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How to tell the truth about Santa and keep the magic alive

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As a parent there are many choices to make. White lies to tell, stories to read, worlds to imagine and magic to create. Many points at which we have to make decisions to ensure our children’s happiness.

There are special childhood moments that simply must happen (insert your own family traditions here); for us it was the excitement of the Easter Bunny, the anticipation of the Tooth Fairy.

And, most importantly, Santa Claus (and his elves).

How to tell the truth about Santa and keep the magic alive

It is up to us to make our children’s childhoods magical. Their hopes, dreams and wishes are in our hands. We hold the key to unlocking their imaginations and their ability to believe and to have faith. We teach them to make their own magic. And we hope that they, in turn, will make magic for others.

So, what do you do when you realise that your child is getting too old to believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and Santa?

What do you do when they start to question their existence?

What do you do when your son is one of the youngest in his class and you are desperately afraid that someone else will tell him? And that they won’t do it kindly. And that you won’t be there.

So, when do you tell them? And, how do you tell your child there is no Santa?

Big decisions.

Our son is eight and half. This is what we chose to do.

On Sunday night our elf was due to make his return. We got our younger two into bed and asked our eight year old to come back downstairs for a grown up chat. We talked about some of the questions he had asked recently about Santa. We reminded him that Elfie would be coming back that night.

We explained that there are different kinds of magic. That there is a special kind of magic which parents create for their children at Christmas. We said that the responsibility for making that magic happen passes on to all those who are old enough to understand and to help.

We told him that there wasn’t one Santa, but many; that we are all Santa.

That Santa is the magic of Christmas; that he is the excitement and the love and the thought that goes into making Christmas magical for young children.

So, while Santa isn’t a ‘real’ person, he exists in that magic.

And clearly, mummy and daddy move the elf!

We explained how important it was that he kept this secret; that we felt he was grown up enough to be told and we were trusting him.

We asked if he wanted to help us make Christmas magical for his younger brother and sister; and if he’d like to help us hide the elf.

And, of course he said yes; in fact he was touchingly excited by the thought.

I’ve been conflicted on this one.

Part of me is desperate for him to stay little for as long as possible; to pretend that he isn’t growing up (into a sensible, thoughtful, responsible boy). But, a bigger part of me would have been devastated if another child had told him.

This was a difficult decision to make, an emotionally charged one. And not one we took lightly. What if we misjudged, what if he wasn’t ready for it; if he’d been upset?

Thankfully, he was as unsurprised and pragmatic about it as we had expected. But still, telling him was a scary moment.

So, while part of me is mourning the loss of this part of his childhood, another part of me is very proud of my grown up, sensible boy.

When did you decide to tell your child the truth? How old were they and what did you say? If you haven’t yet, what will make you do so?

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68 thoughts on “How to tell the truth about Santa and keep the magic alive”

  1. Such a beautiful way of explaining it to your 8 year old – still keeping the magic intact and inviting him to become a part of the magic. I love your explanation of what Santa is – still keeping the idea alive with a lot of the magic intact. I think you handled that transition beautifully :-)

    1. Thank you Louise, we really wanted to keep the magic element alive and it seems to have worked, which I am quite relieved about!

  2. Fantastic post!! The whole Santa experience was ruined by some school mates for me and I ran home to question my mother in tears. I think you handled this perfectly! Well done :-)

  3. We never presented the Santa narrative (nor the Easter bunny nor the tooth fairy) so never had to unravel these myths for our kids.

    1. There is a part of me that has often wondered if that would have been a better way to do it, to start from the premise of the magic of any season/event being created by ourselves, not an external entity. It was hard to find a way to, as you say, unravel the myth…

  4. Sara I have tears in my eyes after reading this! The way you have handled it is so thoughtful, and it sounds like your 8yo will be adjusting well to his new role as helper of creating magic. Gorgeous post xxx

    1. Thank you Renee, it was a conversation I was very nervous about having, but it went really well. And, he is so excited about getting involved in all the planning now, which is lovely!

  5. Really lovely I came across this post today because I’ve been chatting to my American friend who was telling me all about Elf on the shelf which is something I haven’t heard of before. I definitely need to start some traditions now Big C is 4. I particularly like this one. I’m only just embracing the magic at the moment so no words of advice about telling the truth. I only found out the truth last year and was distraught. Kidding of course.

