Is santa real?

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Only a Grinch would enjoy breaking the news about the Santa lie to a hopeful little one — it’s a conversation no parent wants to have. But, someday, they’re going to start doubting Santa’s magic, and it’s good to be ready for what will be one of many tricky conversations you’ll get to navigate as a parent. Here’s how to make the process less painful — for you and your kids.

Know when they’re ready, and then let go.

Figure out who really needs to hold on to Santa. “Sometimes, it’s less about when your child is ready and more about when you are ready,” says MegAnne Ford, a parenting coach and owner/CEO of Be Kind Coaching. “We as adults started the story, and it’s our job as adults to finish the story. However, I think as soon as your child starts questioning, it’s time to start the planning process. Think of this as an invitation to decide how your family will view the story of Santa, in your unique way.”

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Sometimes, the signal that they’re ready comes from a subtle shift in a way they ask the Santa question. “When a child starts asking if Santa Claus is real, most parents I know — myself included — either say ‘of course,’ or redirect the question to not quite answer it,” says Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., who runs The Art and Science of Mom. “When a child is satisfied with this, even if they start to have doubts, they may not be ready to stop believing. When a child says something along the lines of, ‘Santa isn’t real, is he?’ it can be useful to reflect the question back to them to figure out why they think so. When they’re older and can think more critically, they’ll tell you Santa isn’t real, and especially when their peers are talking about Santa not being real. These are good indicators they’re really to hear the truth.”

As for when the shift starts to happen, it’s different depending on the child, but expect the questioning to get serious somewhere between the ages of 7 and 10. In 2019, House Method surveyed more than 4,500 families across the United States, and found the overall average age for no longer believing in Santa Claus is 8.4 years old. (But it varies by state: Kids in Mississippi generally believe until they’re 10, while kids in Oregon stop believing at 7.)

Respond to your child’s emotions.

Children react differently to hearing the news about Santa. “My 9-year-old daughter seemed proud to have matured into this grown-up secret she could keep from her younger siblings!” Dr. Edlynn says. Others might feel embarrassed that they believed for so long, or are sad to lose the Santa myth.

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Don’t try to direct your kids to react a certain way. “Your role as a parent is not to govern your child’s emotions, whether positive or negative,” Ford says. “It’s your role to create a safe, loving, and validating environment. Make sure that the focus is on honesty, connection, and compassion, and that’ll ensure the conversation ends in everyone’s favor.”

You can also focus on ways to keep the good feelings associated with Santa going without the myth. “It’s fun to talk to kids about ways we can keep up the Santa spirit during the holidays even if we are too old to believe in the red-suited man handing out gifts all night,” Dr. Edlynn says. “Talking about the spirit of Santa — generosity, kindness, happiness — can help keep the magic alive, no matter our age.”

Take them from believing in Santa to being Santa.

One anonymous parent, whose idea went viral through an admiring Facebook post, came up with a brilliant idea that takes that last point to the extreme: Tell children that, while they don’t receive presents from Santa, they’re now old enough to become Santa. She explains:

When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready. I take them out “for coffee” at the local wherever. We get a booth, order our drinks, and the following pronouncement is made: “You sure have grown an awful lot this year. Not only are you taller, but I can see that your heart has grown, too. . In fact, your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus. You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE … We then have the child choose someone they know — a neighbor, usually. The child’s mission is to secretly, deviously, find out something that the person needs, and then provide it, wrap it, deliver it — and never reveal to the target where it came from. Being a Santa isn’t about getting credit, you see. It’s unselfish giving.

While its exact origins are unclear, the little essay has circulated online forums for years, and before popping up in that viral Facebook post (where you can read more details about the mom’s technique for revealing the Santa truth):

Charity Hutchinson, the admirer who shared the story, told the Huffington Post that she doesn’t know where it came from, but “I wish I could say I had thought of it myself ― it’s pretty brilliant!” Since she has two sons, she wants to her children enjoy Santa at first but eventually learn that the holiday involves more than just presents.

