It’s a marshmallow world with jelly bears and wheeee!!! Let’s change the subject!

Harper came out to the car yesterday with a worried look on her face. When I asked her what was up, she hesitated for a bit—which isn’t her normal style.

Harper: Well, on the way out to the car, a first grader told me that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Me: What?!

Harper: Yeah. First she told me to pet her bear because it was filled with jelly and then she started talking fast about God and Jesus and how God hates Santa Claus.

Me: She was clearly high.

Harper: What?

Me: Harper, do you remember when you thought that marshmallows grew on trees, and we looked it up and discovered that what you had was bad information?

Harper: Yeah. Marshmallows can’t grow on trees.

Me (wishing I could stop time and formulate a coherent thought): Yep. I wish they did, but they don’t. I think sometimes people share what they think they know, even if it’s bad information. That whole bear with the jelly thing sounds sort of crazy.

Harper: What about God and Jesus?

Me: I’m good with God and Jesus.

Harper: Does God hate Santa Claus?

Me: I think God has better things to do than hate Santa Claus.

Harper: She really did have a bear, but it wasn’t filled with jelly.

Me: See what I mean? It was like she was playing Truth and Lies with you!

Harper: I don’t know what you’re saying.

Me: Me neither.

Last week Meredith asked if it’s physically possible for a reindeer to fly. When I stuttered around and said something about magic, she told me that she doesn’t really believe in magic. Argh. I’m not quite ready for my kids to not believe in Santa Claus. With that said, I’m not sure how much longer I can do my marshmallow tree dance.

Any tips/words of wisdom? (AND, although I know I just asked for tips and words of wisdom, I also know that at least three of you firmly believe that FANTASY KILLS and it’s Terrible Parenting 101 to allow your children to believe in things like fairies and old men who deliver gifts from the North Pole. If you’re one of those three, please feel free to sit this one out. (I still think you’re pretty.)) ‘ ‘ ‘text/javascript’>

41 thoughts on “It’s a marshmallow world with jelly bears and wheeee!!! Let’s change the subject!”

  1. When I get questions like this, I usually do two things: 1. try not to outright lie and 2. find out what the concern really is. This usually involves me turning the question back on my son, “What do you think about what your friend said?” He’ll generally give the answer he wants to hear and then you can help him justify it. “I don’t think it’s true, but I really don’t understand how he can fit down the chimney,” he says. “Me neither. How do you think he does it?” It’s never failed me yet.

  2. I am never planning to admit to there not being a Santa – because there is right?! The spirit is what matters. So, I try to answer vaguely and in the spirit of giving. And why would God hate someone like Santa who is generous & giving??? Some religions really scare me.

  3. I would stick with the “bad information” angle. In fact, I am filing it away for when this inevitably happens to us.

    Some people are unnecessarily evangelical, in my opinion.

  4. My parents never would admit Santa wasn’t real… they said sometimes they acted as Santa and I also grew up knowing Santa was the spirit of Christmas. I don’t think you need to say out and out that THERE IS NO SANTA because that is horrible… they will probably start figuring that out for themselves. Or maybe it is time to watch a movie like Miracle on 34th Street?

  5. I am seven years older than my sister. SO my mother threatened me with my life to keep the Santa Claus thing under wraps. Really she told me that as long as M believed in Santa than Santa still came to see me as well. All was going well with this plan until my sister’s third grade teacher decided to spill the beans to the entire class by anoucing that Santa wasn’t real and it was silly to believe in him right before Christmas break. (Needless to say to say that teacher didn’t come back for the spring semester.) So my mother sat us down and gave us a speach about how Santa was based on St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was about the spirt of giving and how it was always better to give than receive. So as long as we showed the spirit of giving to others during the year Santa would ALWAYS visit us at Christmas. And to this day we still get gifts from Santa at Christmas.

  6. For the God part, “god doesn’t hate anyone” would work for me.

    And maybe you could work in an explanation that santa doesn’t go to everyone’s house – he only goes to houses where he’s invited, so maybe this kid’s family celebrates the holidays differently and don’t invite him over? This is pretty much how my mom explained why our Jewish friends didn’t do Santa, and it made sense to me when I was little. Your mileage may vary….

  7. When my son told me a kid at school said that his parents were Santa Claus and that they were the ones buying and wrapping the presents, I said, “Of COURSE Johnny’s parents buy his presents. He’s on the naughty list EVERY YEAR and can you IMAGINE the shrieking if he got nothing on Christmas morning?!”

    That bought me five more years of Christmas magic.

