Is he real?

‘Tis the season to tell your fourth-grader that Santa is a big fat fake.

Or not.

Harrison is such a loyal follower. He was born to believe in Santa Clause, claims to have seen the sleigh and Rudolph, routinely hears hoofs clacking around on Christmas Eve and takes his Christmas list and seasonal behavior very, very seriously.

But he’s in the fourth grade. Nine and ten-year-olds are brutal, especially when it comes to personal beliefs. For the first time his friends are questioning everything from presidential candidates to the Big Man Upstairs. We had no idea what a toll it was taking on our sensitive child’s self-esteem.

Last week was particularly hard. For days he stomped around the house pushing his siblings and being blatantly disobedient to just about every request and directive from Dad and Mom. On Sunday after church he threw a fit about having to hang up his church clothes and I knew it was time; something had to give or we were calling the Zoo to see if they had any cages available.

I sat down on the bed and watched him kick things in his room around.

“So,” I started, “What’s up? Rough week at school?”

“No!” he yelled at me, “I’m just stupid!” Not really the response I was expecting but very, very telling.

“Ah,” I said, “Stupid. So why do you think you’re stupid?”

“Because!” long pause during which I sat and picked at my nails. He slumped down in his chair and finally looked at me. “It’s just…no one believes anything that I believe and they say I’m stupid!”

These seemed like very big issues for someone who is four feet tall. “Really? Like what?”

“Like everything. All my friends voted for someone different than me, and most of them don’t even believe in God. And…they all say that Santa Claus isn’t real!”

And there it was. The quintessential fourth grade question and man’s first step on the road to universal truth. My son sat there with his head in his hands, wracked with the torment of the unknown.

“What do you think about Santa Claus?” I asked.

“I don’t know! I mean, I know he’s real…at least I think he’s real. I used to know he was real…” Oh the agony! My mind was racing a million miles a minute. It would be so easy to just tell him, right there right then that the entire thing is a big hoax and he’s old enough to know the truth. What could it hurt? He’s going to be ten, isn’t it time? I held my breath thinking.

Every year at my family’s big Christmas party, Santa Claus (played by the world’s scariest and therefore most unexpected uncle) stops by and brings all the grandkids gifts. And every year like clockwork someone figures out that it’s Uncle Bruce. They all respond differently to the He’s Not Real information. I remember about ten years ago when then nine-year-old Dustin was told the horrible awful truth on Christmas Eve. I’ve never seen a kid take it so hard, he sat at the top of the stairs the rest of the night mumbling to himself, “I can’t believe they lied to me! They lied! I’ll never trust them again, they’re all liars!” Every kid handles it differently.

After hearing Harrison out with his Santa woes (apparently the other stuff was mild in comparison) and fighting the urge to bring him into the light I checked myself from blurting out the truth and instead asked him what he wanted. “So help me out here. Are you asking me if there’s a Santa Claus? Because if you want to know I will tell you.”

The silence in the room was tangible and I swear I saw sweat bead up on the bridge of his nose. Would he ask? Did he really want to give up the dream? Was he ready to be part of the Bigger Set and in on the secret? I should just tell him, he’s almost ten, in today’s world–

“No. I’m not asking.”

He’s been in a good mood ever since. Looks like Santa will be making a pit stop after all.


  1. The first child is always the roughest, Noah was told by his computer lab teacher in Elementary school and still held on for another year 🙂
    Oh but, Isaac believes he IS Santa…
    My youngest is only in 2nd grade and she’s already figured out the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny…she might have figured out Santa too…but I might be ignoring that 🙂

  2. You dont know me but I’ve followed your blog for a long time (yes, I’m a stalker!) I love the honesty, humor and love that you apply to all your life situations! This one particularly struck a chord with me. Telling my then 11 year old daughter that Santa wasn’t real was WAY more difficult than the birds and bees talk that followed the next year:) I may have cried like a baby while I told her:) And truth be told, she did want to know, so kuddos to you for asking that question first!! When they’re ready it’s not nearly as traumatic…ask my youngest daughter, who asked about the tooth fairy and I not only unveiled that but the Easter Bunny as well…to her great horror and disppointment! Yep…a couple of great parenting moments for me!

    • annie valentine says:

      I so feel you. Rex asked me tonight if jack frost was real like the movie said and I just went with it. Then he wanted to know how soon he could ask the man in the moon and I had to distract him with candy before my nose started sprouting branches. We do what we can.

