a child sits with a mall santa


Telling the Truth About Santa Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the Childhood Magic Will End

Dec 16, 2019

As a parent, I tend to think that my kids can’t handle the truth. 

One such truth came up when we were camping. We were hiking — a lovely trek through towering pines, my daughter dawdling. I decided to hang back, thinking she was tired, but she wasn't really. She had something else in mind. Her mother and two older brothers disappeared up the trail and she stopped, because she had an important question to ask.

"Dad," she asked, "is Santa Claus real?"

For kids who still believe. Have you heard of Elf Mail? Find out what it is here

The pines swayed gently overhead, squirrels chittered in the boughs and blackflies buzzed lazily in the summer heat. Christmas seemed miles away.

"What do you think?" I managed.

"Well, you’ve pretty much told me he isn’t real because every time I ask you, you ask me what I think?"

I swear the squirrels stopped chattering. I was stumped. My daughter could smell blood. Naturally, I said the stupidest thing possible.

"You want the truth?"

Thinking of my own childhood, I could not point to the one moment when I finally accepted that Santa Claus was not real. I say "accepted" rather than "realized" because the fact just gradually overwhelmed my will to believe. It was a steady creep, that began when my parents set a maximum dollar value on gifts from the "Jolly Old Elf." That doubt lingered until it wasn’t really a doubt any longer.

"I want the truth," my daughter told me, emphasizing the final word.

"OK," I began, "but it’s really important that you not tell your older brothers, because I don’t know what they believe."

You could see it in her face. In those few words, the tinselly veneer of Christmas magic was wiped clean and replaced instantly with the heart-skipping joy of knowing something that her older brothers did not. But was the magic really gone?

'The North Pole is a frozen ocean. No one lives there. No one would build a house on the ice.'

"For real?" she wanted to know.


"For real, for real?"


"How do you know?"

"The North Pole is a frozen ocean. No one lives there. No one would build a house on the ice."

"Oh yeah!"

"But how do you know?"

"Who do you think brings the gifts?"

The questions went on like this as we slowly caught up to the rest of the family. Before we did, I reminded her again to keep her secret and her cheeks flushed with the excitement. We continued our hike and I found a quiet moment to tell my wife what I had done — she was, surprisingly, OK with it. It was time, she told me. Case closed.

I thought we were done with the Christmas talk, too, but that evening I found myself alone with my daughter next to the campfire.

This mother really hopes your kids don't ruin the magic of Santa for her kids. Read what she thinks here.

"Do you think you might be wrong about that thing?" she wanted to know.

"What thing?"

"The Santa thing?"

I asked her if she thought I was wrong. When she didn’t answer, I answered for her.

"I think there is a chance I’m wrong about the Santa thing," I said.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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