Updated on 12.15.09

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: The Santa Question Edition

Trent Hamm

Several readers have asked me whether or not my children believe in Santa Claus. The answer is simple: yes, they do, but without active encouragement from me.

When children are young, their imaginations are in hyperdrive. They believe things to be real that aren’t real. My son, for example, had two imaginary friends for a while that didn’t have names. Rather than telling him that they weren’t real, I basically helped him to name them, played with them, and over time, we made up a pretty large back story about them. At age four, he no longer believes they’re real or pretends to play with them, but we still make jokes about Ralph and Norman. In fact, two Christmas gifts under the tree this year are labeled as being from Ralph and Norman.

When I’m asked directly about Santa, I tell him the truth: Santa has lots and lots of helpers that help make Christmas a little bit magical, which I consider to be absolutely true. I don’t tell him that I might be one of those helpers – there’s no need to. His imagination runs wild with the possibilities anyway. I see no need at all to stomp a boot into his imagination.

To us, Santa is an embellishment of a real person, an embellishment that represents something very real and powerful – giving to your friends and loved ones as well as giving to charity. I don’t see any reason to quash my child’s imagination with regards to that. We just make sure that the children see that the best part of Christmas is the giving, not the receiving.

Anyway, on with some personal finance links.

What’s Your Trajectory? Taking action isn’t enough. Having a direction isn’t enough, either. Your actions need to have direction if you want to get anywhere when it comes to your dreams. (@ jonathan fields)

Teaching Children to Fight Clutter My perspective is that clutter goes hand-in-hand with the accumulation of too many material items, which is often linked to financial problems. As I watch my children slowly accumulate toys, I’m beginning to plan a big decluttering of their items soon – perhaps in the early summer when we have a yard sale. (@ unclutterer)

Don’t Try to Keep That Resolution I think she’s on to something when she says to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Quite often, our resolutions demand perfection – a perfection we can’t possibly achieve – and thus we fail, and feel bad about ourselves. (@ happiness project)

You Can Negotiate Anything You certainly can, but there are costs to this kind of behavior. I have ended budding relationships and walked away from businesses I once trusted because of people doing things like “playing dumb” or using hardball negotiating tactics. Treating others like pawns for your own manipulation and personal gain is not something I want in my life – and I think a lot of people feel the same way as I do. (@ get rich slowly)

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  1. Jen says:

    My 11 year old is quite confused about Santa… most of her friends don’t believe anymore, but she KNOWS I would NEVER spend that kind of money on a bunch of toys, lol. So she can’t quite figure it out.

  2. Vicky says:

    Heh. I’ve always known Santa wasn’t real, but it’s still fun to pretend. Even now I label my husbands gifts as from Santa.

  3. Alexis says:

    I totally agree. We have never addressed the Santa issue with either of our kids (7 and 4). They never straight out asked, we never mention it. From an early age, they both thought that Santa was just like any other animated character….say, like Dora. They don’t ask if she is real, they don’t ask about Santa either. We let them find their own way around imaginary issues (like you have)with the encouragement from us to explore it (ie, “What do you think about it?”)
    In our home, we try to focus more on the real meaning of Christmas and not on Santa and toys. We encourage them to think first of others – and the fact that others think of them…..not on them getting more toys.

  4. Courtney says:

    I accidentally found out that my parents were Santa one year when I overheard them asking each other who was going to take the bite out of the cookie and drink the milk. I didn’t tell them I knew for two more years, because I thought they’d be disappointed.

  5. Emily says:

    My 8 year old has been asking about Santa and if he’s real. Some of her friends have said he isn’t. I told her that Santa is something magical and if you believe in him he is real. If you don’t – then he isn’t. Of course, the movie Polar Express really helps with this philosophy.

    We talk about how Christmas is a magical time of year with Jesus birth and how good Saint Nicholas was.

  6. Aaron says:

    Someone once told me that he didn’t think it was right to tell kids about Santa and the Easter Bunny, because when they find out you’ve been making that up, they might think you’ve been making up the talk about God and Jesus.