  8. I am kind of dreading this topic myself. Niklas (who is 5 and very rational) has already started asking hard questions–2 years ago it was how Sant could fit down the chimney when it is so little and he is so big. (And that was the year he asked Santa for a Land Rover and started crying when he saw his gift was ONLY a toy…) Last year he asked for a camera (not a kid one–like the one we have) and we found a used digital Cannon and thought it was all good. He was upset after he studied it and found “made in China” on the bottom. We had to make up a quick one on how Santa out-sources some things…um…no telling what he will come up with this year. I don’t know exactly when they cross over from the concrete to the abstract thinking, but that is likely when they know magic is not real and such. I just want to hold onto the magical side of my kids as long as I can–it is too short as it is. I thought you answered beautifully. I plan to lie myself, as long as it has a chance of working! :)

  9. Although I don’t have kids of my own, I have taught kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade. The answer I use when my students ask about Santa is: “All I know is that there are presents under the tree for me every year, from Santa.” (This is true — at my mom’s house, Santa comes for everyone, regardless of age.) This seems like just the reassurance my little believers need. And then, I take the Grinchy little Christmas-wrecking nonbelievers into the coatroom and we have a talk about not ruining the magic for others….

  10. All I know is my own experience. I believed in Santa all the way up to 6th grade, when my friend Mary (who clearly had a different kind of home life — she once got in trouble for bringing a knife to school) looked at me like I was COMPLETELY INSANE as I babbled on and on about how excited I was for Santa to come. I ran home to my mom and confronted her with “Is Santa real?” She stumbled over her words for a minute and finally choked out something like, “He’s real in our hearts, honey.” I was crushed, and sobbed hysterically… and about 2 minutes later was even MORE crushed when I realized that this meant that there was also no Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.

  11. Duuude. It was only in the past couple of years that my kids, now ages almost 13 and almost 15, broke the news to me that they don’t believe. I think they MAY not have believed for quite a while prior to that but were afraid to tell me because they knew I would be disappointed. (By the time they did tell me, I was actually OVERJOYED to no longer have to tiptoe around the house in the wee hours of Christmas Eve playing Santa. Now I’m in bed by 10! IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE. EVERY YEAR FROM NOW ON.)

    All of which is to say: your kids are way too young not to believe in Santa! I have no advice but this: lie. Lie for ALL YOU ARE WORTH. Whatever helps keep the magic going.

  12. My kids were long-term believers. My Meredith is 10 and I only just broke the news to her a few weeks ago, because Mean Girls were starting to take advantage of her naïveté (“Hey, Meredith, write a letter to Santa and he’ll send you an elf! Made of BONES! No, really!”)

    I told both of my children that the Santa mythology is a wonderful heartwarming tradition that parents engage in to do special works of wonder for their children. For my son, who is the firstborn, I added an extra bit about how now he would be able to help carry on the tradition for his sister, and wasn’t that so great?

    It worked pretty well.

    Except for how Meredith turned to me in Target the other day and goes “So… if YOU’RE Santa… then it’s YOU who eats all those cookies?!”


  13. Mrs. Pudding,

    It has begun! This is a really exciting time of discovery for Meredith as she begins to sort out her personal epistemology.

    I was thinking though, being the bright girl that she is, for a time she might be happy to choose to live in the fantasy even though she knows the truth. You might be able to find balance here by posing the question “Meredith, if Santa wasn’t real, would you really want me to tell you? You know, it will change Christmas for you. Would you really want to know?” If she says no, then you’ve given her something to think about and you still have magic. If she says yes, then you get to change Christmas into a deeper, richer holiday that is all about altruism, love, family, sacrifice, peace and whatever else is special to you and your family.

    Full Disclosure: we didn’t do the Santa Mythos but I am still really pretty.

  14. I have little advice regarding Santa, we didn’t do Santa when I was a kid and so we don’t do it with ours either. When Meredith is ready to be beyond Santa she might like this book about Saint Nicholas:
    My girls really enjoy hearing about him, and sometimes we celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) by putting out shoes for small presents and chocolate coins.

    As far as fantasy goes, I think it’s fine. We have the tooth fairy ’round here, and this past summer I suggested my girls look for fairies at the park. When they found the wing from a cicada they declared it a fairy wing and now have a little notebook illustrated with fairy pictures with pasted-in bug wings. It’s fun, my 7 year old knows that it’s imaginary (thanks to my literal no-Santa mother!) but likes to pretend there are fairies anyway.

  15. Mine asked me about Santa and I said “But how do the presents get there?” “You put them there, Mom!” ” Do I look like Santa? I’m not Santa. I can’t possibly be Santa.”

    And I continued to tell lie or tap dance until they figured it out for themselves.

    I’m good with little folks believing in Santa, at least for a while. They need some fantasy in their lives. It’s a hard cruel world without some fantasy…

  16. I have no advice because I don’t have kids, but if I did I would probably force them to believe that Santa is real until the day they had to put me in the cold hard ground. Did I mention I don’t have kids?

    I really like what you said about people sharing things without having the right information. That’s excellent advice.