“Christmas is about helping others, giving selflessly and being thankful for what you do have and not what you don’t,” she said. “Reading this parent’s story made me feel like I could, even as a Christian, encourage my children to believe in him so that one day they could become a Santa and give to others.” While that day may come faster than most parents like, it can be the beginning of a new holiday tradition for years to come.

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Caroline Picard Health Editor Caroline is the Health Editor at covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.

7 Reasons to Tell Your Kids the Truth About Santa (And Still Keep the Magic in Christmas)

I’m a little nervous, to tell you this story about my childhood, and how we celebrated Christmas in my family growing up. First off, I don’t want to offend anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Secondly, I’m calling into question the long standing Christmas tradition of telling kids about Santa, especially the part about “if you aren’t good, Santa won’t bring you any gifts”.

You might disagree with me. And that’s okay! I have faith and trust in you to respectfully disagree. So, thanks, in advance for being a safe space! And thanks for reading.

Here it goes…

When I was two years old my parents told me that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Most people I tell this to, let out a long sighing, “Ohhhh!” as if I just told them that my dog died. Yet growing up while knowing the truth about Santa didn’t destroy the magic of Christmas. And we did the same thing with our own kids when they were young.

The “you be good this year otherwise Santa won’t give you any gifts” aspect of Christmas is a little problematic for parents, like you and me, who choose to raise their kids knowing that they are loved unconditionally. But the my discomfort with Santa doesn’t end there.

Historically the story of Santa is actually about unconditional love; it’s the story of Saint Nicholas

Nicholas, an early Christian, secretly gave money three separate times for three sisters whose father didn’t have enough money for a dowry for them to get married. During the night he snuck the money into their stockings. But one night the father caught St. Nicholas, Nick asked for him to keep his secret. St. Nick gave to this family unconditionally because of his love for God.

The modern story of Santa is about surveillance, stuffing your feelings down, and not expressing your emotions

“You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout I’m telling you why. . . He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake . .” Those lyrics are just creepy! I think that kids need to have privacy, space away from adults, freedom to fully express their feelings.

We want our kids to know that we love them unconditionally

No matter what our children do, our love for them will never diminish. I don’t like all the things my child does, but I always love her, for everything she is and everything she isn’t. In that loving space, I find ways to teach her to be more of who she is meant to be.

Behavioral science tells us that we get more enjoyment from being kind to others when we don’t get anything in return

When our kids act kindly out of the goodness in their hearts, not because of threats or bribes, it is naturally reinforcing. Kids that get rewarded for doing something experience less enjoyment, and are less motivated to do that behavior again!

Telling kids lies–about Santa or anything else–doesn’t help build a trusting relationship with them

Kids trust us fully and need us to help them make sense of the world. They rely on us to be truthful. They rely on us for security and safety. I know kids who have gotten angry with their parents after hearing that “Santa isn’t real”. I also know kids who are frightened by Santa. I know a little girl who was so scared that a strange person was coming into their house in the middle of the night that she wouldn’t go to sleep on Christmas eve, finally her parents convinced her that it was actually a Christmas bunny who would deliver the gifts (a lie on top of a lie).

If gifts are unconditionally given, a child doesn’t have to worry about whether he’ll get gifts on Christmas and he is freed up to think of giving to other people

Christmas is about giving, not receiving, right? A problem occurs when parents use gifts as a reward for “good behavior”; it distracts kids from their focus on giving. If gifts are conditionally given, kids focus on themselves. If gifts are given unconditionally, kids can focus on others, giving unconditionally to them as well.

Telling kids the truth about Santa does not take away the magic of Christmas

The fun of Santa is playing the “Santa game”: writing a letter to Santa, leaving out cookies and milk, having the gifts appear magically overnight! You can still play the “Santa game” (I did and I still do!) and have all the magic of Christmas without lying to your kids. Kids can handle the duality of knowing that Santa is/isn’t real all at the same time. They will still believe in magic! You won’t be taking anything away from them.