  6. That must have been a difficult talk for you Sara, but I think you handled it very well and more importantly, your son took it in good spirit.

  7. My oldest was 9/10 when he discovered that Santa wasn’t real, I never told him as such he just realised. My daughter is now 8 and often asks the questions, I’m hoping she will believe for this year at least x

    1. Yes, the questions that our 8yo was asking made it clear that he knew, he just wasn’t quite ready to say so, he was completely unsurprised by our revelations!

  8. Ooh the thought of having to do this! Weirdly I can’t remember when I found out or how or what difference it made to me. I love the way you found to explain it though – I think this is a bit like believing that God is not an old man with a white beard sitting in the sky but is, you know, The Color Purple (love that book) and every beautiful and amazing thing in nature. There is magic in the world – it’s just not the way we might at first imagine it. Thanks so much for linking this up with The Truth about.. I think this will help other parents too Xx #thetruthabout

    1. I think that’s absolutely it, there is magic, we just need to look in the right place for it, and sometimes we make the magic.

  9. I love the way you dealt with this Sara. It’s such a tough choice to make isn’t it? I don’t believe there is a right or a wrong way though, it’s different with every child. I also don’t think that any of our kids will hold this against us when they are adults – there will be plenty of other things! I remember having to own up to my middle child about the tooth fairy because I forgot twice in a row and then she found the tooth on my bedside table. She was distraught and I felt awful. She wasn’t ready but she made me look her in the eye and tell her the truth. I couldn’t lie after that :( We told my boy last year on christmas day, after everything was over. He had asked so many questions. I felt sad but this year, I feel relieved that there is no pretence to keep up! I am sure your boy will love making it fun and exciting for the littlees. x x

    1. Thank you Suzanne. It was exactly your Tooth Fairy experience that I really wanted to avoid, although he took it so well that I think he really did already know, he was asking all the questions in an attempt to get us to tell him. I’m sad, but also relieved that we were able to do it how we had hoped to.

  10. This will be our first Christmas, so we have a long way to go until explaining Santa, but we will try and preserve the magic for as long as possible :) I think it all depends on how much families ”care” to create an atmosphere and maintain the traditions. We definitely love everything about the holiday!

    1. Oh, we kept it going for as long as it felt right to – it’s hard to beat the magic of Christmas :) And hopefully we can continue it with him, just in a different way x

  11. I think it is amazing how the older ones will keep the secret and the magic for the younger ones. My eldest use to get a personalised letter every year for her brother ( 6 years younger) and he was heartbroken when he found out the truth.
    I worry because Fifi started secondary school this year and still believes, nice to keep the magic going but shame she may well be ridiculed. I would tell her but mum says no, so who am I to disagree?

    1. Absolutely, our 8yo is doing a fantastic job of playing along with the elf and keeping the excitement going for his little brother and sister. And, I have to agree with you about Fifi, I would worry too x

  12. Oh Sara, you have handled that one so beautifully! I found out about Father Christmas the hard way when I was 9, at school, my friends laughing at me because I still believed and it is not a nice memory. Your little one will love being in charge of the Elf and having a grown up secret to keep. x

  13. Michelle Reeves (@bodfortea)

    Awwww *sniff* I’m coming over all emotional reading this! My 5 year old is already asking questions about whether Santa is real but when our Elfy arrived this weekend the joy and wonder that spread across her face tells me that she still WANTS to believe. That said I am bookmarking this Sara because it is THE most perfect way to explain Santa and the magic of Christmas to children that I’ve ever heard. Thank you for sharing x

  14. Great way of telling of him. My second son googled “is Santa real?” and found out for himself when he was in second grade. :) All of the rest of mine just naturally stopped believing around 8 or 9 years old. There are some older children that we know that still believe and I do think parents should think about saying something when most of the kids in their child’s class no longer believe to avoid teasing and hurt feelings.

