My 4-Year-Old Is Already Questioning Santa Thanks To A Crappy Mall Impostor

“He’s here so he can hear what little kids like you want for Christmas,” I tried to explain.

“Then why did I have to write him a letter?” she countered.

“Well, I wasn’t sure we would get the chance to see Santa. We just wanted to be sure,” I told her.

“I thought he was magic!” she cried, exasperated.

Through our car ride home, the questions didn’t end. She asked about kids in other states and countries, and how they would meet Santa. By this point, I had sold this impostor as the real thing. I couldn’t figure out how to backtrack and begin the whole, “He’s one of Santa’s helpers sent from the North Pole to help Santa find out what all the little girls and boys want.”

I was just considering how to introduce this conversation in when we passed a restaurant that happened to have their own Santa Claus for children to visit. There he was, five minutes away from mall Santa, hauling kids up onto his lap and smiling for pictures.

My daughter was incredulous from the back seat. “Mom!” she bellowed, “What the heck?” She felt very mature using that phrase. I could tell she felt like the situation needed the emphasis. “What is going on here?” she demanded.

I stumbled. I muttered. I decided to wait until we got home to have the talk face to face, so I tried to stall. I had not been prepared to defend the existence of Santa to my 4-year-old.

At home, I made a big deal about my “confession.” I explained that whole Santa spy business. I tried to help her see that Santa had an enormous job to do and he needed help. I implored her not to tell her cousin, hoping that the feeling of being in on a secret would make the situation better.

My daughter listened carefully. She asked a few questions, her face scrunched with skepticism. She told me that she would have to think about it. I figure that I’m going to need to up my game on the other magic parents attempt to create as proof. Eaten cookies and reindeer prints and separate “From Santa” wrapping paper and bows are all necessities this year. I’ll work as hard as I can to restore the Santa illusion. But I just would like to point out that none of this would be necessary without all the crappy fake Kris Kringles running around out there.

(Photo: Irina Magrelo/Shutterstock)

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  • Lawcat

    It’s probably best to have had a plan going in. It’s not like mall, restaurant, and party Santas magically appeared this year. All the questions and skepticism stem from you not sticking with a story confidently. Children can smell fear. :)

  • asdfglkj

    Man, give this mall Santa a break! That must be a horrible job. Endless crying children sitting on your lap, lot’s of wet bottoms and difficult parents. All for barely minimum wage.

    • Jenn

      I’m with you. He probably is doing his best and he has to do this ALL DAY. I know it’s his job but he’s got someone to answer to as well.

    • Kerry

      Actually, a lot of mall santas make around $10,000 for less than 2 months of work, making it about $15-$20 an hour. That’s double minimum wage. Besides, a lot of Santas are retired and doing it for fun.

  • Gealach

    Tell her that sometimes Santa has look alikes working for him because he’s so busy. That’s what I’ve always heard as the excuse. Just pretend you know what you’re talking about. As Lawcat said, confidence is key.

    • chickadee

      Yes, that was my approach. The mall Santas are all helpers. I adopted my mother’s explanation, which was that there were so many more children now that Santa needs other people to help him. And they reported back every night. And the letter is necessary so that Santa has a hard copy of what you want and doesn’t have to rely on memory.

      Confidence is key, and so are details.

  • kt

    LOL!! great piece. loved it.. i havent done the mall santa for a long time now since it became that ugly, picture-selling machine. why cant they just talk to him??? maybe better if you simply allowed her to know the truth and recruit HER to be a “special helper” for her younger cousin and or sibs?? she will still get to know the joy of giving from the heart and anonymously, and not feel tricked or lied to..

  • Daisy

    That makes me so angry that you HAVE to buy pictures. That’s right, kids, Santa only has time for you if your parents are rich enough to have an extra $20 lying around. For some people, that’s just pocket change, but for other people, that’s half the week’s grocery money.

