The Santa Delusion

If you ever believed in Santa — how did you find out that he wasn’t real? And how did you feel about it?

I vividly remember the Christmas I figured it out. There were three main clues:

1) The writing on the tags on the Santa presents was the same as my dad’s.

2) The wrapping paper on the Santa presents was the same as the presents from my parents.

3) On Christmas morning, our stockings (mine and my brothers) each had a tangerine. Later that day, I noticed that there were only two tangerines in the fruit drawer, where the night before there had been four. (I was kind of obsessed with tangerines. Still am.) This, for some reason, was the final “A ha!” moment.

Okay, so obviously my parents weren’t trying very hard.

I wasn’t at all traumatized. I was actually really proud of myself for having figured it out. I was proud of myself for having outsmarted the adults, and having seen through their ruse. I wasn’t mad at them, though: generally I wanted them to be honest with me, but I think I saw Santa as kind of a game. You hide things and keep secrets and deceive people in games — you don’t start a game of Go Fish by showing everyone your hand — and while I didn’t think of it this way consciously at the time, I think that’s more or less how I saw it.

I don’t remember telling my parents that I’d figured it out, but I didn’t do that thing of pretending I still believed so I could keep getting presents. It seriously never occurred to me — but not because I wasn’t a materialistic little shit, I totally was. It’s just that the presents were obviously coming from my parents, and I figured they were going to keep on coming from my parents. It didn’t occur to me that they’d stop. (Which they didn’t: my folks kept giving about the same amount of stuff after the Santa game was up.)

So if you ever believed in Santa — how did you find out that he wasn’t real? Did you figure it out on your own? Were you told by siblings, parents, schoolmates, someone else? And how did you react? How did you feel about it — and who, if anyone, did you tell?

And if you didn’t ever believe in Santa, but you knew about it — how did you deal with it? Did you keep the secret? Did you tell? How did you feel about it?

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The Santa Delusion

12 thoughts on “The Santa Delusion

  1. AMM

    I don’t recall ever believing believing. My parents talked about “Santa” bringing things, but not in a way that suggested we needed to believe that he existed in same way that my parents and my brothers and I existed. But then, characters like Winnie the Pooh and the like were part of our family life, too. I’d describe him as a “myth”, except that so many atheists and Rationalists insist on equating “myth” with “lie.”

  2. 2

    None of the evidence I observed was consistent with evidence for Santa:

    * For weeks before Christmas Day, there was a room of the house I wasn’t allowed to go inside because gifts were being stored there.
    * Our house didn’t have a chimney and fireplace to climb through. Yet, gifts kept appearing anyway.
    * Gifts were addressed from friends and relatives (who I had to thank afterward), not from Santa.
    * People dressed up as Santa Claus appeared at shopping malls and holiday events, and it was obvious that these people weren’t really Santa.
    * Riding a sleigh around the world and visiting every house simultaneously at midnight seemed practically impossible.

    But for years, my parents *refused* to admit to me that he didn’t exist.

  3. 3

    My parents never did the Santa thing, except briefly when I was long past the time when other kids didn’t believe, and I wrote a Santa letter to my mom and she wrote a Tolkien-style Father Christmas letter in return, because we were nerds. I did get in trouble with a teacher when I was about 5 for telling other kids that Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t intend to ruin anything, I just assumed they knew he wasn’t real too, until I realized they were horrified and the teacher chewed me out.

  4. 4

    Oh, I do remember also around that time I got a present from one of my grandmothers that was “from Santa” and I rather disappointed her when I kept asking, “yes, but who is it REALLY from?”

  5. 5

    I think ‘betrayed’ may be a bit strong, but very sad that my parents lied to me. I was a very trusting child. It didn’t feel like a fun game for me. (Although I recognise that other people don’t feel the same way, and I didn’t feel obligated to disillusion anyone else.) I don’t know what to say when smart people I know tell me how they had everything figured out from a young age, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Jesus. I know that I am smart. But none of this was obvious to me, and every time I found it hard to accept that people who were nothing but kind to me had still lied to me. I did not feel any sense of satisfaction in figuring Santa out. Just loss and a reluctance to believe in the deceit. I don’t know why my experience seems to diverge so much from most of my friends, or at least those who talk about it.

