I remember quite clearly how excited I was at age six, looking up into the night sky over our house and seeing a red blinking light. I was certain it was Rudolph. My heart fluttered. He’s coming! I cried to my parents. My father followed the line of my gaze, and feigned incredible excitement with me.
My father remembers a similar magical feeling, waking up as a boy in Havana and finding the shoebox at the foot of his bed filled with gifts from the Three Kings, who had come under the door in the night.
As a parent, I have enjoyed seeing my own son’s eyes light up with the magic of the holiday season as he realized how important he was to a jolly man in the North Pole, who would bring him presents as he slept, and eat the cookies we left out for him.
But, as with all innocence, the magic will soon be outgrown. There comes a time, usually around the age of seven or eight, when every child begins to question the impossible truth. Is Santa real?
If you’re like me, all the guilt in the world comes down upon you at these words. We teach our kids to be honest, to tell the truth, and yet we pull this incredible deception on them for years on end.
Read Related: How to Tell Your Child About Santa
HOW TO ANSWER
An effective answer will be greater than a simple yes or no, say experts such as family psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker.
While the obvious answer is no, it is important, she says, to explain why the myth is culturally important to your family, and why the truth of it lies in the love and magic, and not in facts.
Hartwell-Walker suggests considering the age of your child when handling this question. An older child who still believes in Santa risks being made fun of by other kids her age, while a younger child who doesn’t believe might get bullied by peers for being a buzzkill.
Fortunately, says Hartwell-Walker, most kids who ask for the truth are more than ready for it. Most will be relieved to have their perception of the world validated.
However, there are those children who will be angry at their parents for lying to them. This is a great opportunity to explain that it is the motive behind the lie that determines whether it is good or bad. A lie that is intended to help the liar get out of trouble or take advantage of others is a bad lie. But a lie that is intended to make life better in some way for other people can be harmless, sometimes.
If there are younger children in the family, the older child who now knows the truth might have fun being included in the adult tasks of creating magic for the youngsters. Only children can also enjoy what amounts to a rite of passage by feeling a part of the adult holiday world. Hartwell-Walker suggests leaving a little gift for the child in her stocking, from “Santa”, with a little wink, as a way of saying: Welcome to the rest of your life, kiddo.