I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus

The following exchange occurred over Thanksgiving dinner with our 3-year-old daughter. We had just finished discussing Santa Claus, complete with traditional youthful excitement.

Mom: “Is Santa fantasy or reality?”
Daughter: [thought-filled pause] “Fantasy.”
Mom: “Yes, but isn’t it fun to pretend?”
Daughter: “Yes.”

These words were delivered from my ears to the auditory cortex in my temporal lobe where they were processed and dispatched to my frontal lobes. The meaning and repercussions of the words were hotly debated in a fraction of a millisecond.

Right hemisphere: Did she really just ask that?
Left hemisphere: Maybe you misheard her.
Right hemisphere: No, I think she really did just ask that.
Left hemisphere: I think you’re right; the auditory cortex has never steered us wrong before.

Then the Broca’s area in my left frontal lobe produced two words to be dispatched to my vocal cords:

“Holy #$%*!”

An 1881 drawing of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast.

But those two simple words were intercepted and swiftly tackled by the entire defensive line in my right frontal lobe.

The net effect to a neutral observer in the room would have been the downward readjustment of my lower jaw by two inches and the escape of a low pitch oscillation of my vocal cords heretofore only heard in people taking their last breath of life on this planet.

Broca’s area regrouped after three seconds of much needed contemplation and dispatched the following auditory question directed to my wife:

“So, uhh, that’s our decision?”

Only then did my wife realize she had just killed Santa Claus.

To understand my wife’s psychosis you must know this is typical behavior at our preschool where my wife volunteers. No, not killing Santa. When books are read in class, sometimes an instructor will clarify a fantastical element of a story by asking, “Is this fantasy or is it real?”

The question serves to distinguish pretend stories from ones that are amazing, but true. For example, one time while reading Corduroy at home, my daughter asked, “Do teddy bears come alive at night and run around turning on lamps and stuff?”

I suppose it all could have been a slip-of-the-tongue, a brief moment when my wife’s brain turned off. Except, after conferring with her medical expertise to write the brainy passages above, she is, as I type this, skimming through and pausing our DVD of Miracle on 34th Street in an attempt to convince me that young Natalie Wood looks like our daughter. You know, the movie about a mother who raised her daughter to not believe, in order to avoid the “very harmful mental conflict” posed by Santa Claus. I kid you not.

Mr. Gailey: “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Susie: “I never heard of that.”
Mr. Gailey: “You must’ve heard that. You’ve just forgotten. It’s a fairy tale.”
Susie: “Oh, one of those. I don’t know any fairy tales.”
Mr. Gailey: “Your mother and father must have told you a fairy tale.”
Susie: “No. My mother thinks they’re silly.”

This brings us to the Santa debate. There are three primary types of Americans who don’t tell their kids that Santa is a real, supernatural person.

  • Non-Christians who associate Saint Nicholas with Christianity.
  • Christians upset that Santa outshines Jesus in a toy-loving child’s heart.
  • Non-theists who believe teaching Santa means lying to their children.

My wife and I each grew up believing in Santa, but I find myself not entirely opposed to presenting Santa as a pretend figure to my daughter.

Don’t get me wrong. Santa is a lot of fun. I remember tracking Santa’s journey in radio reports on Christmas Eve and leaving cookies and milk for him, and so on. For our daughter’s first two Christmas’ I was a Santa devotee.

Now that I have a very thoughtful 3-year-old, there is a part of me that feels like I’m turning off her brain temporarily in order to have a
little fun.

I hadn’t confronted “the Santa issue” until my wife unceremoniously dispatched Mr. Kringle over Thanksgiving dinner.

Hey, lots of kids in other cultures and religions grow up fine without Santa, even in societies where the Santa tradition is dominant, right?

However, given the transitory nature of toddler thoughts, I’m not convinced Santa is really dead. Like any good literary character, he can be written back into the script.

If my daughter’s perception persists, I’ve conferred with my wife to assure the safety of Santa, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman in stories, videos and songs to be enjoyed as fun pretend characters by our family.

