In Defense Of Lying To Your Child About Santa Claus

secret santaI’m a liar. I’m a big, fat tall-tale-teller. When my daughter asks if fairies like Tinkerbell are real, I reply, “They are if you believe they are.” When Easter rolls around, I have a friend hide eggs in my house while we’re gone so that she arrives home with a huge look of shock and wonder on her face. And when it comes to Santa Claus, we’ll be baking cookies and leaving “Reindeer feed” on the lawn.

I know that there’s a new movement to stop lying to our kids about all of these magical beings and mythical creatures, but I just can’t seem to jump on board.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of parents stress out about all the lying involved in creating that Christmas magic. There’s the Elf on the Shelf to hide every night. There’s the mall Santas to explain. Heck, I buy separate boxes, wrapping paper, and gift tags for all of my special, “From Santa” gifts. I realize that it gets a bit over the top. But I never expected a mother at gymnastics to tell me, “Well I just don’t understand how you can lie to your daughter. I mean, once they find out the truth, she’ll never trust you again.”

Whoa there Rudolph! We’re not talking about a thoughtful choice to focus your holiday energies away from the magic of Santa and onto the kindness and generosity of the season. The situation my colleague Carinn described yesterday sounds wonderful, and I think she’s making the perfect choice for her family. But there are other truthers out there who get a bit more worked up trying to convince parents to do away with old Saint Nick. They get downright hostile at the idea of telling their children a lie, or asking their children to perpetuate that lie for the other kids in their class.

I’m sorry to break it to these super honest folks, but parents lie to their kids all the time. At the very least, we exaggerate like crazy.

“Why can’t I drink pop?” “Because your teeth will fall out.” It’s not going to happen for years, but I don’t want my daughter to know that.

“Why do I have to go to school?” “Because you need to learn. Gaining knowledge and building that brain is how you guarantee that you can have whatever job you want when you’re older.” First of all, there are plenty of professional athletes that can disprove that theory. And studying really hard does not guarantee you can have absolutely any job you want. I would love to be a judge on Top Chef, but it’s not happening guys.

We lie to our kids. We do it for their own good. There’s a higher purpose involved, but let’s not pretend like we’re honest all the time, about everything. I happen to think that the wonder and excitement of Santa Claus, his reindeer, and his elves are worth the moral cost of lying. I think these stories teach children to imagine the impossible, to stretch their creativity. And honestly, I think they’re fun!

I can remember when I found out that the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and even Santa Claus were all fakes. I was mad at my dad for a week afterwards, indignant that his would lie to me for so long. Then again, I was a kid, and getting mad at my parents was second-nature. I don’t think it had a lasting impact on our relationship, but I’ll ask my dad today when I meet him for our weekly lunch date.

Sure, Santa is a lie. He’s also magical. And I like giving my daughter a little magic over the holidays. I don’t have any problem with a parent deciding not to sell their kids on Kris Kringle, as long as they don’t lecture me about honesty when I’m trying to get my yuletide cheer on. I’ll remember that honesty bit when their kid finds their vibrator and asks what it is. Let’s see if lying is too much for their delicate sensibilities then.

(Photo: Laura Wootan/Shutterstock)

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  • jsterling93

    Thank you! I love Christmas and Santa and have ever since I was a child. I never was upset at my parents when I discovered the “truth.”

  • chickadee

    Go with your instincts and with your daughter’s questions. My parents taught us about Santa Claus and I was only sorry that my mother was TOO honest with me when, at the age of five, I asked her if Santa was real. All I wanted was reassurance, and my mother told me he wasn’t real, so I cried for an hour. I never resented my mother for the illusion of Santa Claus, though, and my children loved the whole Santa thing to the extent that my teenagers still get Santa-gifts.

    One thing I would recommend — when your daughter asks you The Question, respond with, “Why do you ask?” and “What do you think?” Then you can understand what prompted the question and gauge whether or not she’s ready for the truth.

  • Carinn Jade

    You know I could discuss this until Santa started coming out my ears. But in all my discussions what always comes clear is every parent knows their kid best and should decide for them. My son is not a “go with the flow” kind of kid. He wouldn’t let the idea of magical elves and jolly Santa Claus just slide. I also don’t lie to him about anything. Of course he gets a lot of “Didn’t you hear me say no?” but truthfully that’s not about me being above lying, it’s a gut instinct when it comes to my son. He’s not into pretend or make-believe. He’s a stickler for the rules. It often seems like he’s lived more lifetimes than me. Somehow I know (or at least I believe) that he would be devastated if I lied – about Santa or anything else. As you already said, I think it’s the right choice for him.

