My parents did tell my brothers and I the whole Santa Claus spiel. We sat on Santa's lap every year. And I remember playing along with the Santa gig for a long time; knowing very well my parents and family members were the ones supplying the gifts. But I don't remember the moment of discovery. The moment where I went from believing in Santa to knowing it was within my best interests to act like I still believed in Santa.
So, I asked my mom about this. Why, oh why don't I have an earth shattering "Santa isn't real?!" memory like everyone else. She told me she believes I figured it all out pretty early on. Since, as she put it, I was "always a snooper." (I like to say "a natural investigator" but whatever.) Apparently, I began finding hidden presents at a young age. I also asked why the Santas we took pictures with all looked different (I do remember the "those aren't the real Santa. They're just Santa's helpers because Santa is really busy getting toys right now" explanation. ) My mom also said she knew pretty early on I had stopped believing and was just going along with it. Which was fine with her. But my parents never had to tell my brothers or I "Santa isn't real." I don't remember hearing the news at school and feeling shocked.
Now that I'm a parent, I notice there is a lot that my parents did (or didn't do) that may have prevented a feeling of complete betrayal when it came to Santa. (Whether it was intentional on their part or not.)
1. My mom also taught us the story of St. Nicholas and explained that Santa originated with St. Nicholas (and that's why he's referred to as St. Nick in Christmas songs)
2. We never wrote letters to Santa. Not that I remember anyway. We made Christmas Wish Lists, sure. But we knew that list was for my parents. And if we had too many expensive items on the list, we were told to prioritize which ones we wanted the most.
3. Christmas wasn't all about Santa. Whenever I take my son...well...anywhere this time of year, everyone asks him something related to Santa. (There's a lot of Santa talk.) And this made me realize... We don't talk about Santa much at home. Not consciously... we just didn't in my household when we were little. My parents focused on teaching us to give to the less fortunate and to be kind. I remember learning about why we donate items, where they go, and why some people can't buy things they need. Or why some children don't get presents on Christmas. We learned about Jesus in our church's weekly classes. Santa was there...but he wasn't the sole focus. Or even a main focus. He was apart of Christmas just like a Christmas tree or Christmas lights are. I don't know how to describe this one accurately...but I never felt like Christmas rested on Santa. He was there as a fun accessory...but not totally necessary.
4. We got one gift from Santa. One. It was no secret that the rest were from my parents and family.
This didn't make Christmas any less enjoyable or magical for me, though. I loved Christmas as a kid and would lie awake with excitement every Christmas Eve. We played the Santa game into my teens. And even when I was in my late teens and not expected to believe in Santa, I still made my mom wait until we went to bed on Christmas Eve to put the presents under the tree. The one year she tried to put the presents under the tree as she wrapped them ahead of time I remember saying to her in shock "What are you doing?!" It didn't matter that I knew there wasn't a Santa...playing the game was the fun part.
And, guess what. Those kids who did feel a shock when they learned the truth about Santa, they're fine. They made it through and now laugh about the experience. I'm choosing to follow the footsteps of my parents when it comes to Santa (I have a feeling my son is a "natural investigator" as well) but I have no problem or judgement for households where Santa is a large part of Christmas. Its all in good fun. Do whatever works for your family and enjoy the holidays together!
Merry Christmas, Everyone!