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Here comes Santa Claus

By Alice Bradley

As a child I was terrified of Santa. I had nightmares: a red-gloved hand clawing at my window, glass breaking downstairs while I hid under my bed. Who wouldn’t be scared of this creepy, omniscient stranger who was judging, ever judging? At the mall, he would demand that I sit on his lap and tell him my secrets. Then, once a year, one fateful night, he would break into our house. Sure, there were presents at the end of the ordeal, but who could say if it would end there? Would he then sneak upstairs and kill us all? I already knew my parents were buying some of the gifts, so in my mind, Santa was a psychotic intruder who took my peace of mind in exchange for a couple of trinkets.

I was a strange and anxious child.

Eventually, to my great relief, I found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real and that if someone was breaking into my house, I could call the police and not just offer him some cookies and listen to his giant scary laugh. Then a year later, Henry was born. (See what I did there!)And when Henry became old enough to appreciate the magic and wonder of the Christmas season, did I clue him in to the cold, hard facts? Did I protect him from the nightmare of St. Nick?

Of course I didn’t.

In my defense, I would (probably) give him the full scoop if the idea of Santa scared him as much (even a little bit as much) as it did me. Apparently he’s more secure than I ever was, and the idea of a jolly old guy a-tumblin’ down our chimney fills him with delight, not paralyzing terror. He thinks Santa Claus is his ally. He doesn’t want to sit on his lap, though, and that’s okay by me.

But really, how could I tell him the truth? First of all, if you tell a five-year-old that Santa doesn’t exist, you create the Preschool Party Pooper of the Year. He would bring all of his classmates to tears with his brutal arsenal of facts. I can imagine getting the call from his teachers. “Please pick up Henry, and don’t bring him back until after the holidays. He’s a a total buzzkill.” Playdates would be canceled. Numbers would be changed. I’m just looking out for him, is all.

So I continue to weave Santa stories, much to his delight, and hope that he doesn’t hate me for it someday. Fortunately, psychologists say he’s not being warped. (That is, at least not with this.) According to child psychologist Bruce Henderson of Western Carolina University, “Santa is just one of the many fantasy figures that exists in a preschooler’s world…Adults might just be wasting time trying to get a child at that age to give up on such a warm and fuzzy character to accept adult realities.” (Obviously they didn’t know the Santa who stalked me in the seventies.)

But enough about me. What do you tell your children? Are you for or against the Santa story?

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Erin

    December 21, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    My sister’s still pissed, 20+ years later, I told her Santa wasn’t real. It’s not an approach I really advise, even to concerned older sisters.

  • Zoot

    December 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    I didn’t do the SANTA thing with my oldest because I was poor and it was impossible to explain why he couldn’t really just ask for anything and get it. As he got older and I was a single Mom, I had to actually do my Christmas shopping with him since I couldnt leave him with anyone, so trying to find a way to hide that would have been too difficult. In other words? I was too lazy to teach him about Santa.
    But, the man I married when my son was 8? Was APPALLED that I didn’t teach that legend and he looks at the years he believe in Santa as some of the best in his life. So, with our daughter? She’s learning about Santa.

  • kate

    December 21, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    My in-laws say that ALL presents come from Santa and I hate that. With my family (and therefore with my daughter), kids get one biggish present from Santa and the rest are from the relatives. I hate that with my in-laws it’s like nobody did anything nice for each other. It’s all from pere noel. And you have to actually ask who gave you something if you want to know. I think it’s nicer to know that your family gave you things and thought about you and what you might like. I don’t think that it’s possible to avoid the Santa trap in North America. I read a blog post one time where a woman said she didn’t teach her kid about Santa and had trained them to not tell other kids, but it seems awful hard and complicated.

  • braine

    December 21, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    We sort of passively mention Santa to our five year old, and how he brings presents and all. I think sometimes we might say “Santa” with our tone…which is why I was kind of proud, actually, when I mentioned the jolly old elf to the kid a couple of weeks ago and he said “well, Santa’s not real.” If he ever corners me, I’m not going to lie.

