How should I talk to my elementary-grade child about Santa Claus? She's been asking a lot of questions about him. I am ready to tell her the truth, but I'm hesitant because I don't want her to think that we've been "lying" to her all these years.
Every parent who has encouraged a child to believe in Santa will face this problem at some point. The answers to your daughter's questions don't have to require long, tortured explanations or feelings of guilt on your part. We'd suggest that you simply say something like this:
"When you were little you liked to play make-believe. I remember when you pretended to be a princess for months after watching Cinderella on video. In the same way, it was fun for you to believe that Santa Claus is a real person when you were younger. But now you're growing up, and your understanding of the world is changing.
Families all over the world have legends and stories about Santa Claus. Young children everywhere love to believe in him. People in other countries have different names for him: for example, Saint Nicholas, Sinter Klaas (Holland), Weihnachtsmann (Germany), Father Christmas (England), Babbo Natale (Italy), and Pere Noel (France). He's not a real person, but he stands for a lot of things that are good, like kindness, generosity, and the value of living with a spirit of joy. He can even be understood as a symbol of the idea that there is Someone who "sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake." In other words, he reminds us that we're responsible to God for everything we do. Now that you're older, you may not believe in Santa anymore, but you can and should believe in your Heavenly Father and in all of the good qualities that Santa represents."
You didn't mention anything about your personal spiritual or religious beliefs, but while you're on the subject of Santa Claus we'd encourage you to explore the true meaning of Christmas with your daughter. At its heart, this holiday is a celebration of God's love and His gracious decision to send His only Son into the world in the form of a human being. Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, the One who was born to a virgin and who grew up to give His life as a perfect sacrifice for mankind. If you and your daughter are interested in learning more about this, we'd like to invite you to call and speak with one of our pastoral counselors. They're available at this number.
Adventures in Odyssey #7: Electric Christmas (DVD)
The True Christmas Story (DVD)
Teaching Kids About Christmas (broadcast)