    This has always struck me as a good reason to tell children about Santa and the Easter Bunny: A good, early lesson that grownups tell lies.

    It’s a lot like letting kids have goldfish or small pets or even just little plants: It hurts when they die, but they get an important lesson from that pain, and a controllable understanding of mortality. Better the hamster die than that they discover mortality in a more terrifying way.

  7. Wendy says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Trent. So, what is labeled from Santa under the tree or in the stocking?

  8. Courtney says:

    No way am I going to tell my kids that Santa isn’t real. Why ruin the fun and the magic?

  9. Joan says:

    We’re not “Santa people,” though we’ve never come out and told my daughter Santa ISN’T real.

    But the way I was raised, when someone gave you a gift, it was because they loved you, and you were to be thankful for the fact that they spent their hard-earned money on you and thought of you.

    With “Santa” gifts, who does that teach your children to be thankful to? I’m not saying I only give gifts to get thanks, but I do think it’s important for my daughter to see that her Mom, Dad and Mommom (my mom, who lives with us) are the ones who are giving of their time and money for her during the Christmas season.

    We HAVE taught her that some gifts are “secret” – that sometimes, someone gives a gift but doesn’t want anyone to know. We’ve talked about how that is OK in some situations, like the time we helped some friends at the holidays but did not want to embarrass them. (She brought that up; she said, “Well, then, why didn’t we tell Xyxyxyx that we gave them the money?”)

    She’s a good kid. I don’t think you can go wrong at Christmas if you keep the spirit of holiday giving in there, Santa or not.

  10. Steffie says:

    I have kids age 16, 12 and 11. It is harder for the last child to keep believing, especially when the older ones tease that there is “no Santa”. I tell her the same thing I told the others, Santa is as real as you want him to be. I’d like it if they believed forever in something good, the real world is hard.

  11. Shannon says:

    Santa is as real as God is real.

  12. Eric says:

    It will be funny to see Trent’s kids reading this entry in 10 years.

  13. Auntielle says:

    Trent, I think the way you and Sarah are handling the “Santa issue” sounds like a very balanced, healthy way of dealing with it… allowing your children to partake in the “magical” element that believing in Santa adds to a child’s Christmas without overly emphasizing “his” role in the holiday. You’re not squelching their childlike tendencies to believe in magical possibilities that add excitement and enjoyment to Christmas, but you’re not “building up” the whole deal about Santa to the point that they’ll be crushed someday to find out that a jolly white-bearded man is not actually squeezing himself down their chimney to fill their stockings. They will figure things out soon enough, and will not feel like you – year after year – flat-out lied to them and embellished the story exponentially at their eventual expense.

    I’m the eldest of four daughters. We believed in Santa until – one by one, according to age – we stopped believing… either by figuring it out on our own or by hearing it from a child at school. When I found out, I felt very privileged to know “the Santa secret” while my younger sisters still believed, and I remember shooting knowing smiles at my parents as we all emptied our stockings and opened our “Santa gifts”.

    Daughters #2 and #4 handled the discovery equally well. But daughter #3 was absolutely DEVASTATED. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table with her head down in her hands, sobbing “You lied! You lied!” to my mother. Her eyes were swollen for days. I realize that this reaction was extreme and that most kids don’t react that strongly when they discover “the truth”. But my point is that you don’t really know how a child will react, and the less emphasis you put on the Santa element of Christmas, the less likely your child is to be devastated by the reality.

    One thing I do think is important to realize is that parents who choose not to allow their kids to believe in Santa at all have absolutely NO right to allow their children to reveal “the truth” about Santa to other kids. You have the right to decide how YOUR child will believe – or not – and other parents have the same right. Make sure your kids know that they are NOT to tell another child “the truth” about Santa. If believing in Santa is part of how another family chooses to celebrate and enjoy Christmas, your personal beliefs and convictions on the issue do NOT give your family the right to impose your views onto another family.

