When Can You Stop Keeping the Santa Secret?

How long should you keep the “Santa Story” alive for your children? It all depends on the kid. And for some, revealing the truth takes more than a five-minute chat.

When my oldest son Kevin was 8 years old, he was still a believer, and I was preparing to tell him the truth. Or at least that was the plan.

It was the week before Christmas, and family friends were hosting their annual kid-friendly Christmas celebration. My daughter Wallis was 5 and my youngest son Drew was just mastering the art of walking at 1. Having been to this annual event before, we were well aware of the cherished tradition of a personal visit from the jolly good fellow himself. This turned out to be his best visit yet. We heard bells jingling in the backyard before Santa appeared at the kitchen door. The reindeer were out of sight, but Santa assured us they were nearby in the woods, resting.

Santa came in and plopped down in a comfy chair in the living room. The kids’ eyes were wide with wonder. And then the man in the red suit did something I will never forget. He patiently let each child climb into his lap and talked to them. He conversed with them. Individually. For a good five to 10 minutes each. And these weren’t talks focused on what they wanted to find in their stockings. Santa talked to the kids about their lives, their hopes and their dreams.

Santa listened. Santa cared. And Santa gave them reason to believe. In everything. Including themselves.

The magic came to an end when our guest told us he had to leave because he still had other families to visit that night. The children took their turns hugging Santa goodbye. So did the adults.

Then Santa stepped into the darkness of the backyard and called out to the reindeer. The last thing we heard was the sound of sleigh bells.

On our short drive home, everyone was silent. Then it happened.

“There’s Santa!” exclaimed Kevin.

I pulled the car over so we could all look. A flashing red light moved slowly through the Carolina sky. From right to left. Blink. Blink. Blink.

I knew it was probably the Duke University Life Flight helicopter.

But not my kids.

“I see Rudolph!” exclaimed Wallis.

I looked up in the sky at the blinking red light moving silently through the night sky. Then I looked back and saw my three children gazing up at the world above them. Eyes bulging. Mouths gaping.

“See you next week, Santa!” Kevin yelled out.

I looked back again at the kids and realized this moment had little to do with what they saw.

It had everything to do with what they believed.

Many years later, I still remember that moment in our family car as it if was yesterday. I never told Kevin the truth that year, and he believed in Santa for another two or three more years. I never actually told him the true story of Santa at all. He just sort of grew out of it. But to this day, he remains a young man who dreams, believes and always looks at life as full of possibilities. My other two eventually confronted reality. My daughter informed me she knew, having done her own research online. And my youngest ultimately cornered me and told me it was time to come clean. He wanted the truth and needed me to give it to him straight.

All my kids stopped believing in Santa in their own time, so I don’t think there’s really a “right” age to have the Santa talk. It all depends on your kid, and no one knows him or her better than you! But I can offer some advice for navigating this North Pole territory.

Your Kid Will Ask … Just Wait

Your child will eventually start to ask you about Santa. Before you answer, consider the age of your child and what kind of answer they’re really looking for. Some kids want detailed answers. Others want a short, brief, very direct answer. Your best answer could be the question, “What do you think?” Your child’s candid answer can guide you to the type of answer they need and help you figure out how honest you should be. Some kids ask the question because they’re looking for permission to still believe and perpetuate the magical story. Keep that in mind before going straight to the part about how Santa is completely made up, because your kids might want to keep make believing for a little longer.

How Old Is Too Old to Believe in Santa?

Children will generally start questioning the validity of Santa when they are 6 to 8 years old (earlier if they have older siblings). When my two youngest kids started questioning Santa, I shifted my answer to be more about what “believing” meant to me. I planted seeds of goodness, hope, joy and love. And I told them that even if Santa wasn’t real, I’ve never been disappointed in the happiness I get from believing in something. That satisfied them … and softened the blow when they found out Santa was in fact not real.

Instant Disbelief Versus Phasing Out

Like I said, my daughter figured out the answer on her own and informed me (a perfect example of the way she handles everything in life!). For her, that was that. My youngest son, on the other hand, found out in phases. I gradually laid out the truth over a few years. That worked well for him, especially my bit about believing in things that are real, like yourself.

Santa’s Not Real, But the Spirit of Giving Is

Every kid is different, but eventually they all stop believing in Santa. That doesn’t mean they stop believing in what he represents though, like goodness, giving, charity and love.

So even after you have the Santa talk, there’s still plenty for kids to believe in.

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