Believing In Santa Claus….Or Not

by admin on December 19, 2013

This particular story occurred about 8 years ago. My daughter “Allie” was about 4, and was excitedly discussing at an extended family dinner what she had asked Santa Claus for.  My husband’s brother “Mark” jumped into the conversation, asking some pointed questions about what she had said. It quickly became clear, to our utter disbelief and horror, that Mark was trying clue Allie in to the fact that her parents were in fact Santa Claus.  For example, “Well, don’t you find it strange that Santa Claus uses the same wrapping paper as your parents?” and “Don’t you think it’s pretty impossible that Santa Claus is able to get to ALL those houses in one night?” My husband and I were livid, but were able to hold it together long enough to refute his not-so-subtle points, put a stop to his line of questioning and quickly change the subject.

Turns out, Mark (who was childless at the time) was against children believing in Santa Claus. He felt it was misleading and cruel when the child found out the truth. So, he felt it was his place to fill Allie in. I might add he completely blindsided us with this. We had no idea he felt this way, nor did he ever discuss our decision with us. I had some choice words for him later in the evening when Allie was out of earshot.

Fast forward several years…My sister and Mark now have 3 beautiful little girls. They changed their tune about Santa Claus, and all of their children look forward to Santa coming each Christmas. The mature side of me has chosen to take the high road and not bring this particular incident up to him now and point out the irony, tempting as that is! Although, I must admit part of me (OK, a large part!) would like an apology, which was never forthcoming.

I believe every parent has the right to raise their children in whatever traditions they see fit. I do understand his point completely, and raising your children to not believe in Santa is certainly a viable option, but don’t tell me how I should or shouldn’t raise my own children! 1229-11

I raised my children to not believe in Santa Claus and I experienced the reverse with people trying to sabotage this by insisting to my children that Santa Claus was real.   So, disrespecting other parents’ choices does go both ways.

My thought on the OP’s submission is that while parents may choose to follow a tradition of Santa Claus with their own children, other people are not under an obligation to disregard their own convictions to support yours.   In other words, I won’t lie to children when asked if I believe in Santa Claus nor will I play along with verbal games meant to fish from people their wish list for Santa or pledge an allegiance to a belief in Santa Claus.   I may say nothing or beandip like crazy which is awkward but a lot less awkward than bluntly stating my own truthful beliefs.

{ 135 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirst December 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I was absolutely devastated when my parents told me the truth about Father Christmas. I saw it as years of cruel dishonesty. I think my views were coloured by the fact that my parents had an unhappy marriage but wouldn’t acknowledge it, so there was a lot of dishonesty and concealment going on in the house anyway, and the revelation of the truth about Father Christmas was a sort of focal point for my feelings about the whole situation which I wasn’t really able to express in another way.

Having said that, the brother in law was behaving like a tosser, but the OP should get over it now.


Rodinne December 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I really disagree with the Admin. I hold very different religious views from some members of my family. As part of coming to those views, I did a lot of research on the religions of the world, including the one in which I was raised, and I know that not only are my relatives teaching this faith I no longer believe in, but teaching it wrongly. (Imagine someone who claimed to practice the religion of ancient Greece but who told their children that life after death was like Ragnorak, a Viking belief, instead of the belief in Hades that is officially part of their own theology.)

But I do not see it as my place to disagree with my relatives in front of their children, nor to “educate” their children. If they want to teach their children that faith, that is their right. If they want to teach them things that disagree with the theology of their faith, that is a problem for their spiritual leader, not for me. I refer all questions of spirituality and religion to their parents.


Ashley December 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Santa is real big within our extended family. For the longest time there was even a Santa suit that one of the male relatives would wear (it was randomly decided who would wear it about a week before Christmas) until it got damaged somehow. I don’t actually know where it is anymore.

Within the extended family, the older kids and adults know not to spoil it for the little ones who still believe. It’s just how we do things.

In public, we try to go with the flow of whatever is happening around us. I’m not going to flat out say to a kid “no, he’s not real” or “yes, he is real” but if a kid asks me something about Santa, I find a way to answer without directly confirming or denying.

I find it rude that the BIL would actively try to force his own beliefs on a four year old, without being asked about it.


Abby December 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Yes, there is a difference between Jesus and Santa Claus. But considering all of the different interpretations (blue eyes and light hair vs the more geographically expected dark hair and eyes/ the son if God of the Christians vs the prophet Jesus of the Muslims) I think the comparison is apt. I don’t consider not expressing a dissenting view to kids being tantamount to being a conspirator in a lie

In my younger, angrier days, I may have. Miss Manners and the admin of this site has taught me the grace and power of the bean dip.


