How to Tell Children the Truth About Santa and Still Keep the Magic of Christmas Alive

Jade-Ceres Violet D. Munoz

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“Is Santa real?” It was as blunt as that. My 8-year-old asked me the dreaded question over dinner today. The huge lump in my throat was suddenly too hard to swallow. I could see her eyes starting to glisten and tears were welling up on the corners.

All the memories of our early Christmases suddenly came flooding back into my mind. The very first Santa gift we got her when she was only a few months old was a Christmas onesie -- and we got three of those. She had an older cousin and a younger one. They were all born only a few months apart, so we wanted to give gifts that matched. The coordination with other parents just makes the magic even more real! Plus, they looked absolutely adorable that year.

For the last 8 years, it was a concerted effort between the three families with little children. The gifts had to be of similar values -- one can’t get a bike while the other gets a set of pencils. None too extravagant or expensive. So we always discussed presents weeks before Christmas.

Then, we migrated to another country when my daughter was 3, so it posed even more challenges. She was in constant communication with her cousins. There were Christmases spent in different countries and Christmases spent together -- every time, Santa’s magic proved itself when the gift for my daughter appeared wherever we were for the holidays.

Orchestrating a coordinated Santa story over the years was difficult, but the magic of all those Christmas mornings was always worth it. Those tiny feet running towards the Christmas tree, wading through all the gifts to find the ones from Santa gave both the kids and the parents such joy. But now it has come to its end.

I was jolted back to the present with my daughter still waiting for my reply. I had to come up with an answer fast. I really wasn’t ready for it. I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be now -- so close to Christmas and her letter to the jolly guy in red already posted (via a mall mailbox!). She was just on a call with her best friend. Her friend was telling her that the birth of Jesus is what Christmas is about and not Santa -- plus, he’s not even real.

“He is.” I tell her. “He’s real but not in the way that you think.” I started.

Framing the Truth

Thus I began by telling her who Santa really is. He’s not the big guy in red she sees at the mall often. That idealized version of Santa Claus is more similar to Coca Cola’s version. The soda company commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint their Christmas ad in 1931. That gave Santa the modern-day look -- with rosy cheeks, a white beard, and twinkling eyes. It was inspired by the 1822 poem by Clement Clark Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or more popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas”

Saint Nicholas was a real person who lived a long long time ago. He lived during the Roman empire, from the late third century to the fourth century. He was named bishop of Myra, a small Roman town now known as Turkey. He was a fierce fighter for his faith, a protector of people, and was revered for his many miracles.

He became the patron saint of children following a tale that he saved three young girls from a devious fate by secretly delivering bags of gold so their indebted father could afford their dowries. The modern-day attire of Kris Kringle has similarities with the traditional red miter and cloak of a bishop.

“So, who is Santa now? If he’s sooo old, he’s probably dead, right?” She asks as her quest for the truth continues.

“He is the spirit of Christmas representing kindness and selflessness -- he’s just as magical today as he was yesterday. He is a living tradition. One that people from all over the world choose to keep alive.”

“So he’s like my imagination and not real?” Her inquisitiveness sometimes breaks me but we trudge on.

“He is real. I’m Santa. Your daddy is Santa. Now you could be Santa, too”

Keeping the Magic Alive

Our discussion evolved a little bit towards what it means to be ready to take on the mantle of Santa. One has to be emotionally ready for it. Their heart has to be big enough to give up the gifts that they will be getting and to give those to others who need them more. Younger kids might not be ready for that yet, that’s why we keep Santa's story a secret.

(Actually, I just didn’t want my kid shouting the truth to the world and causing other parents who are not ready to talk about it yet to be put in this position!)

To keep the magic alive, we gave her a task. She had to pick a person to secretly give a gift to. It could be a friend, a neighbor, or even a total stranger. The money that we would have used to buy her gift would now be spent on her gift for others.

As a mini book fairy, she already understands the joy of leaving a surprise gift for others to find. It made this task all the more easier for her to embrace. So, she has decided to buy morning coffee and a scone for the guy on the street who always asks for spare change. “I think he needs it more than I need a new toy.”

I gave her a nod. My heart was doing a few happy somersaults knowing we’re starting a new family tradition. I’m a bit sad that the excitement of playing Santa has ended so soon. Yet, I know that we’re transitioning to something even better. The magic of Santa lives on.

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I've been a professional writer for over 15 years and write about a variety of topics but prefer to write about things that make the world a better place.

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