  17. Um, dude. Santa IS totally real. I get a present every year at my mom’s house from him and sometimes I get something from Mrs. Claus too. Usually that’s just underwear, I think it’s because Santa is a little embarassed going to Vicky’s to get thongs.

    Also, I’ve never seen him but there is a Garage Sale Santa that comes to our house. I know! He brings the best gifts which are sometimes vintage kitchen stuff or cool lanterns.

    BTW, I am 40 and my brother is 52. Nyah!

  18. Oh, this topic is so near and dear to my heart! I think you handled it beautifully — I could only wish to be so eloquent when faced with that kind of question!

    My son is 9, and rounding the corner to 10 here very soon. There are many kids his age who already know the truth, and who love to prove how much they know, so last year, we got seriously grilled by my son about whether there is or isn’t a Santa. I just couldn’t bring myself to say one way or the other, so I just kept asking him, “Well, what do *you* think?” That *sort* of worked, but what has turned out to be our saving grace is the Elf on the Shelf. Are you familiar with it? It may be worth the investment! It’s saved our Xmas!

    It’s a little Elf who comes to stay in your home the day after Thanksgiving. The story, as explained in the book that comes with him, is that he is sent to your home by Santa to be Santa’s eyes and ears and find out who is on the nice or naughty list. I can’t even tell you all the mileage we have gotten out of this thing, in so many ways! (Stop fighting! The Elf is watching!!) Even though my son was really skeptical about Santa last year, when that Elf showed up, he totally changed his tune. (I know you don’t really ‘know’ me, but please don’t think we are nuts! Really!)

    It’s me, more than my kids, I think, who is not ready to give up the Santa thing. If you’re in the same boat, maybe you should get thyself an Elf! It’s become a sweet tradition that my kids get super-excited about. And it’s helped one of them keep believing for at least one more year.

  19. There is some really good suggestions here and I think I may read thorough them once or twice myself. I have a 17 and a 9 year old and I never really have answered that question. Usually I talk about the Spirit of Giving out of Love and that is what Santa represents.

    But what I wanted to share is that for years my husband “played” Santa at our annual Community Christmas Party at church. Our youngest saw “dad” dressing up as Santa from birth practically and for years actually thought that his “Dad” was the real Santa….. so funny how we used that to our advantage for so long.

    My biggest thing is not to lie to them and also, I still believe in the Spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Santa and now years later, so do they.

  20. Whoa, you aren’t trying to tell me there’s no Santa are you?

    On a serious note, I had to break this news to my mother when I was about 9-10. She took it ok, and so will you. Trust me, your girls will tell you when they have had enough, or maybe five years after that.

  21. I was just talking to a friend about this. “I believe in Santa” is what I encouraged her to say. And if your kid asks if you are Santa, you can give them the Spirit of thing. And how lucky he/she is to have his/her parents as Santa. And it would be a good time to bring a present to a homeless shelter or a giving tree, so every child can feel the spirit, too. Santa comes to everyone. The end.

  22. A nice Jewish boy started telling kids Santa doesn’t exist, and I firmly sat him down and told him how hurtful his words were. That no one would dare tell him that the oil that lights the Menorah for 7/3/whatever days and nights was a lie and that his “belief” was wrong. SO he needed to shut it.

  23. When is it ok to lie to your kids?

    Well, I think we should first take off the table from the get-go the “little white lies” we tell to spare someone’s feelings — like “you always look beautiful” or “of course I can tell that chicken scratch is a loving portrait of our family” or “no, the little bits of green in there are herbs, not spinach, now just eat your pot pie please”.

    I think we all have versions of the little white lie that we use in our daily lives, some maybe more than others, some maybe not so little, but for the most part, they can’t really be considered lies as much as they are buffers to the truth.

    Potato, potahto, I know, but there you go.

    The rest of the lies we allow ourselves to tell our children seem to me to fall into 3 big buckets.

    (read more…)

    So, in a nutshell, I’m good with your marshmallow tree, sweetie. Really really good. :)

  24. Eldest has realised about the tooth fairy. For her, Santa is tottering, to be honest. We recruited her to Team Tooth Fairy so that she can continue to help us lie to her sister. It’s quite a big responsibility, and hopefully one she can take on with more success than the whole not-breaking-her-glasses thing.

  25. Oh Hell. I don’t know the answer. The twins have asked about this some. (They turn 8 in Jan) AJ is smart. He doesn’t buy into the crap all the time, but sometimes. So far, he’s seen me buying stuff, and has seen stuff on tv and in stores. I told him that Santa can’t make all the toys anymore, that parents help out. We discussed that Santa is about the spirit of giving, and that if they stop having that spirit, or stop believing, Santa may not come anymore.