    When I was a little kid, the Santa at our mall didn’t even have a professional photographer. (Or if they did, no one was obligated to use him.) All the Santa photos in our family’s album are snapshots from my mom’s ancient camera. And that was if we sat still long enough. A lot of years, we didn’t bother with pictures at all; we just wanted to talk to the big guy. And that’s the way it should be.

    • Shelly Lloyd

      Yeah, I hate that have to buy the pictures thing too. That just seems cruel. The mall near us, though does not make you buy the picutes, and will allow you to use your own camera too. The men they have playing Santa are usually really amazing, real beards too.

      I grew up in very Baptist house and we were not allowed to believe in Santa, it was ok to have pictures take with Santa, just not believe in the fairy tale of Santa. Every year my mom wanted us kids to have our pictures taken with Santa and I HATED it because I knew there was no real Santa and it was just some strange man in a costume. And because we were raised so conservatively the ideal of sitting in a strange man’s lap, was repulsive to me. My mom could not figure out why I hated it so much. I swore when I grew up and had children I would let them believe in Santa and all the fun magic that I could for as long as it was possible. But none of the scary things like ghost and demons that my parents believed in.

    • jenn

      as consumers – it’s the world we created. People attack each other over saving $10 on black Friday. So it’s no surprise that the stores that employ these santas want to make some money back.

  • Shelly Lloyd

    When my kids where young and believed in Santa, but had trouble believing in the mall Santas I told them that the mall Santas were Santa’s younger brothers who helped him find out what all the little boys and girls wanted for Christmas since Santa couldn’t always be at all the malls all the time. But sometimes you never know, it could be the REAL Santa….

  • Tea

    Usually I am a font of sarcasm, but I may be able to help.

    Unfortunately for my parents, I was a little boy version of Alia Atreides, I was highly gifted (Which evidently is only fun for a parent for about a week) and very little ever got past me.

    My mum always told me that the Santa at the mall WAS a fake (I was skeptical as soon as I was old enough to stop being afraid of him), because the real Santa is so busy he doesn’t have the time to come to all of these kinds of things, so he gets helpers. He used to be able to see more children personally, but the world has gotten a lot bigger since then.

    She also stressed not to ruin the experience for the other kids, and that made me feel like I was smart/enlightened on the whole ordeal. And reminded me that the picture part was so that dear Aunt ____ who didn’t see me every year could see how I’ve grown, and because my dad was an over-the-road driver and missed a lot of milestones in my life.

    It shut me up for a few years, and I continued to see mall santa so that aunt ____ and my dad who missed the holidays would have nice pictures. When I stopped believing all together, she stressed to me the idea of making sure other kids (especially younger ones) still get to have fun, and told me how wonderful it was that I helped “spread the myth”. We talked about folklore and the origins of Santa and why keeping folklore going is important. It kept me from being a smug little jerk about “knowing it all,” and ruining some kid’s holiday.

    In retrospect, she handled it well.

    • lea

      This is exactly what my mum did!

  • Meg

    I learned Santa was fake when I was three, and wandered downstairs to discover my father in his underwear eating “Santa’s” cookies and wrapping presents. I didn’t suffer any long term psychological damage. As a non-religious person in my mid-20s, I still love Christmas. I get that Santa is magic, and it’s sweet for children to innocently believe in these little fairytales, but is it THAT stressful when your child starts to come to their own conclusions about disbelief? The last thing you want is to be the girl I knew in college who believed in Santa until she was a senior in high school …

    • Justme

      I have a friend who didn’t want her children to get sucked into the “I want” Santa vortex of doom during the holidays so when her kids started questioning Santa’s abilities she would just say….Santa has a secret and that’s part of it. She let her kids kind of direct when they would stop believing on their own….when they finally figured out the “secret” was that Mom and Dad were acting as Santa.

