When you have your first Christmas as a parent, it seems like such a huge decision whether to start up the Santa Claus engine. It seems like so many kids react badly to finding out that Santa isn't real, and some kids end up harboring real resentment about being lied to. Like so many other things in parenting, it's become a polarized debate, with parents on all sides weighing in with strong opinions and concern over the eventual repercussions to their children. Santa used to be so simple! Well, I feel like it can be again.
When my daughter first asked me outright if Santa was real, I made sure she really wanted to know. And then I told her the simplest of things, something I felt she could relate to and understand. I told her Santa was a game. Santa is a game adults play with children- almost all adults, and almost all children. Everyone is in on it. We do it because it's fun and magical, and because it makes people happy. And she TOTALLY understood- OF COURSE we are playing a game! And, she confided in me, she was RELIEVED it was a game because she was a little worried that Santa was reading her mind!
Once we got that all-important is he/isn't he question answered, her very next concern was to ask if we could KEEP playing the game. Of course, my answer was an enthusiastic YES. I told her that no matter what she wanted to do, the amount of presents she'd get would always stay the same, but that if she wanted to keep playing some would come from Santa. And we could keep putting out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, and it would be the way it always was. But I had some stipulations- she had to keep playing the game, too. That means no spoiling it for other kids. We are all in on it, and that now meant her! And she loved it! I had a similar conversation with my son a year or two later, and he too chose to continue playing the game.
This year, at 16, my daughter has for the first time said something about maybe not getting Santa presents. But it was really a half-hearted comment, and she was perfectly happy to follow my suggestion that we do Santa again this year. I'm happy I was able to share in this tradition with my children in a way that kept their trust in me intact and has given me an excuse to keep playing Santa with them well into their teens.