Support for PBS Parents provided by:


  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Odd Squad
  • Peg + Cat
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Martha Speaks
  • WordGirl
  • Thomas & Friends
  • Arthur
  • Sesame Street
  • The Electric Company
  • Cyberchase
  • Between the Lions
  • Mama Mirabelle
  • Caillou
  • Chuck Vanderchuck
  • Oh Noah
  • Fetch!
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Mister Rogers
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • SciGirls
  • Wilson & Ditch
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM

Happy Holidays!

Is It Okay to Lie About Santa?

Santa reading to two girlsAs parents, we know that Santa doesn’t exist, but does that mean sharing this myth with our children is really lying? If Santa is not part of your family’s tradition or culture, then there is no need to even consider encouraging that belief in your child. But if you are struggling over whether or not to tell Santa’s story, you may take comfort in the notion that it doesn’t really harm children to imagine.

Santa Claus Is One of Many Myths 
“Kids up to four, five, six, seven live in what we call fantasy life magic years,” says Dr. Benjamin Siegel, Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine. “They are influenced by what they see and hear around them. They get very excited about characters in their life that have special meaning for them.” Those characters include superheroes, monsters, animals and even Santa.

While there are many ways to encourage your children to be good, the story of Santa is just one of them. Siegel points out that Santa, for most families, is a jolly man with helpers who brings presents to children who are good. Sure, there are tales of coal in the stockings of naughty children, but it would be hard to find a child who actually received that on Christmas morning.

What parents should assess is the values they are trying to impart and whether this myth encourages those morals. “Every culture has a fairy tale or myth that belongs to its historical identity,” Siegel says. “If the myths are good and talk about sharing and helping your neighbor, then that’s really nice.”

Its Tradition
For many families, the excitement of leaving cookies for Santa, watching through the window for his sleigh at night, waking up early to open presents and sharing all that goes into believing in Santa Claus are special and unique to their given family. That tradition is why many parents share the story of Santa–because  that’s what they learned growing up.

Caroline Jorgensen, a mother of two boys who blogs at Morningsidemom.com, introduced Santa to her sons because it was natural to do so, even if it felt wrong at times.

“It never seemed like an option not to tell my kids that there was a Santa,” she says. “But, once I did, I was surprised to find myself feeling bad about it. I was lying to my child. There he was looking up at me, expecting me to explain the world to him, and I was telling him that a fat man in a red suit who snuck into our house once a year was as real as the green grass outside. To top it off, my firstborn was scared of Santa for a few years.”

As her son outgrew his fear of the man in the red suit, Jorgensen realized why parents tell their children about Saint Nick in the first place: magic. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? Presents of every kind appearing under the tree,” she says. “Adults don’t get that kind of magic. How wonderful that they can have that.”

Santa Isnt Just One Story
If you decide that Santa Claus is going to be part of your family’s Christmas tradition, there are many ways to tell his story. You may be surprised to find a myriad of Santa books waiting to be read at the local library.

There are books about environmentally conscious Santas and about animals, even dinosaurs that dress as Santa. There are Santa tales featuring popular characters like Corduroy and Curious George. Many parents may stick to the traditional “The Night Before Christmas,” which now comes in many variations. You can also check out illustrated children’s Bibles to provide a religious perspective, or find a book on the history of Saint Nicholas.

There is no right or wrong way to tell the Santa story. “Some holiday books are touching and poignant, others are fun and frivolous. It depends on the child,” says Marisa Conner, Youth Services Coordinator for the Baltimore County Public Libraries. “We find that for families it’s a very personal thing. A lot of parents want to pass on what they believed as a child, what they were excited about.” Whatever book you choose, the point is to encourage your child to dream.

“As an educator and as a person, I find that fantasy books do engage the imagination,” Conner says. “Children learn at some point what’s make-believe and not. That’s the fun of life. It makes us see different personalities.”

When They Find Out
Parents worry that they will have to break the news to their children and shatter their whole vision of Christmas. However, many children come to this realization on their own around age seven or eight, Siegel says. And when they do, they are basically unscathed. Siegel cites a study that revealed that children who learned the truth may have been upset, but not nearly as upset as the parents.

“Most kids do fine when they learn a myth is not real,” he says. “Sometimes parents feel very badly because they want their kids to continue to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe parents like the myth because it makes them feel good, or because kids get disappointed in them when they find out the truth. Kids realize that parents aren’t so powerful, but that happens in adolescence anyway.”

Jorgensen admits dreading the day her sons will find out. “When I thought about my sons not believing the other day, I suddenly felt sad. When they don’t believe, then it changes Christmas for me too, doesn’t it? Completely. I lose the magic too.” However, Jorgensen also realizes that providing the Christmas magic involves a lot of work, and it will be nice to have a break from sneaking around late at night to have everything in place for children with big expectations.