Anne December 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

@Julie—-my parents thought the whole ‘Santa’ thing was strange and creepy and thus never subjected us to it, but very carefully explained that some other parents did it with their kids, that the other kids really believed in Santa (a similar argument was made about God, as my parents weren’t believers, so we were already decently familiar with the setup), and that we couldn’t bring it all crashing down about their little heads. We kids looked upon not telling as sort of a sacred duty and felt very pleased with ourselves for resisting the temptation to inform our friends. Instead we dutifully played along and I don’t think we ever did tell a soul.


The Elf December 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Admin, I know Jesus was a historical figure, but the analogy of the situation is accurate. When kids are talking about Jesus, they’re not limiting themselves to the little information we have in history. They’re talking about Jesus of the Bible, miracles and all. For an atheist, talking about Jesus-the-man-from-history is easy. Saying you believe in New Testament Jesus is something altogether. I’m not Christian, and I’m not about to tell a child all about my disbelief that Jesus actually walked on water. For this, I go back to my Santa theory since it is much the same. “It’s not my kids.” I’d redirect the question or ask them about what they think. With one exception – if the kid is older. Like teenager kind of older. Under some circumstances, allow myself to be drawn into a religious discussion about various points of view.


just4kicks December 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm

With the state of the world today….war, murder, school shootings etc….what in the world is wrong with a little Christmas magic?!? Kids grow up way too fast in these troubling times, I think a little wonder and excitement go a long way. Our youngest turned ten just yesterday, and my husband and I were just saying it’s a little sad we no longer have any “believers” in the house. All of our school age kids have “lock down” drills where they all hide under desks and in darkened closets in case of armed intruders to the school. That, sadly, is a necessity these days…..So, count our family in for leaving cookies, milk and carrots for our own amusement and a much needed break from “the real world”. If that makes us silly ….Well then so be it!!!! Happy Holidays to all!!!!


Dee December 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm

This has been turned into a “Santa” debate when it really has nothing to do with him. It’s a parenting debate, and in all parenting issues, if it causes no harm and/or is pleasurable, then it is to be supported, even by those who don’t understand or agree with the topic. The Santa tradition doesn’t cause any harm, is joyful to most kids, and doesn’t require anybody to do anything about but the parents. A person seeking to stop that tradition – or start it – in another’s home is unnecessarily interfering and really needs to mind his/her own business.


bah12 December 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Once again, I’m disappointed in the admin answer. Adults may not be obligated to “lie” to children if asked direct questions about Santa, but that certainly doesn’t excuse the rudeness of deliberately sabatoging a tradition that the child’s parents are choosing to uphold. And honestly, it is no one else’s responsibility to ‘out’ other parents when it comes to these traditions. If a kid asks if you believe in Santa, is it really so hard to say “I believe in the spirit of unreciprocated giving that Santa represents”?
Bluntly replying “No, Santa isn’t real” is actually pretty mean.
When I was a kid and I figured out that Santa wasn’t an actual person living in the North Pole with his wife and a bunch of elves, I didn’t think I had been lied to. I love the fact that my parents went through so much trouble to allow me to experience some magic and never cared that they didn’t get credit for it. There’s something to be said for allowing ‘Santa the spirit of giving’ to live. That’s very much real. I would never want to be the person that killed that for a child.


bah12 December 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I meant to add to that Santa isn’t much different from any other thing that I hear a parent talk about that may not line up with my particular parenting style. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to dispute their parenting decisions…especially in front of their children.


Sherri December 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I don’t remember how I found out the truth about Santa but I clearly remember telling my younger brother the truth when he was 4 and I was 6! Boy did I get in trouble!!!


cassandra December 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm

A little Christmas “magic” is what makes that time of the year so special for little ones. Especially those young enough that they may still understand who Jesus but don’t really see the importance of such a miracle that makes the season magical for the older people. I would be absolutely furious if any adult tried telling my little ones that Santa wasn’t real. There is too little innocence left in the world today for little kids and Santa is purely innocent. My oldest came into the truth on her own around 9 or 10 and still loves the idea of Santa and helping her sisters write their letters so there is no ill-will towards us for “lying” to her.
The librarian at her school told one of her friends the truth and the mom flipped out! It’s not up to other adults to tell your kids that you are basically lying to them. Does anyone really feel that’s a good way for kids to find out?


Calli Arcale December 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm


Why should I lie to a child? I’d rather not be put in the situation of feeling compelled to support telling children a fable as if it were real. I’d much rather bean dip but I was often not given that choice by people who just assumed I would go along with their Santa Claus storytelling and pulled me into the conversation in ways that made it very awkward to avoid answering the question.

Beandip anyway. Isn’t that what we’re always told to do when the conversation has been taken in an awkward direction by boors? “They assumed I’d go along with it” seems like an excuse to explain why you didn’t beandip rather than an explanation of how somehow that became not an option. Nobody can force you to say anything you don’t want to, and we’ll all be happier people if we remember that. The flip side is we need to own whatever we *do* say. If you choose not to beandip because it bothers you that they’re trying to get you to go along with something you don’t believe in, you are choosing to escalate rather than exit. It’s understandable; we’ve all been weak and done it at some point. But it’s not the high ground.