  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    December 21, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Santa’s fun! We don’t perpetuate the myth beyond the point where the child starts doubting us, but we do insist on the older ones keeping the magic alive for the younger ones. Santa doesn’t bring much at our house – he doesn’t have to, anything from him is magical. Usually the kids get a candy cane and an orange (a North Pole orange!) (okay, my kids aren’t too bright) and one small, cheap toy (made by elves, of course) in their stockings. They just enjoy the make-believe of it all. Read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for a good argument for “lying” to your kids and letting them believe in things that aren’t true.
    And my youngest does seem to be worrying a bit about the bearded stranger. Check out for the details.

  • Chelsea

    December 21, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    We still haven’t decided yet. Our son only just turned two. We haven’t told him about santa this year and I don’t know that we ever will. Partly just laziness, part that we aren’t religious so Christmas isn’t a big deal anyway, and part that the idea bugs my husband.

  • Sonja

    December 21, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    I was fully prepared to indoctrinate my children with the story of Santa. I remember believing in Santa, and it was… to be corny… a magical time in my life. But now that I have a child, a two year old, who is primed and ready to be indoctrinated, I just haven’t done it. I can’t bring myself to, well, tell her this lie. She doesn’t know anything about Santa AT ALL. I guess she will by next year. At this point, I suppose that I’ll make up some bullshit about Santa being the “spirit of Christmas” or some other such thing. I don’t think Santa will be bringing any presents though. Hmm, we’ll see.

  • susan

    December 21, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Well, my daughter is only three so maybe I haven’t been properly put to the test, yet, and she definitely recognizes the Santa character, I guess they just soak that up in the ambient atmosphere, but honestly, I’m a little confused by the whole Santa myth thing. Childhood is a magical time and the holidays are a particularly magical time for all of us because we are open to believing things that don’t often seem realistic. Things like how wonderful people are, how generous we can be, and what a wonderful life it really is. I think these are wonderful lessons to help our kids learn and I hope that they (and all of us, really) can remember them all year long. Why spoil all this with a lie? I tell my daughter about the Santa story just like every other story we read: isn’t this an interesting idea? Would you like to do something like this? How wonderful to have a holiday that’s all about being generous to the people you love. I think the group lie about Santa actually makes it harder to learn these lessons. (And I’m not a negative person, but when I look around at the overwhelming consumerism of our culture, I can’t see that believing in Santa really did the current adult generation much good.)

  • susan

    December 21, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    Whoops, forgot to mention- I’m not suggesting that we need to burst any kid’s Santa bubble and try to convince them of the sad reality. I’m just saying it would be nice to avoid the whole lie in the first place. That bubbles going to burst some time, you know.

  • ozma

    December 21, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    Santa never thrilled me all that much. It was the flying reindeer I was into. That was the big traumatic letdown. That reindeer can’t fly.

  • Liz

    December 22, 2007 at 12:08 am

    I am so torn about this. I was raised to believe Santa was a fairy tale, and that my parents & siblings bought my presents – Christmas still felt incredibly magical. So I didn’t think I’d raise my daughter to believe in him, for one main reason: I fear(ed) that if she found out someday that I lied to her about Santa, she’d doubt all the theology I’d taught her about GOD. Is this too much of a leap? I’ve never heard of anyone else having this particular worry.
    My dilemma, now that she’s four, is that other kids/adults have told her all about Santa, so she’s bought it hook-line-and-sinker, without any input from me. And she’s asking all kinds of very pointed questions. So at this point my choice is: be the UNFORGIVABLY CRUEL mom who tells her the truth, or play along and hope she doesn’t then doubt the veracity of my other “stories.” So far I’m chickening out and saying, “Ask your father.” Then he says, “That’s a good question. Let’s look it up when we get home.” Then she forgets before we get home.

  • Barbara

    December 22, 2007 at 2:46 am

    Charlie freaked out. Utterly. He thought “Claus” meant “claws” – no matter how we tried to break it down for him. Hey, YOU try explaining a homonym to a three-year-old. He refused to even entertain the idea of some guy, a stranger with huge snapping crab claws, sneaking into our house to do God knows what. No way.
    A week before Christmas, he saw some poor rent-a-Santa outside an apartment complex and was agog. “Santa No-Claws!” he yelled. “Santa has hands!”
    And then he asked for a Wii. The end.

