How To Tell Your Child The Truth About Santa


Let’s admit it,  who secretly believed in Santa when they were little? (Me!) And who hung up stockings on Christmas Eve in the hope of finding them heavy with goodies in the morning?  (I hung up socks. True story). And who was a chubby little brown kid whose family made clear there was no such thing as Christmas or Santa or Stockings full of gifts and still did it all anyway? Yup! You guessed it. Me. 

Of course the next morning there was nothing but those empty limp socks to be seen (one of them had even sadly fallen on the floor). And that, as they say, was the end of that. Yet look at how powerful the concept of Santa is that it captured my imagination to such an extent that even though I knew it couldn’t possibly be logically true, a tiny part of me still wished and hoped it was.

Santa Claus, his merchandising and cultural references are  all-encompassing. It’s difficult to know exactly how to explain it all to our children. Will they feel like they are “missing out” on yet another “fun” thing that others do and “we” don’t?  Will they be strong enough not to care? Should we ignore it? Give a dose of tough love?

This is actually not just a ‘Muslim’ parent problem. Many parents of all faiths and practices are loath to feed into a myth which features a fantastical man coming into your home in the dead of night and leaving gifts for children based upon their “goodness”.

In my Montessori parent’s group, there is often much discussion around this very topic. Central to Montessori pedagogy is the belief that children should be able to learn the true nature of things. And even though some Montessori parents have fond memories of Santa Claus, they also speak of how betrayed they felt by the adults in their lives when they discovered he wasn’t “real”. The Lancet Journal of Psychiatry recently published an article suggesting that this ‘lie’ parents tell might be complicit in undermining the trust their children have in them. 

So why not try to approach the story of Santa by  telling your curious child the truth? Not just the ‘Santa doesn’t exist’ truth but the real truth. Here is  what worked for me ~ and may be you could try it with your budding Santa ‘fan’ ….

I started by telling my then 5 yr old a story ~

A long time ago, in the past, there was a wise and pious man named Saint Nicholas who used to secretly leave gifts for poor people on their doorsteps. When they woke in the morning they would find food to eat and warm clothes clothes to wear. He was a simple and humble man and he didn’t want anyone to know it was him as he didn’t want anything in return except good rewards from God.

Then over the years as time went by people wanted to remember him and his good example so they gave gifts to children and they would say the gifts were from St’ Nicholas …. Over time, practices change and after many years “St’ Nicholas” turned into ‘Santa Claus’ (try repeating the phrase over and over again!) and today people who celebrate Christmas like to be a ‘Santa Claus’ for their kids!

So Santa is not one real person. It’s people who pretend to be Santa and give gifts to their children, in the spirit of St’ Nicholas “

Along with this a discussion on how ‘nothing is free’ and that people work hard to be able to afford to give children gifts on special occasions like Christmas and Eid respectively.

This really worked for my son. He knows that I try to answer all questions he has truthfully and he expects that from us as his parents. Also it is a true and inspiring story and we even talked about the concept of charity and why it might be considered good to give it with ‘discretion’. This led us perfectly to a Hadith (saying of the of  the Prophet Muhammad) in which one of the people closest to God is described as being ‘… a person who gives charity and conceals it (to such an extent) that the right hand does not know what the left has given’ .

Through this story he also understood why some kids like to believe in ‘Santa’ and why some adults might like to lead their children to believe in Santa.  Of course I told him that it’s not up to us to tell other people what to believe and what not to believe but that in our family, we felt it important for him and his sister to know where their Eid gifts came from so we could thank the real and relevant people who cared enough to send them.

I am pretty sure this will make sense to most children and they will feel less ‘left out’ but one thing I can not guarantee is that your child will resist the urge to ‘reveal the truth’ to a Santa believing classmate. Even after warnings not to- my son just couldn’t help educating a younger friend, as I got to find out later from the child’s caregiver, that Ismail had told Eliot;  ‘Santa is not real’(!) 

Did you ever believe in Santa? Does your child believe in, or secretly want to believe in him? Do you care? We would love to know how our readers approach this topic!

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  • Reply Afshan December 12, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    I can totally relate to this situation as we have recently moved to Tehran.my kids are going to an international school and they celebrated Halloween and preparing for Christmas too, while my eldest firmly believes that Santa is not real (he also told his classmates) , younger one wants to believe just for the sake of gifts :). So have decided to give gifts on eid instead of traditional eidi and I love your explanation definitely going to tell my kids .thanks

  • Reply Lisa December 12, 2016 at 3:18 am

    I am a Kindergarten through 2nd grade ELL teacher with many students who do not celebrate Christmas or Santa Clause. This year I have gotten many more questions then in the past, with many emotions. Many who have said they wish they could have Christmas, or have even asked their parents if they could celebrate the holiday. Others shared feelings of anger, and jealousy, feeling it is just not fair. I really LOVE the way you have explained it, and I too have shared the story of St. Nicholas to help children see that the “spirit” of Santa Clause is real. I plan to share this link for parents to read. Thank you!!!

