Season’s Greetings: The Santa secret

This was originally posted on the Los Angeles Moms Blog last year, but I’ve updated it a little…

Santasack2_white_200 “Look, there goes Santa Claus,” I said to Spencer (my 9 10-year-old stepson) one recent Saturday afternoon. We were at the front of a store, waiting for my husband to finish a purchase, when we saw the Man in Red walking down the mall with a few of his assistants.

“Yeah,” Spencer said. “He’s not the real one, though.” I started to respond with a comment about Santa’s “helpers” when he continued, “The real Santa came to my cousins’ house the last time I was there on Christmas Eve.”

I leaned in a little closer. “And you know what? I heard that he might be going there this year, too, and so will we.”

“YES!” he crowed. “Oh, I hope he brings me that Pokemon Ranger game I want!”

My stepkids alternate which parent they spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with every year; this year, they’ll be with us for the Eve, as they were two years ago. We spend Christmas Eve at my sister’s house with my side of the family – and yes, Santa does come to visit. He usually arrives some time after dinner, entering the house through the back door while we’re opening gifts in the living room, and announcing his appearance with jingling bells. We all move to the family room to greet him. He hands a gift to each of the young kids, has a few pictures taken, and then heads back out on his rounds.*

At nine years old, his dad and I weren’t sure whether Spencer was still a “believer” or not until we had this conversation, but apparently he is. My husband was very glad to know that. As for me, living with a “believer” is still a little strange to me, since my own son was raised without Santa. We observed Christmas; we decorated a tree (for several years it was a live one, and once we even went to a tree farm to cut our own), we exchanged gifts, we made special meals, and we even went to church more often than not, although we weren’t strictly religious in our practices. Santa just never entered into our family celebration.

This didn’t come from family tradition on either side, officially, although one effect of the assorted dysfunctionalities of my ex-husband’s family was his strict insistence on honesty, and that was the reason he didn’t want to get started on Santa. His train of thought was that eventually, our son would come to learn we hadn’t be truthful with him about that, and then he might start to doubt a lot of other things we’d told him, and he needed to be able to trust us. Granted, there was some what-if extrapolation going on there, but this particular point didn’t seem like a big enough issue to disagree about, so I didn’t; therefore, Santa never brought our son a single gift.

Christmas has become an increasingly secular holiday during our kids’ lifetimes – one of several celebrated in the winter “holiday season” – and leaving Santa out of the equation is tougher than you’d think. As it happens, we couldn’t entirely; we explained to our son that many people believe Santa delivers gifts to every child in the world on Christmas Eve, and while we accepted him as a symbol of love and generosity, we just didn’t buy into the gift-delivery part. However, we did respect other people’s different traditions, and Chris was under strict instructions NOT to tell any of his young friends the “Santa secret.” While he was still in the age range where most people would expect him to be a “believer,” we also directed him not to be too forthcoming with adults either; he should just be polite when they asked what he wanted, or got, from Santa, and mention a couple of the things he had on the Christmas wish list he’d given to us. The irony, of course, is that in wanting to be “honest” with our son about Santa, we had to encourage him to be dishonest with other people.

Chris is 24 25 now, and doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects from growing up Santa-less – and he’s still keeping the secret from his younger cousins and stepbrother. Katie, my 14 15-year-old stepdaughter, is a co-conspirator now, having moved uneventfully out of the “belief” stage herself but having a younger brother who’s still there. When the time comes for Spencer to leave too – and it will – we’ll be honest with him in answering any questions he has. But until he’s ready to figure out the Santa secret for himself, I don’t see anything wrong with keeping it our secret.

Spencer turns 10 years old today, and he’s a little more into Bakugan than Pokemon lately. He and his sister will be spending Christmas Eve with their mom this year, so he’ll miss Santa’s visit to his cousins’ house. However, whether or not he’s still a “believer” seems to be HIS secret for the time being – he hasn’t said anything to us one way or the other, and we’re a little afraid to ask. 

*As for Santa’s visits to his cousins’ house…well, apparently the secret is at least partially out over there.

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  1. Our son is 22 and he's never admitted to not believing in Santa Claus. Telling your child about Santa is a personal decision and I'm sure knowing/not knowing has never scarred anyone.

  2. I think I was about his age when I learned the truth. Being the older sister, I played along for my brother's sake.

    I love that Santa comes to visit your cousin's house. Such a great tradition!

  3. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I've known about some people who found learning "the truth" rather upsetting. Usually, they heard it from kids at school or older siblings or cousins before they'd even begun to question it – they weren't ready.

    But as for believing/not believing in itself, I agree that it's probably never really hurt anyone one way or the other – and I love the fact that your son is still keeping his thoughts on the subject to himself!

    Wendy (Literary Feline)– I was a little younger. We were helping my mom with Christmas cards, and I asked some questions; she asked me what I thought the answers were, and that was that.

    I hope you checked out the link to my sister's post at LA Moms Blog about Santa's visits to her boys on Christmas Eve – it IS a very nice tradition, but it may be a little different this year.

  4. I don't think I ever really told my parents when I didn't believe in Santa. I played along for a lot time because it was fun. It ruins a bit of Christmas when you stop believing..

  5. Kailana – It does change things a bit when the secret gets discovered, which was a major reason why we never introduced Santa to my son in the first place when he was little. But I think my stepdaughter (now 15) has enjoyed keeping up the story for her younger brother :-).

  6. My son is 11 and when I mentioned Santa this year he said "So, are you going to pretend to be Santa again or will you admit this year that there is no Santa?" I was a shocked! He's gone along with it for years but apparently him and his friends figured this all out on their own.

    On the one hand, it makes it much easier for me. He offered to help me keep the secret for his sis and he's offered to help wrap her presents, but on the other hand…I can tell he's missing the magic.

    I never experienced Christmas as a child. My parents and I had a tough time of it and they were too wrapped up in themselves to do anything for anyone else so when I had kids I went all out.

    It's a tad bittersweet for me.

  7. Ti – It sounds like your son is handling it pretty well, but I can see why it would be rather bittersweet for you. It's nice that he's helping this year.