Let’s take away the childhood fable aspect. What if they’re asking you to go along for a few hours on a fiction that a child’s father is in another country, rather than shacked up with another woman? Would you a) go along for the duration of the event, to avoid ruining the child’s day, b) excuse yourself from the situation since you cannot bear to speak well of such a cad, or c) tell the child the truth about his father and what he did to his mother?

The bottom line is that there is a time and place for everything. I would not agree with lying to a child about something like that, but if someone else chose to, I would stay out of it myself, especially if we’re talking about a family Christmas party. I would not tell the child, no matter how awkward the situation got, because no matter what I think of his parents’ choices, it’s gonna break his heart when he learns the truth. And that is most certainly a situation far more serious than Santa Claus. If people can hold their tongue on stuff like that, surely something like Santa can be politely ignored. You don’t have to go along on Santa.

I wonder if you’d feel differently if OP’s brother had been trying to tell the child that Jesus doesn’t really exist. Bottom line is that yes, respect does go both ways, so just because other people disrespected your wish to be truthful with your children about Santa doesn’t give you license to disrespect others’ wishes to go the other way.


Green123 December 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I like Cough’s approach of ‘We’ll See’!

My mother used to answer awkward questions (usually about when she was having more children or when she might have grandchildren, or when she’d be retiring) with ‘May’. May-be next year, may-be next year, may-be never!


Kendra December 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm

OP, your brother-in-law was way out of line and I’m glad you were able to shut him down at the time. It is also good that you are able to take the high road now that he has discovered that the realities of parenting don’t always match our theories before children. Personally, though, I don’t think I could resist the occasional “jab” at him when the children are well out of earshot.
I think some people just take Santa way too literally. He is not a lie, just like Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter are not lies. He is a nice myth, a story like so many others that we tell our children. Also, this “not going to lie to my kids” can be taken to extremes. There was a family in my homeschool group that believed all fiction was “lies”. They didn’t allow any form of fiction into their home including religion. All fiction was made up, therefore lies. The only books they allowed their children to read were non-fiction, the only television or movies were documentaries. While I thought it was sad that these children seemed to miss out on a fairly charming part of childhood, it didn’t seem to hurt them. They grew into bright, healthy, happy, mannerly adults who are slightly obsessed with “truth”. I’ve come to the believe that whether a child believes in Santa or not, it is ultimately up to the parents and the rest of us should just play along, if asked, with this charming and harmless little fantasy.
You nailed it with “Santa (or whoever) is real for those who believe”. That is an excellent answer for a lot of situations. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll steal it from you.
@DGS: This is also the Perfect answer “What a good question. Why don’t we ask your Mommy and Daddy?”
@Lex “why celebrate a Christian holiday”, as a humanist, I get this question about this time of year fairly regularly. My answer is “I don’t. I celebrate Yule (or Mid-Winter or Winter Solstice)”.
Sorry, Admin, there is no more historical proof that Jesus existed any more than there is historical proof that Horus or Zeus or Thor or Apsu or Kali ever existed. In fact, many biblical scholars believe that Jesus probably wasn’t an individual person, but rather a composite of several men who were part of the early Christian oral tradition. Of the religions active today only Buddha, Muhammad, L. Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith are actual historical figures.


Gen Xer December 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm

First of all Mark was presumptuous bordering on cruel trying to undermine the parents and risking hurting children’s feelings. I think most people agree on that principle.

But this “I’m not going to stand by and perpetuate a lie to children”? Errgg. Come on. Lighten up. Is this really a stand we need to take? I’m sorry…..but this isn’t like blowing the lid off of a government conspiracy where the truth “needs” to come out in order to save mankind. It’s a children’s myth that is there to make holidays special and fun for them.

I have kids and I am raising them as Christians so for us Christmas is about the birth of Christ…but they still believed in Santa too. I was pretty middle ground in that respect – we had fun with Santa but I wasn’t going to go to great lengths to keep the dream alive either ( in practical terms that meant they most certainly did NOT get everything on their wish list )

Somehow they didn’t seem to lose faith in humanity once they found out how they had been lied to all these years!


rings90 December 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm

I still believe & for the record my parents NEVER used the same wrapping paper that Santa did. The friends all did wrapping parties & used each others paper. We never asked, they never told us. My mom Loves Christmas, so in order not to ruin her favorite Holiday my sister & I still don’t ask her to not tag the gifts Santa.

My 8 yr old nephew has it figured out, he thinks I’m being a crazy aunt when I tell him I still believe, so we had a conversation over Thanksgiving where he realized that its not about Santa himself, but about being a good person, and helping out throughout the year.


