There have been a lot of threads lately that discuss various aspects of Santa Claus as a tradition and a belief. I've wanted to bring this up in basically all of them, but resisted so I wouldn't derail threads.
What I wanted to create a thread to talk about was what traditions people had surrounding Santa Claus as children, what they do now (either with or without children of their own), and what ultimately made you stop believing in Santa Claus.
For me, my parents always did Santa in what I would assume is a pretty traditional way (for the US, anyway). We had a mix of wrapped presents, some from family members (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) and some from Santa. We also had stockings that we hung up and that got filled with little toys or school supplies, and if we were lucky, some chocolate.
We also left out cookies and milk, and thought we were brilliant for leaving out celery and carrot sticks for the reindeer.
When I was relatively young, my brother and sister and I would try to stay up as late as we could to hear Santa's reindeer. I think the latest we ever made it was about midnight, and then we'd be up at some obnoxiously early hour of the morning wanting to open presents. My parents wouldn't let us wake them up before about 6 (so we'd basically vibrate with excitement in one of our bedrooms), and they never let us open presents until they had coffee.
What started to make me not believe was the fact that Santa always used our wrapping paper, and that he had my mom's handwriting. He also just wrote our names in Sharpie directly on the wrapping paper. But I'm pretty sure I glossed right over that until I was about 10. That year, we traveled to visit my dad's family for Christmas. My mom had a very distinctively wrapped box in her carry-on (back when you could still get wrapped gifts through security), and I remembered it. That box showed up under the tree Christmas morning -- it was a gift for my sister from Santa.
After that, I didn't really believe in Santa anymore, but I think I still wanted to (just in case he really was real). I definitely played along, since my sister was only 5. I don't know when I completely stopped believing even a little bit. It was kind of annoying at the time that my parents told me things like they were Santa's elves (when I got up to use the bathroom and saw them wrapping presents one year), but in hindsight, it's kind of nice that there was never one defining moment when I totally lost the illusion. It was pretty gradual, which I think allows me to continue to appreciate it as a family tradition.
Now that I and my siblings are all grown up, we don't really do Santa anymore. I find it awfully amusing that my mom still sometimes gives us presents from "Santa", though.
I do have a niece and a nephew now, so I'm sure Santa will be visiting them soon if he hasn't already. I like it as a tradition, because I think it helps capture some of the wide-eyed wonder of childhood. Even if it's mostly nostalgia for me now, I like to remember how it felt when I still believed a guy with a sleigh delivered presents to millions of children in just one night.