11/30/2012 12:21 EST | Updated 01/30/2013 05:12 EST

Should You Tell Your Kid the Truth About Santa?


My first Christmas as a parent, when my kid was barely old enough to sit up on her own, I got all high and mighty about our future with Santa Claus. I remembered as a child being crushed when I learned the truth about him, and my husband couldn't remember ever really believing. Being rational, intellectual caregivers (insert laughter here), we resolved that when the time came, we wouldn't lie. We'd tell her about the real, historical St. Nick, and extol the virtues of giving and sharing. We'd avoid using stocking stuffers as motivation for good behaviour. If she wanted, we'd take her to the mall and get her picture taken amongst the elves. We'd do all the fun stuff, play the games, bake the cookies, and sing the songs -- but we wouldn't lie.

Two years have passed, and despite our efforts to remain neutral with respect to the jolly old elf, our daughter has managed to get the jump on us. I'm not sure who her sources are, but she's been conducting research behind our back, and is now well-versed in Santa lore.

About a month ago, our little holiday merriment-maker informed us that Santa is indeed coming to town this year. She knows when, and she knows how. So what now? What of my commitment to Truth with a capital T? Now that she already believes, do I burst her bubble for the sake of her future, truth-seeking self? If I let this one go, am I flinging myself down a slippery slope, one paved with tooth-trading fairy folk and egg-slinging rabbits?

I've learned many lessons from my little thinker, and one of them is that truth doesn't always come with a capital T. At two and a half, her distinction between true and false, as well as real and not real, is blurry at best. This is just where she is in her development as a human being. Boring grown-ups like me insist on slotting things into categories like believable/unbelievable. However, for her, at this stage in the game, flying reindeer led by a chubby, bearded benefactor are no stranger than practices like trimming a tree, lighting a menorah, or drinking eggnog (hey, I still don't understand eggnog).

Pragmatist William James once asserted that truth sometimes has more to do with what works in everyday life than it does with what can be "proven." This year, and maybe for a few more years, Santa with all the mystical mayhem that surrounds him, is a truth that works for my daughter. Through Santa, she's learning about kindness and joy, and is diving into the traditions of her culture.

I'm not even sure she'd fully understand if I tried to set the record straight, and beyond that, it's been the catalyst for some pretty amazing conversations. Santa is just one of many wiggly, slippery truths that she'll phase in and out of as she matures, and when he no longer serves, she'll move on. Perhaps even after she figures it all out, we'll still be able to celebrate Santa without the capital S.