Santa Claus is coming to town! It’s the time of year when young children get excited about the prospect of Santa coming to visit them, with parents keeping the magic alive by taking them to visit his grottos, putting out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, and making lists to send to the North Pole.
But, new research has suggested that children are turning to Google and social media instead of their parents to find out about Father Christmas - and some are being bitterly disappointed when the internet gives them the cold, hard truth.
According to tutoring services company ExamPapersPlus.co.uk, 11.8 million children are searching for the term “Is Santa real?” each year, with queries spiking by 9,000% each December. However, the results are bursting their bubbles and forcing them to face the truth about Santa, much to parents’ disappointment.
The biggest platform that children turn to to ask the big question is YouTube, according to the data analysed by ExamPapersPlus.co.uk. Each year, 5.6 million children take to the video streaming platform to find out, followed by TikTok.
The company found that 85% of children aged two to 12 say they now watch YouTube, and the vast majority of children aged three to 17 (96%) say they watch videos on video-sharing sites and apps. This means a huge number of children may be having their Santa dreams shattered while browsing the internet.
Because of this, parents may be left with a conundrum: whether or not they should tell their kids the truth about Santa before social media does, and how can they keep the magic alive if the young ones have already sussed it out?
‘Some children don’t want to let go of the magic’
Susie Pinchin, registered therapist and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, tells Yahoo UK that there are no hard and fast rules about when or how you can tell your children about the reality of Santa.
She recommends letting your child take the lead on this one. “It’s usually not often that the parent goes to the child and says, ‘Oh, by the way, should we talk about whether Father Christmas exists?’,” she says. “It’s normally the child who comes out directly and asks or they allude to it.
“For example, perhaps they’ve looked on social media and they’re starting to doubt Santa’s existence. They may test the waters and ask their parent about it. At this point, the best thing the parent or carer can do is put the question back to the child to work out what the child is thinking themselves.
“It could be a response like, ‘Well, what do you think about Father Christmas?’ This helps the parent or caregiver to gauge where they’re going with this conversation. Some children might think he doesn’t exist, but they don’t want to let go of the magic. My overriding guidance is to allow the child to lead the conversation.”
When should parents tell their children about Santa?
Again, there is no strict rule about when parents should reveal Santa’s true identity (usually Mum or Dad or both) to their children - you can keep it up for as long as they believe in him.
“On the whole, even children up to the ages of 10, 11, 12, tend to still probably believe in Santa because they’re caught up in the wonder of it. At home and in school, they’re in decorated environments and there are story books about him, etc.” Pinchin says.
“So they don’t want to let go of something that’s really quite lovely.”
However, as access to the internet and social media is now an everyday part of children’s and teenager’s lives, they may be exposed to the truth about Santa earlier than usual.
Other times, children may have older siblings or peers at school who could unveil Santa’s secret to them.
How can parents keep the magic alive?
Even if your child now knows that Santa is not real, all is not lost, Pinchin reassures parents. “You can turn it around - it’s not a loss of anything, it’s a change. You can say to the child, ‘It’s still a magical time, but in a different way’. Now the whole family can enjoy the joint understanding that Christmas is about giving to others, and not just giving presents but kindness, good deeds, and the like.”
As you handle this shift in your family’s beliefs and dynamic, you can - and should - “take pleasure in discovering new traditions and ways to enjoy the celebrations, rather than making it just about Father Christmas bringing presents”.
“It doesn’t have to be looked at as a loss. Things are changing now, but it’s still lovely because now we’ve got other ways of enjoying things together. Parents want to keep the magic alive because as parents see their young children enjoying it, it’s hard to let go of that - but the reality is that they’re not children forever and they have their own thoughts. We just have to treat them carefully, I think.”
Watch: Is Santa real? Here's how Santa Claus became associated with Christmas.
Read more about Santa Claus and Christmas:
How Santa’s home would look if he lived in British cities, according to AI (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)
'Santa' and 'elf' job listings down from 2022 as retailers expect slower Christmas (Evening Standard, 2-min read)
To Santa or not to Santa, that’s the latest internet debate (Motherly, 4-min read)