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The Santa Truth

What is the best age to tell your children the truth about Santa's existence?

Prior to relocating to Pleasanton, I worked for four years as a Disneyland Character in Anaheim. Disney instilled in me the belief that "dreams really do come true." During my daily strolls down Main Street as Mickey or Minnie Mouse, I learned one could never be too old to love their favorite character.

It was only recently I was forced to revisit these beliefs when my 9-year-old son, Keaton, asked Santa for a gift that exceeded our family budget.  I considered that maybe it was time to break the truth to him. But first I needed to get a feel from other parents on what age was the best age to tell the Santa truth.

Many of my friends suggested it was time to fess up and let my son know there was no Santa.  Several pointed out my indulgence of the Santa story with my children was a "white lie" and it was time to come clean.  Although a twinge of guilt crept up in me, I was unsettled about annihilating his belief in Santa.

Another friend suggested I teach Keaton large words like "recession" and continued on conjuring up an amusing story of Santa making personnel layoffs within the elf factory.

Kim Stemplinger, mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, told me her children still believe in Santa Claus and she has no intention of forcing them to believe otherwise in the near future.

"Blake asked me straight out about a month ago. I had to come clean. The tooth fairy is out, too," said Miriam Bettoncourt of her 10-year-old son.

Cathy Melin had another perspective bringing in the meaning of Christmas.

"They can know the truth but still hold on to the belief that the spirit of Santa brings; the joy, the fun, the memories," she said.

Still not convinced that Keaton was ready, or maybe it was me that was not ready to see him through this rite of passage, I conferred with my dear friend Guy de la Cruz.

Guy was also a Disneyland cast member and still is today. During our years together at Disneyland, Guy was cast as Peter Pan. He brought the essence of every young boy to life with his talk of pixies and refusal to grow up.  Surely he would have some insight on this delicate quandary I found myself in.

"Would you tell anyone that Mickey isn't real?" he asked me. "It's much more fun to keep the illusion. My mother always told me if I stopped believing in Santa he may stop believing in me."

My children are aware of my multiple identities of my past because of old photos I have kept during my costumed days at Disneyland. However, I would never squelch another child's belief in the princes and princesses of Disney whom they regard as heroes.  It is qualities that these icons possess that can develop valuable characteristics in our own children.

Belle taught us to look beyond appearances and find the good within others in the movie "Beauty and the Beast." Mulan taught us women can possess courage and fight for their country. And Peter Pan told us it was alright to believe in faith, trust, and pixie dust.

Santa teaches us there is magic in giving to one another and that it's OK to believe in the impossible such as reindeer flying through a snowy night sky.

I was able to convince Keaton the spirit of Christmas was about sharing with others, especially those who have less than us. Together, we went online to pick a fun (and more reasonably priced) toy for himself. He also chose another toy for a less fortunate child. He wrote Santa a letter letting him know he had changed his mind about his gift choice.  Instead of the $250 Star Wars tank he originally requested, he wanted Santa to spend some of his Christmas money on a child who had no toys.

I am certain Santa will oblige and a local shelter will receive a new toy on behalf of Keaton bringing a little Christmas magic into another child's life.

As for Keaton, he will continue to believe in Santa and his entourage of elves this year. I am not sure when he will learn the Santa truth but I intend to keep the magic alive as long as he is willing to believe.

Roxanna Tice December 21, 2010 at 03:58 PM
Wendy, Thanks for the article! We are facing a bad year this year and my 7 year old, Cheyenne,, won't be getting anything to open on Christmas morning. My husband is in Iraq, and we've been hit hard financially this year. I don't want to break her heart and tell her there is no Santa. I still carried a little hope with me into my early 20's. Now it's become hard for me to not live up to the expectations that we all end up putting on ourselves. Thanks to your article, I've devised a plan that this year, Santa would like for her to give him a gift. That gift would be to give something of hers to someone less fortunate. Even if it's after Christmas. She's a wonderful child and is so giving naturally, I think it just might work, and who knows, maybe Santa will repay her next year.
Erika Conner December 21, 2010 at 09:16 PM
Thank you for your comment, Roxanna. There are organizations in the Tri-Valley that can help with gifts for your daughter, including Toys for Tots or Blue Star Moms. I would be happy to help you get in touch with them if you'd like. You can email me at erikac@patch.com.
Wendy Smith December 21, 2010 at 09:57 PM
Roxanna, thank you for your comment. I commend you for trying to teach your daughter that Christmas is about more than just receiving gifts. Although, as a parent myself, I can imagine the heartbreak you must feel in knowing there will not be a gift for her under the tree. With your husband serving over seas as well, this must be a particularly challenging Christmas for you. I think your idea is wonderful and is a lesson that many parents should instill in their own homes. Erika is right in that there are many organizations within our community that can help you out this year. I hope you take the opportunity to contact her. As sweet and giving as your daughter seems, she shouldn't be without a gift this year. Best wishes to your family and for your husband's safe return home.
Roxanna Tice December 21, 2010 at 11:00 PM
Thank you both Erika and Wendy. Unfortunately I am not in CA. I am currently in NE where I have been for the last 8 years. I found your article, Wendy, when I was directed by my husband to please come up with something that would be non traditional and still teach her the spirit of Christmas. With Christmas being days away, the programs here are closed. (Their cutoff date is the day before Thanksgiving). I did not know that there would be such a problem until after Dec 1. Nonetheless, thank you again for the article, it was the second one I read and the only one that actually helped. Thank you also, for your kind words. As a Veteran myself, I know how much this deployment hurts him to be away from home right now. But we have Skype and Yahoo, and he has the day off. He's been down lately and I don't seem able to console him. It's a miracle, the difference a few years make on the political , and physical environment of an American occupied area. I just told Chey the news, and she almost cried, but like a good soldier's daughter, she sucked it up and agreed, with the hope that next year will be brighter. I hope you have a happy and blessed Christmas season, and thank you again for all your help
Erika Conner December 21, 2010 at 11:13 PM
Roxanna, I'm glad that you found the article all these miles away! However, I would be happy to do a little research on some groups in your area that are similar to those we have here. Very often there are deadlines for these programs, but sometimes they can still help. If you'd like me to do that, please send me an email (erikac@patch.com) as to where exactly in NE you're located. Best wishes to you, your daughter and your husband during this holiday season.

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