We will wait and see if my daughter’s imagination takes over and makes Santa real again, and see how Mom and Dad respond. Sometimes we surprise ourselves.

How about you? Are you a mainstream Santa enthusiast, sideline critic or waffling fence sitter?


23 Responses to “I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus”

  1. Paul says:

    Yeah for Mom! My daughter (just turned three) always knew the difference between pretend and real … at least since she could talk and probably way before then. We didn’t intend it this way but followed her lead with it. Realizing that something is pretend from the start doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the pretend play and arguably enhances it since it frees you to use your imagination and participate in the story telling instead of just being a passive listener.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 5:24 am

  2. Christina says:

    Since our daughter just turned three this year, we don’t have that much experience with it, but we didn’t hype Santa too much (although her grandfather kind of did). We also decided that we would label presents from Mommy and Daddy and some from Santa and make the best presents from Mommy and Daddy so that way when she did find out she it wouldn’t be a big deal because he only ever got her clothes anyway. At least that’s my way of thinking about it.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 5:32 am

  3. nathan says:

    When you are pretending and the kid thinks it’s real then you are just tricking the kid and you live in fear they’ll find out.

    It’s more fun to play Santa with our three year old when we all know he’s not real. Takes the paranoia out of it.

    As a kid we never really did a lot with Santa so it wasn’t a big deal in our house. Hopefully our daughter won’t be the one who spills the beans to all the kids who do believe!

    November 23rd, 2007 at 6:00 am

  4. adrienne says:

    Wow. The big Santa question. Fantasy or pretend is such a good way to deal with it.

    My parents are theists who felt it inappropriate to tell two Christmas stories and then reveal that one is a total lie while the other is gospel truth.

    My husband’s parents were huge Santa supporters who wanted dedicated belief. My husband’s family was relatively poor, so he felt like Santa loved him (and all the other non-commissioned officers’ and enlisted soldiers’ kids) a lot less than their more affluent schoolmates.

    With our child only two this year, we’ve not broached Santa with our son. When we do, we plan to tell him about St. Nicholas and how Santa can represent a spirit of generosity toward others. From there, we’re kind of stumped…

    As someone who has been the kid in all this, make sure Little Miss knows (as soon she can comprehend) that other kids may value their present illusion of Santa truth. Otherwise, you may get unhappy calls from some pretty upset parents.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 6:31 am

  5. AJ says:

    From looking at blogrolls that link to Thingamababy, well, I don’t know how many are atheists, but a fair number of readers are clearly devout Christians.

    Have I managed to create an interdenominational no-Santa outpost on this blog, or did Santa enthusiasts roll their eyes and not finish reading this article?

    November 23rd, 2007 at 8:18 am

  6. Jennifer says:

    Having been a child who believed in Santa, and then slowly outgrew that belief, I sure wasn’t damaged by it! Yes, we do the Santa thing, everyone gets presents from Santa, not just the children. The adults enjoy it just as much, and no one ever really makes a big deal out of the pretend or real. The children in our family just naturally grow out of that belief: santa’s handwriting looks an awful lot like moms, or I snuck a peak in the closet saw toys and suddenly it’s from Santa.
    I don’t ever remember being totally distraught over Santa not being real.
    I play Santa with my children, and they will eventually figure it out and probably without a huge revelation.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 8:26 am

  7. Chelsea says:

    This is timely… I was just talking with my daughter about it last night (she’ll be just 3 1/2 at Christmas time). She believes in Santa but I’m trying to figure out how I can continue having the story and yet have her know that it really is Mommy & Daddy who are Santa.

    I grew up on a tiny island off the west coast of Canada and it was a place where people just kind of did what they did. A very open, some say “alternative” place to be a kid and learn my way around the world. People there fall into the third category above (for the most part.) My mother did a fantastic job of keeping Santa alive for me but at the same time I always knew that Santa was really my Mom. I believe that what she was able to keep alive was the spirit of the season. Because of that I put cookies out for Santa every year and carrots for the Reindeer, listened to the broadcast on the CBC of Santa coming across the Country and truly had magical Christmases. I ultimately knew it was my Mom but it didn’t destroy the magic for me.

