Editor’s note: KSL regrets that this is our second article this month that suggests Santa may not be real. Discretion is advised for readers under age 8. Thank you to KSL.com’s commenters for their advice. Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.
SALT LAKE CITY — We asked and you answered: How did you keep the magic of Santa alive as your kids aged?
You see him in movies, on decorations, in the mall, at Christmas parties and just about everywhere during December — so it’s no wonder there’s a high percentage of kids who believe in Santa Claus. A HuffPo/YouGov poll found in 2015 that 71 percent of U.S. parents with kids ages 10 or under said at least one of their kids believes in Santa. And the parents believed, too — an AP survey poll found 84 percent of U.S. adults believed in Santa at some point in their lives.
So he's probably going to come up at some point during your child's life. What should you do and say?
Some parents tell their kids the first time they ask, and others refuse to ever answer the question — even for their adult kids.
However you choose to celebrate, here’s what you can do to keep Christmas magical whether your kids believe in Santa or not.
1. Don’t believe? No presents!
“I had older children that would have ruined the myth of Santa for the younger ones, so I just said, ‘If you don't believe, you don't get.’ That took care of it.” -JustMeWithMyTwoCents
“I told mine that if you don't believe, Santa doesn't come anymore. Every year I would ask them, "Do you believe?" and they would think about it and just smile and say yes. End of discussion. Guess what — they were still saying they believe right up before they were old enough to leave the house.” —Bruce B.
“I adore Christmas and the magic was more than just Santa Claus. It was all the activities, music, family, traditions, food, decorations, etc. When my kids told me there was no Santa, I told them that when they stopped believing, then he stopped coming. Problem solved! So the kids and I all believe in Santa — no one would admit otherwise… and after all, there are gifts as evidence, aren't there? Looks real to me!” —Akbutler
“The saying, ‘If you don't believe, you don't receive’ works for us.” —Kman
2. Recruit older kids as ‘Santa’s helpers’
“When the oldest realized there wasn't a Santa, we recruited him as ‘Santa's helper’ to make it special for his younger siblings. Our kids have been very good about not divulging the secret to their younger siblings as they've grown older and realized Santa is just Mom and Dad. For all of our kids, they found out from talking to other kids at school, not from the immediate family members. As far as lying goes… I don't feel any trust has been broken or diminished within our family. Our older kids appreciate the fun Christmases we had when they were younger. So much joy and magic!” —Janae P.
“We let the kids become one of ‘Santa's Elves’ when they turn 12. By then, they've really figured it out anyway. They love helping out and being in on the magic!” —Shauna M.
“My older kids asked and I told them when you stop believing he stops coming, but my youngest one recently demanded an answer! Therefore, I told him the story of Saint Nicholas, and how he gave to others, and how after his death his tradition was carried on. He joined the Santa Club and became a Santa for somebody else. He took it well and has learned the Christmas spirit!” —MtMagichh
“We have always talked more about the three Kings than we have Santa, and give each child a want, a need, and a religious gift from the three Kings. As each child has gotten older and started to figure things out, we invite them to be Christmas spirit helpers to keep the spirit alive for everyone else. The first year, we invite them to help fill the other stockings. The next year they get to help wrap and set out some gifts. After that, they have all been excited to keep the younger kids excited about Christmas.” —wooja
“My eldest child was told about Santa by kids at school when she was in first grade. I was crushed she had learned so early, that those kids had spoiled the magic for her at such a young age. And I feared she would tell our younger children and spoil the magic for them, as well. Instead, I let her BE Santa that Christmas. She had the privilege of staying up after the others were asleep, filling the stockings and eating the treats left out for Santa. There was no way she would tell the younger ones and lose that privilege. This tradition was handed down to each of the younger children as they learned about Santa and took their turns to BE Santa. As a result, my kids learned that BEING Santa themselves is having the joy of gifting others." —culkein
3. Instill the 'character of Santa' with service projects
“My thought process went a different direction. I do believe in St. Nicholas, my children all know that. For me, it was important for my family to not only ‘believe’ in the jolly old fellow, but learn to give and think of others first as he does. By instilling the character of Santa, my children learned to serve and surprise others intuitively. We always did the 12 Days of Christmas and Sub 4 Santa projects. My children found more joy in these activities than they did receiving their own treasures under the tree. The magic of Santa is real, you just merely believe. I revel in that magic all year. It's the very spirit of Christ, whose birthday we celebrate.” -Lory V.
4. Use the spirit of Christmas instead
“I do spirit of Christmas and not Santa. I don't lie to my children, so then no worries when they are older. Makes much more sense.” —Pamela B.
“I must be a Grinch. I'll have to come up with a ‘spirit of Christmas’ excuse because I won't lie to the kiddos.” —SkylerBaird
5. Never admit it. Ever.
“Even as adults — (we have five kids, age 40 down to 32 with 21 grandkids) — we've never admitted to our kids that there's no Santa. It's a ‘game’ my father-in-law started with his kids.” —Gloria S.