  • Lesley

    That santa sucked! My dad was one when he was in college and so many of the stories he tells us are awesome! Whenever there wasn’t a long line, he would talk with the kids longer and really get them into the whole Santa thing. One little girl asked him to name an elf; he spouted a character’s name from a book he was reading–turns out it was her name! She was totally hooked. Later that day he walked by her (out of costume) and she was arguing with a group of older kids and absolutely insistent he was the real deal. I’m betting she still believes!

  • Erica

    It might be time to just let it go. She realizes the truth but can’t admit it to herself because she can’t get the concept of mommy lying. It’s more important that your daughter believes in YOU than in Santa.

  • Fabel

    Like everybody else said, telling her the mall santas are “helpers” is a good idea. That’s what my parents did…and if the “Santa” was particularly nice or had a real beard or something, they’d be all “Hmm, you never know! Maybe that one is the REAL Santa!” which made things fun.

    Another thing they did was have some presents under the tree marked “love, Mom” or “love, Dad” & others marked (in handwriting struggling to look not their own…) “love, Santa” so I’d think only SOME of the presents came from him. Just an idea! That also made it seem more real.

    Although, I have to say, I felt pretty tricked when I discovered everything was fake.

  • MommyK

    I clearly remember a mall-Santa disaster from when I was 5 or so. Our really small farming city had a Santa’s Pancake Breakfast at our mall every year on a Saturday morning; our family attended loyally every year. Well, one year, Santa was late. Kids were eating their breakfasts and getting very antsy waiting, he usually showed up near the beginning!

    Then, Santa literally stumbled in, looking rather disheveled. His beard was crooked, and his pants fell down. All the kids laughed, and when he bent down to pull them up, his hat fell off, and his fake hair nearly did too. Security promptly rushed in and escorted Drunk Santa away, telling the crowds of disappointed children, “So sorry, Santa has the flu and has to go back to the North Pole to rest, so that he can bring you all presents on Christmas morning.” So many crying kids, including me and my sister. “But I wanted to see him!!! I’ve been waiting like a good girl!” I guess Santa must have had a wild Friday night…

  • denise

    Has to be the worst job in the world. Crying children and their self indulgent parents who expect them to carry out a fantasy and lie the themselves parents created. Not to mention, who i their right mind would want that job and hopefully their background checks out.

  • denise

    Has to be the worst job in the world. Crying children and their self
    indulgent parents who expect them to carry out a fantasy and lie the parents created. Not to mention, who i their right mind
    would want that job and hopefully their background checks out.

  • windows

    A Santa from our mall was fired after telling a little girl she was selfish and then turning away another child when her parents wouldn’t buy a photo package.

  • astraspec

    I’m 55, mother of three (34, 30, 19) and if I could do it over, I would not do the whole “Santa” myth. Of course, I’ve changed over the years and Christmas was/is such a big deal when little ones live in the home. But, if I could do it over, I would celebrate the “Santa” outlook….a season of good cheer, special gifts for those you love, loving gifts and time for those less fortunate….a season of thankfulness, high spirits and love for all that IS. It would not include the Santa, elves, North Pole and toy shop because looking back, it was just too darn much work to try to create reality out of the myth! It all ends with the heartbreak of finding out that it was all make-believe and even in 1965, when I approached my father with the “truth or fiction” big question, I got yelled at! No, we don’t have to follow along….children are much savvier nowadays, Santa does not have an email and website, and the tangled lies to keep it going are just too twisted.

  • Joelle

    “But I just would like to point out that none of this would be necessary without all the crappy fake Kris Kringles running around out there.” — No, none of this would be happening if you
    didn’t feel the need to lie to you child so that you could live vicariously through her. I applaud your child for figuring out she’s being fed a line, for which I certainly did not that my mother for.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    lol my parents used to tell me they had to pay santa for the presents he made for us, that way we never acted up if we didnt get what we wanted- it also helped my parents curb us in- “No son, you can’t get the €650 go-kart because if we pay Santa for that, that’s all your part of Santa’s Money gone”

    worked wonders- so now we’re doing it with the stepkids, it’s brilliant!

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