The Santa secret: how to keep it and when to tell the truth

Whether you have a dedicated Santa story or are new to planning the festivities for your family, here’s how to celebrate the magic of Father Christmas with your children.

Ladybird team

Not every parent wants to continue the Santa myth – and that’s fine, of course – but if you do want to keep the magic alive, how should you go about it? What do you need to do to get Christmas Eve right? And how long should you keep it going for?

Here are our top tips for these three important Santa stages…

An photo of a little girl wearing a Santa hat and holding a stocking that is hooked onto a fireplace
Image: Getty

1. The countdown to Christmas

Decide on your Santa story

How you introduce Father Christmas will probably have a lot to do with how you thought about the main man when you were young. Every family’s Santa story is slightly different, so it’s worth taking some time to think about the details and make sure all the adults are on board. Will Father Christmas be responsible for every present, will he leave one big gift under the tree, or are you putting him in charge of stocking fillers? Do you have a chimney? Where’s he going to put the gifts? Get these little things right, and you’ll feel much more confident creating special traditions for your family.

Write a letter

When you’ve established your Santa parameters, get into the spirit by suggesting your children write him a letter. It can be one of the most exciting moments for them in the build-up to the big day. They could share their Christmas present wish-lists, or just tell him about their festive plans. The Royal Mail has a special service where every child who writes to Father Christmas before Thursday 30 November 2023 will receive a letter in response. Last-minute like us, and missed that date? Why not post your own Santa-inspired reply? That can be very useful for managing present expectations…

Read some Christmas stories

Reading Christmas tales together is a great way to gently introduce the idea of Father Christmas and, amid the chaos, spend some special time together over the festive season. One of our favourite tales is Raymond Briggs’s grumpy version of Father Christmas with an iconic quote that will have all parents nodding in agreement at some point; ‘Blooming Christmas, here again!’ 

Pay Santa a visit

You’ll soon see Father Christmases everywhere: shopping centres, garden centres, nursery visits, and just about anywhere that can fit a Santa’s Grotto. Despite the queues and the potentially awkward questions – including ‘Where are your reindeer?’ and ‘Is your beard real?’ – this is often a magical moment for older children. And if they do question the number of bearded men in red suits they see over the festive period, you can always tell them they’re helpers for Santa during his busiest time of year…

Download a Christmas message

Father Christmas has long been used as an incentive for good behaviour, helping children understand that they won’t be rewarded with presents if they are naughty. And luckily for parents everywhere, there are a number of handy aids to help with this, like the Message from Santa app.

Stash those presents

Whatever gift-giving surprises Father Christmas has planned, you’ll want to keep them hidden – questions will be asked if a cuddly toy from your wardrobe winds up as a stocking gift! Plus, eagle-eyed children may notice if Santa shares your taste in wrapping paper, so keep a separate roll or two to use for those Father Christmas gifts (and keep it hidden).

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2. Christmas Eve preparations

Leave out Christmas treats for Santa

Leaving food and drink out for Santa will build lots of excitement! Your children can select a mince pie or treat for Santa to nibble on and a drink to see him on his way. Perhaps some warm milk to stay toasty on a cold night; or maybe a drop of whiskey, seeing as it’s the reindeer who really drive the sleigh. (Oh, and don’t forget to eat and drink the evidence: very important.)

Don’t forget Rudolph

Speaking of reindeer, you’ll want to leave something for them too – they are pulling the sleigh! The traditional food of choice is a carrot (make sure you take a big bite), although in recent years more parents are choosing to sprinkle special reindeer food outside. This can be fun, but it’s important to note that glittery reindeer food is very bad for local wildlife – so try a friendlier alternative, which you can make at home by mixing oats, seeds, and dried fruit. 

Track Santa’s movements

NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) monitors the world’s aerospace, and for one night a year, it uses its incredible tracking abilities to chart Santa’s sleigh. The NORAD tracker will be showing data from 1 December, and on Christmas Eve, children from all over the world will be able to follow Father Christmas on his magical journey. Tune in together as you get them settled for bed – they’ll love watching his journey and counting down until he visits your hometown. 

A photo of a little boy holding a bauble up to a Christmas tree
Image: Getty

3. Christmases yet to come

Be prepared for questions

As your children start to understand the concept of Santa Claus, they will have questions. Awkward questions. Namely the logistics – how does he get around the world? Why does the Father Christmas at the garden centre look different? So, have some answers prepared! Whilst they’re still young enough to believe in the magic you’ll probably get away without saying too much. However, as the tone of their questioning changes, it’s best to start thinking about the big reveal and how to do it.

How to share the true story of Father Christmas

When the time does come to tell them about Santa, it’s best to be truthful. But you can do it in such a way that allows Father Christmas to hold on to his meaning. Teach them the history behind the mythical man, because there was a real person who inspired this festive story! His name was St Nicholas, and he was a 4th-century Turkish Bishop who performed good deeds. You could also show them that Christmas is a time for giving and encourage them to become their own Santa Claus. Let them help you pick out presents for the family or get them to dish out the gifts to everyone on Christmas Day, to show them that regardless, Christmas is still a wonderful day full of fun and festive cheer.

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