  26. Yes, yes, Elf on the Shelf!!! my daughter is 8, and this might be the year that it fades, but our Elf will arrive on the day after Thanksgiving. It has been amazing good fun for our family. Highly recommended.
    Also – my mom told me that if I wanted to keep believing, it was okay with her – and that was such a great, freeing thing. I had much younger siblings, and so I just put “knowing” out of my mind and enjoyed it all for many years longer.

    I am dreading this discussion when the time comes – but it will all be okay!

  27. I was faced with this question recently and said “I can’t be sure of anything, but I really like surprise presents, and so I choose to believe in the magic of Christmas.”

    Seemed to work.

    Last Christmas, my 8 year old said “I know for SURE that Santa is real ’cause there is no way you and Daddy would get us all this stuff.”

  28. I think it’s nice to have a little magic when you are a child. We told our oldest that kids who don’t believe get less presents. Maybe that’s mean but it worked. She’s almost 11 now – I don’t think she’s buying it anymore, but I know she’ll help keep the magic alive for her sister (who will be 3 on 12/25)!

  29. This subject makes tears well up in my eyes. Here’s my experience. When I was a kid I was a HUGE believer!!! The year my mother finally fessed up, I was crushed. Believe it or not, I think I was 12 or 13. It ruined the magic of Christmas for me for years!
    I told my Nick last summer out of the blue. I chose this time because there was no thought of Christmas in his mind. I was hoping it would not interfere with the excitement of the season. Since he was going into middle school and already a skinny, dorky, picked-on theatrical kid; I thought it best for the other kids not to have more ammunition. I started with the story of St. Nicholas; which he related to because we are Catholic and he gets it. I let him know how important the magic of Santa is to our childhoods. And now that he’s a young adult (flattery gets you everywhere); he has moved from the receiving side of Santa to the giving side of Santa. Thankfully, he accepted his new duty with gusto and is now in charge of filling our stockings on Christmas Eve.
    However, now I have a problem. Danielle is 11 and skeptical. She’s confused because when she opens some gifts they have bar codes on them. Can you say, “too smart for your own good?” Here it is the Christmas season and she’s beginning to ask insightful questions. I do NOT want her Christmas ruined for years to come. I am going to do my best to make this the most magical Christmas for her; as it may be her last as a “believer.” Tears coming…
    Maybe next year our family will enter a new chapter of Christmas celebration wherein we can go to midnight Mass, come home to a gigantic early morning breakfast buffet, open our presents, then sleep until 3:00 on Christmas day.
    Much love to you and your family!

  30. I am 40. Our family still believes in Santa. Anyone who says they don’t or who even hints at the possibility that Santa might not be real doesn’t get presents. It’s the RULE. Because God and Jesus LOVE Santa, but Santa doesn’t bring stuff if you don’t believe in him.

  31. We basically subscribe to the “neither confirm nor deny” policy with Santa. We don’t push it, we don’t have a single Santa-based decoration in our house (though loads and loads of Christmas decos; just no Santas) and we don’t leave out cookies. But we do draw the line at flat out denying it to the kids. I treat it like I’d treat their questions about if fairies and unicorns are real. Like a PP I like to turn it back to them “Well, where do YOU think they’d live?” or just a “yep, that would be pretty cool to see” type comment.

    I also second the book recommended by Angela (comment #14). We read that on Dec 5 evening and set up some of the Christmas decos that day and that night the stockings are filled with classic stuff (chocolate coins, oranges, a few small toys, and their annual Christmas ornament). So we do still have the magic, but all in a very vague way. This is partially because our kids go to a school that is at most 50% Christian so most of the kids are not doing the Santa thing.

  32. My daughter asked me point-blank if Santa was real. She was 3, we were in Target, and I was so startled I told her the truth. This wasn’t really ever my plan, but it seems to have worked out okay. Santa still comes to our house every Christmas — I just told her it’s a fun tradition we like to follow. Besides, we don’t have a chimney, and now I don’t have to explain that one :)

  33. My only child is about your age. Perhaps older, so suffice it to say that I don’t really remember the whole Santa timeline. I just remember telling her that Santa is another name for the special love that fills people’s hearts at Christmas time. Still works today.

  34. We had a stinky funspoiler child in kindergarten. We have stuck with “Santa doesn’t bring presents to people who don’t believe in him, so the parents fill in so those kids will get presents”. Not sure how much longer that will last, but it’s worked so far!

  35. So distressing. I fear v. much that this may be our last year with Santa. Because once the 7 year old finds out she is UTTERLY incapable of keeping a secret. More marshmallow trees.

  36. Unlike commenter Erin, I wasn’t crushed about the tooth fairy for a few months after I found out about Santa (2nd grade). Not sure why I didn’t put 2+2 together, but there you have it…
    My little one has never really believed (9 years old). At about 4 she asked about the logistics of it all and I asked what she thought. She responded that it must be her dad & I. I told her that it was very important to be respectful towards those who still believe and she’s always been good about it.

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