Talking Through the Disappointment
Whether your kids find out on their own, from an older child on the playground, or from you, there are ways to handle the disappointment.

If they are upset that you lied, acknowledge their disappointment and ask about their feelings, Siegel recommends. You can explain that Santa is a myth that your family has chosen to share. “Santa Claus is part of Christmas and we believe in Christmas,” you can tell them. Siegel recommends comparing the experience to the tooth fairy or Easter bunny, and encourage children to remember the fun and excitement that made the event special.

Children should also have the opportunity to define what Santa Claus means to them. They may surprise parents when they reveal that they knew all along, but still had fun playing along with the game.

Until their children catch on, parents may just want to enjoy the magical world of Santa that they have helped to create. Sure, Santa may not really exist, but believing in him for a few years can be tremendously fun, even for parents.

  • Ziplock

    Your article seems to really lack focus on one thing – the well being of the child’s long term development. While it’s true many children aren’t damaged by the lie, the point that some children are shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes children trust their parents so blindly, they carry the myth into their teens, and that can have some embarrassing side effects, not the least of which is the damage it can cause their relationship with their parents.

    One key element that you’re dismissing when you’re talking about “one of many myths” is that the children know the rest of the characters are “PRETEND.” It’s OK to pretend that Santa exists and have fun with the fantasy, but convincing him that he’s real can have some lasting problems on his critical thinking skills and the natural doubt reflex we all need to develop over time. It can promote credulity and gullibility. And, again, it can really hurt their relationship with their parents. Children have a hard enough time maintaining a positive relationship with their parents without being pushed away further when they discover from their peers that their whole lives they’ve been lied to.

    • J

      Then the belief of Santa wouldn’t be the problem here. It would be the parents.

  • Rebecca Robinson

    I hope my wolf cut-out will believe in Santa Claus. My wolf cut-out is seven months old. My zebra cut-out is also seven months old. I hope my zebra cut-out will also believe in Santa Claus. I was born in 1987. My older sister was born in 1985. My older sister believed in Santa Claus when she was a girl. I am a twenty-six-year-old woman. I painted Santa Claus’ face when I was a four-year-old girl. I believed in Santa Claus when I was a girl. My mouse/elephant cut-out will believe in Santa Claus this year.

  • Rosy Moonrise

    Kids do have fun with their imaginations. They have fun with presents that appear under the tree. There is no reason whatsoever to lie to them.

  • Lucy Wilde

    While we’re teaching our five year olds about the ‘real world’ and encouraging their critical thinking skills which should already be focused upon in school ( because why the heck are we sending them to school in the first place), we should also tell them that their little dream jobs (” I want to be a singer!” ” I want to be an astronaut!”) are futile because most of them will end up with nine to five jobs in a cubicle. We should also not take them to see disney movies or let them read fantasy novels such as Harry Potter and instead have them sit and watch the five o’clock news to see who’s died, or been murdered, or what other freak accident has occured. We should also tell our daughters that they have a 1 in 5 chance of being raped and also tell all of our children not to have their hopes up for a happy marriage since up to 50% of married couples divorce. Let’s ignore the fact that normal, functioning human beings with half a brain develop critical thinking skills and rationality without being stripped of all the magic and innocence of childhood. Instead lets raise our children to become a robot, or another sheep with no hope,imagination, or aspirations in society.

    • Icicle

      Dude kids who imagine KNOW that what they are imagining is false. When a kid reads Harry Potter they KNOW that it is false. No parents says that wizards and witches really exist. Santa however is a lie. Kids imagine about him but acknowledge that he DOES EXIST. Kids often end up shattering their own dreams or getting them shattered by someone else.

      We don’t need to make it harder for them by feeding them a lie that some kids believe in with all their hearts. Well some kids do look back on their dream jobs and think “hah I’m such a stupid moron.” some others are genuinely shattered when they get older and realize that it just isn’t possible. We look at them now and think “Daww isn’t that cute that they want to be an astronaut and believe santa will leave the presents,” but some kids will feel bad when they realize a lie they’ve thought to themselves. This effect is amplified when it’s the parents that told them a lie. For example when I was four I learnt how to ride a bike when my training wheels fell off and my dad said it was a “happy accident” 6 years later my dad revealed that he had just loosened the training wheels. I was completely crushed when I found this out. My point is that imagination, reality and lies are three different things and when they get mixed bad things can happen. Santa is just one example of how a lie can have no affect or a grand one.

