How to Tell Your Kids About Santa
How to Answer the Question, "Is Santa Real?"
I've been waiting for the day when my son would finally ask the dreaded question, "Is Santa real?" and it finally came last week.
Last year I barely avoided the question. Some of my son's friends had started talking about Santa not being real, but my son was still convinced in Santa's existence, thanks to the fact that we were able to "catch" Santa at home and show a photo of St. Nick delivering presents right in our very own living room. This year, he learned about PhotoShop, and the gig was up. But I was prepared.
I don't think there's an easy answer to the question of how to to tell your kids about Santa Claus, but this is how I responded.
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Santa Claus Was a Real Man Who Inspired Millions
A few years ago I wrote an article imagining what I wanted to tell my son when he asked, Is Santa Real? I wasn't sure when the question would come, so I wanted to be prepared. Because of that, when he finally did ask, I knew just what I wanted to say.
When my son finally asked the big question, I told him that the Santa Claus we see at the shopping mall every year isn't the real Santa. But I explained there WAS a real Santa, a man named Saint Nicholas who lived a long time ago, way back in the fourth century. Saint Nicholas was a very kind and generous person who came from a wealthy family, and he used his good fortune to help others.
One legend about St. Nick said that he left gold coins in the stockings of three young women who couldn't get married because their father wasn't able to afford the dowry. This legend led to our current tradition of hanging stockings out for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve and to the tradition some people still practice of putting oranges (representing the gold coins) in the toe of the stocking.
But what I stressed most to my son was the incredible impact this one man, through a life of giving and generosity, had on the entire world. Nicholas of Myra was a bishop during his life, but was sainted after his death to become "Saint Nicholas." Santa Claus, whose name comes from Sinterklaas, the Dutch nickname for Sint Nikolaas, now carries on the tradition of kindness and generosity.
I told my son that millions of people for thousands of years have been giving gifts in the name of Saint Nicholas. How many other people in human history have had such an impact on so many people spread across the globe for so long? Jesus Christ, the Buddha and Mohammed are the only three that I can think of, and yet their enduring legacy has also caused bitterness and divisiveness between some people, and wars have been fought in their name. To the best of my knowledge, no war has even been fought over a belief in Santa Claus.
Rather, Santa Claus continues to embody the kindness, generosity and magic that is often missing from our daily lives. Once a year, Santa flies into our consciousness and reminds us all that it's better to be nice than to be naughty and it's better to give than receive. He spreads joy and hope wherever he goes, and he does it all without asking anything from us in return.
I told my son that Santa's impact is so amazing that even the government, which has a website to track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, is part of the conspiracy to keep his secret and continue to spread his joy to children everywhere for centuries to come.
My youngest daughter is in kindergarten, and my greatest fear was that my son would want to tell her the secret about Santa, either from disappointment or from the sudden rush of knowing a big secret. But I told my son that he was now part of the secret society of people who have been entrusted to guard Santa's secret. If Saint Nicholas' legacy is to live on, we must all continue to protect the magic identity of Santa Claus.
By the end of our conversation, my son was excited to be part of the "grown-up" world that knows about Santa, and he was anxious to continue the tradition for his little sister. This year when Santa comes to our house, he's going to have an extra little helper.
3 Tips on How to Tell Your Kids About Santa
Based on my own experience, here are some tips that helped me and hopefully will help you tell your kids about Santa Claus. I also think "The Polar Express" is a great book or movie to read or watch after talking about Santa because kids will understand the ending more once they know the truth about Santa.
Make sure they're ready to know the truth - The first time my son asked about Santa, I responded by saying, "What do you think?" At that point, he was still a firm believer, so I waited until he asked again and showed signs of disbelief to explain the entire story. If your child is still on the fence and you want to keep the magic alive as long as possible, you can also check out some ways to keep your child believing in Santa.
Talk about Saint Nicholas - Let your child know that "Santa Claus" was a real person who lived a long time and was so generous that other people wanted to continue his work.
Discuss the real meaning of Christmas - Santa Claus teaches us many of the same lessons that are embodied by the birth and life of Jesus Christ. If you are a religious person, you can talk about how Santa and Jesus both want us to be charitable and kind. If you're not Christian, you can simply talk about the lessons we can learn from Santa.
Instill the importance of secrecy - Help your child understand that knowing Santa's secret is a gift that needs to be closely guarded so other kids can continue to enjoy the magic he brings.
If you handle it well, hopefully your child won't be too disappointed, but instead will be excited to become part of the "secret society" that carries on the generous mission and vision of Saint Nicholas.
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