Truth or Dare: The Santa Story

by paige on December 9, 2008

Oh so tacky: The River meets the Big Guy, before his world was Rock'd

LONG BEFORE OUR daughter The Rock was a terrified gleam in either of our eyes, the H (that’s the Husband) and I were already deep into the Big Holiday Question. Not Christmas vs. Hanukkah. We’re a no-faith couple, not an interfaith couple, and we celebrate Christmas anyway, in all its pagan, caroling, red and green glory. (And we tell the story of the Christian part of the holiday to our kids, at least one of whom has a very solid belief in God, as a story that may or may not be true, but is believed deeply by many, many people.) No, our big Christmas question has nothing to do with God, and everything to do with reindeer: Do we, or do we not, perpetuate the Santa story?

As a little girl, I was a true believer. I don’t remember when I stopped (perhaps I’ve blocked that painful moment) but I do have a vivid recollection of standing in the lunch line in elementary school, engaged in a discussion-verging-on-argument, Santa-boosters vs. Santa-deniers. I had not a moment’s hesitation about whether or not we’d teach our kids to believe in Santa. But the H had other thoughts–or, more aptly, concerns.  He worried about the LIE. What would our kid think of us when he learned the truth?

I pushed past my partner’s half-hearted objections, and moved forward. The River, my son, was taught to love Santa, and the result is the picture up at the top of this post: sheer infant joy, all directed at me, presumably for introducing him to The Big Guy.

‘That’s his magic,’ my daughter tells her brother, who also explains to him that Santa’s house is ‘right next to the stars.’

Now, though, he’s 7. He’s asking questions; his sister, The Rock, she of the Absolutely Certainty in All Things, has wholeheartedly bought in.  For the first time this year, she’s willing to do the requisite horrible mall photo op without having me in the picture, too.

Meanwhile, her brother is looking for proof. Where do all these “helpers” come from? How do they communicate kids’ desires back to HQ? And, as far as my son is concerned, the big question: How in the world does he get to all those houses in 12 hours?

“That’s his MAGIC,” says the smaller sister, ending the conversation. Then she adds, as a sort of dreamy afterthought, “You know, Santa’s house? At the North Pole? It’s right next to the stars.”

How about your family? Is there consensus or discord on the subject of Santa? We want your stories (and we especially want your pictures, whether with or without Father Christmas involved, see below).


The Sister Project hopes you’ll share a holiday photo with a sisterly story or twist. We’ll post them all in a special gallery show as they arrive, to showcase all the facets of sisterhood at the holidays, from Halloween to New Year’s. Sisters with sisters, sisters with brothers, sisters with sister-friends…your call. All we need: your jpg and a caption (naughty or nice) in an email to thesisterproject at gmail dot com. Ho, ho, ho.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth Edwardsen December 9, 2008 at 6:56 pm

I still remember figuring it out – my parents had just come back from their annual trip to the North Pole to deliver our Christmas lists (lucky me – I was the only one whose parents actually did this!) and I was, at age 8 or so, grilling my mom on the details – what kind of cookies did Mrs. C give you, how were the reindeer, how were the elves… “Oh, there weren’t any elves,” Mom, hurrying through breakfast prep said. “There have to be elves!” I said. Realizing her faux pas, she said. “Of course, there were elves. They’re just so small, you can’t see them.” At that very moment, I swear, I knew the whole thing was made up. But I don’t remember being mad, sad, lied to, betrayed or anything like that. Just thinking – couldn’t you have kept this going? Likewise, my daughter, two nights before Christmas, found all her presents two years ago, at age 9. I couldn’t replace them. I couldn’t just put them under the tree from Santa with a “ha! ha! now you know!” attitude – so, figuring she probably knew anyway, I told her. She was as upset as I’d seen her. Hysterical with grief. Not that He didn’t exist, but that I’d ruined it. “Why did you have to tell me?” (I nicely refrained from asking “Why did you crawl into the depths of my closet and open every bag you found?”) She loved Santa. (Who wouldn’t?) She recovered and, like your son will with your daughter one day, now loves being in on the secret with younger children and other believers. (My sister is 6 years older than me and must have figured out Santa before I did, but she kept her lips sealed, thankfully!) Meanwhile, my kid knows enough to claim to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. In the words of my late mother, “If you don’t believe in Santa, he stops coming.” )

Kari December 9, 2008 at 8:03 pm

We loved Santa in our house and my parents were very clever. Santa used different wrapping paper than our parents and he even had different handwriting. We opened presents from our parents and family on Christmas Eve and then Santa presents on Christmas morning. There were always fewer presents from Santa, but they were usually bigger – like bikes.