    Where this whole thing gets really ugly? I hadn’t really considered the long term effect on my 21 month old daughter (who strikes me now as someone who will love fantasy and make-believe). Yikes, this parenting stuff is hard!

  • alice

    i can’t understand the idea that a child may never trust you again if you tell them a story. it’s so laughably absurd. the children who really may never trust you again must have an IQ of a potato.

    consider the millions of children that have grown up in judeo-christian households. was the world really created in six days? how did all those animals fit on the ark? kids don’t usually bother with those questions when they first hear the stories. but they hear the stories. again and again.

    then at some point their little minds begin to grasp the concept of things like allegory, metaphor, symbolism.

    and all of the sudden, the stories take on new meaning.

    the santa claus “myth” is not obscure. if a child can’t understand why a parent would choose to indulge in ubiquitous santa claus legend, and instead decides to “not trust them forever,” then that kid’s got some serious issues imo ;)

    • Steafan Dubhuidhe

      How wrong you are. I would say just the opposite. Only a person with a low IQ thinks the truth is unimportant.

  • katydid0605

    i just never felt comfortable “lying” about, but was also not into Santa as a child (it freaked moe out an old fat dude came into the house…call me weird). But i dont begrudge other parents their right to do it. I get it, if you want to go for it. At first I was hard and fast, ‘we arent doing that with them” but when my son was 4, he told me he WANTED to believe in Santa, so i said “ok, go ahead. lots of people believe in all kinds of different things”. so i guess i havent come right out and said “he isnt real” but he knows i dont believe, and he has at this point said “ohhhh its you and dad” (hes 6) and his 4 year old sister still likes to believe.

  • Lori B.

    You can also keep up the story and never budge:) I like your answer for the fairy question so you can apply that to Santa if she ever asks. I don’t remember ever having a moment where I was devastated by learning the fact that Sant was not in fact a real guy with magic reindeer. I don’t think I ever asked my parents one way or the other. In fact, my mother would continue to act as if Santa was real well into my adulthood. I guess when I figured it out on my own, I thought it was sweet of my parents to keep up the game so I played along.

  • Alicia Kiner

    I think this all depends on how you go about it. My kids believe in Santa still, but I’m not pushing everything on them. They hear the Christmas songs, and they hear the stories. One of their favorites is “The Night Before Christmas.” We watch “Miracle on 34th St” and “The Santa Clause” movies every year. And I stress to them that Christmas isn’t only about presents, that it’s about Jesus (we are Christian). When they ask me if Santa is real, I fully intend to tell them that while the person WAS real, the spirit of what he did lives on because people believe. People, no matter what faith, believe this time of year is a time of goodness and magic. Not the showy kind, but the kind that fills our hearts with joy, and we all smile, without really knowing why. I can also tell you that as a child, we had a few years where there shouldn’t have been gifts, but because of the generosity of strangers, we had some. So maybe there is a Santa Claus after all! ;)

    Merry Christmas!!

  • BrooklynMom

    thank you! i’m a liar, too!

  • revived86

    I was 5 when I found a price tag on one of my gifts from Santa on Christmas morning. That night, I asked my mom, “Santa isn’t real, is he?” She said, “No, he isn’t,” and I was crushed. I truly didn’t understand why all the adults in my life had been lying to me all along. Had my mother kept up the lie or deflected the question (which seems like a cruel thing to do to a child looking for a direct answer,) I think it would have only been worse for me when I found out later that Santa was not real.
    I know there are a lot of different views on this, and I understand that. I just think it is important to recognize that the Santa lie did negatively affect some kids’ lives, and we need to face the fact instead of just saying it is all fun and games or insulting the kids who are hurt by saying they have the “IQ of a potato” as “alice” says in the comment above. Let’s be honest, respectful and understanding in this conversation.

  • jennifer lynne

    As far as the vibrator comment goes…..I would tell my daughter that it was a massage device…just like the one for my neck….And if she were older…(she is 5) I would say the same…unless she was a teenager…then I would simply..say the same thing…because that is what it is!!!!

  • Steafan Dubhuidhe

    Completely false. I never lie to my daughter unless it is in the form of a joke and she knows it is a joke. I don’t tell her lies about her teeth falling out, I tell her the truth and the truth is good enough.

    I am one of those people that was very disappointed when I found out I had been lied to about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and so on. I never accepted that it was a “good lie” and still do not. The only “good lies” are humor and lies to protect someone from harm (as in, no, Mr. Nazi, there are no Jews hiding in my home).

  • Richard Santiago

    While I am on the fence about Santa, the “everyone lies to their kids all the time” stuff is bologna. I don’t lie to my kids the way you apparently do. When they ask why they can’t drink soda, I explain the real reason. They’re not little idiots, they’re tiny people. Treat them with respect.