Abby December 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

For those pointing out an 8 year grudge, while I agree it is time to move on, I think what irks the OP now is not the actual incident, but the fact that Mark has since adjusted his beliefs and never once acknowleged that he now would not appreciate someone doing what he himself had done.

If Mark still believed that teaching your kids to believe in Santa Claus was a mistake, then OP would still be justified in being annoyed that Mark pushed his own agenda on a 4 year old, but at least she would understand that he thought he was helping. Now Mark no longer believes this to be true, would not be pleased if someone took it upon himself or herself to correct his children’s beliefs, yet still doesn’t say, hey OP, I understand now why you did what you did and I wish I would not have tried to sabotage that.

I think most people, OP, whether or not they agreed with teaching their kids to believe in Santa, would agree that Mark taking it upon himself to discourage a child from believing in Santa (which is not the same thing as being honest when a child asks him if he believes in Santa). That will have to be enough validation for you, because Mark is unlikely to apologize, it seems.


Abby December 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Erased the last part of my sentence. I meant to say, I think most people would agree that Mark was out of line, given that no one asked him anything and he was attempting to argue with a 4 year old.


Jewel December 19, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I chalk up Mark’s behavior to the tongue-in-cheek statement that the “best” parents are those who don’t have any kids. Clearly, he’s changed his tune on at least this one issue since having children. Maybe the OP could put this issue to bed once and for all in her heart and mind if, this Christmas, she sidles up to Mark and quietly says, “If I were to do what you did when Allie was little, this would be where I try to convince your kids that Santa is actually you and and my sister. Remember that?” Then, smile and walk away.


RoRo December 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Admin: why lie to a child? I am agnostic- should I “correct” religious peoples children around holy days as to the non-existance of god, simply because I feel that it is lying, or should I allow them their beliefs and bean-dip as necessary.

To me Santa Claus and [insert diety] are no different from one another, and while I would never pretend to be a believer in any faith I would also never actively disabuse a small child of their parents teachings in regards to one, whether it be a diety or the easter bunny. In fact, “lies” about Santa Claus or the bunny bother me less, since as far as I can tell they are nothing more than fun and harmless myths that don’t impact on anyone’s health, freedom or personal choice which is more than we can say about some other beliefs.

If a small child comes up talking about Santa it is so simple to say “you must be very excited”, in the same way that if someone tells me about their child’s baptism I don’t feel the need to say “you know that isn’t real, right”- instead I am polite and say “that must have been a special day for you- congrats”. Why not extend the same courtesy and respect for childhood beliefs that I do for adult ones.


Miss Raven December 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I would never lie to a child. That’s not the issue here. OP’s daughter volunteered the story about Santa to the room. Mark’s response didn’t have to be, “Yes, Santa Claus is definitely real and he will bring you toys if you are a good little girl.” His best option was to listen and not chime in at all, or, if he REALLY had to (although I can’t imagine who would bean-dip a four year-old), change the subject.

He was not a passive participant in this situation. The truth about Santa, as we say, Admin, was not being PULLED from him. He was PUSHING it onto OP’s child. Her preschool-age child, no less.

I am an atheist and do not believe in Santa, but I would never in a million years push that information onto a child whose parents have different beliefs. It is absolutely no one else’s business. If asked, point-blank, a question about faith from a child in this situation, the answer is, “You should ask your parents.” The situation with Mark is even worse, in that OP’s daughter did not ask him anything.

OP, I think a little gentle ribbing on this subject would be appropriate, out of earshot of the little ones. (Unless Mark is the type who wouldn’t take it well.)


Filiagape December 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Eight years does seem like a long time to hold a grudge, but no doubt this is indicative of Mark’s behavior throughout OP’s marriage: lack of respect in the choices and beliefs of others and not recognizing this or the rudeness and inappropriateness of his actions or defending his behavior as being “morally superior.” Would he do the same if he were an atheist at a Christian’s holiday table? Whether Admin believes this is a different issue or not, for an atheist it is identical. The fact that he abandoned his “righteous belief” when he became a parent and expects others to respect his choices understandably re-excoriates OP’s old wound, which healed slowly initially because of Mark defending/justifying his action rather than apologizing when the he was told he had offended her. I expected her to say she was tempted to try to “lead” Mark’s daughters to the “logical conclusion” that Santa couldn’t exist rather than she was tempted to point out Mark’s hypocrisy to him. It is hard, even though gracious, to let old insults go when the offending party refuses to accept or acknowledge it even when it is pointed out to him that he has hurt someone.


Marozia December 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Perhaps Mark has now learned his lesson with three daughters of his own.
I would say that was your apology from Mark.


Amanda H. December 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I like DGS’s response to the situation. The best sort of deflection to use on young children is to redirect them back to their parents.

