December 03, 2009

The Truth About Santa

A few months back, the Tooth Fairy got busted. She left a note for Alice up on her computer, and Lucy figured the whole business out. The Tooth Fairy cursed her need to write notes in elaborate fonts and tried to come up with a cover story, but it didn’t fool Lucy.

To her credit, Lucy has kept the secret from her little sister, who still hasn’t lost a tooth and deserves to wake up with money under her pillow.

But the Tooth Fairy knew it couldn’t be too long before Santa was similarly unmasked. She didn’t know when or how, but she knew the days of magic in her house, at least magic of a certain sort, were coming to an end.

And the Tooth Fairy—by which I mean myself—was pretty darned sad about the inevitable, which finally arrived last week.

Lucy and I have been exchanging notes since the school year started. We’ve talked about all sorts of things—sports, books we’d like to read, adventures we’d like to have, even stories from when I was in third grade. For the most part, though, it’s been light, casual stuff. Until last week.

I NEED TO KNOW, she wrote, using capital letters for emphasis. ARE YOU SANTA? TELL ME THE TRUTH.

What do you do when your kid asks for the truth? You tell it, of course, doing your best to figure out a way that keeps at least some of the magic intact.

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”

I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.

The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.

I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)

I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down theChristmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.

This won’t make you Santa, though.

Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.

It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.

Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.

With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.

So, no. I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.

I love you and I always will.


--Martha Brockenbrough



That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that. Not only have you given all of us a wonderful idea for how to approach this when the time comes, but you've also brightened my day and warmed my heart. From one of Santa's students to all others, Merry Christmas!


I have been worried sick about this question coming up with my daughter. I know its coming and I don't want to "ruin" Christmas. This is a wonderful way to answer this question. Thanks so much!!

She Dupree

Beautifully written Martha! Tearing up here. Probably harder these days to keep up the ruse. I think I "believed" until I was pretty old, but I am pretty gullible, and the story is great. Tried not to think too hard about the actual literal time, and the DDay level planning skills it would take to deliver presents around the world, as well as the religious differences that actually might keep Santa from going to "every" country...;)

Think you dealt with it well!!!


Martha, I have been following you for a long time; all your projects, from site to site, rarely with a comment; but this, well, this just touched my heart at a time when i needed it most and for that i thank you and wish you continued success and joyful holidays with your family.


Thank you for all the kind comments, everyone--it really means a lot.

kathleen  duey

Beautifully said. What a lucky girl Lucy is to have a mother who knows the truth and can tell it so well.


I am printing off your post and putting in on my fridge with red and green magnets.
THAT'S how impressive that letter is.

Angela at mommy bytes

That was the best let down about Santa ever!! So well done.

Susan James

Wonderfully put. Thanks for sharing.


Beautiful- That is perfect, you have a very lucky daughter!


Wow. That's amazing. Sometimes I think of myself as a scrooge because for some reason, as I've gotten older, Christmas time is not something I look forward to. Since my husband and I moved across the country from our families, it's just not a time of year that means love and togetherness and family anymore. It's kind of a lonely time for us. I haven't even put up a tree for the last several years because we don't have kids and it just seems like work to put up and take down rather than something I want to do to celebrate the season. Thank you for this post and reminding me about the meaning of Santa, and of the holiday season in general. You've motivated me to dig through the garage for the Christmas lights and put them on the house. And maybe I'm not a full-on scrooge after all, since your post makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. :)

Bill Bliss

Martha, I saw this post courtesy of Will Friedman.

I see one of your articles every now and again and enjoy them every time, but this one is particularly poignant and insightful. I don't know how you ever were inspired to answer it this way, but it's brilliant, simply brilliant. Lucy is a lucky girl!

Living in LA these days, but still keeping in touch with lots of MS and MSN folk!

All the best this holiday season, and say hi to Adam for me!


Thank you!!! for sharing from your heart! The World needs much more of that, and now so many kids will "feel" and learn from your eloquently written bottom-of-your-heart-real-life sentiment. Merry Christmas!

Suzy Wilde

Goosebumps! I'm sending Carson to you when the time comes... :)


Thanks for your insight. My girls at the age where they're asking, and I don't know what to say. What a great explanation. I teared up. Than you!


I have told my kids from the get go that Santa was a Christian man that once existed and gave small gifts to the poor children in his town. This is true. He has long since passed but the spirit of giving is still alive because Jesus gave the gift of life through His birth and His eventual death.


Thanks for sharing this with us. The magic is quickly coming to a time of change in our house. The first questions started this year. But as I tell my girls - if you don't believe, you don't get presents - because the belief is in more than Santa, it is in the love and goodness of people, and in our family's belief in the true meaning of Christmas - that very special birthday celebration. Thanks again.


