No, Virginia: How to tell your kid the truth about Santa

Matt Chasansky and Iris Chasansky
Matt Chasansky and his eight-year-old daughter, Iris.

Iris took the initiative and asked. I was glad for that. My wife and I had agreed that this was the year we would tell my daughter about Santa.

Iris is eight and showing signs of maturity. “I can do THAT myself!” Iris says on an almost daily basis. “We ALREADY talked about THAT in class.”

She updates us on current events, educates us about the efficiency of light bulbs and shares with us her insights regarding the proper toppings for pizza. (Only cheese. Everything else is gross.)

So the time seemed right to be honest with her. We were in the car on the way to school last Wednesday when Iris brought up the issue of Santa.

We are a household that celebrates Hanukah, the Solstice, and Christmas at this time of year. And we worried about putting any of these rituals in doubt, fearing the truth might send the whole festive holiday thing into a tailspin.

But my wife and I prided ourselves on our honesty. We told Iris where babies come from. We told her that she is adopted.

So it was reasonable to assume that compared with these life-changing revelations, the St. Nick thing would be a cinch. It certainly appeared to be that way when I went through the same conversation with Iris’ older sisters in years past.

“Santa isn’t real,” I told them. “But the spirit of generosity is important.” Boom. Done.

When Iris inquired about Santa, I said: “Santa isn’t real. But the spirit of generosity is important.”

Iris plainly looked at me with skepticism. I know that look. She learned it from her 14-year-old sister. It was the “you’re an idiot” look.

I talked around the issue, answering some very basic questions about the mechanics of mommy and daddy filling a stocking and how an average man is able to “dress up as Santa.”

And then I wrapped it up in a bow.

“It is that spirit of generosity you have to remember, Iris,” I said. “We all feel compelled to give something of ourselves to others. To people we love, or people we don’t know. We want to make the world better, and that’s a huge job. But, the little gifts are easy. And those little gifts can represent the great things we want to change in the world. Be generous, kid, and you won’t need Santa.”

Damn, that was good. Pulled that back from the brink. Good work, daddy.

“So, Santa isn’t real.”

“That’s right.”

Iris was quiet for a minute.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m glad he visits other people’s houses, though.”

When not struggling to parent his daughters, Matt Chasansky is distracted by his day job in arts administration. He was recently director of the team at Denver International Airport’s arts program, and now serves as manager of the City of Boulder Office of Arts and Culture. The headline of this essay is in reference to the classic New York Sun editorial.