  6. 6

    Being a hyper=rational little snot and loving to play around with big numbers, I tried to figure out how many homes Santa would have to visit every second. Doing the numbers just didn’t seem reasonable

  7. 7

    I was in first grade, and the issue had come up becasue other kids were talking about it. I had spent the day arguing in favor of my “Santa exists” worldview, and as such I wasn’t only disappointed when my parents told me the truth when I asked directly while we were driving home from school, I felt humiliated that I had been defending a false premise all day, and hurt that I had been set up to fail by people I trusted. I learned I could never implicitly trust my parents again (and I realized in rapid succession that they had been lying about all the other magical holiday figures as well). It was a good lesson, but only becasue my parents did (and still do on occasion) lie to me, whereas they could have kept my trust by not doing so. Like Weeble Wilson, I did not experience the revelation as a heartwarming story about a fun game my parents had been playing for me; instead, I saw it as lifelong gaslighting, an indication that the people who were supposed to love me most (and claimed to do so) would knowingly construct a false worldview for me for absolutely no benefit I could see. I didn’t figure it out myself, either, despite being “smart” – all of my previous questions* had been rationalized or hand-waved with magic, which I still believed was real.

    It is a huge part of the reason that I absolutely refuse to lie to children, as they do not yet have the life experience to develop bullshit detectors, and they are one of the most oppressed populations on the planet. I think this kind of deception is inherently abusive, even though many people don’t experience it as harmful (which is, of course, the case with any sort of domestic abuse), and I categorically urge people to not gaslight their children. I don’t think “trauma” is an inappropriate label for how I processed the Santa myth.

    *For example: What about people without fireplaces? He just comes in the front door.
    How can he travel faster than light? Magic.
    Why is he distributing branded merchandise? Because that’s what kids want, and with the shift from the guild system to industrialized production and a much larger Christmas-celebrating population, outsourcing much of the toy production is the only possibility.
    My parents also went out of their way to disguise the handwriting on the package tags by writing with the non-dominant hand and used special wrapping paper only for the “Santa” gifts; I also never saw any of the gifts in our house before Christmas becasue I was a very obedient child and wouldn’t go snooping for presents, as I was instructed to wait until Christmas. My parents even mussed up the snow on our roof (using a ladder and a broom) if we had any standing snow to make it look like something had been on the roof.

  8. 9

    You know Greta, I usually find your articles illuminating. BUT now you don’t believe in Santa?! You’ve been a very bad girl. No presents for you this year.

  9. 10

    I was teased by streetwise second-graders into the horrified no-Santa realization– put me in the sobbing faction. I really preferred novels and fairy tales to the loneliness of real life– I guess I still do. I had Santa totally disconnected from Church and Christs birth, which I always thought was “just a story.” Huh… I never realized that til you asked.

    But none of my early shock compares to how hard I cried when I confirmed my daughter’s Santa doubts when she was little.

    I admitted that yes, the actual Santa was pretend but that he was the spirit of love and magic and serendipity and … Wahhhh! I didn’t want the “game” to end– the thrill of making little kids ecstatic over Xmas morning, their wonderment— so dear to me.

    The next thing she wanted to know was how we did it. Our stagecraft was over the top. Santa’s snowy footprints leading out of the hearth, etc. We STILL do it.

  10. 12

    My story is similar to yours. I noticed that Father Christmas used the same wrapping paper as my parents. I was seven. Some time after that a group of us at school were discussing the subject one boy, the cleverest boy in the class, said that he had asked his mother if he could use a particular wrapping paper for the presents he was giving his friends. She said no. His own presents from Santa came wrapped in that paper. I explained my own observations. I recall things, “Does Father Christmas not exist then?” and realised he didn’t. I felt smug about it.

    I’d obviously been aware for a while that it wasn’t true. I don’t know how long. On Christmas Eve, we used to go to the local tennis club and Father Christmas would arrive and give all the children a present. Since the parents bought the presents in advance the gifts varied. We got small things, some children got bigger things. My Mum asked later if that ever made me suspicious but I didn’t know then that My Little Ponies were not expensive so I didn’t catch on.

    Knowing the truth never spoiled my enjoyment. Even knowing that the Father Christmas at the tennis club was really a policeman and that the costume was kept behind the bar did not spoil the fun. It’s possible that I always knew it was a game, really.

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