  • Anna

    December 22, 2007 at 11:09 am

    If you don’t want your child to believe in Santa, fine. Just make sure your child won’t spoil it for others. Christmas was a wonderful time when I was little. We are lying away to both our children in the hope we can recreat the magic for them.

  • Mauigirl

    December 22, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    I can identify with this. I was never too keen on Santa myself; I have a vague recollection of my parents dragging me down to a Macy’s or Bambergers somewhere (maybe in Newark for all I know; this was the 50’s) and trying to get me to sit on his lap, and me crying hysterically.
    I also think I never really bought into it. I remember noting that “Santa’s” handwriting was JUST LIKE MY MOTHER’s. An amazing coincidence.
    I have no recollection of the big day when I suddenly found out there was no Santa. I think I always understood the deal.
    I also was terrified after reading Alice in Wonderland (sorry, Alice!) and seeing the Wizard of Oz (those flying monkeys – ewww! I think to this day it’s why I’m not fond of monkeys).
    I was a weird kid.

  • Kristen

    December 22, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    I was a terribly perceptive child. I stopped believing in Santa when I was 4-years-old. Why do you ask? Because he used the exact same wrapping paper as my mother. I cornered her away from my sister and asked her if he was real, then told her why I didn’t think he was real. She hemmed and hawed, but finally confirmed that he was just an idea. I never did mention it to any other kids though.
    I have learned from the mistakes of my mother and buy one kind of wrapping paper that is used for all the Santa gifts. Although my youngest (3-years-old) is already starting to question Santa…

  • Marcy

    December 22, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Hubby and I won’t do the whole santa thing with our kids. Sure, we’ll talk about santa, but we decided we’ll treat him more like a character in a story, part of christmas traditions, instead of a real-live person that comes to your house. We just don’t see the point of doing the whole “Santa is real!!” deal only to then tell them later that we lied to them.
    My one big worry though is that he’ll be the kid to ruin it for everyone else. =(

  • Hatchet

    December 22, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    My MIL owns a toy shop (Not as great as it sounds: we’re drowning in toys!), and my daughter was fully aware of where ALL presents came from: Grammy’s shop, so we didn’t even mention Santa for my 6 year old’s first 3 Xmases. Last year, however, she was really into the Santa thing after getting the lowdown in kindergarten, so I decided to go with the flow.
    I purchased special gold wrapping paper and waited until she was well asleep before the 3 special presents came out. We don’t make all presents from Santa, just a few. I also like to pick out a present for the whole family from Santa that my husband doesn’t know about.

  • BeLinda

    December 22, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Santa is sort of like someone else’s Grandpa around here. He’s nice and all but he doesn’t come to our family gatherings because he’s not part of our celebrations. My kids are WELL TRAINED at not spoiling it for others and understand that some people really like to pretend that Santa is real and we don’t want to ruin it for them. We like to take some of the materialism out of it by being honest. Mom and Dad do the present thing- therefore you have to be somewhat reasonable about what you want. And it makes it easier to understand that some kids still don’t get anything and we need to be more generous to them too.
    Childhood can be full of wonder and love without a lie. Of course, we also got rid of our tv so what do we know.

  • FiestyKel

    December 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    My 4 yo son is sort of into santa, but not desperately. He likes the ides, we go with it.
    Can I admit to feeling a bit… patronised by the non Santa believing lot? The parents teach them its something some like to believe is real… seems patronising to me.
    Believe in magic. Magic and childhood innocence disappear too fast as it is, I wont be the one to make it leave faster for my boy.

