Santa and truth

"Somewhere between lying about Santa (which isn't necessary)
and exposing the whole thing as a cruel hoax (which it isn't)
are countless other and sweeter resting places."

Some of these are responses to a question I'm not going to quote, not even anonymously, because the mom really came around later to be a strong, brave unschooling mom. :-) Some of the writing was repaired and updated a bit.

Sandra Dodd, Nov 7, 2012 (on Always Learning)

What I'm going to point out from your questions is the way you've couched it as a great struggle with winners and losers.

-=-I am looking for suggestions on the best way to handle Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny.-=-

"To handle" Santa? They're not real people. I know it's a normal everyday expression, but it sounds as though there's a struggle between you and this small army of "mythical beings."
-=-I feel like I've been forced into this lie by my society -=-
This is very dramatic. It might not seem that way to you. If not, it may be because you're used to thinking of things in harsh, dramatic ways in which you are a powerless victim.
-=-...and questioned my mom, who confessed. I remember being heart broken, feeling betrayed and wondering what else they were lying to me about.-=-
It might be a personality trait of yours to feel huge emotion about things, or to see yourself as forced and betrayed.

So before you consider any of the ideas people might bring to you or link here for you to read, this is important:

Reposition yourself, on the battlefield you have created in your mind, in this way:
You are your child's partner. You're doing things together. You're helping her have a nice life. Nobody is forcing you to betray her or break her heart. It's not that life-or-death a deal. When she says "Santa is real, right?" you could say "there are guys dressed like Santa in malls. They're acting. There are people pretending to be Santa in movies. That's not the real Santa." You could give her information that is true and helpful to help her figure it out.

What I told my kids was "I never saw Santa, but what I do know is then I put a stocking out at night, there were toys and candy in the morning, so I think you ought to put a stocking up."

Say what IS true. You don't need to embroider or explain how he will get down a chimney or through a locked door. You could say "Who knows?" Or "It's something that just happens differently different places."

But be calmer within your own soul. Don't feel helpless and forced. And don't tell us you don't feel helpless and forced because no one pressed you to write to us, and you chose your own words. You might deny the feeling, but your word choices do show something of your feelings.

These will help:


Colleen Prieto, in the same discussion:
If I think about Christmas intersecting with unschooling, I don't think about "lying to children." I think about sharing family traditions - in our case, festive meals, doing for others, time with family, secret surprise homemade presents, Santa filling stockings, etc. I think about exploring how other families and other cultures celebrate Christmas - relevant in our particular family as we blend in foods and traditions from stemming from Poland, Cuba, etc. I think about how when he was four or five, my son (now 9) was rather annoyed :-) when he discovered that the woman I work for is Jewish and chooses to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas - he immediately wanted to know when we would begin also celebrating both holidays. We touched base with her right away, got some suggestions, and added a mini-Hanukkah to our December that year :-)

The next couple years, he wanted only Christmas - then last year Hanukkah resurfaced for him and he was *delighted* when an elderly non-holiday-celebrating friend broke with her own bah-humbug sort of December, went and got him a couple presents, wrapped them in blue and white Star of David paper, printed a bunch of information about Hanukkah from the internet, and invited him over for a day of fun and exploring new traditions. When it comes to some people we've encountered over the years, unschooling (in terms of sharing the joy so present in learning and in exploring new things) seems to be sort of contagious :-)

Movies are a fun part of unschooling in our family, and we often watch Christmas movies together - movies that, if one is paying attention :-) can't help but sneak in the idea that Santa might not *exactly* be just one guy in a red suit who sneaks down chimneys on 12/24 all over the world.

  • Arthur Christmas
  • A Christmas Story
  • Home Alone
  • The Santa Clause
  • Polar Express
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
We've watched these and tons more, and in just about every one, characters question whether Santa is "real" or talk about how Christmas only works "if you believe."

Being together and doing things together—also a big part of unschooling in our family. In that vein, my son has always been welcome at the social service agency for which I work part-time (and have since before he was born). He knows about how people bring in donations of presents and coats and food for children who otherwise wouldn't have Christmas presents under the tree or a holiday meal, because he's seen it firsthand, and has taken part in sorting Toys for Tots presents. He has met ex-convicts who are also parents, parents who are on work-release, kids who are in foster care or who live with their families in homeless —all of whom have a different Christmas experience than what happens at our house. And being around all different people with all different holiday experiences and expectations has provided plenty of opportunity for questions, conversations, and learning. That part might not be typical, kids and families and parents of all sorts and situations being right there in all unschooled-kids' lives—but certainly walking around and seeing the Salvation Army bell-ringers, the Toys for Tots donation boxes, etc. would seem to me to provide plenty of conversation starters for those kids who are interested in such ideas as "Why doesn't Santa really bring presents to EVERYONE who believes??" :-)

So those are just a handful of examples of things we've done. Everyone's examples and priorities will be unique. But we don't look at it as a holiday that Has To Be One Way. We don't look at it as a Lie. We look at it as a fun time—an excuse to celebrate, eat good food, and enjoy.