Now I’m curious about you. Tell me in the comments section… How have you handled telling/not telling your kids about Santa? How do you preserve the magic of Christmas?

And if you’d like more on this topic on read about “Why I Hate Elf on the Shelf”…

Editor’s note: This story includes a frank discussion about Santa Claus. While we at TODAY know that Santa is absolutely real, we would not want to end up on the Naughty List by divulging any sensitive information to younger audiences. So please take care before reading this story.

Charity Hutchinson was stumped. Her then-8-year-old nephew Radek, who lives with her family along with his then-9-year-old brother, Fedor, came to her a few years ago and told her that he did not believe in Santa Claus anymore. “At the time, I felt sad, because he seemed disappointed telling me his news,” Hutchinson told TODAY Parents. “In that moment, I didn’t know what to say to him.”

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Charity Hutchinson, here with her son Lennox, 6, no longer dreads telling her children about Santa.Charity Hutchinson

Share the real magic of Santa

Luckily, a few days later, Hutchinson spotted something in a friend’s Facebook feed that gave her an idea of how to approach Santa with both her nephews and her own sons. The Kelowna, British Columbia, mom said she got goosebumps and tears in her eyes after reading the story, so she posted it to her own Facebook page, explaining, “This is by far the best idea I’ve seen about telling your kids about Santa.”

Whatever your approach, the decision about when and how to talk to your kids about Santa is a big one. Here are some other common strategies.

Leave it up to the kids to believe

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We’ll call this one the “Brad Pitt.” The father-of-six said once that he refuses to “lie” to his kids about St. Nick, and that he’s not “real big on the whole Santa thing.” Pitt said he remembers when he discovered the real deal about the North Pole, and it was a “huge act of betrayal” for him as a little boy.

So the famous dad leaves it up to his kids to figure it out: “What I tell them is some people believe in Santa, and some people believe it’s parents, and you get to believe whatever you want,” he told E! Online.

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Santa Claus is coming! Meet the ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ cast

Nov. 12, 201804:36

Psychotherapist and mother Andrea Nair told TODAY Parents she’s heard too many clients in her line of work talk about how “duped” they felt by their parents and how “shocked” they were when they found out abuot Santa. So she strives to be “completely truthful” with her own kids, and says she always describes Santa as a “story book character.”

Call it magic

Devon Corneal, a New Jersey lawyer and parenting blogger, doesn’t consider Santa a lie. “When my (then) 4-and-a-half year old son, Cooper, asks, how does Santa get around the world? I answer: Because it’s magic,” she says.

Corneal says there’s so little magic in our everyday lives, and soon enough our little ones will be all grown-up, paying their bills, gassing up their cars, and going to work every day. So for now, Santa is a very real and special part of the holidays in her home. Corneal’s husband puts on his Santa suit every Christmas so their son can have a “real Santa sighting.” One year, she sat on the steps with their son in his PJs, peeking through the banister, as “Santa” put toys under their tree.

For parents Jennifer and Ben Whitfield, who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah with their son, Andrew, the story of Santa is as much a part of their holiday folklore as the miracle of the menorah, and how a small amount of oil that was only enough for a day somehow burned for eight nights.

“In our house, Santa is no more a ‘lie’ than the magic of those flames lasting for so long,” Whitfield explains.

Make Santa about giving

All of the Santa hoopla isn’t really about a Christian holiday or a religious symbol anyway, says Rebecca Munsterer, author of “Mrs. Claus and The School of Christmas Spirit.”

After all, she says, look at all the holiday coat, food, and toy drives this time of year, and the picture of the New York police officer giving a barefoot man shoes that went viral. Regardless of the aftermath, she doesn’t think the photo would have captured so many hearts and become such an internet sensation, during the early fall or the dead of winter.

“Whatever your religion, that officer, in that moment, could have been Santa,” Munsterer says. “That’s what he’s about, the spirit of giving and good will, that you try to pass on to kids through all of this.”

It is working for the Hutchinson family, and Charity Hutchinson hopes it helps others tackle the topic too. “I think the best thing about being a Santa is knowing that you’re a part of someone else’s happiness,” she said.