    I’m trying to figure out how to do that with my little one. She wholeheartedly believes at the moment. I tell her that Santa is a really busy guy and that Mommies and Daddies have to help him out so that he can get all his work done. I just haven’t figured out how to have her live in the fantasy as I was able to do as a kid.

    Pretend is great, when you can know the truth and still pretend and enjoy it is the ultimate I think.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 8:38 am

  8. Kate says:

    Hi AJ,
    You asked a fair question and as a Santa lover, I will give you a fair answer. I rolled my eyes and went down to the comment section. For me, believing in Santa made childhood magical. Granted I was a little confused when I figured things out at the age of eight. They told me God existed too, was that also a fantasy?

    A little confusion was well worth the price. I loved leaving out carrots (for Santa’s reindeer) on Christmas eve.

    When my sister was six she asked my mother if Santa was real, and my mother said no. That was thirty years ago and she hasn’t forgiven my mother. My sister says that my mother killed part of her childhood.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 11:09 am

  9. Kate says:

    Ok. I read the post. You are a much more forgiving person than I am. I would have been FURIOUS.

    I don’t think a child’s life has to be based on pure facts. That is part of the joy of being a child. They still believe in the magic.

    I’ll spare you my emotion. Just know that there are some people who are very pro-Santa ;)

    November 23rd, 2007 at 11:17 am

  10. Airwick says:

    When I was growing up … by around 5 or 6 my parents slowly eased me through the Santa process. Some presents under the tree were from Santa, some were from Mrs. Claus, some were from Frosty, Rudolph, and who knows who else. It helped to transition from the “Santa is Real” mindset towards the “Santa is great fun to pretend, lets keep him around” mindset. That helped encourage a good grounding in fantasy and pretend – something that is very helpful!

    As a strong agnostic who loves Christmas … Santa will be the prime character of the next few Christmases … at least until MsMiss asks the question “Is Santa real?” … while its fun to pretend, and create an environment where fantasy is encouraged, outright deception feels wrong to me.

    My dad would often joke around and tell fantastical stories (throughout the year, not just about Santa), great to encourage creative thinking. But he also had a ‘policy’ that whenever I asked him straight out, “is XXXX real?” … or “is YYYYY true?” – he would then ‘drop out of character’ and explain how the truth and fantasy interacted. I found this to be a great solution … and look forward to using it with my daughter.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 11:39 am

  11. Mary says:

    AJ -
    My son is about to turn two next month so we technically haven’t dealt with the Santa Claus fantasy yet. Although, my husband and I both agree that it is a healthy fantasy for young children to believe in. I believe my goal with my son will be to make sure that he understands who Santa is and what he stands for. I also think it is a wonderful thing for a child to use his or her imagination. Unfortunately, realism seems to be what parents and others stress nowadays. To imagine is to be different and, therefore, ridiculed for it. But if it weren’t for imaginitive people, we wouldn’t have the masterpieces (artwork, filmwork, architecture, etc) around today. If my son wants to believe in Santa Claus as a real person, then let it be. Just like you continue to support your child’s idea of his or her imaginary friend. Eventually, reality will come face to face with my son and he will realize that Santa Claus may not be as real as he imagined him. However, that is where his father and I will be to support and comfort him, and explain why we have Santa Claus and what makes him “real” to us. And just like me (well sort of), he’ll turn out to be a healthy, happy, normal kid – despite the letdown that Santa Claus may not be real. For now, I’ll let him be a kid and pretend all he wants. I honestly can’t wait for another year or two when he really is into Santa Claus and Christmas.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 1:07 pm

  12. MarciaMarcia says:

    We walked into a bigger-town mall last week where my son asked loudly, “Mama, why is that man dressed like Santa Claus?” In an attempt to get into my son’s good graces, the santa-dressed-guy asked my son if he’d like a lollipop, to which said-son replied, “Oh, those aren’t for kids.” I’ve never been so proud in my life — and that guys cheeks, possibly never so red. My lesson learned: Christmas (as well as parenting) is more complex than we remember from when we were kids.