    1. I agree, and I felt that 8/9 was the right age to tell him the truth, especially as he was asking such leading questions. And, I suspect we weren’t far from him googling it too x

  15. This is a tough situation, I know that many of my six year old’s friends don’t believe in Santa or the tooth fairy any more but my daughter hasn’t said she doesn’t. We’re hoping to string out the magic for a bit longer. She believes in the two little elves who are bringing us a book a day during Advent although she did wonder today how they managed to get to the library to borrow today’s book. We’ll keep the magic going for as long as we can, who knows how long that will be! I love the way that you told your son he could help with the Christmas magic :)

  16. Joanna @mumbalance

    That’s a very brave decision! But it seems the right one. My little boy is only 16 months, so he doesn’t really know that Santa exists. I haven’t thought of the moment we will have to break it to him that he’s not real…
    #mbpw

    1. You’ve got a good few years left before you need to worry about it :) And, you’ll know when the time is right x

  17. Ahh Sara you did such a great job telling him and explaining it all to him too. I must remember this when it’s time to tell Buba. You are such a great mommy. I can’t say what’s the best age but I think you did the right thing. I think it should always come from the parent not the mean kids at school or rather my mean older brothers who at 3 1/2 told me there was no santa or easter bunny or toothfairy all in one breath. I can’t remember believing in any of them. But saying that it’s great for him to be involved in hiding the elf and sharing the magic with the adults! Great idea. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. Happy Holidays #sharewithme

  18. I love this! I didn’t tell my kids, I just let them work it out! The boys haven’t given it away for my daughter and I’m not sure if she ‘knows’ or not – she’s 8 and a half too.

    1. I think our son was at the working it out point too, so I’m glad we caught it and were the ones to tell him. We’ve managed to extend the magic a bit longer :)

  19. Loved your explanation, so thoughtful is mature beyond his years and is already questioning why there are so many santas etc at nearly 5-not sure we have long left, maybe another year. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts

    1. We explained that all the Santas that you see in shops etc. are helping Santa out because he’s too busy to visit everywhere, he’s getting all the presents ready :)

  20. I love this and I’m totally pinching it. I know that my 10 year old no longer believes but she refuses to admit it. I wonder whether it is because she think she’ll miss out, or just because she prefers Christmas to be magical? Now she has 3 younger siblings I am going to entrust her with the secret and get her to help me, I know she’ll love that. Thank you so much for sharing! x x x

  21. Wow, that was well-handled. I am really worried about the whole thing and am kind of standing on the other side of it: my son has just started reception and is being introduced to the Santa mythology and I find that I am reluctant to enter into the magic. Partly because I kind of resent Santa for pushing my Dutch Sinterklaas tradition out of my life, but also because I am worried that if I tell too many ‘lies’ about Santa (an invisible benefactor) that later on my kids will doubt what I tell them about God as well (another invisible benefactor). I don’t really want to set myself up as an unreliable source of information about invisible stuff. But then I also love a bit of mystery and magic in December. Kind of sitting on the fence and seeing what he comes home with! I will definitely remember your very sensitive way of breaking the news though, that is very good and might help.

    1. A very late response to this, December/January were a bit rubbish for us!

      I do think it’s a tricky one, and everyone needs to find their own comfort point in terms of magic versus ‘lies’ to their children, up front. I personally like the magic and wonder and as long as the ‘truth’ is then handled carefully, I think it’s fine. But, I do also think it depends on the child. I can also understand religious beliefs affecting the stories and myths that you encourage too. A friend commented on this post that they had chosen never to present the Santa narrative, so never had to unravel it later, and there is something to be said for this. It is very hard to do when you’re surrounded by it and all their friends ‘believe’ though… Not an easy one at all!

  22. This is exactly what I am planning to do with big man! I don’t think he doubts yet – his friends are the younger ones and still believe – but I am expecting it next year and then I am definitely going to get out elf back out. He will be much better than me at doing it anyway xx

  23. It sounds to me like you dealt with this perfectly – you’ve actually just put into words pretty much exactly how I feel about Christmas but have never quite vocalised before! We’re at the other end of this journey with Arthur – he’s just beginning to believe – but I love the idea that as he grows he just becomes part of the magic himself… Xx

  24. My daughter is 8. She still believes. She thinks all the Santas that visit schools and shopping malls are fake but that the real one visits on Christmas eve. If other children say he’s not real, she just tells them to shut up because she thinks he is! I’m going to go along with it for as long as she believes, but I fear this year will be the last.

  25. Aw, this is such a lovely post, it made me feel really emotional! It sounds like you handled the situation perfectly, whilst keeping the magic of Christmas. Our little one is only coming up to 3, so we have a while to worry about this! But I will pin this for the future, because it’s such a perfect way to handle the Santa story. x

  26. ‘There is a special kind of magic that parents create for their children. And we hope that they make magic for others’. That sums it up perfectly for me. Very mature and well-thought out way of explaining the truth! We’re Indians recently moved to UK and this will be our 7 month old baby’s first Christmas. Your post shows how to deal with questions when they arise in future!