  • Erin McGann

    I am a 31 year old woman, and my mother and I are currently in a fight about this discussion. I was one of those children who blindly believed my parents until age 10. I fiercely defended my parents against people who told me that it was make believe, because I didn’t believe that my parents would lie to me. Upon finding out the truth, I felt incredibly embarrassed for misplacing trust in my parents. I didn’t care so much about not believing in Santa, as I did about no longer being able to have complete faith in my parents being honest with me. TO THIS DAY it really upsets me that they shattered that sense of complete trust over something as stupid as THEM wanting me to believe in Santa. I am pregnant with my first child, and I refuse to buy anything with Santa on it because I never want my child to feel duped or lied to by me. Yes, many children are fine when they find out, but some of us feel a sense of deception that sincerely hurts for a long long time.

    • John Smith

      This could not have been said any better.

    • 비투비짱

      I think you should make your kid believe santa. even though it’s fake.

    • Viktah

      LOL! I think you’re making a bigger thing of it than is present (pun…). If you’re still upset over the Santa lie then there is something more deep seeded in you than that one event. I know that no two people react to the same situation the same way, however, the extent of disappointment felt within myself and within my peers didn’t extend past “Oh.. he isn’t real?” and didn’t transfer into the mistrust of my folks (later events shaped that).

      I pity you for begrudging your family over such a trivial and stupid thing.

      • Armando Melendez

        This woman ADMITS she a deeper seeded issue… pay attention. He deeper seeded issue is that of being lied to… and that is a BIG issue… if you can portray Santa as a “Super Hero” type then its ok but when your parents portray as a a REAL person then they have taken it too far and many kids lose trust like this

    • friend

      I would agree they waited until other children had long been told. I think parents need to be sensitive to where their child is developmentally. I don’t think the problem is in believing in Santa, I think it is trying to stretch that belief beyond what is socially healthy.

    • ビリー コックス

      Its ok.. just tell them the truth. See this guy…he superman, and this is spiderman, and thats barbie, and thats santa. Santa can still exist. Hes just not what all these little kids are running around thinking, because their PARENTS told them the first BIG lie that they will never forget.

    • Ed Bregstrom

      Wow. OK, seriously, please get some therapy. If this topic is this distressing to you, you need to (as a 31 year old) move on with your life, and this issue is holding you back. You are responsible to yourself, and now to your child, to be as stable as possible, and feeling “a sense of deception that sincerely hurts for a long long time” at this stage isn’t helping either of you.

      And really, this isn’t the only issue. You have to talk to someone about all the other issues you have, because you’re going to imprint a lot of these neuroses onto your kid.

      • Erin

        Ed I appreciate your concern, but a reflection on a previous time, or acknowledging that a lie was hurtful doesn’t indicate neuroses. It is a normal human reaction and healthy to be observant of how choices impact us. We won’t be including Santa as a part of raising our son, but rather focus on the story of Christ and loving others and having a giving spirit. Certainly a part of that is the practice of forgiveness- and my mother an I have never been closer since we talked. Once again, thanks for the concern. Cheers!

    • Crowther Amanda-Beth

      Make it a story. Total pretend just like some of fav books as a child.

    • Kayla Joy

      Erin, I am 20 years old and my parents told all of us the truth from the start. Instead of telling us the false story of “santa clause”, they told us the REAL story of Saint Nicholas. And how he was a real man with a big heart that loved making toys for the children in his town. We grew up, not feeling left out from the “magic” of Christmas, because the real and honest story felt just as magical and warm hearted. I plan to do the same with my kids and teach them the TRUE story of Saint Nic. I just wanted to share this with you in case you decide to do the same. I commend you for speaking your heart even though others are quick to judge. Congratulations on the carrying of your first child! May God bless your family!

  • Rodrigo_Girao

    It’s not okay. It’s unethical. It’s absolutely immoral. No good comes from this repulsive, stupid deceit.

  • Ian

    Yeah, I’m not down with this lie. Be truthful to your kids.

  • John Smith

    “But if you are struggling over whether or not to tell Santa’s story, you may take comfort in the notion that it doesn’t really harm children to imagine.” What a stupid argument. Parents’ lying to their children is NOT THE SAME as encouraging children to imagine. Parents do not ask their children to imagine or pretend that Santa is real. When parents play pretend with their kids, the kids know they’re pretending. Parents do not say, “Let’s pretend Santa is real.” They LIE to their children and TELL them that Santa is real. It is a deliberate, premeditated, habitual deception. It is mental abuse.

