How to explain to your kids who Santa Claus really is

Discover how one mother explains the mystery behind Father Christmas to her son.

By Julie Beun-Chown

How to tell your child about Santa
I remember the moment well. My son, Jed, was in Grade 3. It was a few weeks before Christmas, and he came home from school looking puzzled. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was about to have the talk parents fear most: I was going to have to explain to my child that his sainted mother is, in fact, a Big Fat Liar.

"(Insert Name Here) says there's no such thing as Santa," Jed declared.

"Is he right?"

The light around me suddenly narrowed to a tiny pinpoint. "Oh. Uh. Um," I spluttered. (Nice play for time, I thought wildly.) I tried to recall the pat answer I had prepared for this very occasion. "That kid?" I scoffed. "Born liar. Plus, he's only eight. What does he know?" (Oh, brilliant. Good parenting there, Dr. Spock.)

I still hadn't recovered from the shock of someone killing the magic of Christmas for my son when I bumped into (Insert Name Here)'s mom. I asked her about the whole Santa-doesn't-exist caper. "My husband doesn't believe in lying to the kids," she said blithely.

Lying? Since when is saying Santa exists lying? Sure, it's not telling the truth, but lying? I think not. Soon after, I had to explain that subtle difference to Jed, when he asked me why I thought it was, "OK to lie to him throughout his childhood." (Yes, he really said that.) "You know," he clarified, "about Santa. We both know there's no such thing."

"I didn't lie, exactly," I answered, feeling myself headed for deep and murky waters. "Christmas is an exception to the 'do not lie' rule." (Excellent. Now I'm saying it's OK to lie – sometimes. When did parenting get so hard?) Christmas, I explained, is a special time. For Christians, it's about the blessings of Jesus. And for all of us, it's about magic. Parents conjure up that magic, I told my son, as a special gift for children that we know won't last forever. Santa is for parents, too, I added. There really is nothing more heart-in-your-throat wonderful than seeing your child's utter faith that Christmas arrives by sleigh and reindeer, and not through several panicked trips to the toy store.

How do we, as parents, still make that magic work? In myriad creative ways. Every Christmas Eve for five years, a friend stomped on his roof and whinnied like a reindeer to his children's amazement, until one fateful night when "Santa" nearly broke his leg before his astonished son's eyes. Another friend made "Santa calls" to friends' kids. "You don't have to be perfect," he'd rumble, "but you do have to be good." (Eventually, he had to stop; word got around the playground that Santa was calling some children and not others.)

But the magic never really has to end. A neighbour still tells her teenage son that Santa is real – as long as you believe.

In the end, that's why we fib. Despite knowing better, despite the crowded malls and the credit card bills in January, it boils down to one simple truth: We all want to believe.

This story was originally titled "Lying for a Good Claus" in the December 2008 issue.

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Julie Beun-Chown is a regular contributor to Canadian Living who hopes Santa will understand when he reads this column.

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