  27. This was an absolutely beautiful post. You’re lucky to have such a sensible boy in your hands. I’m sure he’ll help make that Christmas magic alive for his two siblings. I understand the difficult decision to involve him with the Santa and Elf duties. I would feel the same way. Like you, there’s always going to be a part of me that will be torn between keeping my child young, and having him/her grow. But such as the life of a parent, right? There’s always that duality we must learn to live with.

    Thank you for sharing this post, Sara. I’ll definitely keep this conversation in mind when my daughter starts inquiring about Santa and his trusty elf.

  28. Just don’t lie to your kids? Tell them about st Nicholas if you want but Christmas isn’t about a fat man giving you everything you desire. Its up to us what we teach our children.

  29. My oldest is 5, so I may have another couple of years before she really figures it out but I’m guessing that she’ll be as unsurprised as your son. She’s never been easy to fool. At 3 we took her to a park where some women were dressed, quite convincingly, as Disney princesses. She was excited to meet them and the first one to greet her kneeled down and said, “Hi, I’m Elsa”, My blunt girl said, “No you’re not, you’re just wearing her dress. It’s very pretty.” And while she wasn’t fooled she enjoyed the visit and got her picture taken with all of them. This year, I took her to see Santa for the first time since she was a baby. As we stood in line she pulls my ear down and whispers, “That’s not Santa. That’s a guy in a costume, but if I say that really loud I’ll ruin it for the other kids.” Hmm, maybe she’ll be ready for the truth next year?

  30. I’ve read this post again (which I think is great, btw) now that my girl has just turned 9yo.
    I think your approach and words are wise & bringing your oldest boy into the ‘magic’ of Christmas is such a good idea.
    We haven’t had any questions asked as yet, but I fear they’re on their way!
    xx

    1. Sara | mumturnedmom

      It’s so sad when you realise that it’s only a matter of time! We’ve had fun including my eldest though, and he likes being ‘in on it’ :) Hope you had a wonderful Christmas x

  31. I never got the chance to try this with my daughter but I think it’s great ino I would have much rather told her myself . Unfortunately an older boy told my 6year old daughter that santa didn’t exist I didn’t know how to react then just tonight she said the elf is just a teddy and I move it every night I keep saying to myself omg she is only 6.. wish more parents took ur post on bored and explain to there children not to ruin it for younger kids! Shattered to say the least.

    1. Sara | mumturnedmom

      I’m so sorry that happened. Children can be thoughtless, and it’s such a shame when it spoils things for youngers kids. My 7yo still believes, and it’s been lovely watching him and his little sister this year. But, I suspect it’s the last year for him, especially as I don’t want someone else to tell him first! I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas despite this, and best wishes for the New Year x

  32. What a lovely way of explaining it. I am going to have to do this for my oldest after this Christmas. It is going to be so tough, but I do like this way. Thanks for sharing xx

  33. What a lovely way of explaining it. I am going to have to do this for my oldest after this Christmas. It is going to be so tough, but I do like this way. Thanks for sharing xx

  34. How about telling your child the truth to start with… Why are some lies ok and others are not. The wonderment of Christ birth should and is enough. Who is santa????????? research him you might be surprised

    1. Sara | mumturnedmom

      Thanks for your comment, I always think it’s good to see all sides to everything. We chose to incorporate the magic of a non-religious Christmas into our traditions, but I know that isn’t for everyone, and I respect that.

  35. This is so great! My youngest two still believe but for my older two we had a similar discussion about the Christmas spirit in each of us. Did you also discuss Easter bunny and tooth fairy at the same time?

    1. Sara | mumturnedmom

      Apologies for the super later reply to this! We did include the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Elf on the Shelf as part of the same over all discussion. This Christmas it was my younger son’s turn to be included in the ‘being Santa’ magic and he loved it! Only our youngest left now!

  36. We never told our children but they figured it out on their own.however when they hinted that Santa wasn’t real I always reminded them that in this house we believed in Santa. As they became adults and small children would be around and aske them if they believe in Santa they always said yes……they still say yes at ages 45-28 .they know about the magic of the season and do not ruin it for anyone!

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