    November 23rd, 2007 at 5:26 pm

  13. Christy says:

    I am a Santa believer. I think childhood is a magical time and Santa can be a small part of a child’s sweet imagination. Children grow quickly and have a whole lifetime to know the truths of the world, the good AND the bad.

    What’s so wrong with letting children imaginge and dream at Christmas?…at least for a little while. Every child eventually grows up and learns that Santa isn’t real. Why rush it for them?

    November 24th, 2007 at 11:20 am

  14. Beckie says:

    Well, as a card carrying Pagan reader of your blog, and a celebrater of both Yule, and CommercialGiftGivingDay (Christmas), not only do my children (the youngest 2) believe in Santa Claus, they also believe in such non-persons as the elf who is visiting us to report back to Santa, the tooth fairy, the halloween fairy (who takes away halloween candy and leaves gifts) and several other fairies, LOL!!

    I think you took the death of Santa very graciously, as I have been known to pinch my DH when he misspeaks in front of the little ones. And don’t even ask what happens to my 16 year old when he gleefully tries to shake their faith!

    I believed in Santa as a child, and have not faired the worse for it. And I for one, think children are not children nearly long enough, and will do everything in my power to extend that time for mine ;)

    November 24th, 2007 at 9:54 pm

  15. Amy says:

    Well said, Becky…

    I grew up believing in Santa, but not just that, the magic of the Christmas season. We were poor, but Santa always got me what I really desired in my heart. I have three kids: 11 year old boy, 9 year old boy, and a 3 year old girl.
    The boys no longer believe and the oldest one has made several remarks nearly spilling the secret to the three year old. Kids are kids nad they have so much to deal with these day, why take away Santa, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, and all of the wonderful nastalgic things from childhood. I was a grown up before the magic of the season died for me. It wasn’t many years ago. But I hope it never dies for my kids.

    November 25th, 2007 at 11:50 am

  16. Christy says:

    I too grew up believing in Santa. My mom told me the truth when I was 7 years old. I never resented her. I just asked he rif it was the same with the Easter Bunny. She said yes and then I asked her why she always got me stuffed rabbits for Easter. I am about to have my first baby and my husband and I are so looking forward to the magic of Christmas through a child’s eyes coming back into our lives. As we get older the Christmas magic wanes and we learn to enjoy the time spent with family but not the magic that makes Christmas so absolutely wonderful. My younger brother was just saying last night how he can’t wait for my son to get old enough to believe in Santa. I wholeheartedly agree with him.

    November 26th, 2007 at 6:50 am

  17. Homestead says:

    We haven’t come to any conclusions about Santa but the Toy Fairy? The Toy Fairy is real. Don’t mess with the toy fairy.

    If you leave your toys out at night the toy fairy will take them. And the toy fairy knows things…. if you have toys you don’t want any more the toy fairy will take them to some kids who will love them and if you leave them out because you don’t want to take care of them then they disappear for a while until the toy fairy thinks you are responsible enough to care for them again. BUT… if you accidentally leave out your favorite toy or you get home late from Nana’s house and don’t have time to clean up your toys then sometimes the toy fairy just leaves you a note so you know he is watching but that he understands.

    And, yes, the toy fairy is a he. And, yes, the toy fairy visited my house when I was little, and yes, the toy fairy is a huge blessing for parents with little houses.

    November 26th, 2007 at 9:57 am

  18. Jessica G says:

    My 3 1/2 year old daughter believes almost anything I tell her right now and I don’t know how many years I will have of that. Santa falls in to the realm of magic and pixies and monster spray and that your living room can be transformed in to a turtle rescue operation if you just flip a few chairs over and spread some blankets and pretend that the rug is a river with happy turtles and snappy turtles in it. In other words, I see no need to kill Santa.