  • Susan

    December 23, 2007 at 9:27 am

    Our kids are grown now, with children of their own. But when they were small we played the Santa game, told them of course they could stay up all night waiting for him, but we had to turn out the lights and stay really quiet so they could hear him. Didn’t take long before they were asleep and we carried them off to bed.
    We wrapped only a few gifts from Santa for each of them, using the same paper with a Santa motif. That paper wasn’t used for anything else, and it was easier to get rid of it than have them find it. To this day, 40+ years later, I still can’t wrap anything for the family from us, even for the grandchildren, in Santa paper. Thank goodness there is lots of other nice giftwrap to use.

  • amanda

    December 23, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    My parents were fundamentalists Christians and we were not allowed to believe in Santa… the line we get from my parents is that during the Santa years my parents were teaching us not to lie and that they would’ve felt hypocritical lying about Santa to us. My cousins and friends DID believe and I was threatened with spankings if I should break the news to them. So I remember my grandmother forever asking me what Santa was brining me for Christmas and being terrified about how to answer… apparently Grandma didn’t know Santa wasn’t real either.
    The other thing I remember is feeling like I was missing something. When I wasn’t feeling superior to all the other kids I remember thinking I was being left out of all the fun.
    For what that’s worth.

  • amanda

    December 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    PS – I don’t have kids of my own yet, but when I do I fully plan to let them believe the myth. And even encourage it, depending on their personalities. I agree with the comments about consumerism, but I think that I can teach my kids about consuming, material things, giving to the less fortunate all WHILE allowing them the space for Santa.
    Moderation is everything.

  • Anne

    December 23, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    I’m with FiestyKel, feeling a bit patronized. I think the excitement and thrill and magic of the time should be encouraged, and if that’s with the help of the guy in the red suit, fine by me.

  • Robin

    December 23, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    My oldest son is 12 and my youngest just turned 8 on December 21. The oldest has always been really good about keeping the Santa myth alive, I think because it made Christmas more fun. This year is the first Christmas that my 8-year-old has stopped believing. My husband wanted to try to convince him otherwise for as long as possible, but to me, there is a little bit of a loss of dignity on all parts when parents try this. I say, let your kids take the lead in deciding when to quit believing. I think eventually their peers at school clue them in.

  • kym b

    December 23, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    We totally do the Santa thing with out 6, 4 and 2-year olds. Just stockings filled (with toothbrushes and bath stuff) and one nice gift. I love the magic and excitement that Santa brings to the holidays for the kids. They have to learn the harsh realities of life way too early anymore. Mine will believe for as long as they like.

  • mrsjcatalano

    December 24, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    When I was 7 and I started to hear that perhaps Santa was NOT, in fact, the one that brought me my presents, I had horrifying visions of a future where I entrusted him to provide gifts for all of my children who woke up Christmas morning only to find nothing under their tree! I finally forced my mother to admit that parents buy the presents. I still, however, do not know for certain that Santa is not real, and neither does anyone else, so that is one thing I look forward to sharing with my children no matter how warped they become as a result.

  • goodsandwich

    December 25, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Heck, my kid apparently thinks Elmo and all the Blue’s Clues cast are real — he wants Shovel and Pail to come over for a playdate — so I’m not really worried about the Santa thing. He’s just turned 3 so I’m not really sure what he believes about it. We do Xmas in 3 places — home, my folks’ house, and my husband’s folks’ house too — and he’s fond of saying “Thank you” right now, so he enjoyed thanking everyone for gifts and I don’t think he even gets it that Santa might be considered responsible for some of them.
    We’ve been too lazy to weave the story for him, but I suspect he will think Santa is real by next year and that’s probably OK for us. (Why not wrap one present up from Santa?) I don’t remember ever really buying it as a kid, but my sister, whose temperament is a LOT like my son’s was totally into it. I don’t remember any particular strictures about “don’t tell other children” either. Xmas was about having a good time, most of the presents were really from family, I don’t remember any familial hand-wringing, and luckily, no one was scared about a break-in (although I could totally see my son doing that — right now he’s worried that condors will fly into our house at night for some reason . . .)

  • Val

    December 26, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Christmas and Santa was such a great time for us, and we wanted that for our kids. Although our kids are still young, our three year old finally got the idea of Santa this year. To see her face Christmas morning trying to figure out how Santa got the presents in the house was just magical! We will continue to hide the presents and let them “believe” for as long as we can….and sometimes Santa “calls” to see how the kids are behaving….which definitely works on the discipline end!