  3. This post made me laugh and get a little teary. I remember when my oldest (who’s now 14) was about the same age as your son and busted me putting some money from the tooth fairy under his pillow. He looked shocked and said, “You’re the tooth fairy?” I nodded and he just looked at me for a second, looking kind of excited. Then he said, “Oh man, I can’t believe my mom’s the tooth fairy!” That’s when I realized he thought I was THE tooth fairy. I had to break it to him that all moms were the tooth fairy. lol Crazy enough, it took him an entire year after that to even start to wonder about Santa Claus! Ah, the innocence of childhood…
    My now 12 yr. old daughter was devastated when she found out about Santa. I don’t think she was quite ready. Let them believe as long as they will!

  4. Annie, this post had me nearly in tears. I just love your little man and his big heart! I have commented a very few times in the past, but am an avid reader. Thanks for this beautiful post. I am not looking forward to these conversations with my kids… My Uncle, too, played Santa at the Christmas parties, and he was naturally a spittin’ image of the big man. He was a tax consultant the rest of the year, and so for years my oldest thought that Santa was my uncle and that Santa does taxes in the off season. Problem is my Uncle passed away a couple years ago. At the funeral my daughter was taking it rather hard. Finally I sat her down and asked why all the tears… she said, “Now that Santa is dead, what happens at Christmas?!” THAT was a fun talk… somehow she is still a believer. Might have something to do with the movie “The Santa Clause”…

  5. I love the description of Uncle Bruce. Or course when we were little it was Great Grandpa Valentine, then Grandpa Valentine (I think I knew by then), then Uncle Bruce for the new generation. How would they ever guess it was him? Grandpa was easier to detect.

    Anyway, I thought Brody and I had the talk and had come to an understanding last year about Santa. Well, apparently he forgot or I was wrong because we went through almost the exact same Harrison/Annie discussion 2 nights ago. He catches my eye from across the living room, it’s at night, we are the only ones downstairs, and he says, “mom, is there really a Santa Claus?” I answer with, “Well, what do you think?” Back and forth we talked, I subtley tried to tell him that there wasn’t really a MAN who comes to our house and delivers presents, (trying to read him, giving him the info he really wanted but not too much if he didn’t want it. Reminds me so much of Harrison in this story) but that it is still fun to believe in Santa even if we know in our hearts he isn’t really coming down the chimney. He listened, but I don’t think he truly wanted to hear what I was saying because he kind of kept ignoring me whenver I actually tried to say the words “Santa isn’t real.” He’d change the subject or smile and give me a knowning look, then leave the room.

    Last night he wrote Santa his Christmas list.

  6. I would very like to hug your boy right now. From across the Atlantic. Merry Christmas.

  7. Just a suggestion for consideration. When we figured out the santa thing or started questioning, my mom would talk about the magic of Christmas and how special it was for little kids who believed. Then she would tell us we got to be a part of the magic now that we were older. We got to be elves! He would give us small tasks in secret when the younger children were in bed (I.E. full the bags with nuts to place in the stocking on Christmas Eve, go shopping to get favorite candy for siblings stockings, wrap a couple of small gifts). It was nothing that ruined any surprises on Christmas morning, just little things that we helped with to make theatric of Christmas still happen because we felt special :).

  8. Wow. Sorry about all the typos. That was supposed to say the magic, not theatrics.

  9. We talked with Savannah last yeast, not asking at all if she wanted to know, just going for it. Lucky for us, Nan is kind of a roll-with-the-punches-always-look-for-the-silver-lining person. We did it kind of like Wendy suggested, telling her that Santa was a way for moms and dads to do truly special things for their kids without taking the credit for it. That now that she knows Santa isn’t truly a person she will more easily recognize that the “magic” of Christmas is more about Christ and showing love for others. We just unloaded on her and told her about the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny also. She was fine and just a couple of nights ago I was grateful for her knowledge. Kamrin lost a tooth and for 2 nights in a row I forgot to put money under her pillow. By the third night I had still forgotten and when Kamrin went to look I distracted her and made her leave the room, the whole time signalling to Savannah to take care of it for me. While we were gone she quickly rummaged in her change box and left $1.86 cents under the pillow. I paid her back later that day!

    Kortnee’s mother-in-law still has not ever told her kids Santa isn’t real and they are all married with kids. Even as teenagers when they were like, “Mom, we know he’s not real, why don’t you just tell us it’s you?” She would just smile and answer, “If you don’t believe you don’t receive!” That’s her answer every time. She even still has everyone come over and write letters to Santa and if they complain she’ll say again, “If you don’t believe you don’t receive!” That might be the way we go with the rest of the kiddos.