What It’s Like When You Believe In Santa Way After All Your Mates
For some people, uncovering the ‘truth’ about Santa occurs as one big, painful jolt, immediately flipping your understanding of the world and, indeed, the mystical laws of Christmas Eve.
This might happen after discovering your much-longed-for Barbie Dreamhouse stuffed in the back of your mum’s wardrobe, or following a gleeful, earth-shattering comment from a particularly nasty older sibling.
For me, the discovery was more of a slow, drawn-out process eked out between the ages of eight to 11 years old, kicking off with a few niggling doubts and ending with a final pre-teen stamping out of childish ways.
I remember clearly the weird in-between stage when my more worldly friends would begin to say goodbye to Santa, and I knew I had to be careful about what I said in the build-up to the big day. There could be no more talk of reindeer bells and tell-tale boot prints in the snow.
Suddenly the magical, secretive nature of Christmas Eve night gave way to the more practical matters of telling your parents what you wanted for Christmas. A plain old shopping list rather than a loving, handwritten note to the North Pole.
Even I, an overly-imaginative child who frequently found it tricky to distinguish between reality and daydreams, began to see the plot holes in the Santa story at around the same age as my peers.
I began to note the distinct handwriting similarities between Santa and my mum, with the gift tags being so neatly penned for such a famously large and jolly character. I also began questioning the idea of the big man smashing through our modern electric fireplace year after year, replacing it each time.
But the thing is, I wanted to keep believing. I wanted to believe that once a year an ordinary kid like myself could come within touching distance of another, more magical world. The commonplace reality was simply too dull and dreary to accept.
And so I held on for a good couple of years after my mates, never voicing my loyalty to Santa out loud while cherishing the final, tingling embers of excitement that still blazed in my tummy during snowy December days.
As per a poll of 1,000 mums by parenting website Made For Mums, just over half of kids (52%) still believe in Santa Claus by the time they reach the age of eight years old, with eight and half being the average age at which a child grows out of the myth.
By the time they turn nine, 62% of kids will be non-believers, and by 10 – a time when they’re in final stages of primary school – over four in five will have learnt the harsh truth of the matter.
It would seem, therefore, that I was probably pushing it a bit as an eleven year old who wasn’t quite ready to stash my stocking away. However, I’m certainly not on my own on this front, and to be honest I feel rather lucky that my imagination held out for a little longer than most.
I spoke with Mediaworks PR Consultant Patrick O’Kane about his own dawning realisation at the age of 11, his lengthy innocence being thanks to what he has very sweetly described as a ‘charmed, naïve, upbringing’.
Patrick told UNILAD:
My elder sisters were brilliant though because although they had already discovered the reality of Christmas morning, they played along and let me continue to enjoy the Christmas spirit.
I remember there were three of us in my class, aged 11, arguing until we were blue in the face that Santa existed, all three of us all wearing our beloved red ‘I believe in Santa’ badges.
When I did eventually ask my mum for clarification, it was only then that I discovered the Easter Bunny also didn’t exist.
Is it embarrassing that I found out so late? Maybe a tad, but I wouldn’t change it.
My eldest niece and nephew are now 10 and 8 and they still fully believe that Santa is the real deal. They even scoff about their classmates telling them it’s their parents – quite lovely really.
They’ve maybe got one or two real Christmases left!
I also spoke with marketing manager Izzie Glazzard, who was – once again – also a believer until the grand old age of 11.
This would appear to be, from my own anecdotal understanding, a difficult age that bridges primary and secondary; a time when you have to toughen yourself up a bit for the cruel teenage years ahead.
Izzie told UNILAD:
I stopped believing in Santa when he was so lazy, he used my mother’s wrapping paper… then the penny dropped. Mum really dropped the ball that year.
I was 11, which is probably too old for my parents to have kept up the facade, so it was probably in some part on purpose.
According to a 1978 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, children whose parents encouraged the idea of Father Christmas were more likely to hold this belief for longer.
Indeed, my own parents ensured Santa felt very real to me, encouraging me to leave out a mince pie each year, plus a carrot for Rudolph. That plateful of crumbs in the morning felt like tangible evidence of his presence, proof that a pair of otherworldly boots had stomped across our Earthly living room.
