by Harry H. Harrison Jr.
A lot parents develop stress over telling their nine year-old that mom and dad are actually Santa Claus. No doubt some of today's parents have debated about hiring a counselor to break the news. By then however most kids have figured it out anyway and are probing their parents just to see them squirm.
But at what age, should we introduce our kids to the mystery and magic of Santa Claus? Some parents feel that until a child can at least talk, there's no reason for visions of sugarplums to be dancing in their head since their little minds are only concerned with "Hmm, what does this taste like?"
But others happily tell their six-month-old that Santa is coming, gaily decorate a beautiful tree and can't wait for Christmas morning to see their child's eyes sparkle with delight, though a six month boy is still more curious about the taste of red ribbon. So to answer this question "How young is too young for Santa Claus?" Let's step back a minute and look at the holiday itself.
Christmas is never more special than it is for young families. Christmas music is playing in the stores and Christmas music is all many moms listen to from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. Santa Clauses are walking around everywhere. Grandparents, aunts and uncles will be talking about Santa Claus to your baby and they will be smiling and laughing so your child will inevitably begin to associate talk of Santa Claus with smiling adults, so she'll start smiling back.
It's simply inevitable the parents of a one month old will look at their beautiful child on Christmas morning and say, "Look what Santa brought you!" I think the point isn't at what time in our child's lives do they believe in Santa Claus, or even at what age do we reveal to them there really is no jolly fat man parking reindeer on the roof.
The real question is, "When do we teach them the true meaning of Santa?"
This is not just a question for Christians, it's for every parent whose tendency is to go completely bonkers the weeks leading up to Christmas and buy everything under the sun that our child wants, might want or one day will want. Is the meaning of Santa "Ask and you will receive no matter how much your parents go into debt? Or "Ask and your parents will line up at 2 a.m. with other crazies to fight their way into Best Buy for the newest X-box?" Or is the meaning of Christmas and Santa wrapped up in the joy of making someone else's life more beautiful, experiencing the wonder of putting a smile on person's face, creating a loving, stable home where a child feels secure in its peace.
By focusing entirely on "...ask and you shall receive..." we aren't loving our kids, we're setting them up for a future crash landing. Because one day their wishes won't come true. One day, they won't just be able to hand their parents a list of demands and confidently open their eyes Christmas morning knowing all their wants have been fulfilled.
By focusing entirely on what Santa Claus brings, we're denying our children the sublime gifts of loving someone else, of putting someone else in front of their own wants and desires, and perhaps most important, the gift of contentment.
Over the years it's easy for parents to begin to feel used and abused as Christmas lists grew longer and more expensive. Soon there are no surprises under the tree, only just a shopping list checked off.
So I don't think it's ever too young to teach our children to believe in the spirit of Santa. That there's joy and peace and love just waiting to be reached for and that it begins with the people themselves. So when that day comes that a child announces Santa isn't real, you can just look at her and say, yes, but everything he stands for is.
It's never, ever too young to believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.
Harry H. Harrison Jr. is a NY TIMES best-selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit his website.