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Christmas Part 2: I Need Your Advice

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about Christmas. But after all the interesting discussion in the comments yesterday, I thought this might be a great opportunity to get some advice. And some judgments, but I’m prepared.

Get your gavels ready for this one: My 13 year-old son still totally believes in Santa Claus.

One of the features of Asperger’s Syndrome is a very concrete, black and white view of the world. Jay doesn’t understand sarcasm or metaphors. If I tell him, “Just a minute,” he thinks I literally mean 60 seconds. So when he was probably 6 and asked me if Santa was really real, I told him OF COURSE! Because he was 6. I just didn’t think about how far he would take it.

As he got older and kids at school started talking about how Santa wasn’t real, Jay would come home and scoff at them for giving up so easily. “Can you believe those kids don’t understand Santa? They’re missing out,” he would tell me. And I thought, Wow, he’s taking a little longer to figure this out than most kids.

Then when he was 10 and still believed, I realized I had created a real dilemma. How do you tell a kid something like this? How do you choose between allowing them that magic of Christmas (which is totally gone for me) or helping them get on the same level as their age group? Not to mention the fact that I was tired of having to buy gifts from me AND gifts from Santa. Who always got credit for the coolest stuff.

When he was 11, I seriously contemplated giving Santa a terminal illness.

Dear Jayden,

This will be the last year you receive any gifts from me. I have an inoperable brain tumor and the North Pole doctors give me six months to live. From now on, parents will have to buy gifts and pretend they came from me. Just don’t tell any younger kids – let them have the joy even though I won’t be here.

Love, Santa

If that doesn’t send a parent straight to hell, I don’t know what does. I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. But I REALLY felt like it was time to do something drastic – I just didn’t (and still don’t) know what.

Lots of people have wondered if maybe he knows the truth and just doesn’t want to admit it. However, that’s not the case. He’s not capable of lying or hiding something. If you’ve ever been around a kid with Asperger’s, you’ll know what I mean. His mind just doesn’t work that way. He TOTALLY thinks Santa is real.

My choices: 

(1) I tell Jayden the truth. Which he will interpret as me lying to him his entire life. He’ll feel betrayed and question everything else I’ve ever told him. He’ll probably end up in therapy.

(2) I just keep up the charade and end up with a college student who still leaves cookies and milk out for Santa. In the meantime, his peers will continue to make fun of him. He gets picked on enough but the Santa thing makes it 10 times worse.

What would you do in this situation? I could really use some guidance!

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I have no idea on this one, my daughter still believes at 8 and I really want to tell her but then again I like seeing her eyes light up on Christmas morning.

    I want my nickel by the way

  2. Tell him that when a child reaches a certain age, Santa stops.  There are too many children in the world, and Santa has to put a limit some where.  You can make it a teachable moment – "Don't you want other children to be surprised and happy as you have been?"    

    • I tried that last year, sort of. Santa left him a Hot Wheel and a letter saying that he would only get one small gift because he was getting older. At that point, I thought maybe he didn't believe and it would push him to admit it. Unfortunately I was wrong and it backfired. Maybe Santa could tell him that his budget got cut due to the economy and the cutoff is now age 12.

      • Maybe a letter from Santa with the same sentiment? Since 13 is moving into "teenagerdom" that Santa has to refocus on children? (I imagine it's easier to make toys than gadgets anyway). It seems like a good age to make this shift. (and later hide this post if he knows you blog)  =) 

        This a really tricky and awful situation. I think…even if you have to be super tricky about it, you should do what will preserve your relationship together vs. what would traditionally be thought of as "right." 

        • Natalie - Broke Newl says

          I was thinking the same thing. Maybe having "Santa" leave him a notes saying that although he loves leaving him presents every year, it is now time for him to focus on children younger that him. That he will be thinking of him but will now turn the duties to you as his mom.