    Soon enough it will connect that the chicken she likes to chase on the farm and the chicken on her plate are one in the same. It will connect that Santa never really looks the same each year for the photo-op. It will connect that I don’t know everything. But if I am teaching my daughter the basics about being a good, loving and productive human being — I think she might forgive me for a few years of Santa myths.

    My mom used to say – long after my brother and I gave up on Santa – that Santa lives in your heart and turns mommys and daddys in to holiday elves. She then would try to show me her pointy ears. I love her for that.

    November 26th, 2007 at 12:07 pm

  19. Alan Thomas says:

    We’ve had a “truth and honesty” policy from the beginning with our daughter, but we’ve also avoiding being blunt on this issue. So, for example, we’ll be silent, or respond with questions rather than just coming out and saying “Santa’s pretend.” We also make the distinction between Santa being *pretend* and Santa being a *lie*. Some things that are pretend can still speak of Truth.

    November 28th, 2007 at 1:38 pm

  20. T says:

    I grew up knowing that Santa wasn’t reality. I remember feeling absolute anguish when friends would speak of Santa as if he were their diety, but was sworn to secrecy by my parents. We were to respect their family’s beliefs, yet I was horrified that their parents would lie to them. The drama of a child, right?

    My children know that Saint Nicholas was an amazing man who blessed people, and we do stockings because we want to learn from his graciousness. How horrified would the poor man be, if he knew the legacy he now has. He was a humble man who gave everythign he had in secret, wanting to bless others because he loved his God. Think about that for a minute. How would he like our commercialized extravaganze in his honor?
    We have an AWESOME book that we read “Santa, Are You For Real?” that lays it out wonderfully for small children.

    December 2nd, 2007 at 8:04 pm

  21. Lucy says:

    such a shame he isnt real i wish he was too i stoped beliveing when i was nine and got tolt he was not real when i was 11


    December 18th, 2007 at 1:51 am

  22. anjii says:

    Santa is welcome in our home, in the form of decorations, movies, music, etc… but our 2 1/2 year old knows that he is the pretend Christmas man. He can still have fun with the idea, as he has a very active imagination and plays pretend, both alone and with us all the time. But he knows that he’s not real, and that his presents come from the people who love him.

    We subscribe to this reality for 2 reasons. One is what you stated, about Christians wanting the main focus of Christmas to be about Jesus. But secondly, we want him to appreciate what he’s given, and respect his things. They are not to be taken for granted as magically appearing, but rather that they cost money, and daddy works hard to pay for the things we have. We want him to be grateful for everything he has.

    At this point, I’m not worried about him ruining Santa for other kids, as the only kids he really socializes with are all his cousins, who, belonging to both of my sisters, are taught the same principles that we grew up with. When he starts preschool next year, I will teach him to keep it a secret, out of respect for others’ views, just as me and my sisters were taught to do when we were kids. And for the record, I always loved that I had been let in on a big grown-up secret, and felt very priviledged to have that info that my peers didn’t ; )

    August 28th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

  23. tay says:

    Just kidding :)
    But three and she already doubts Santa?

    I was twelve before i bothered confronting my parents about it, but i knew the first time i met another kid who didn’t believe in him.

    It’s so much fun to think he’s real, especially with siblings and cousins who do, too. Parents shouldn’t stress Santa, and keep in mind what Christmas is really about. Don’t tell stories about seeing him, or how it’s possible.
    The less you lie, the more likely it is that the discovery is anuthing but traumatic.

    That way it’s less like, “you lied to me” than “what a fun game.”

    You grow out of it, especially when all your friends say it’s your mum and dad.

    Might as well let us kids be kids, right?
    Goodness knows we grow up too soon, rushed into being a grown up when, truthfully, it’s way more fun to be a kid, watching your window on Christmas eve and waking up at 5 AM to see presents from the people who love you.


    October 13th, 2008 at 4:18 pm

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