Now I’m of an age where I’m beginning to see friends and aquaintances work to make Christmas as enchanting as possible for their little ones, leaving out tangible, snowy footprints and mischevious elves.
Recently I’ve begun to wonder how I myself would approach the sticky Santa issue, should I ever have kids of my own. Would I gently ease them into the facts, or would I let them find out in their own way? At what age would I start to worry that they were as green as the Grinch climbing a Christmas tree?
As per the aforementioned Made For Mums survey, just over 40% of kids simply aged out of believing – as I did – while 32% had their friends drop the bombshell.
Somewhat surprisingly, a mere 8% of parents took it upon themselves to tear down the illusion, and as I get older I can imagine what a heartbreaking task this would be.
As was the case with Patrick and his big sisters, the results of this survey would suggest that older siblings are far kinder around the festive season than Home Alone would have you believe.
A rather cheering 83% of big brothers and sisters play along with the idea of Santa, without ever purposefully shattering the all-too-fragile fairytale for their younger siblings.
Of course, sadly we do not live in the North Pole and the high school playground is no Santa’s workshop. So how do adults best go about gently easing their not-so-little ones out of twinkling visions of elves and reindeers?
I spoke with Dr. Amanda Gummer, child psychologist, development expert and founder of Dr. Gummer’s Good Play Guide about how exactly parents should navigate this slippery area.
Dr. Gummer emphasised the importance of children trusting their parents and being able to believe what they are told. Therefore, a parent could well damage their ‘credibility’ if they carry on the Santa myth for too long, ‘which can be damaging for your relationship as they get older’.
According to Dr. Gummer, the age at which the secret is revealed really does ‘depend on the child’:
Many parents feel that sending children to secondary school still believing may lead to bullying so the Christmas of year 6 is a good time if they still believe then.
Other than that, it’s about when the children start asking about it – a good test is when you would have to lie outright to them to keep them believing – that’s a good time to tell them.
When it comes to the right time to break the news, Dr. Gummer has advised parents to ‘wait until they ask you about it and then ask them what they think’, noting that ‘it’s easier to confirm suspicions they already have than break the news to them out of the blue’.
I’d suggest explaining that the messages of Christmas are all still valid – kindness, caring etc – and you can soften it by telling them that you still believe it’s a magical time of year.
Try explaining that young children need to learn lessons about being good and kind, and Santa is a way of helping them learn those lessons in a fun way.
Then let them feel more grown-up and start new traditions – maybe stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve and open a present before bed, or getting the children to help you keep the magic alive for younger children in the family who still believe.
However, despite the obvious awkwardness of potentially allowing your child to graduate university without getting the hint, Dr. Gummer believes there are ‘lots of positives in keeping the magic of Christmas alive’ for a bit longer – within reason, of course.
It can help instill compassion and caring behaviours and give children’s imaginations plenty of fuel. It can also help in the fight against the overcommercialisation of Christmas – Santa’s message of a toy for each child rather than a long wishlist is a powerful one.
When considering how parents can keep this all-too-fleeting magic in their children’s hearts a little while longer, Dr. Gummer gave the following festive suggestions:
I love the footprints in the flour/talc from the milk and cookies (remember to use a clean boot!). It’s also lovely to have a clearout of toys before Christmas to take to charity for them to be ‘sent back to Santa’ for the elves to refurbish.
An annual photo of the children in the same position each year – with the milk and cookies or their letter to Santa – is a lovely way of tracking their development.
As embarrassing as it may sound to more cynical readers, I firmly believe that having been gifted those extra couple of ‘believer years’ helped cement Christmas as a truly special time in my heart, and I would never dream of rushing someone to learn the truth before their time.
Even now at the age of 29, I get a little sentimental when it comes to the idea of Christmas magic, despite all evidence to the contrary saying this is simply a few hectic weeks that will ultimately leave me skint, freezing and queasy from too much port and lemon.
Don’t worry, I no longer believe in Santa. However, I do find myself eschewing cold, hard reality somewhat at this time of year, adrift on fantasies of romantic reunions, sudden powdery snowfall, and joyous Christmas movie transformations.
With the streets lit up so beautifully, and the music so unabashedly sentimental, I can’t help but still feel that lovely things can and do happen during the festive season, even without a flying sleigh. Whether you’re a believer or not, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.
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