I remember clearly when I found out there was no real Santa – my cousin Amy told me and I think I was about 7 or 8. I wasn’t mad or upset or angry about it. When I confronted my parents about it, they admitted that the Santa the man was not real, but the feelings I had for Santa the legend were. We talked about how nice it was to think there was a Santa and how I should keep quite about it so my little sister could still believe in him. It made me feel like a grown up to be let in on the secret and to keep it from my sister, who is 4 ½ years younger than me.

I don’t have children yet, but I think I’ll do something similar with my own kids.

margaretroach December 9, 2008 at 9:18 pm

How timely. The Chicago Tribune has a “Scared of Santa” photo feature that is the counterpoint to your photo of The River beaming.

Elizabeth Edwardsen December 10, 2008 at 10:37 am

Oh my, that poor kid. We have photos of our daughter every year or so standing as close as she dare to Santa – 6 feet, 15 feet, more. I’ve often wondered how this girl, afraid of clowns, afraid of mascots, afraid of characters of any kind (all completely sensible reactions to fully costumed adults, actually) and shy with adults she knew, never mind strangers, would get so excited about the night-time invasion of our house by Santa or his ilk. The magic of Christmas? Utter greed? I better not think to hard about that one.

Rebecca December 10, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Apparently I begged my mother to tell me the truth, ever afeared even then of being lied to.

So I had the same concerns when I became a parent — to Santa or not Santa? — and oh plus we’re supposed to be Jewish now. Santa only makes an appearance at my parents’ house, where I take the kids every year.

My oldest, now seven, realizes she’s in a tricky position. “Most Jewish people don’t believe, but most Christians DO believe!” This year she’s trying to figure it out. I don’t want to ruin the fun she’s having so I don’t say much. And luckily she hasn’t turned to me for any answers (she’s always gotten most of her Santa 411 from classmates).

As my hubs points out, she’s fully capable of holding conflicting thoughts:

“Well come on, how can Santa have flying reindeer? That can’t be possible! …of course, if he got hold of some of that pixie dust…”

orloff December 10, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Isn’t it amazing how important the Santa thing is, no matter how you teach it, learn about it, or lose belief in it? Thanks for sharing your versions, Kari and Elizabeth!

Dan Shaw December 10, 2008 at 5:13 pm

I always thought that it seemed like child abuse in “Miracle on 34th Street” that little Natalie Wood was denied the opportunity to believe in Santa (though, of course, she comes to believe, and so does her mother.) I think that movie make a damn good case for believing in Santa Claus (though not the awful remake with Annette Benning!)

Rebecca December 11, 2008 at 11:41 am

Annette Benning played Santa? She really IS the most versatile actress in Hollywood.

Katherine December 12, 2008 at 10:01 am

When my now 9 year old was little, I never pretended that Santa came down the chimney and left presents. I was with your husband that I wasn’t going to to to elaborate lengths and lie to her. The message was Santa is a spirit cribbed mostly from the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial. My child however, refused to not believe. She would talk with great conviction about all the elements of the Santa myth and then say, “I know, I know Mom, Santa is a spirit.” Bottom line is it ended up being something that I was troubled over that really couldn’t have mattered a whit to her. She was going to believe whatever she wanted to no matter what I said, that’s the beauty of childhood and it was a great lesson for me!

margaretroach December 12, 2008 at 11:18 am

Welcome, Katherine. I am pitching in for sister Paige this morning, since she is powerless and iced-in as much of our region is. Somehow I got spared this storm! Thank you for your story of the beauty of childhood (well said).

Dan Shaw December 12, 2008 at 5:35 pm

I think the gods are telling me to go find a brothers site. I apologize for putting Annette Benning in the wrong movie (i was thinking of another awful remake…) it was Elizabeth Perkins who massacred “Miracle”

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