  3. Not knowing much about Asberger's, I'm not sure if this would be too abstract, so bear with me a second. What if you told him that HE is Santa, you are Santa, we all are Santa? That Santa is a concept, a spirit, an intention and a method? Explain that younger kids can't really take in a fuzzy concept like that, but older folks get to enjoy Santa in a different way, by giving rather than receiving. (This kind of side-steps the idea that Asperger's folks share some of that quality with little kids, I realize.) Then you can make it a new tradition that you shop together for a toy to donate, AS Santa, to Toys for Tots or a similar deal.

    • I'm not even sure *I* really understand that one, so I'm thinking it would be tough for him. I mean, I know what you're saying, but I don't know how I could explain that where it would justify what he's grown up thinking. I've considered the explanation that Santa was actually a real person, and people carried on the tradition, blah blah blah. But I think he would still conclude that I've lied to him. It's so hard to know what to do.

      • I'm an Aspie.  I have a hard time with fuzzy concepts too.  My parents explained to me that the idea of Santa is one of giving without expectations of something in return.  Everyone old enough gives to someone smaller.  As I had gotten old enough, it was my turn to start giving to someone smaller.  I had a younger cousin that had been born, so he became my someone smaller.

        It helps that in my family we were shifting to only giving token gifts (a handmade ornament, a note, a favorite recipe) to adults for Christmas.

        • Thanks for your perspective, Phiguru! Oh, how I'd love to pick your brain to find out more about what to expect for the next ten years or so, but I think one of the best things about being Jayden's mom is learning as I go. Accepting his diagnosis has forced me to look at everything differently, and that's an amazing thing. Hopefully I can figure out an explanation that will make sense without upsetting him too much.

  4. You have to tell him.  Either he'll find out on his own and it will feel like a bigger betrayal because you didn't tell him, or he'll continue to believe forever, which will definitely cause problems with fitting in. (How would you react to a 20 year-old who believed?  A 40 year-old? A 60 year-old?)

    I'd suggest waiting until after Christmas, sitting him down, and explaining that Santa isn't real – that it's something adults do to make Christmas more special for kids, and that now that he's older he deserves to know the truth. 

    • I completely agree. The longer I wait, the worse the betrayal will feel. I think he needs to know. I'm just completely chickenshit when it comes to actually telling him. But I can't let this go on forever.

  5. We never told our kids about Santa Claus nor celebrated him.  Instead we told them the real story of St. Nicholas who lived in the 4th century and would secretly give gifts.  Thus, the model for Santa Claus was a real person who lived and died as we all do, but the spirit of secretly giving gifts lives on.  Maybe you could somehow mold this story to suit your needs.

    • That's kind of the explanation I want to go with. Santa actually existed, and now people remember him by doing kind things for their own kids (and others). Thanks for sharing that – you have no idea how much I wish I'd never done the Santa thing in the first place!

    • My parents did this, none of us ever believed in Santa Claus and I plan to do the same with my kids. I also wasn't raised in North America, Sinterklaas celebrations on Dec 5th is what I grew up with… even so, my parents always made us aware that it wasn't REAL but also that we couldn't spoil it for other kids. Tough spot Andrea, wish I had more words of advice!

  6. Heather Gauthier says

    To this day my mother refuses to say that Santa isn't real, or accept thanks for any gifts that Santa brings.  I think it's ok to continue to believe, afterall we all should believe in something.  Maybe instead of spending time getting him to disbelieve you could instead teach him to keep his belief a secret and explain that because so many people don't believe, it's best he keep it to himself.

    • I think that would work for a lot of kids, but I have always taught Jay that secrets are a bad thing unless it's about a gift or a surprise party. This sprung from necessity, because his grandmother on his dad's side would do stuff like let him eat candy for dinner and tell him it was their secret. So that would probably make him paranoid or upset. I've tried to teach him for years that there are some things you just don't need to say out loud to people. For example, the pastor at our church asked Jay how he was doing. Jay goes, "Well, my colon has been clogged, but I pooped this morning so I'm better now." I WANTED TO DIE! Maybe I could encourage him not to talk about Santa nonstop at school and leave it at that.

