to the death with people in his school and I couldn’t make him more vulnerable than he already is. He said something like asking Santa for something and we were alone so I used it as a good opp. My girl, who is 10 asked me because a friend told her (trouble maker Lilly!) and I told her the truth, but I told them both that we have fun playing santa and because we believe in the spirit of goodness and giving that as long as they’d like to play along, we’d like to pretend. They both seemed satisfied with that but I learned this year that every adult that said the word “Santa” that our daughter would quietly lean over and say, “I know the truth.”

    I guess I was beating the kids to the punch, but I think you can either have her help you with the secret or talk about all the good things about giving in the Santa spirit that you all do…maybe turn it into a positive of the two of you doing a special giving project together – in secret honor of Santa.

  • Rachel says:

    I’m Jewish, and never believed in Santa Claus. I did, however, come home CRYING from a friend’s house because Santa visited her, and not me! My mom told me that Santa is an idea…a way of explaining the magical things that happen during the holiday season, and that as a little Jewish girl, my job was to not take away from that. By not telling people Santa wasn’t real, I was helping keep the magic. I took that VERY seriously. ;)

    • IzzyMom says:

      I’ve often wondered why my daughter’s BFF, who is Jewish, hasn’t totally spilled the beans before now. I know she knows the truth. I suspect her mom had a similar talk with her, for which I’m most grateful. Thanks for keeping the magic alive :) And I say that while knowing that I talked a lot about regretting the whole thing in my post. (It’s an odd place to be…loving and wanting to keep the magic of the Santa-based Christmas intact and at the same time, feeling terrible about all of it).

  • Debbie says:

    Hi izzymom,

    Just reading your blog for the first time so this reply is a little late. I have an 11 year old daughter and 7 year old son, and like you this year Lucy started asking if Santa was real, throwing her eyes up to heaven whenever I mentioned him, and when I produced the letter writing kit she snorted. Like you this was Ll done in the presence oh her younger brother who is such a big Santa fan. I told her that I believed in him, and that if you do t believe you don’t receive. That kep her quiet for another 24 hours, during which time I fretted about how to respond. I knew some of her school pals didn’t believe, and whilst I wanted to keep the magic alive, I didn’t want to make a fool of her. I rang a wise friend in Athens who has kids similar ages and asked her what would she do. nd she replied that her parents have never told her Santa doesn’t exist, even to this day and that she intends to do the same, and so do I. I know Lucy doesn’t believe, and I did say to her on one occasion that whatever she believes is up to her, but that it is an unwritten rule the world over that this topic is never discussed when younger children are in earshot. I will never forget the day I found out he didn’t exist. I was 7 and an older neighbour told me in our front garden. I hated her for it then and will never forgive her to this day. So my advice to you when it comes time to tell your son is don’t be the one to tell him. Keep fobbing it off. They end up feeling sorry for you thinkin you re the idiot but I can live with that, great video by the way,

    • IzzyMom says:

      Thanks for watching my video (really, thank you!!!) and for your comment on Santa. I love to hear how other people are dealing with or have dealt with the issue. I suppose I wouldn’t mind being thought an idiot if it helped preserve a little of that magic.

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