How To Explain Santa Claus to Your Kids

A Reason for Celebration, Not Despair

Tradition is something of a double-edged sword. While some of our earliest childhood memories involve the happy mystery of the jolly old elf, learning the shocking truth can be one of the earliest scars.

Now the “Happiest Time of Year” has come 'round again, and you're faced with a difficult choice: Just how do you inspire holiday cheer without actively lying to your kids? Here are some suggestions to help you walk that narrow road:

  1. Reveal “more truth” as the kids get older. Depending on your point of view, “Santa Claus” can mean anything from an actual person, to the personification of holiday spirit, to just the name we use to show we're in the mood for giving. However, no one expects a three-year-old to understand the more advanced ideas of personification or metaphors, and she doesn't need to know. Try the following, keeping pace more with a child's grasp of the world around them than by age:
    • 0 – 5 years: Santa Claus is a real person who comes down the chimney with a sack full of presents. How Santa does it all is magic, and when the kids come out and see all the presents, they'll be filled with wonder.
    • 5 – 8 years: Santa Claus is really, really busy this year, and asked you (the parents) to help him out. Show the kids some of the presents Santa sent out ahead of time, and put them under the tree. Keep some secret for Christmas Eve.
    • 8 – 11 years: This may be the time to explain the traditions behind Santa Claus. Remember, he IS real, depending on how you feel about it, but as for the fat guy in the suit... that's your Uncle Bob.
  2. Let the kids help! One of the ways to not only soften the blow, but even inspire more holiday cheer, is to get the kids involved. As a sort of “rite of passage,” along with increasing clarity of Santa, let the kids know the joys of anonymous giving. Have them get a gift for a friend or family member, and label it “from Santa” instead. Show that the holiday spirit is about the giving, not the receiving.

  3. If they “learn the truth” at school, take the time to explain more. As kids often spread the unfortunate truth at school, there's a good chance your kid may come home “informed.” This can be turned around not by re-enforcing one viewpoint, but rather by taking the time to introduce a new point of view.

So long as kids believe, and so long as we all collectively recognize a little jolly old elf in all of us, then Santa Claus will always be real. After all, this holiday is about spreading good cheer and happiness, not about how many toys we can stuff under the tree. Show your kids the wonder and mystery of the holiday season, and Santa's existence will take on new roles naturally as your children age.

Happy Holidays!


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Very good advice! My son is just getting to the age when he's starting to question, so this is helpful.

By Lisa Howard