‘Is Santa Claus not real?’ my daughter asked. I froze like Rudolph in headlights

Last modified on 2022 Dec 20

I don’t know how I expected this seminal conversation with my daughter to go, but I know it wasn’t like this.

For a start I was, if not hungover then at least very tired. I’d been to a poker night the previous evening. It wasn’t wild – I’m a father of two in my 40s, after all – but it was far enough removed from my usual collapsing onto the couch that I was not exactly chipper on this rainy Saturday morning. My wife didn’t summon much sympathy, though, as she kissed me goodbye and headed off on her girls night away.

Ah, well. I’m a modern dad, confident handling a weekend alone with the kids, despite the suboptimal conditions. I was in the kitchen, packing snacks and drink bottles for our trip down the shops, when my daughter interrupted with a question.

“Dad, is Santa Claus not real?”

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“Of course he is darling,” I insisted, shooting a terrified look at her younger brother who appeared not to be listening. At seven years old, my daughter didn’t know what a polygraph was, but she wouldn’t have needed one anyway to detect the smell of reindeer shit. It was, after all, a random Saturday in February. “What makes you say that?” I asked, as coolly as I could muster.

It was then the prosecution presented Exhibit A, a receipt from the carelessly assembled pile of receipts sitting on a nearby bookshelf since Christmas. As far as evidence goes, it was damning. It’s hard to explain away a game of dinosaur bingo as just another casual household purchase. There were other receipts, too.

Perhaps if I’d had my faculties about me, I might have come up with a semi-plausible explanation for this list of items that bore remarkable similarity to those which Santa had carefully placed in their pillowcases weeks earlier. As it was I froze, like Rudolph in headlights.

Mercifully, just as her belief in Christmas miracles was being shattered, I received a miracle of my own when my four-year-old son announced – as four-year-olds do – his need to poo.

I seized my chance, rushing my daughter to her bedroom. There was no time to strategise how to break it to her gently, I just confessed on the spot. “No, sweetheart, I’m afraid he’s not.”

Despite her prior suspicions, she was still visibly taken aback, presenting a look not dissimilar to mine in the kitchen two minutes earlier. While she came to terms with her world being turned upside down, I rushed out a jumbled justification for our subterfuge these past seven years. Nice tradition, mum and dad love you so much and want you to be happy, blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, my mind turned to friends who had opted out of doing the Santa thing with their kids and how I’d initially thought it strange.

Now, as I attempted to justify our web of deceit, I felt very much the strange one. How had we ever fallen prey to this Ponzi scheme of Christmas delight? And yet, I was just as urgent to recruit her to the ruse. “It’s very important”, I whispered, “that you don’t tell your brother.”

Ultimately, I was saved by the same curiosity that got us into the mess in the first place. Instead of tears, I was greeted with questions – lots of them. You could see her little mind ticking over. The Elves? The Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy? Each imaginary assassination loaded another layer to my burgeoning pile of guilt.

When my son reemerged from the bathroom she still wasn’t done, so took advantage of her three-year, 100% advantage in literacy to spend the next half hour passing me notes with written questions. “Where does the letter we send go?” “Who eats the biscuits, and drinks the beer we leave out for Santa?” Guilty, your honor.

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Despite fears my atrocious filing had ruined her childhood, she was in fact a little trooper, reminding me not for the first time how resilient kids really are. Even better, she has managed to keep a secret from her brother for ten more months now, something that was not previously her forte. Maybe it’s a sign she was ready to know after all.

Her mother, however, was not. I held back the news so as not to ruin her girls’ night, but when she returned late the next day with a mild hangover of her own, I brought her up to speed. It was only then that the tears came. In torrents.

Perhaps it was to be expected. We do warn our kids that lying will come back to bite them in the end. It turns out Santa is the ultimate buy now pay later scheme.

  • Conal Hanna is associate editor for Guardian Australia, state news

How did your child find out Santa wasn’t real? Tell us in the comments


Guardian Pick

I thought both my kids realized Santa wasn’t real from the start, as he wasn’t a big deal in our house. The Easter Bunny never came due to allergies, my youngest used to go around telling everyone the Easter Bunny is bogus!

However, my oldest was devastated one year to discover me slipping Tooth Fairy money under his pillow one night. He howled with despair the next morning when he confronted me about it and realized the extent of the magic…


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