OP, just let it go. It doesn’t sound like you’re going to get a voluntary apology from your BIL, so time to stop stressing over it.

In defense of the Admin, it sounds like the ones putting her into the most awkward situations are other adults, rather than children. Shame on those adults.

My family (both the one I was born to and the one I married into) is very religious, and yet both sides still have a Santa tradition. I don’t really see it as taking away from the spiritual aspects of the holiday, since both sides have not used it to diminish the religious part. Rather, it’s enjoying some of the secular aspects of a holiday.

One thing that I think has helped is that in both families, Santa doesn’t bring *everything* we ask for. In my family at least (and what we continue with our own children), we would send Santa a list of things we’d like with the understanding that Santa would only bring one thing from the list, and sometimes he might think of something else we’d like just as well that we didn’t think to ask for. We never sent a list with only one item on it because we knew that it would be more likely that we wouldn’t receive that one thing. And in the long run, that meant that our parents didn’t feel obligated to buy us everything on there, or break the bank to get the latest game console or whatever, and we never felt disappointed with what we got. Santa brought us *one* gift as well was the contents of our stocking, and everything else under the tree was gifts from various family members to each other. My husband and I have continued this tradition, so all throughout the month, gifts accumulate under the tree as people buy and wrap their presents for others, and all Santa does is bring each of our children one special item on Christmas Eve as well as fill everyone’s stockings with small items and treats.

Like Mary, my parents never wrapped gifts from Santa either, so my parents never had to worry about the “Why does Santa use the same wrapping paper as Mom and Dad?” problem. My husband wanted to use his family’s tradition of wrapping the gifts, but luckily we tend to get some wrapping paper from a charity that sends us mailers every year, so we use that (after hiding it once it arrives in the mail so the kids don’t see it). If that ever stops coming, I’ll probably switch to kraft paper since that’s fairly universal. In the same vein, I have made homemade items to put in my children’s stocking before. The explanation I give them (since they noticed right away the first time I did it) was that I leave these items out for Santa to add to the stockings.

And like Angel, I found out a young age (8 in my case) that Santa wasn’t real and was disappointed. My barely-teenage aunt spilled the beans at a family Christmas party, and I went crying to my parents. I wasn’t upset that they’d been lying to me; rather, I was sad that some of the magic had gone away. But my parents reassured me that knowing the truth didn’t mean that the gifts would suddenly stop, or that I couldn’t continue to participate since I still had younger sisters who believed. They actually kept up the Santa tradition until I left for college, when my youngest sister was 9 and had just barely learned the truth herself. I think having me (the oldest) “in on it” actually helped for when my sisters all learned, since they could see that the tradition didn’t change, only the knowledge behind it. In the case of my own children, I intend to continue the tradition for the sake of childhood magic.


Pat December 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm

An older child told me there was no Santa when I was 5. I’m now almost 60 and still remember her saying “you dummy, there’s no Santa, your parents leave the presents!” I was not ready for that information and I still wanted to believe and half believed for years. It really spoiled a lot of fun for me. If I now told that person what she had done over 50 years ago, she would be mortified – but I would not do that – why would I want to make her feel bad for something she did so long ago when she was just a child? In my book, any adult that would directly or indirectly tell an innocent believing child that there is no Santa is in the same category and at the same level of maturity as that then bratty 7 or 8 year old.


Cat December 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I think I’d ask Mark why he changed his opinion on Santa. I’d wait until the children were out of the room, but I would want to know just for my own curiousity.

Bean dipping is easy with a young child. If she tells you about her list for Santa, the reply is, “I hope you get everything that will make Christmas special for you. What would you like for me to get you?” If asked if I believe in Santa, I could say with complete honesty, “I always had wonderful presents from him when I was a child.” It’s true, every gift had my name on it and “from Santa”.

It reminds me of the old comedy series in which Deputy Barney Fife was always telling Andy how to raise Opie. Andy called Barney’s habit “Barney’s imaginery child”. It’s easier for me to tell you how to raise your child than it is to raise my own.


ddwwylm December 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I’m willing to bet that trying to tell your 4 yo the truth about Santa is just the tip of Mark’s personality. I doubt you’d get an apology out of him even if you did bring it up, although I would be so tempted to bring it up at the family table after the kids went to bed. “remember the year Mark tried to convince little precious that Santa wasn’t real, guess that’s changed now..,hahaha” The right family dynamic and that could go over well, even become family lore, only LW knows how well it would be received. A friend’s husband is very entrenched in the no Santa camp, and posts quite freuently and self congratulatorily on facebook all the time about how he is soooo glad he never told his kids the Santa lie. I’ve thus far been able to stop myself from commenting that he doesn’t seem so concerned about perpetuating the Disney lie when they go to disneyland and his kids are so excited about meeting buzz light year, darth vader, tinkerbelle and the like. Apparently the morality of letting your kids belive in that instead of telling them it’s some guy in a suit isn’t in question.