  • cooler*doula

    December 26, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not alone in having a 2 almost 3-year-old who does not have the Christmas spiel down.
    I’m undecided about what to do for next year… I mean, people keep talking about the magic of Christmas – Santa brings gifts – the magic of consumerism? I dunno.
    I do not have very strong recollections of how much I believed as a kid, and I certainly don’t remember being upset when I found it he wasn’t real…
    Interesting that the believers feel patronized by the non-believing set… I guess it would be fair to counter that the non-believers might not appreciate the “Well YOUR kid better not be the one to ruin it for my kid” line of discourse.

  • Johnna

    December 26, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    That was a hard one for me too at first. But I think it just happened as our first got older. Now, at 4.5 and 2, it really was fun putting out the cookies and milk with them. We just don’t make a huge deal about it, and we try not to overindulge with toys. I guess there is no harm in innocently believing for a little while…

  • Mom101

    December 26, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I realize now that we absolutely totally fudged the legend of Santa and it won’t take long for Thalia to figure out that it makes NO sense that Santa brought the gifts, even thought they were signed “love mommy and daddy.” Or that Santa comes down the chimney when we don’t have a chimney. Or that he gives all the children toys, while we’re busy collecting toys for kids who don’t have any toys.
    Thank goodness for two year olds and their gullibility. I need a few more years to work out the kinks in the story.

  • caramama

    December 27, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Liz: You mentioned worrying if the kids finding out that Santa isn’t real would make them wonder if God was real. My niece was devastated when she found out that Santa wasn’t real a few years ago (discovered the special paper in her mom’s closet). We talked about this year (she is now 13), and she told me that when she found out that Santa wasn’t real, she started wondering if God wasn’t real. So it can happen, although now she definitely believes in God.
    She is still disappointed about Santa not being real and said she would rather have not had her parents tell her that he was real. She wasn’t upset that they “lied” to her, as she didn’t view it as a real lie. But she was so upset that he simply wasn’t real.
    This has colored how I feel about telling my daughter about Santa. I think when she is old enough to understand it at all, we are going to call it a story like Frosty the Snowman is a story. Is/was he real? Maybe. Is/was Frosty? Maybe. I’m not sure if this will work, but I hope to find a balance somewhere in the middle. If that is possible.

  • Veronica Mitchell

    December 28, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    We grew up knowing Santa was pretend, so I tell my girls the same thing. The only lie I tell is “But Grammie believes he’s real, so don’t tell her or she’ll get upset.”.

  • cristeta1003

    January 1, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    I HATE the santa story!! Wrong for sooo many reasons.
    The horrible commercialism he has caused/kids taught that they can ask for anything and get it/”He sees you when you’re sleeping” only God does that, and it sets Santa up like God/the real reason for christmas is hard enough to swallow, so I don’t ever want kids to think, “well, they lied about santa, so I’m not going for the baby Jesus story.”/I don’t lie to my kids. My 2 sons were told the truth, and told not to tell any friends/cousins who might believe in him. They still got stockings, but they knew the presents were from mom and dad, and they knew who to thank. I’m not a religious nut, but SANTA and SATAN have the same letters in them…I’m just saying.

  • Sunset~Lover

    January 4, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I don’t have any kids, but a few of my friends do. One of them have a 2 year old boy who, this year, learned about “Elf.” Apparently it’s a new thing going around – it looks like it’s a toy from the 50s and they place him around the house in different spots each day. Their son thinks he changes locations every day on his own. The Elf reports back to Santa each night on how he’s doing…if he ate his veggies, listened to mommy and daddy, etc. If he didn’t do something, he tells santa. If he listened, he tells santa. It has been a great tool for the parents to help him obey rules. I was amazed. And whenever I have kids. I’m buying them an Elf.
    I did ask them if they’re going to do this all next year. They said maybe every couple of weeks he’ll “pop in” to see how their son is doing to report back to Santa. Hope he makes the Nice list again!