  14. Henry says:

    This could have easily been posed financially. Here’s a good one: You’re too poor to buy your kid presents. So then your kid wonders why Santa only brings them either crappy or no presents at all while he brings their friends everything they wanted? Do you tell them that they’ve been bad? Do you tell them that it’s all a lie?
    Don’t advise the pauper to get help from the Salvation Army, Angel Tree or somewhere else. Those programs are full and people are being turned away in droves. You only had a real chance at that kind of assistance if you didn’t work to begin with and had time to camp out at the beginning of the line before it opened.

    What else are we lying to children about that will scar them for the rest of their lives?

  15. J says:

    Henry, I hope your heart grows by three sizes on Christmas morning.

  16. Henry says:

    Oh, thank you J. I hope you get an enlarged heart, too.

  17. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Here’s a good one: You’re too poor to buy your kid presents. So then your kid wonders why Santa only brings them either crappy or no presents at all while he brings their friends everything they wanted? Do you tell them that they’ve been bad? Do you tell them that it’s all a lie?”

    If I were in that situation, I’d tell them the exact situation – we don’t have enough money for Christmas presents this year. I’d also explain exactly like I did above – that Santa is a real person who lived a long time ago (Saint Nicholas, of course) and that his spirit lives on because of helpers, who are often moms and dads.

    On Christmas Day, I’d just spend the whole day with them, doing free stuff that was fun. We’d go sledding or hiking or whatever we could do, as long as we could spend the day together.

  18. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Henry, if your child had an imaginary friend and your child asked you to not sit in a chair that you wanted to sit in because that imaginary friend was sitting there, would you berate the child and sit in the chair anyway, or would you perpetuate the lie?

    There’s a sizable difference between not squelching imagination and telling lies.

  19. Kara says:

    Don’t bait him, Trent. Henry’s just here to get a rise out of everyone. I don’t believe that anyone could realy think like and behave like Henry presents himself….

    More to the point: OF COURSE SANTA EXISTS! Hasn’t anyone read, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”? If you haven’t you should google it. It’s a fun read.

  20. Henry says:

    That’s nice that you can come up with an affordable day to substitute for the presents. But you still have to admit that Santa did exist, but no longer does. I’m confused. You discuss Santa and act as if he does exist with ‘lots of helpers,’ but then say ‘Santa is an embellishment.’ Does your son think the actual Santa is a living person with flying reindeer, or just a person that was once living?

    I am childfree. I don’t entertain children, but they are sometimes dragged to my house by their parents. I would sit right down without giving the child’s objections a second thought. Things like this happen, and the parents just laugh it off and say “oh, he doesn’t like kids.” And I don’t care if that is sincere, if they don’t like it they can leave them at home or not come back.

    If I did have kids, I certainly wouldn’t contribute to them believing the imaginary friend is real. They could think they were able to fool me with whatever they made up and I would go along with it. Then I would have children that thought making things up and passing them off as the truth was acceptable.

  21. Henry says:

    No, Kara. I am real, and I share your concern about circumstances!

  22. Rosa Rugosa says:

    I don’t have children, fortunately, but I was recently thinking about how I would have handled the Santa thing if I did. When I learned the truth about Santa, I was horrified that my parents had lied to me, because they had always treated me like an intelligent person from a very young age. I didn’t care particularly that Santa wasn’t real; it was the fact that those I trusted the most had lied to me. So if I had children, there would be no Santa at our house. Philosophical considerations aside, think of the money we would save!

  23. Mrs. Money says:

    Hi Trent! I left a comment earlier- I wonder if it went to the spam filter? :(

  24. Depending on the child’s age and surrounding influences, santa is rapidly becoming a concept only.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  25. Charlie Park says:

    Something that we’ve done that we’re really happy with, is that we’ve told our oldest (she’s 5, almost 6; her two younger sisters are 2, almost 3, and Santa’s a little beyond them at the moment) that Santa is a game that people all over the world play together. When we’re out in public, everyone pretends that Santa is real, and everyone thinks about the nice and generous things they can do for one another at Chritsmastime … but there isn’t *really* a man at the North Pole who brings presents.

