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Why I Told My Daughter the Truth about Santa Claus

Why I Told My Daughter the Truth about Santa Claus

My daughter just turned eight – the same age Virginia O'Hanlon was in 1897 when she penned her famous “Is there a Santa Claus?” letter to the New York Sun. It’s an age when many kids are straddling the line: on one side, a wide-eyed wonder and innocence; on the other, the constant questioning of a skeptic.

This journey began earlier this year, when our innocent little girl came to us with a statement that caught us completely off guard.

“I just don’t know if I believe God is real,” she said. 

As Christian parents who want to see our children walk with God, my first thought was “what have we done wrong?” We make faith a priority. We attend church, pray together, and read the Bible. Immediately I thought of Jesus’ words when he says that we should not be anxious because “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). I needed this to be true in that moment more than ever.

Ultimately, God showed us two important things that we conveyed to our daughter: it is okay to have doubts, and God can help us when we do. 

I believe we were created to be critical thinkers. That’s what loving God with all your mind is about. Questioning leads to deeper understanding. Our daughter is intelligent; her mind is constantly processing things. At the same time, in her youth and inexperience, everything is black and white. In her mind, “real” means that when she talks to God through prayer, she expects an audible answer. 

Through this conversation, I was reminded of the story in Mark 9 about the boy with the unclean spirit. Jesus told the boy’s father, “‘All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24). We adults may also have periods of doubt or times when we do not understand. Fortunately, God listens, encourages us, and strengthens our faith.

So, what does all of this have to do with Santa Claus? For me, the answer was “everything.”

You see, my daughter was questioning eternal things. Yet, in the not-so-recent past, she had no problem at all believing in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. Those things were real and tangible to her. She hadn’t seen any of them, but she certainly saw real results. She put a tooth under her pillow, and the next morning it was replaced with a dollar. She put out cookies for Santa; the next morning they were gone and there were gifts under the tree.

This was eye-opening. I immediately felt the weight on my shoulders. How can I teach my daughter about absolute truth when I’m an active participate in traditions, that, if carried too far, can seem contrary to it?

As parents, we do not want to become our children’s joy-robbers, yet we still want them to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Is that even possible?

How families deal with Santa is deeply personal, and I can’t speak for the right way to handle it in your household. I grew up believing in Santa until I didn’t. It’s not something that was ever discussed. And I have great memories of my childhood. One could say, “I turned out just fine.”

But every child is different, so we have to plan accordingly. It has always been important to me that we avoid certain Santa temptations: duping or lying to our children or going overboard in assigning God-like character traits to the fictional character he has become. Yet, we’ve still carried on with certain traditions.

Knowing the serious questioning happening in my daughter’s mind this year, when she came to us with specific questions about Santa, we felt it critical to answer her as honestly as we can. As it turns out, it’s not all that different than how the New York Sun answered Virginia O’Hanlon so many years ago.

Santa exists “as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy,” wrote the editors in The Sun

Is Santa real? “Yes,” I explained, “but not exactly how you think.” The guy with the beard and reindeer is not real. But, just as faith and hope are real, everything Santa Claus represents—or is intended to represent—is real. 

I explained to my daughter that her mom and I are Santa. I told her about St. Nicholas, who of course was a real person who used his wealth to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was a model of how Christians are supposed to live, obeying the teachings of Jesus from Luke 12:33. He loved children, and cared for the poor. He put Jesus Christ at the center of his life. We celebrate the gift God gave to us in His Son Jesus Christ by giving gifts to others, just as he did. And, furthermore, you can “be Santa” for someone else. It involves giving out of your own abundance to someone not as fortunate.

There’s nothing wrong with make-believe stories—Jesus Himself used parables to teach His followers important lessons. The problem isn’t Santa, but rather his position in our homes and Christmas celebrations. Often, the very ones who complain that the commercialism of Christmas overshadows its true meaning are the ones who “overdo it.” If our Christmas mornings are buried under piles of wrapping paper and boxes with no thought of Jesus, His birth and the reason for it, I think we are missing the point.

How you choose to handle the celebration of Christmas is a personal decision. But I believe our goal as parents should be to help our children experience the joy of Christmas and have an understanding of what it represents. And, if kept in the proper perspective, having a real, honest conversation about Santa at the right time can help us do that.

In the end, my daughter’s early crisis of faith at the age of eight just may be the God moment that will help draw her closer to a real relationship with Christ, the true reason we celebrate something called Christmas in the first place.


Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/ElenaNichizhenova

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at You can also follow him on Twitter.