Thank you so much for sharing this Martha. My son is only 19 months old, so he has yet to discover Santa (other than as the big guy in red we insist on taking is photo with, while he screams his head off). But now, I am prepared for the day that he not only discovers Santa, but needs to know the truth behind Santa. Thank you.


Amazing! I have 4 children, 2 that don't believe (14 and 11) and 2 that do (10 and 7). The 2 older children learned from their father that Santa didn't exsist because he thought they were old enough to know at 11. Although they did have doubt before that I still kept up the facade of his reality. Now I know what to tell my girls! And Daddy can still look like a King for getting them all the gifts they get!


My daughter is 9 and I recently told her that there is a Santa but Mom & Dad help him with presents because it's hard for him to remember every thing each child wants. She tells me kids at school tell her there is no Santa, but she knows there is.


I simply explained that Santa was like God, you have to believe he exists. And that his present like Gods message is delivered by people like me. My kids are 12 and 15 and even thought the jig is up, they still 'believe' and they still enjoy waking up on Christmas morning to see the 'From Santa' wrapping paper.


I love this so much! My girls are only 3 and 5, and it has not yet occurred to them that Santa isn't actually a jolly, bearded fellow who flies his sled around the world over the course of a night. I love your answer to this question.


Although this is a wonderful article, one truth was omitted - there really was a St Nicholas (the man later to be known as Santa Claus) and children should know he was a saint from Myrna, Turkey. It is worth telling children about the patron saint of young maidens and children. There really was a Santa Claus - just not he way people see him today. Worth reading up on and telling our children the truth when it is time.


Beautifully written letter, but I do agree with Grace and Gayle. There really was a St. Nicholas who lived in the fourth century A.D., and was the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. He was well known for his holiness and his generosity to the poor, and also for being a fierce defender of the true Christian faith. He also had a great reputation for working miracles in the name of Jesus Christ! A wonderful book to read is entitled "The True Story of Santa Claus" by Paul Prokop. God Bless you & Merry Christmas!!

Susan James

Martha, I made a post with a link to this on my LiveJournal. If you'd like to see it, here's the link back

turtle pie

such a wonderful and loving answer! Love the notes idea!

Jessica (@ It's my life...)

That actually brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful post!

Mel H

Thank you. My daughter is 6 and this is a hot topic. She knows that all the Santas she sees are not the real one since he's way too busy and has Men and Women as official helpers. I too am an official helper has I run the school's Santa Breakfast. I so love your explanation and its good to know that when the times comes I am so using your letter. THANK YOU!!

Antoinette Burk

My husband loves the whole Santa thing. Truthfully, for me, the deception of Santa Claus hurts me. How do I tell my daughter I have constructed an elaborate scheme to fool her and we, many adults, have collaborated and conspired to this end? This helped me a lot. I have pep talked myself to no end to try to reconcile this, and I am printing and saving this post to help me "when the time comes" along with all my thoughts for my dear sweet little girls. One thought I had was that Santa is how we show our children that good things are coming to them from someone who has no obligation to them whatsoever...


But what about the children who still believe who use this Family Calendar who are going to see this article? I was horrified to see this pop up. I hope my tech savvy but still believing daughter doesn't notice it and read it when she looks at our Family Journal.


I LOVE this!! My son is only three but all the magic is so wonderful at this age. I've been questioning wether "doing" the whole Santa thing is worth it...after reading this post I know it is. Thank you!! I'm going to save this letter to use for my own kids someday!


Wow! This bought tears to my eyes. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.


omg - i am sooooo sorry - i just inadvertently hit 'thumbs down' twice!! I did NOT mean to do that - and I don't know how to undo my thumbs down! My sincere apologies. I can't see very well due to my M.S. and I didn't realize what I was hitting until I zoomed way in. Gosh, and I love this article about Santa - just magical! I was trying to save it. So, I am soooo sorry and I give you infinite thumbs UP.

Cozi Blog

Thanks for your nice message, KC. You were so kind to take the time to send in your note. We're glad you liked Martha's Santa post, and we will make sure she sees your kind comments. All the best to you!

Fair Enough

It may lessen the sting of "the truth" to know that there really was a St. Nicholas, who really began what we know as the Christmas stocking tradition when he set out to save three girls from slavery. And, he did it secretly, too, just like "Santa" still does today. This one true episode about Nicholas is available for children in the picture book, "The Secret of St. Nicholas" by Ellen Nibali.


I love this. So far our kids haven't pushed it too far but my 10 year old is getting close I think. My wife and I absolutely love the way you addressed this and we feel a little better about the conversation that's bound to happen before too long.

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