Karen December 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Mer – “there is no difference between Santa or Jesus when it’s about belief.”

THIS… although I’m coming from the opposite viewpoint as you, I totally agree with your argument. I was raised to believe in both Santa and Jesus – which my mom now says was a mistake… because if you are raising your child be Christian, and they find out you are lying about Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy, why should they believe you about Jesus? I can see where it would be confusing to a child.

We just had our first baby and are deciding what we want to do in regards to Santa (because we are Christian and will be raising our children Christian). I’m not going to call out the Santa lie but as soon as my son is old enough to figure it out, I’m not going to actively encourage it. Basically I’ll bean dip to my own kid for as long as possible. :) But when he does find out, I would ask him not to ruin it for the other kids.

That being said – I agree that BIL was rude and undermining OPs parental decisions. If the children who know the truth can be mature enough not to ruin it for the littler ones who don’t know yet, I think it’s pretty pathetic that a grown man can’t do the same.


Kate December 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm

I feel the same way about this as I would about people trying to introduce my future children to their religion. My husband and I are atheists and will be raising our children according to our beliefs. We will tell them about different religions and what their beliefs are, but I wouldn’t appreciate someone coming up to one of my children and saying “SURELY you believe in Jesus?”. You can disagree with another family’s beliefs, whether they’re regarding religion or Santa or vegetarianism or whatever, but it’s not your right to push your beliefs onto their children. So ‘Mark’ was in the wrong here.


badkitty December 19, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I’m sorry to disagree with Admin here, but I’m thankful that my friends of differing beliefs have enough kindness and respect for others to handle a conversation about Other Traditions gracefully.

If your child made an innocent comment about God to a friend of yours, would you want them to frantically change the subject or just go ahead and play along? If your child asked, “do you think God will forgive me for (innocent thing children do)?” would you want this friend to nod and reassure the child or keep silent so they aren’t “forced to lie”?

It costs nothing to humor the beliefs* of others, especially children.

*non-harmful beliefs.


Nissa December 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I grew up in a lower to middle class family. My parents were not the type of parents to give us every little thing we wanted, so my younger brother and I didn’t grow up expecting to always get every new fancy toy that came out. Birthday gifts were generous, but not over done. We had everything we needed and knew how much our parents loved each other and us, so we were very blessed. We did grow up believing in Santa Claus. Our Santa gifts were the ones left out unwrapped for us on Christmas morning. My mom likes to tell the story about how I told someone that Santa Claus HAD to be real, because there was no way our parents could afford those fancy gifts Santa brought (I was probably around 5 and had no concept of how much things cost). When I realized the truth, it was more of a “OHHHH!” moment and then life continued on just fine.

As a children’s minister, I side-step the Santa issue by asking what the child’s plans are for Christmas (if they will see grandparents or cousins, etc.) or asking what they want for Christmas. If they say, “I asked Santa for (insert toy here),” I’ll respond with something like, “That sounds like fun!”


Vix December 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Thanks Angel, I’m glad I’m not the only one who believed that long.

OP, you don’t mention how old your BIL was, you may need to write this off as him being a jerk teenager (some people are still teenagers into their 20s). That said, I’m not sure I could have resisted saying “Ooh, Santa visits YOUR house? What did he bring you?” or something to his kid while over-smiling at the jerk.


Invalidcharactr December 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of lying to kids. They eventually find out the truth about things like Santa, Jesus, the Tooth Fairy, and all of that, so why damage your credibility by trying to fool them with mythical creatures?


BagLady December 19, 2013 at 9:19 pm

What? Santa isn’t real? My smelling salts, Jeeves!

But seriously … I don’t have children, but if I did, I would probably tell them that the Santa story is just that — a story. That it was inspired by a real person, St. Nicholas, who was known for his generous giving, but the North Pole and the elves and the reindeer are all just part of the story.

I’d ask them why they think the story exists, because all stories have a message: What’s the message of the Santa story? I think a child of 3 or older who has been read/told stories can grasp the concept of stories that aren’t literally true but have a lesson to teach. And the basic lesson/message of the Santa story is the importance of generous giving, and that the spirit of Santa lives in all of us.

I’d give them the option of playing along with the story if they want to pretend Santa is real: sharing their Christmas wishes with the friendly neighborhood “Santa” at the mall, leaving milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, and most of all, *being* Santa to someone less fortunate. (Did I mention: Spirit of Santa lives in all of us?)

Then I’d tell them that some families like to pretend *really, really hard* that Santa is real, and they shouldn’t go around saying “it’s just a story” to those children because it would make them sad.