When my son was two, we told him some people believe Santa comes on Christmas Eve and brings kids presents. He said he believed that. And ever since then, we've referred to it as a belief—not a Fact. We've shared lots of things (as above) that give him the opportunity to question and wonder and think and ponder and develop his own ideas about Santa, holidays, traditions, and celebrations. And to me that's unschooling intersecting Christmas. What does he think? What does he want to do? What does he want to believe? What is important to others in our family (togetherness, etc.) and how can we incorporate what we all want to do during what, for many people all over the world, is a special time of year.


Colleen wrote:
If I think about Christmas intersecting with unschooling, I don't think about "lying to children." I think about sharing family traditions
Since I don't really have fond recollections of family traditions, I found it helped me to step back from thinking about holidays (including brithdays, "summer holidays" and long weekends) in terms of Tradition and instead touch base with the principles I wanted to express in my life. That has made it much easier for me to see what my kids find wonderful and valuable and interesting about holidays rather than dragging all my own baggage into the mix.

About three years ago Morgan declared she wanted a christmas tree. No-one else in the family had any desire for one— if anything we all (the older child, my partner, and I) shuddered at the thought for different reasons. The others dislike the annual tree harvest and I had baggage around the family ritual of Decorating The Tree. We agreed to find a small one to put in Mo's room, since she was so eager for the thing—we all wanted to be kind and gracious to her and found her enthusiasm charming for its own sake. Then she discovered one could buy pink artificial trees at Walmart - I don't know how... although one of our neighbors may have had one in the yard; he loves tacky outdoor xmas decor. Ironically, we all loved the idea so much we put it in the living room and Mo spent days making paper decorations for it.

My partner reminded me that when Mo was younger we explained Santa as a kind of imaginary friend and so "real" in that sense— real to the individual on some personal level. It was an idea that allowed us both to step past our own Santa baggage and be sweet in whatever way worked for Mo. If she wanted us to play along with her and her imaginary friend, we could be okay with that.

Not long ago, after Mo had eaten all the chocolate out of her halloween candy, she asked the other parent to take her out to buy some peanut butter cups for me, since she had no more to share. It was sweet of her. Being sweet to the people we love is an ongoing theme in our family, and I'm glad of it. My life gets to be full of sweetness all year round.


In 2018, Joyce shared this on her Joyfully Rejoycing facebook page.

The caption isn't right or good. It was his daughter and her friends who figured out how to test their theory about the tooth fairy.

Another time, I had answered a question about Santa:
With my kids, when they got to asking about whether it was real, I would say things like "All I know is when I was little I put my stocking up and got stuff in it, and I think you should put one up, too."

I would say some people didn't believe in Santa and some people did. I would say "I've never seen him." I would tell them the "Santas" at malls were guys hired to dress up like Santa so the parents could find out what the kids wanted for Christmas.

We never marked "from Santa" on a gift. Whatever was in or near the stocking (unwrapped) was "a Santa present" and wrapped gifts were marked from mom and dad or whatever.

I never elaborated on any stories, and never lied. I would read books to them but they didn't consider Santa to be more or less real than Bert and Ernie, or Ninja Turtles. I read nativity books, too. When they asked whether Jesus was real and whether that all happened, I would say some people think so, and some people don't. Some of it matches other religions' mythology. Some of it's probably true.

It didn't bother them for me not to sort scientific evidence from literature from tradition from Sesame Street. They're pretty bright kids, and figured things out without me making it hard for them, and without me giving them "all the answers." My opinion of "all the answers" doesn't match other people's anyway. I've never known two people to agree on everything. Not best friends, not twins, not the loviest couple.


Some mom excitedly and harshly recommended this, to a mom who was waffling:
-=-It isn't too late to tell him the truth. Do it now!-=-
I responded:
Cruelty is cruelty.

Some parents, thinking they're being honest and progressive, kill all the joy of Santa AND tell their kids that all the other parents are big liars who don't love their children as much as this killjoy loves hers.

Somewhere between lying about Santa (which isn't necessary) and exposing the whole thing as a cruel hoax (which it isn't) are countless other and sweeter resting places.


Respect Being your child's partner Peace