How to Explain Santa to a Child

What if someone at school tells your child Santa isn’t real? What do you say?  What if your child finds the hidden presents (the Santa Claus gifts) and asks you point-blank – how do you respond? What if you have younger children and your older child starts expressing doubt or repeating what a friend said on the playground about Santa – how do you talk about Santa with children of different ages?

I found this explanation quite lovely:

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Yes, Santa Does Really Exist

by Leigh Wear

When children reach the age they begin to view the world with a suspicious eye and are exposed to friends who share everything, parents start to wonder “When should we reveal the Santa Claus secret?” It is a terrible dilemma. We desperately want to hold on to those childhood Christmases filled with anticipation of Santa’s delivery, but we know at some point it must come to an end. When my son began asking enough questions that I knew he was trying to put pieces of the puzzle together, it was time to explain. I wanted to be the one who clarified how this huge part of his childhood was not exactly what he was led to believe. I was not going to wait for a classmate to tell him and break his heart.
He was ten years old and it was early November. I wanted to tell him before the holiday excitement really got started. We sat alone on the sofa and I looked into my son’s innocent dark brown eyes. I told him that we needed to have a talk about Santa Claus. He stared at me with eagerness. I took a deep breath and started the speech I had carefully crafted.

“I bet you have been hearing that there is no such thing as Santa Claus.”

His expression said it all; he was having doubts.

I continued, “Well, the truth is Santa Claus is real, but it is different than what you have thought as a child. Santa Claus is a symbol for generosity and love. It is that simple. When kids aren’t old enough to understand symbols or feelings, grown-ups have to explain it to them in a way that lets them see and touch something. It’s the only way they know it exists. You are old enough now that you can comprehend that something can still be real even if you can’t see or touch it. And this means you are old enough to really understand just how real Santa Claus is. Only when children have reached your level can they be told that Santa really isn’t a white-bearded man in a red suit with a sled and reindeer. Instead, he isn’t someone or something you can see or touch at all; Santa Claus is far more extraordinary. It is a way for people to be loving and generous without getting credit for it. When people do things for others without thinking about themselves, it is Santa Claus.”

My son had not said one word, but looked intrigued. This was a lot of information for a ten year old boy. Now, I had to ensure he would not share our conversation with his younger brother or classmates.

“But, the grown-up understanding of Santa is a very special secret and only parents can decide when their child is ready to understand that Santa isn’t a real man who lives at the North Pole, so it isn’t fair for anyone but a parent to tell this special secret. And once you know this special secret, you must help the other parents by (wink) going along with the story so that their kids can have those special moments in their childhood like you did. Only a parent decides when to tell. ”

“Now that you are in on the secret and know that Santa Claus is really an idea and not an actual human being, will you help me be Santa Claus this year? I have the name of a boy whose parents don’t have enough money to buy him the gifts that he wants and we need to help them. His name is John and he is 5 years old. Will you help me buy his gifts? Will you be part of Santa Claus?”

My son beamed. He was thrilled to be part of an adult secret and even more excited to participate in the act of generosity.

He has remained faithful to his pledge to keep the adult secret. This year I will give my youngest the same explanation. It will be more difficult as it will mean no one will wait excitedly for the tangible Santa at our house. There won’t be milk and cookies left out on Christmas Eve. But, I will find comfort in knowing that my growing sons will always believe in Santa and so shall I.

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Note: This was originally posted here on December 7, 2012.  Leigh Wear’s piece was online at that time but does not appear to be now, apart from the Wayback Machine’s archive of my 2012 Santa post.

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