  7. Fellow Aspie Mom says

    My vote is to let him figured it out on his own. My son has Asperger's syndrome as well.  He stilled believed in Santa at age 13 and eventually worked it out for himself.  Most Aspie children are fairly intelligent and eventually that trait will win out over the literal interpretation.  I also do not seem the harm in letting him believe.  If your some is like mine, they do not care about what others think of them; a trait perhaps we all should emulate.

    In our case, life started to get easier from age 13 onwards.  Hopefully, your son will experience this as well.  Mine is now in his second year of college, living in the dorms, and well aware that Santa is make believe. 

    • You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that mine isn't the only kiddo who still believes at 13. AND that things might get better. The middle school years have been utter hell; I don't know that I can handle it if high school is like this. Jay doesn't get too upset by what people think, but he does get upset when he gets picked on at school. So I don't know; it's always so hard to know what to do. I call the OASIS book my AS bible, but there is no manual for situations like this one! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  8. Interesting one. I am a fairly high scorer myself (not clinical but high) and I think I would have liked my mum to tell me. It will have to be done in a way he understands – with honesty, courage and a good, logical explanation. Failing that, he will work it out for himself but would he trust you again? Or see you as someone knowlegeable?

  9. My godson has aspergers.  When he was 14 he suddenly worked it out for himself that there wasnt a santa or an easter bunny.  Ideal situation no but there is a childrens book that deals with this I will have to look for the name of it if it something he understand.  My godson couldnt.  I think Anthony Canamucio is the author and they sell it on amazon  Good Luck

  10. Samantha Bianchi says

    So, I asked my husband for you, (25, Asperger's Sydrome, Analytical Chemist). His take on it is this: If you're going to do this,  say, as bluntly as possible, "Santa isn't real." You can't dance around it, and continuing the lie is only going to hurt him. I know you don't want to ruin his trust in you, but this alone isn't enough to put a kid in therapy. My husband's parents told him, and it didn't ruin his life.  He also suggests going forward that you agree not to lie to him about anything else, and that you will tell him truth about anything he asks. (Including and especially sex.)

    There is an episode of 'Bones' , "The Santa in the Slush," where they are trying to explain the meaning of Christmas to Dr. Brennan, who has an Aspie-like view on the world. You can watch it on Hulu or Youtube.

    • Thanks for the info! We've already had plenty of discussions about sex, which (surprisingly) was much easier than Santa! I'm sure it won't be as bad as I think, but it just really sucks. If I'd known he was going to be an Aspie, I never would have introduced the concept of Santa.

  11. As an engineer in Silicon Valley, I've got to go with number 1.  The truth has to come out, and it might as well be from you (plus it sounds like he doesn't really listen to others on this topic).  Some of the commenters have given some good ideas to try to explain Santa, but if you get caught in a jam just say it's a cultural thing, haha.

    Or, he's messing with you so Santa will keep bringing presents…

  12. I know we have already talked about this but I'm starting to feel the same way with my daughter.  she is 10 and still totally believes.  It's getting kind of embarassing.  At the bus stop this morning she was telling the other kids about santa and I felt kinda bad for her.  None of the other kids believe and they all this weird look on their faces.  Like they didn't know if she really believed, what to do, if she was kidding around.  I don't know what to do.

    • Well, I'll be sure to let you know how it goes. I'm tentatively planning to have the discussion on Wednesday. We'll have a long car ride home from an appointment, so I figure that's a good time to cause anger and resentment.

  13. If someone has already said this then I'm sorry but what I'm thinking is that it's time to tell him. As a special ed teacher, one of the things we strive for is keeping our students as close to age appropriate as possible. If his peers discovered that he still believed, he could be easy target for ridicule and emotional stress. You don't want that. It's best that he knows and can hang with his peers.

    just my two cents.