“I think that what people should take from this amazing story isn’t just a way not to break your kids’ hearts, but that giving is at the heart of Christmas, and that it also isn’t just a one-time-a-year thing. The lesson isn’t to just be generous and kind once a year, but to find ways to be a Santa all throughout the year.”

Giving Tuesday: 5 holiday presents that support good causes

Nov. 27, 201802:35

Editor’s note: This story was first published on December 8, 2016, and has been updated.

It’s no secret that being a stay-at-home mother is a job in and of itself — any mother will tell you that.

And research from a recent Pew study suggests that the number of women who are becoming stay-at-home moms is actually on the rise. While 71 percent of mothers work outside of the home, 29 percent are staying home, which is up from six percent from 1999. With so many moms at home, why is it that there are still so many stereotypes that stay-at-home moms must just sit around eating Bon Bons all day? (Words I’ve heard from my very own stay-at-home mother’s mouth.)

Here’s a painfully relatable stay at home mom meme for every at-home mother who gets it.

1. When in doubt: Coffee.

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2. The workday never ends.

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3. Bon Bons? Not for you.

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4. What don’t you do all day?

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5. Why is there no emoji for a stay-at-home mom?

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6. Who doesn’t love Target?

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7. It never stops.

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8. Mom guilt is real.

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9. It’s the little things.

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10. Who even wears pants?

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11. Stay-and-work-at-home moms can’t just skip out of the house as they please.

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12. You’re surviving.

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13. Someone else watching your kids? Never.

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14. This is what a six-pack looks like.

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15. The exhaustion hits like a brick wall.

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16. Have some respect.

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17. Just do your best.

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18. You can’t appease everyone.

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19. Nap time is the most productive time.

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20. The more naps the better.

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21. Who doesn’t photograph their kids a thousand times?

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22. Baby talk is contagious.

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23. Daycare doesn’t make sense for everyone.

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24. Forget about relaxing.

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25. Kids are strategic and smarter than you think.

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26. There’s no such thing as sitting around.

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27. Being a stay-at-home mom is a tough but great job.

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28. It’s far from easy.

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29. Being a mom means working around the clock.

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30. Live out of yoga pants with no shame.

31. Sick days? Laughable.

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32. Stay-at-home moms work.

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33. Weekends off? Never.

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34. Stay-at-home moms deserve the love they give.

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35. You’re damned if you don’t, damned if you do.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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Why Do We Believe in Santa?

“When they learn the truth, children accept the rules of the game and even go along with their parents in having younger children believe in Santa,” says Larivée, a psycho-education professor at the Université de Montréal. “It becomes a rite of passage in that they know they are no longer babies.”

Larivée, along with colleague Carole Sénéchal from the Univerity of Ottawa, examined a study from 1896 involving 1,500 children aged 7 to 13, which was repeated in 1979. More than 46 percent of children in 1896 and 44 percent in 1979 gradually found out on their own that Santa didn’t exist.

The studies also analyzed the reaction of the children once they discovered the jolly old elf wasn’t real. More than 22 percent in the 1896 study admitted to being disappointed compared with 39 percent in the 1979 study. But only 2 percent and 6 percent, respectively, felt betrayed.

“The constant outcome of the two studies was that children generally discovered through their own observations and experiences that Santa doesn’t exist,” Larivée noted. “And their parents confirmed their discovery.

“Children ask their parents, for example, how Santa gets in the house if there’s no chimney,” he says. “And even if the parents say they leave the door unlocked, the child will figure out that Santa can’t be everywhere at the same time and that reindeer can’t be that fast.”

Close to 25 percent of children in the 1896 study learned the truth about Santa from their parents, compared with 40 per cent in 1979. Those who didn’t find out from their parents learned the truth from other children.

Larivée says belief in Santa diminishes as children approach the age of reason. “But cognitive maturity and level of thought that would allow a 7-year-old to differentiate between the imaginary and reality are insufficient to let go of the myth,” he adds, pointing out that half of children of that age in a 1980 study still believed.