As far as the OP, I think brother was out of line to try to dissuade her daughter of her belief in Santa against her parents’ wishes. The “Santa pact” is between parents and children. Should she bring up his about-face? I think she could gently do so, as long as it wasn’t an accusatory “You hypocrite!” kind of thing. “Remember when you tried to talk Allie out of believing in Santa? Now you’re cool with your own kids believing in him — what changed your mind?”


NostalgicGal December 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm

I was a believer, and about 3rd grade it was pretty much out of the bag; I decided that year to believe one last time. :) (aka the discussion was carefully had between me and the parents and that is what 9 and soon to be 10 year old me decided).

Later I went with the parent’s choice. Even the next year with younger cousins. I could be one of those IN THE KNOW and watch those still believing; enjoy.

Faith in later years covered other faiths (Judiasm, respecting the Wiccans and Pagans, and back) but. It is up to the parents to decide how their children are raised in areas of faith and belief; I respect those decisions. I ended up in a mixed faith marriage, and there weren’t children so a few issues were never faced… which would have been had it arisen.

Mark was out of line BECAUSE it is not the line the OP and family was taking; they were doing the belief. In that case he needed to be shut down. Now that he’s had to face the issue, and what he decided, should be followed, in return. I understand where the OP might be coming from; but. In earshot of the littles, follow the parent’s decisions.


Randalf December 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm

If a child asks me whether Santa is real, I’ll reflect it to the parents: “What did Daddy and Mommy tell you? Why not ask them?” But if the child insists, then as Admin said, I will not lie.

Honestly I’m baffled by the comparison of the Santa Claus story with myth and religion, because I just don’t see the similarity. Myths and religion helps people come to terms with mysteries in life that are beyond human understanding, but what is so mysterious, so hard to understand, about gift-giving that we have to put up a charade? What’s so wrong in just saying “Mom and Dad gave you this gift, because we love you and want you to be happy” ?


David December 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I agree with the people who are stating the best answer to a direct question from a child when you don’t want to lie to them is “You should ask your parents.”


Rebecca December 20, 2013 at 2:14 am

I have no kids, so I can only comment on my own experience of the Santa pretense.

It’s fun. It’s magical. It’s also fun for the parents, and my thought regarding the brother who tried to spoil it was, “What an absolute (unprintable word for “jerk”).

I believed in Santa till I was bout 5 or 6, and eventually an older child filled me in on the truth and it was more of an “Aha!! That does make sense!” moment; not once did it occur to me to resent my parents for lying, or to be devastated, or harmed in any way.

The fun and magic don’t last forever. Let little kids enjoy the magic while they can, because soon enough it’s replaced with stress, travel aggravation, worry about which in-laws to visit and whose nose is going to be out of joint and what time to put in the turkey. What’s wrong with letting kids be kids? If you don’t feel this way, fine, it’s not for me to tell others how to raise their families, but don’t ruin it for others. I thought the OP’s brother was deliberately being a (rude word).


Red Cat December 20, 2013 at 3:29 am

When asked about my religious beliefs I always say ‘Jesus is Santa for grownups’!


Green123 December 20, 2013 at 3:33 am

One of my most vivid memories of childhood is sitting on the carpetted area with my classmates in my school classroom in Class 2 (so I was about 6 years old) talking with our teacher about what Christmas presents we had. When it was my turn I explained that mummy and daddy had bought me lots of toys and books, and aunty Vicky had given me some Lego (which I was VERY excited about), and Nanny and Grandpa had bought me a bike!

My teacher seemed a bit bemused by this and very quickly moved on to other children, who all seemed to have got their gifts from Santa. Apparently the teacher spoke to my mother after school, and mother explained that I hadn’t believed in Santa Claus because we lived in a flat with no chimney, and apparently had told her not to be ‘silly’ when she tried to get me to believe in him. Oops!


Joni December 20, 2013 at 8:10 am

Karen, my father believed the same thing you mentioned about Santa/Jesus, so he told my brother and me the awful truth at a very young age. (I grew up not believing in Santa – rather than feeling superior to my believing classmates, I envied them. Thanks for ruining the magic, Dad!) I grew up to be a devoutly religious adult, and my brother is firmly atheist, so I doubt my father’s experiment (conducted without my mother’s knowledge – she was livid) conclusively proves anything about Santa and Jesus.

I do think that if telling children about Santa makes them unwilling or unable to believe in any deity, we would have seen organized religion (or at least Christianity) die out by now – the Santa myth is many generations old. But kids are smarter than we give them credit for. When I had the Santa talk with my oldest, I asked her how she knew we were telling the truth about God even though we had fibbed about Santa. She said that she had always understood that Santa was a ‘fun’ belief and not a serious one like religion.


Rap December 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

“If a child asks me whether Santa is real, I’ll reflect it to the parents: “What did Daddy and Mommy tell you? Why not ask them?” But if the child insists, then as Admin said, I will not lie. ”

I guess my question, is if this “never lie to a child” rule means if someone’s kid asks me if Jesus is real, not Santa, but Jesus, and I am not Christian, is it perfectly politc and socially acceptable for me to answer that question honestly since I should never lie to children?