6. Go full-out and hire your own Santa every year
“We found the best, real-beard Santa in the state at an outlet mall for our kids' first Santa picture. We asked that Santa if he did private parties, and of course, he did. We then hired him every single year thereafter to come to our house for a Christmas party and so our kids could see and talk to the real Santa.
"A few years later, my company hired this particular Santa for employee pictures (with a little nudge from me of course). So for the last few years, my kids have been going to daddy's work for pictures with the real Santa as well. To drive the point home, we avoid ‘Santa's Helpers’ at all costs! We don't go to shopping malls with the kids at Christmas time. We skip ward Christmas parties whenever possible or leave early.
"We’ve had a few mishaps. This year, I was too distracted to remember to evacuate the kids before ‘Santa's Helper’ walked in with a fake beard and wig. My son noticed, commenting ‘Daddy, Santa didn't even know my name!’
"Our Santa parties are designed to reinforce the magic. My kids are, of course, completely convinced because not only does Santa remember their names year after year (and recognize them on sight), but he sometimes talks to them about the last time he saw them and what they asked for.” —dacumen
7. Deny, deny, deny, then try some car-driving trickery
“When our oldest figured it out, we denied it. We went to grandma’s house and (our daughter) was the last one out of our house. On Christmas Eve, I drove an hour back to our house to put Santa gift’s out, as well as a bicycle. Christmas day when we got home, she was the first back in the house, knowing the gifts were not there when we left. That bought us a couple more years.” —ganpa_heier
8. Let them figure it out themselves
“Whenever they asked if Santa was real, my answer was always, ‘what do you think?’ They usually would reply, ‘I think he's real’ and I let them convince themselves that Santa is real. But the day they said, ‘I don't think he's real,’ I told them, “good job! You figured it out’ and there was no disappointment.” —pixelpusher
9. Tell them Mom is Santa
“I tell my kids that their mom is Santa. They don't believe me. ‘Where's her beard and Reindeer and big belly?’ they always say. It's a bigger challenge to get them see that every house has multiple Santas.” —lorgous
10. Santa + mom + dad
“I told my kids that if it's toys Santa's Elves can make, then it's free (like wooden ones, etc.), but if they want stuff from the stores, then Santa has to work with the parents for the cost of the item — that's why some kids get more from Santa and some don't. It’s also how the toys stores can keep in business, otherwise all the hardworking people wouldn't get paid for their jobs. If other kids want things from Santa their parents can't afford, then that's why we all try to help Santa out with that, too. This also helps them think about how much they ask for with Christmas (at least for my kids, it does).” —H D.
“When our twin daughters were 11, my wife told them that sometimes Santa needed help giving to families and that we were the ones who helped him. That year, as the family gift, we gave ice skates to everyone from "Santa and Mom and Dad". Our daughters have often spoken about that Christmas as one of their most special ones because it was when they find out that we, and Santa, love them. That's how we've been able to keep the magic of Christmas alive and well in our family.” —Jordan E.
11. Everyone can be Santa
“Two things. First, I absolutely believe in Santa. I stay up on Christmas Eve until the Santa Tracker shows that Santa flew overhead! Let me clarify. I fully embrace the Savior as the true spirit of Christmas, filling my house with nativities during the season. My favorite Christmas songs are the spiritual ones. But I believe that Santa bridges the gap between those who believe in Christ and those who do not. Not every religious person is Christian, and not everyone who celebrates Christmas is religious. For some, Santa is as close as they're going to get to a ‘Jesus’ figure, so to speak. As a child, it was much easier for me to understand Jesus after having Santa in my life. This is what I taught my children.
"Second, at the age of 10, our son still believed in Santa. We thought it was probably time to have ‘The Talk.’ After we told him, he got this weird look on his face. Then his eyes grew big, a wonderful smile spread across his face, and in true surprise and disbelief he said, ‘You mean I get to be Santa Claus when I grow up?’ (Emphasis on the ‘I.’) Gotta love that kid!” —LeesJustSomeThoughts
12. Leave evidence of Santa in plain sight
“I dressed up as Santa one year and the families went to a movie and they set up a camera. As Santa, I put out presents, drank the milk and ate the cookie, pretending I didn't notice the camera. Kids loved it.” —KARR
“When I was 8 years old, my two brothers and I were getting to the age where we were starting to doubt if Santa was real. My dad knew that, so he came up with a plan. On Christmas Eve, we were all in the bedroom getting ready for bed, when suddenly I looked over at the big window and saw Santa looking in. I pointed and yelled, ‘Santa!’ As soon as he was spotted, he took off in a flash. As quickly as we could, we ran outside to see if we could find him, but he vanished!
"When we came back inside, my dad told us if we didn't get to sleep right away that Santa wouldn't come back. Needless to say, that was the fastest we ever got to bed! When we woke up the next morning and saw all the presents, I was convinced that Santa was definitely real. My dad had asked his barber if he would dress as Santa and they had it all planned perfectly. I still 'believe' in Santa and have done the same for my children.” —Lyndon L.
