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Debra White Smith

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The Truth about Santa


Question: I’m already seeing Christmas advertisements, and my grandkids are already making their Christmas wish list. With Christmas just around the corner, my mind turns to the whole Santa routine. When we raised our sons, we pretended there was a Santa, and they believed in him until well into their elementary years. I was shocked when my four-year-old grandson recently informed me that Santa doesn’t exist. I asked my daughter-in-law about who told them the truth , and she said she did. I have to admit I was disappointed. I really enjoyed playing Santa with our boys and had hoped to do the same with our grandchildren. My daughter-in-law says she prefers to be wholly honest with her children. I guess she has a point; but I’m still disappointed. Somehow, it seems to have taken the magic out of Christmas. What are your thoughts?


Answer: While I understand the fun behind building a Santa fantasy for a child, I have always voted for the honesty approach. My parents were truthful with my sister and me about Santa. I was raised understanding that mom and dad really were Santa. I was one of those kids like your grandchildren who never believed the myth. So naturally, I carried that concept into my parenting and told my children from the time they could talk that Santa was just a Christmas gift game we play…that mom and dad pretend to be Santa.

            As a kid, I still had butterflies in my stomach Christmas Eve, and so have my children. I never felt deprived of any magic. Rather, it was just as delightful to know my parents cared enough about me to buy gifts and present a Christmas spread I could run to the tree for. The magic was very much still there for me; and it has been for my children as well.

            My goal as a parent was and is to build trust in my kids. I want them to know that if I tell them something is true, then it is. If I incite them to believe in a fictitious character they find out is not real, then what does that do to their confidence in my word? Many children have struggled with questioning the existence of God once they found out their parents hadn’t been truthful about Santa. Like Santa, you can’t see God, so they begin to think God must just be a grownup tale as well.

From the start, I wanted my kids to know that God was real and that Santa was a “gift game” we play based on the life and generosity of Saint Nicholas. I then told them the truth about Saint Nicholas. I will present the same to you in hopes you will share the information with your grandchildren.

Saint Nicholas was born wealthy in A.D. 280. He was a small-town boy from Patara in Asia Minor. Even though an epidemic killed his parents during his youth, they had made sure of both his spiritual and material wealth. Nicholas had a faith no one could shake.

            After his parents’ death, Nicholas lived in Myra and there showed his love for Christ through his love for others. Eventually, the town asked him to be its bishop. Emperor Diocletian jailed him because of his faith. But Emperor Constantine released him.

            News of Saint Nicholas’s generous deeds spread through the countryside. Not only did he beg for food for the poor, but he also gave impoverished girls dowries which enabled them to find husbands. And, of course, there is the unforgettable story of his putting on a costume, sneaking into the homes of poor children, and leaving gifts. Because of his generosity, Nicholas gave away everything he owned and died poor in 314.

            He never rode around with reindeer, though. We can thank the clergyman Clement Clarke Moore for that (1822). And if you like his suit, you can thank the illustrator Thomas Nast for that. But for his generosity and love, you can thank his Heavenly Father.

            Saint Nicholas is the embodiment of what we all should be. The man reached out to this world and has touched humanity ever since. Think what our world would be like if we all followed his example!

            With all that said, I believe in keeping a balance. While I’m not a proponent of presenting an untruth about Santa, I also see no harm in embracing the symbols of the season. I’ve seen parents so dogmatically against Santa that they won’t let their kids watch Santa-related movies and cartoons or let them sit on Santa’s knee in the department store. Even though I have been honest with my children about Santa, one of our favorite movies of all times is “Miracle on 34th Street”; and even now that my kids are teens we still enjoy watching holiday specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” together. I encourage parents and grandparents to tell their children that Jesus, not Santa, is the reason for the season, but still feel free to enjoy the cultural holiday traditions.

I believe telling youngsters the factual story of Santa puts the right balance in the Christmas gift-giving ritual. When the story of Saint Nicholas is handled correctly, his biography points to faith in Christ and his virgin birth, and that makes for the most “magical” Christmas of all.


The author of 53 books, Debra White Smith has over one million books in print worldwide and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” For more information, visit

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