    • Reply Hiba December 3, 2020 at 1:21 am

      Beautifully written. Manha was just asking me this the other day and I wasn’t sure how to reply to it. Going to use this as a jumping off point.

  • Reply MummyBird December 7, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I think the culture of Santa is so ingrained in the UK and many countries that parents probably perpetuate the ‘magic’ without necessarily giving it a second thought or without making an conscious decision about whether this is a myth/ lie they are happy to continue with for the best part of the next ten years! This post really made me think, I have done exactly this. I put my 11 month old in a hand me down Christmas jumper for a photo for our Christmas e-card without a second thought of the Santa face on the front. I love the magic of Christmas and have done since a child but I do remember the exact place I was when I finally heard it from my Mum that Santa wasn’t real, and yes….I remember I cried! The real magic is surely the reminder and action of giving without acknowledgement, without expectation of thanks. The shoe box appeal in the uk or similar rotary club type gift tag appeals for those less privileged children in the community are an easy way to give such an anonymous gift at Christmas and great to do with your child to teach some important lessons. With the shoe box you can even make the gift to a child of the same age and gender as your child so that they can associate more.
    I can’t imagine a Christmas morning with children that doesn’t involve the morning wake up alarm of ‘He’s been he’s been!!’ but this has definitely made me think more about HOW we tell our boy the story of St Nicholas and Santa to try and keep the magic and the truth in tandem.

    • Reply Sumaya December 7, 2016 at 9:45 am

      ‘… to keep the magic and truth in tandem’, I love that! Thanks for your comment! We have something similar I like for my son to participate in. They have a ‘giving tree’ at school- a Christmas tree with tags. Each tag has the name and age of a child, one can choose a tag and buy and wrap a gift accordingly to place under the tree. These children are from families in a pre- chosen shelter that seeks to serve households experiencing homelessness, addiction, violence and loss by providing for basic needs in the form of safe, affordable housing. It’s such a lovely way of being a santa for another child.

  • Reply Alice November 27, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Beautiful way of approaching the issue! And I love how you made it an occasion to teach the important virtues of compassion, kindness, and generosity. Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Minnie November 27, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    I loved reading this as my children too are very curious about Santa, the tooth fairy and really any magical and mythical being that may leave them a gift! I do love this age where their imaginations can take them anywhere and their excitement for something magical and hopeful is so strong. My eldest (7) and I talk a lot about where our imaginations take us and how some stories are simply stories. However, these stories can make us feel happy and hopeful and excited. We also talked about how these stories may be more meaningful for little kids and less so for bigger kids and adults (hint, don’t let the cat out of the bag!). He seemed pleased with himself and quite proud to know that he was among the “big kids” who had “solved the riddle” and promised to keep his secret. I’m glad I read this- I’ll now have to use your endearing story of St Nick ;).

    • Reply Sumaya November 28, 2016 at 5:34 am

      This is sooo cute! I love the idea of colluding with him and making him feel like a ‘big kid’ who is in on the secret. I will def try that with my son… don’t want him spilling the beans to anyone else this year!

  • Reply Soporian November 27, 2016 at 8:43 am

    Beautiful illustration and a post I can really relate to! I wrote to santa for a barbie doll as part of a class exercise in year 1. I remember thinking “pfft this is so not going to work” & obviously it didn’t but a tiny part of me was intrigued to see if it would for me as it did for the rest of the kids. I did love the Christmas “feeling” without worrying too much about not being able to “celebrate” it at home, it was the activities in school, holidays, the cosy indoors, the films on tv, roast chestnuts etc, all part of the cultural backdrop of growing up in the UK 🙂

    • Reply Soporian November 27, 2016 at 8:45 am

      I don’t think I even wanted a barbie doll but again felt like the kind of thing I “ought” to ask for esp as something that was far too expensive for my parents!

  • Reply M H November 26, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    How sweet! Out of curiosity, how did Eliot and the caregiver react to this unexpected piece of information?!

    Having just moved to the UK and witnessing all the fanfare about Christmas, I do feel sorry for those Muslim children who do not find the same kind of excitement with Eid – in Muslim and non Muslim countries alike. When we were little, we got loads of ‘Eidi’, but over time the concept died out, elders became less enthusiastic about continuing with the tradition, and once I got married, I realised that it has never been a big thing in many families. My son is still too little, but I’m determined to making Eids special for him inshaAllah (and for all little children around me) so that they don’t feel deprived or add though they’re missing out!

    • Reply Sumaya November 27, 2016 at 3:30 am

      I think the Nanny salvaged the situation quite well, but I warn my son as Christmas comes up about letting the grown up in the child’s life decide what to tell them about Santa! I think this year since he is older, there will be no ‘leaking’ of information!

  • Reply Zareen November 25, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Haha I love this! Remember telling a bunch of kids that Santa didn’t exist when I was in year 2. Pandemonium ensued, with several pupils ending up in tears. The teacher took me to the side (more kindly than I probably deserved) & commended me for my maturity, but suggested that maybe we should keep this between us as a special grown up secret…

  • Reply Pabx November 25, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    A truly lovely explanation about the origins of Santa Claus, and reinforces a beautiful hadith

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