13. Don’t even give them a chance
“I attached the receipt to all their gifts signed ‘Love, Dad.’” —Jim S.
“When I learned that Santa was not real I was devastated, then when I shared what I learned with my cousins and they were upset, I got in serious trouble. It was fairly traumatic and thus my kids have always known Santa is pretend.” —Matthew M.
14. Don’t let ‘em believe, but don’t ruin it for everyone else
“We never did the Santa thing, we wanted to instill other aspects of the holiday that didn't revolve around how much stuff you could shake an imaginary guy down for. But we did tell our kids not to ruin it for their cousins and friends.” —Zepo C.
15. Letting them believe despite a KSL Classifieds mistake
“The gig was up for my daughter when she overheard me telling my dad about the good deal I found on KSL.com for her gift that was from ‘Santa.’ She was sure to let me know about the slip-up I made. On the other hand, my 11-year-old wants to believe so badly still, and hang on to the magic. In our house, if you don't believe in Santa, you run the risk of not getting anything. Who really wants to risk those odds? So the older kids just keep to themselves and let the younger ones figure it out on their own. Our 5-year-old is ‘all in’ this year, full-force Santa and the whole works!” —Tiffany F.
16. Let them cry it out, then join in on the fun
“My oldest son was asking doubtful questions in front of the younger kids constantly, so I took him to his bedroom and had ‘The Talk.’ He cried for hours. Huge crocodile tears were dripping off his cheeks. I tried to undo the damage I had done by telling him, ‘Never mind, I was just kidding.’ He laid in bed and cried for several hours until my husband got home from work and explained to him that now that he knows, he is part of a huge conspiracy to help younger kids have fun at Christmas, and he's in charge of helping make it magical for his brothers and sister. He was OK with it since then and has taken his duty seriously.” —tildia
17. Believe in your heart
“It’s not about the physical belief in Santa. It’s about keeping the idea alive in your heart. My teenage age kids have known for quite some time now but we keep all the traditions alive. The parties, the activities, the time together, and the big payoff — Christmas morning! Presents magically appearing under the lighted Christmas tree (with our handwriting on all the tags that the kids identified when they were probably 8 or 9 years old LOL… busted!).” —Freeyourmind
18. Try the Santa ‘dodge game’ once they know
“My kid was getting doubts at (age 8), so we had a talk about it. I indicated to him that believing in Santa was a lot symbolic. You didn't have to believe in him, but if you didn't, the enjoyment of the gifting grows trivial and isn't as much fun. Then we had a talk about what the season means to him and if he enjoyed the Santa years much.
"Well, ironically, that particular year, a neighbor friend of ours was playing Santa for our ward Christmas party. And when my boy sat on his lap, doubts in full bloom, Santa looked at him and called him by name and asked him what he was looking for towards Christmas. Blew him away that Santa would know his name. But the upper message started to sink in and he kept his innocent enjoyment of Santa alive for years afterwards to mingle with the doubts his peers put in his head. Even though he figured it wasn't physically possible, the fact that Santa called him by name resonated something special to him that year.
"Now it's fun doing the Santa ‘dodge game’, to see who can put out the Santa surprise for the morning without getting caught by the other one. Such a fun spirited tradition.” —Ralph1
19. Work hard to keep the magic alive while they’re young
“I found out at five. I didn't want that for my child and my husband felt the same. Children are only little for so few years and making them grow up so fast is sad. Once that innocence of childhood is gone, you can't get it back. Our son grew up knowing we never had enough money. His father and I couldn't be Santa Claus because we couldn't afford it. Our son didn't know that we saved money out of each paycheck from January to Thanksgiving. We taught him the family holiday traditions. I bought all the gifts from us and Santa right after Thanksgiving and stored them in my parents attic. He would never look there — too scary.
The weekend before Christmas, I wrapped all the presents from us in different paper and bows than the kind Santa used. The name tag from us I wrote in my regular cursive writing. The tag from Santa was signed in block letters with a different color ink. The presents from us were wrapped plainly. The ones from Santa were beautifully wrapped. I put them in the trunk of my car and they stayed there until late Christmas Eve. The milk and cookies disappeared. Sometimes we put coffee out in case Santa was tired.
"Our son came home from school the Christmas he was 10 and demanded the truth. We were decorating the tree. I asked him what he thought. He said the kids at school told him, 'your parents are Santa.' Part of him believed that. The part that didn't was the part of him that knew we never had money. I told him the truth and how we did it." —Fighting_For_My_Life
20. Alternative theory: Santa doesn’t make the magic
“You don't have to believe in Santa or have an Elf on the Shelf to make Christmas magical! Spending time with family, serving others, and focusing on the true meaning is what makes Christmas so magical! I never remember believing in Santa but I in no way feel like I was robbed of my childhood innocence because of that, or feel like I missed out on the magic of Christmas. My kids aren't missing out because I tell them the truth once they start questioning, or because I don't make a big deal out of Santa when they do believe in him.” —Utah0710