In 1896, 54 percent of parents said they perpetuated the myth of Santa since it made their children happy; compared with 73 percent in 1979 and 80 percent in 2000.

Larivée and Sénéchal now want to explore a deeper question: If children attribute the same supernatural powers to Santa as they do to God, why do they stop believing in Santa, but continue their belief in God?

“I was really terrified, a lot, that my son was going to say something to the wrong kid,” she adds, “and I was going to have some parent just up in arms at me.”

Brown, 50, describes her son as a staunch atheist and a truth-teller—so, of course, in time that happened. On two occasions in his childhood (that she knows of), he revealed the truth about Santa to kids his age who believed, one of whom was his best friend in kindergarten. The friend’s mother then came to Brown with the news. “I was mortified,” she remembers. “I was just like, ‘Are you kidding me?!’”

Now that her children are 13 and 15, they’re mostly out of the proverbial danger zone. But even to this day, Brown says, “there are people who are really cautious around my kids.”

Ellen Kottke of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, likes to keep the birth of Jesus at the center of her family’s Christmas celebrations, so her three kids have never been raised to believe that Santa was dropping off presents at their house. But now that her oldest daughter, Harper, is 8, they’re starting to navigate some delicate situations: Last year, Harper came home from school and announced that when her friend Cameron had asked whether Santa was real, she’d set the record straight. “I said, ‘Well, honey, I really appreciate you trying to tell Cameron about what we believe.’ And as a first grader, sometimes that’s really hard,” Kottke says. “‘But,’ I said, ‘that’s not really our place. It’s Cam’s mommy and daddy’s job to say those things.’”

Kottke doesn’t know whether Harper’s friend was disappointed by the news. “Maybe I failed as a mom in not following up with the parent,” Kottke says with a laugh. “But I just said, ‘Let’s choose not to talk about that anymore with her. And if it does come up, let’s just direct her back to her mommy and daddy.’”

David Kyle Johnson is the author of the 2015 book The Myths That Stole Christmas: Seven Misconceptions That Hijacked the Holiday (and How We Can Take It Back) and a viral 2012 Psychology Today essay titled “Say Goodbye to the Santa Claus Lie,” which argued against parents’ active efforts to perpetuate the Santa Claus myth because it could erode parental authority and stunt critical thinking. (“You should be proud if your 5-year-old figures out that Santa Claus is not real on their own!” Johnson told me in an interview. “In childhood development, if a kid gets to any other milestone early, we celebrate it.”)

Johnson—perhaps it goes without saying—is also someone who receives a lot of letters from people with strong opinions about Christmas traditions.

Most of the letters he gets are from “people just calling me a Scrooge or a Grinch, that kind of stuff,” he says, as well as “people who tell me, ‘I believed in Santa and I turned out fine.’” But after his essay about Santa Claus came out six years ago, he noticed something he wasn’t expecting about the letters he received in response: Other parents who weren’t so hot on the Santa Claus tradition were filling up his inbox. “I got an equal, if not actually greater, amount of mail from parents who felt the same way and who felt under attack by their other family members who don’t,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a silent majority, but there’s this silent large group out there of parents who don’t . It’s just that it’s so taboo that everybody who doesn’t do it doesn’t tell anyone.”

Why It’s OK for Kids to Believe in Santa Claus

Source: Oksana Kuzmina/

My most memorable Christmas was the year I was seven, right at the peak of my belief in Santa Claus. The excitement of his imminent journey down my chimney had me feeling ecstatic—so much so that I stayed up all night waiting for his arrival. I got out of bed so many times that my parents finally put me in their bed to keep me from sneaking downstairs to see if “He” had come yet. The fact that they were able to find a moment to throw their presents under our tree without me knowing was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

I, of course, didn’t notice their anxiety through my happy holiday haze. I never imagined that someone other than old Saint Nick put presents under our tree each year, or that he wasn’t the one who gobbled down the cookies and milk I put out for him. I wouldn’t realize until a few years later that my parents were behind my Christmas miracles. They were able to keep the Santa myth going for nine years before I figured it out.