  14. For our kids, we presented it as a problem. First we watched the Polar Express. Then we sat them down and told them that Santa is alive, but he's a spirit of Christmas that kids have. Now that they're moving toward adulthood, it's their job, like ours, to keep the spirit alive. Kids that go around saying "Santa isn't real" are missing the point–and not doing their job. You don't see real adults doing that, do you? Actually, I believe this myself, so it was easy to tell my kids this way.

  15. Santa could write your son a note explaining that now that he is a teenager he won't be visiting him anymore, as Santa is for little kids and your son is now on his way to becoming an adult.  Santa could also thank your son for his loyalty all these years and tell him he will visit his family again someday when he has kids of his own.  

  16. As a writer why don''t you write your son a letter explaining things to him? Tell him that it was hard for you to tell him this and you understand that he will be disappointed and then continue the explanation about how Santa was a real person and people still continue the spirit of giving. That way maybe it will take the stress level off of you and sitting and having to explain things and you can write your thoughts out. Just make it from you and not the terminally ill santa lol! Good Luck!

  17. The Girl Next Door says

    Have you thought about reading him the famous "yes, Virginia, there is a santa claus" column? That's how my mom told us. I'm not sure if it would help or confuse him further about the concept, but thought I'd share my two cents! Best of luck. 

  18. I know it's late (I've just found your blog) and you've probably already told him and been done with it, but I have this link to a letter saved and I am hoping I can borrow from it when the time comes for my kids.  Hopefully it helps

  19. I'm cruising old posts again (it's more fun to read than to write articles about graphic design…) and came across your Santa Claus dilemma. You've probably solved it by now (?) but this is what I did with my kids:

    There is a great movie called The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It might be too young for your son's taste, but my kids (15 and 12) like it, the same way they still like watching Rudolph and Frosty. lol It tells the story of Santa, a fantasy of course, where he is abandoned as a baby and ends up taken in by the fantasy creatures, wood nymphs and the like… In time, he returns to the human world, and seeing their sadness and suffering wants to bring some joy, so he starts making toys for the children. It's really a sweet story… of course I'm a bit of a sucker for a really well-done fantasy.

    It was the movie I showed my kids at the age when they were starting to disbelieve… and it put Santa into the category of wood nymphs and forest spirits- nice but pretend, and made it easier for them to make the transition to disbelief. I sympathize with the Aspie aspect. My neighbor's son has Aspergers, among other issues, and it does make life complex at times.

    As to Christmas in general, believe me, you're not the only one. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because it's Christmas without the presents. We all get together and enjoy good food and company without all the pressure of gift-giving.

    I have recaptured some of the Christmas spirit, however, by embracing our own traditions as a family. Shopping is a small part of our holiday, because it is fun to buy gifts we know will bring delight… but we've tried to instill in the kids that it's not what you spend on a gift that makes it special. My kids shop at the $1 store with their own money, and they've each got a budget worked out before they go. They make a list of friends they intend to buy for, and designate a certain amount of money… I'm actually pretty proud of how they handle Christmas shopping. For my husband and I, we were deciding ahead of time on one large "family" gift… The year before last it was a Wii game. Last year it was a large TV for the living room. We planned for months ahead and were able to get it on sale. We agreed years ago not to go into debt for Christmas, and we only buy small personal items for each other. Last year, he got me candles… which, I know sounds silly and impersonal, but I happen to love candles and I appreciated them because I knew he'd gone to the trouble of getting me something he knew I'd enjoy.

    I don't know if you have a church, but going to a service and spending time together doing special things together can make the holiday more fun, too. Make it your holiday, and the enjoyment will come back. I don't do church personally at Christmas (Can't deal with the crowds), but my kids love decorating our tree… We've always bought them one ornament a year apiece, with the idea that when they marry and start their own families, they'll have ornaments to start them out. We bake cookies together, too, and quite often put together cookie trays in lieu of presents.

    Best of luck to you. You're not alone in the parenting dilemmas, believe me. A lot of us have "been there and done that", though not always with the same challenges. Hang in there. You sound like a great mom, and from reading your son's guest post, it seems you've raised a great kid.

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