“I told Owen that Santa’s dead.”

Those were the first words out of Kiara’s mouth when I arrived home one day last year.

If you press her on this now, she’ll insist that she didn’t tell our dear little then-four-year-old that Santa Claus is dead. Just Saint Nicholas. Big difference. :)

We’ve never made a big deal of Santa Claus. Every year people ask if we’ve taken our kids to see him. No, we haven’t. Seeing Santa wasn’t a big deal for us when we were kids, and we don’t want to make a big deal of it with our own children. “What?!” you exclaim, “You have to take them to Santa!” No, not really. Heck, our own mothers look at us strangely when we bring it up.

This is about the time when people assume that we’ve already told our kids the “truth” about Santa, that Santa isn’t real.

No, we tell them that Santa is dead. :-D

Hah. Far from it! We read the stories, “The Night Before Christmas” and the rest. There are so many good ones, it’s not only hard to avoid, it’s pointless. They are an important part of our cultural tradition.

When Owen (now five years old) asks if Santa is a real person, a natural question with a Santa on every corner, we shift the discussion away from talking in those terms. We say that he is very real to a lot of people, that people all around the world tell a lot of different stories about Santa — for example, the Swedish will tell you that Santa lives in Spain. We don’t shy away from the fact that in some parts of the world, he’s just not a significant part of the Christmas tradition at all. We explain that Saint Nicholas was real and did some Very Good Things, and that people started telling stories about him to keep his memory alive, that some of those became stories about Santa Claus. We don’t give him gifts “from Santa,” although others do; we just don’t make a big deal out of it. We stress through our words and actions that the important thing about Christmas is not Santa Claus and presents, but the time we spend with our family, being generous and loving, and infusing the entire year with the Christmas spirit.

At this age, the difference between fantasy and reality is not as distinct as it is for (most) adults. Whether Santa is “real” or not is a non-issue. The magic of the stories, the magic of the season is very real, and that’s what we hope our children carry with them.