According to several academics, parents, and general Santa critics, these were nine long years of lies that could have damaged my development and my relationship with my parents.

Santa Claus remains a controversial figure among many scientists and parents. There are countless books on the subject, including The Myths that Stole Christmas, which claims that the Santa legend is bad for kids. The main argument is, unsurprisingly, that telling kids about a magical figure who delivers presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve is a lie. This lie may be backed by good intentions, but it is a lie nonetheless, one that will inevitably unravel at some point during a child’s development. Figuring out the truth can be traumatic for a child, this argument goes, and will project the message that children can’t trust what their parents tell them. Further, lying in order to encourage good behavior is manipulative and encourages children to be behave for the wrong reasons.

There is some evidence that rewards (like Christmas gifts) undermine children’s motivation. So maybe relying on Santa or an Elf on the Shelf to promote good behavior isn’t the best strategy if you want your kids to be good all year round. But there is no evidence suggesting that learning the truth about Santa is traumatic for children—or that it leads to trust issues between kids and their parents.

Yes, the Santa myth is a lie, and all children eventually find out the truth. Yet
research on the topic suggests that children tend to figure out the truth about Santa on their own around the age of seven—in most cases, there is no big reveal in which parents shamefully confess the truth to their sobbing and disappointed kids—and their reactions are generally positive.

My own memory of finding out the truth about Santa is consistent with this research—it was less like a traumatic revelation and more like solving a puzzle. I went over the evidence in my head: Some kids in my class say that there’s no Santa. Why would Santa come to my house and not theirs? But if there is no Santa, how would my parents be able to hide all of those presents from me? This line of reasoning led to a fishing expedition in my basement and attic, which ultimately resulted in discovering a doll and a Tonka truck my mom had not yet wrapped. I had solved the mystery—and it felt good to figure it out on my own. I even kept up the ruse about believing in Santa for one more year to give my parents more time to cope with the fact that their little girl had outgrown her favorite childhood fantasy.

But fantasy in general is a normal and healthy part of child development. Children spend a large amount of time pretending, especially between the ages of five and eight. They are also constantly exposed to media in which animals can talk, people can fly, and objects magically appear out of thin air. Why should a group of flying reindeer be any more fantastical than a talking mouse or a singing snowman? Although magical thinking decreases between the ages of seven and nine (around the same age at which most children give up the Santa Claus myth), it doesn’t disappear forever: Sometimes we adults need a little magic in our lives, too, as we bear out our superstitions, relish in the excitement of “haunted” houses, and recite prayers to loved ones who have passed.

How do children eventually learn to distinguish fantasy from reality? Much of the time they rely on what other people tell them—what researchers call testimony. Children have to rely on their parents’ testimony because they still have much to learn about the way the world works. They also rely on evidence to support whether something is fact or fiction. At a very young age, all testimony (e.g., what parents say) and evidence (e.g., toys under the tree, disappearing cookies and milk) points to the existence of Santa Claus. At some point, children begin to obtain both testimony and evidence that contradicts this belief, whether from talking with their friends or by learning about the physics of what’s possible and impossible. They’ll question old evidence, seek out new evidence, and eventually find out on their own that Santa isn’t real.

Some of us don’t invite Santa Claus into our homes because we don’t celebrate Christmas, or because we choose other holiday traditions. Others embrace Santa without any religious connotation and still others pair Santa with a nativity scene. Whatever you decide, telling children the truth about Santa probably won’t hurt them, or your relationship. For me, the myth of Santa Claus was an exciting part of childhood, one that added a magical feeling to my holiday season—a feeling that has been missing for quite some time. As our second Christmas with a child of our own approaches, I’ve found that the magic of Santa Claus has suddenly returned. Sometimes even adults need a little bit of magic in their lives, and I am excited to have Santa’s magic back in mine for the first time in more than 25 years.

Enjoy the magic of your own holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it.