  • 비투비짱

    산타가 잇다고 믿는인간들 짜져요^^

  • miaoritz560

    hello hi no se beautiful by

  • ビリー コックス

    I’m totally against the Santa thing, because so many people are brainwashed to think that its the holidays and its for the kids, and if you don’t agree, they call you names…Grinch, Scrooge, you have no holiday spirit, and whatever other jolly jingle names they have for you. No NEED to LIE to your kids about such pointless things, right at that point of their life that you are teaching them that telling LIES is bad. I cant really explain what my feeling was when I realized that Santa might not exist. When I found that ColecoVision game console hidden in my parents bedroom, way before Santa was supposed to have arrived (because he only comes out for 1 night a year to hit up all the “good kids”). But I knew something was weird. AND I CANNOT believe my parents paddled me for telling small fibs, when at the same time they not only fed me this HUGE lie about Santa, but even played with with my little 6yr. old brain, to make me believe that he just flew over the house so id hurry to bed faster, because he may not stop at our place. So, anyways I soon realized, and for a few Xmas I acted surprised. Of ALL the questions I asked as a little kid, I was just too scared to ask my parents why my gifts were always hidden around the house, because they kept telling me the same damn lie…and I had to act happy about these gifts that Santa supposedly brought to me. I just didn’t feel right… i felt like I was bad, and they always told me that Santa doesn’t come to the bad boys houses. Not only me tho…a lot of kids at school would talk about Santa, and I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on. So after all the beans were spilled, they explained to me that real meaning of Christmas was to give and NOT receive, and to always remember Jesus. I was so happy that that was over… then I read Thou Shalt not Lie… I was totally lost! Its like the biggest lie, and everyone is okay with it. To this day, people always tell me I look so shy when I open any wrapped gift on any occasion… trauma perhaps? “They are only kids, let them be kids” is the LAMEST excuse… I wont tell my children about Santa, until they ask me. Ill take em shopping give em what they need and things they want, we can wrap and give gifts together. Ill wait for them to ask me about the dude at the mall everyone is going all crazy over, or if/when they come home from school, and asks who the santa person is everyone is talking about… then Ill explain to them that some people like to play that game, but our game is better. If he wants to sit on santas lap and tell him what he wants for Christmas, sure I dont mind. But all that magic stuff is uncalled for…and they will thank me later, Im sure! Then most importantly explain that it is bad to LIE. So, if you lie to your kids about Christmas, lets hope they aren’t in my children’s class, because my child will set everyone straight. Humans cannot live on the north pole, because its way too cold for human life. Not to mention, man eating polar bears all over the place. And deer jump, they dont fly! Christmas tree? Christmas cookies? decorations (even ones with santa on them)? Sure, why not!? Its fun, and at least they truly exist. My child WILL know the truth, and have just as much fun.

    Its just bad to lie to little kids like that. scary Holloween monsters that come out every year would have at least been a relief when the truth was exposed, NO MONSTERS..YAYYY!!! NO SANTA?? its such a let down!

    • Fran

      I totally agree. I was absolutely traumatized when I found out my parents were liars and made me lie to my little sister about Santa. Thay WANTED me to lie about that, but not about anything else? Why is that lie OK, but not another one? It didn’t make sense to me.
      Why not just tell your kids that the story of Santa is a fairy tale like Cinderella, and that it’s a tradition for the Santa character to appear at Christmas time? Same goes for the Easter bunny.

  • matthew

    When I found out about my parents lying to me about Santa Clause, easter bunny, tooth fairy etc my ideas naturally spread to the disbelief in God and Jesus and religion too. I mean aren’t those just mythical beings that they lied to me about as well?

    • texassa

      That’s exactly how I felt. I thought, I wonder why they lie to get us to church every week? Is it to encourage us to be good, like with Santa’s naughty list?

  • Crowther Amanda-Beth

    Fantasy starts age 3. Secondly huge diffrence in fantasy encouraging imagination and lying to children and I despite my gender have even donned the santa suit a few times. How my dad treated Santa do to mine and sister’s insainty was he is make belief, pretend a fun story. Even my half sister and half brother knew my dad bought gift pretending it was Santa and that if gift had to be put together elf mana(me Mana was their nickname for me) put it together as dad was so inept with tools. It was pretend which is magical but not makong them believe in falsity or a lie.


What's this?

Sign up for free newsletters.

Connect with Us


PBS Parents Picks

  1. They're Back image

    They're Back

    Cuties are back in season. Stock up today and unwrap sweetness.


  2. Thanksgiving Crafts image

    Thanksgiving Crafts

    Find fun and festive Thanksgiving crafts including this DIY Gobbler Glove!


  3. Really Useful Cargo image

    Really Useful Cargo

    Inspire your preschooler to be generous by collecting Really Useful Cargo!


PBS Parents Newsletter

Find activities, parenting tips, games from your child's favorite PBS KIDS programs and more.

×