Or would the parents who are religious and would answer honestly about Santa find it presumptous on my part to dare answer their child’s question honestly?

I love the “why not ask your mom and dad” response – and as described, I don’t think the OP was “asking Mark to lie” – it sounds like Mark was trying to be a jerk and was seeking out the child to see what she believed.


WillyNilly December 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

“…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…” Francis Pharcellus Church, New York Sun, Sept. 21, 1897

As an agnostic I firmly believe in Santa as surely as any other faith-based figure. Santa isn’t after all a person, not in any telling of his story, he is a magical figure who exists in the hearts of those who believe; he is an *idea*. Philosophically if anyone, anywhere believes in him then he absolutely irrefutably exists – because he exists as a belief itself. Ideas, beliefs, etc are not tangible physical things, but rather things that exist in our minds and/or hearts. They are as real as any other intangible thought we have.

The BIL in the story was doing nothing short of trying to dissuade the OP’s child from a belief that the OP and the OP’s husband had tried to instill in their child. Its no different then dismissing a hosts religion or politics at their dinner table uninvited, which is unquestionably rude.


Jazzgirl205 December 20, 2013 at 9:57 am

I taught dd that Santa was St. Nicholaus from Myra. He still brings gifts because we celebrate Xmas by giving – not by receiving. I’ve always tried to get dd more excited about the giving aspect. When she point blank asked me and I told her we bought the gifts, she thought it was cool. It did not destroy her faith in God. In fact, at 16yo, she teaches the First Communion class at our church. She takes her faith seriously.


Library Diva December 20, 2013 at 10:42 am

There’s a halfway point between “lying to a child” and crushing his or her beliefs. You’re in serious trouble if you can’t find a way to wriggle out of a rhetorical trap set by a preschooler. There were a million good answers here that require the adult to neither lie nor crush a child’s beliefs.

My parents never “told me the truth” either. And while Santa may not literally be real, in a metaphorical sense, he’s very real. The spirit of him exists in every story you hear about someone purchasing groceries for a stranger, in every restauranteur who opens his heart and his doors to people in need, in every Christmas tree salesman who donates her unsold trees to churches and the needy, and in everyone who chooses a name off the mall’s Giving Tree and fills a need in the holiday season. Santa exists in even the less noble acts of visiting four stores to find the purple knit scarf on your sister’s list, and in pushing through your exhaustion to make cookies for your family. Santa is about looking outside of yourself to bring joy and magic to someone else’s life. Santa is everyone.


Joni December 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

Randalf, I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, ‘Santa’ spoils my kids a bit more them I would normally. And because Santa-giving is totally one-sided; most familial giving is reciprocated in some way, especially around the holidays, but I don’t expect my children to give anything to me.

And, as Rebecca mentioned, it’s fun!


Pat December 20, 2013 at 10:58 am

I was raised in a religious home and also with the Santa Clause myth. I always knew that Jesus was real in a way that Santa was not. Our faith was something we lived every day – Santa was once a year fun. When parents have their priorities straight, children are not confused. Children drop the Santa myth when they want to and when they are ready to.

Myths and fantasies are sometimes just fun and ways to teaching children to aspire to something better. Sometimes they are ways of learning about reality. Fairy tales and even Disney movies are ways of teaching children that the world is sometimes a dangerous place and that people aren’t always what they seem.


Leah December 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

As far as “doing” or “not doing” Santa, we take a moderate approach. I’m not comfortable with the charade, so we told our son the story of Santa & that it’s a really fun thing to pretend. It’s still exciting & fun for him (he’s 4), even though he knows it’s not real. He knows most of his other male believe situations aren’t real, but those aren’t less fun, either. I hate the implication that I’m robbing my child of some right of passage just because I dialogue with him about it differently than other parents.
That said, I respect other parents choices & expect them to respect mine. I went so far as to explain to my son that it’s not right to ruin the magic for other kids (and he hasn’t!). I think I would probably jokingly remind uncle of how his time had changed & then let it go. Annoying, but not worth brooding over.


Daphne December 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I agree with Cat’s comment (#75). I don’t think there is anything wrong with re-visiting this topic with Mark when the children are out of the room. Something along the lines of “remember that Xmas when Allie was 4 and you tried to dissuade her that Santa was real? Now I bet you understand how potentially traumatic that was for us!”
I don’t think he will ever apologize. But I also don’t think letting him know that his thoughtless remarks bothered you could be considered impolite. It’s not bad manners to assert yourself, and I tend to think that it is up to family to correct their obtuse members–better late than never. Because it very well could be a needed reminder for him to curb himself from commenting on other peoples child raising issues that are none of his business.


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