    But Christmas isn’t actually a really big “present” time for our kids, anyway, so it’s maybe been an easy process because there aren’t tons of “from Santa” gifts under the tree, and the kids don’t write letters to Santa, et al. If we did those (that is, if we presented Santa as a real actor in the modern Christmas narrative), I think Santa-as-game would be harder to pull off.

    But the “Santa as universal game” has worked really well for us. And, a few weeks ago, when she heard on the playground at school that Santa wasn’t real (at 5!), it didn’t throw her. I remember being bummed when I found out. And I imagine my parents were a little concerned that it took me so long to figure it out. :)

  26. Anna says:

    @ Henry, Do you enjoy being such a negative person? I find it hard believe that one person gets so much joy out of putting others down, especially strangers.

  27. Henry says:

    Yes, Anna I do. I love being able to be myself here and dream about the day children will be raised in laboratories and not allowed out in public.

  28. Kristen@TheFrugalGirl says:

    I suppose you think you should have been raised in a laboratory too, Henry? ;)

    We don’t do Santa Clause and we have told our children point blank that Santa isn’t real, and that it’s just a fun story. To the person that thought that a Santa-less Christmas has no magic and fun, I’d just offer that if you were a fly on the wall here at our house, you’d think differently.

  29. Tracy says:

    I have a 13 year old and a 3 year old. Santa leaves all the presents at our house. We never really wrote letters to “Santa” with my older son. I just asked him what he thought he’d like for Christmas. When he came and asked me if Santa is real, I answered, “Santa is more of a feeling inside you. It’s the urge to treat others with more love and care during the holidays and the urge to give to everyone you love. It’s up to you whether you believe in the special magic of Christmas. If you do, then Santa can be real.” My daughter talks about Santa bringing her a new dolly. My son gives me the special looks as one of the above posts talked about. He knows that Mommy’s closet is off limits from August on. As time goes by, Rachael, my 3 year old, will gradually make the transition too….We stop stressing the santa thing and he rests more in the background.

    Besides, Christmas isn’t supposed to be about presents, it’s about the gift that was freely given and about love. I try to stress to them that it isn’t about getting toys and other things, it’s about giving to and loving each other, things that are important all year long, not just at Christmas.

  30. Auntielle says:

    Henry, have you read Trent’s caveat below the Comment box? “Constructive comments of all kinds are welcome. Negativity is not”.

    Trent, I’m sure you do not like to think about having to “ban” one of your readers from being able to post in the Comments section. But if at some point it becomes clear (and things appear to be approaching that point rather rapidly) that one individual seems to comment solely for the twisted enjoyment of being caustic, critical, bitter and negative, you might want to consider sparing the rest of your readers the steady stream of vitriol.

    I really enjoy the group we have here, along with the vast majority of comments that are shared. Overall, I sense that people are trying to add something positive to the dialogue and the subject at hand. Even (I feel) the majority of critical comments are coming from sincere people who are trying to make their point in an effort to positively affect others in one way or another. Lately, it’s been a real bummer to come to the Comments section and feel like there is someone just salivating over the opportunity to wipe the smiles from other people’s faces. I say “Pull the plug”!

  31. Jen says:

    I don’t remember being upset when I knew that Santa wasn’t real. My mom claims that the kid across the street told me (and Mom was NOT happy about that), but I don’t remember that either. What I do remember is that when I was about four years old, my goldfish died just before Christmas. “Santa” brought me two new ones that “needed a home,” as the accompanying note stated. Unfortunately, my father has the most distinctive handwriting I’ve ever seen. “Santa” should have had a neighbor transcribe his message. :-)

  32. Rosa Rugosa says:

    @Henry – actually, I got a chuckle out of the laboratory thing!

  33. Henry says:

    Rosa, that’s from “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. I can’t take the credit for being the first to envision such a utopia.

  34. Well, my daughter just turned 4 and she knows the real story about the mall Santa’s and it doesn’t seem to have ruined her emotionally. In fact, I think we probably told her the truth because she was scared of Santa coming down her chimney, so we had to tell her that it was all pretend and that Santa wasn’t going to invade our house. She thought it was funny that one of her friends at school thinks that Santa is real.

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