When did you or your children stop believing in the literal interpretation of folk figures?

Here’s another post from 2011.  I’ve updated it!

Dean Dad’s fifth grader has questioned Santa Claus.

When did you or your children stop believing (if at all)?

I don’t remember ever literally believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.  I remember always thinking about it like the Land of Make Believe on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  I would never be so gauche as to stop pretending (especially since that might mean the cessation of gifts/money), but always in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of way.  I remember being disgusted when a fellow second grader announced to the class that Santa Claus is just your parents… duh! but you don’t SAY that out loud.  Magic isn’t real, but it’s fun to make believe.

DC[1] was just getting around to the concept of Santa last Christmas [age 3 or 4 back in 2011]… not sure how ze escaped it for so many years… possibly because Santa is overshadowed by grandparents in the gift department.  This year ze’s been reading a LOT of magic books, and we’ve had a lot of conversations about magic not being real but pretend… so I imagine this Christmas ze’ll make the connection, especially in conjunction with learning about Saint Nicholas at school.


DC2 didn’t get the concept and then vehemently didn’t believe at age 3, and then around age 4 we moved back from paradise for a last year of preschool and was completely indoctrinated by one of the preschool teachers regarding the Easter Bunny.  I believe at some point in this age 4 range zie asked us point blank if the Easter Bunny was real or if Santa was real and we asked what zie thought instead of answering.  DC2 only had a year of religious education (age 3) so none of that connection to the Catholic/Anglican saints thing.  I think once got to kindergarten we were back at the “not real” stage.

We’ve never really told our children either way.  We don’t really talk about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy doing things, though I guess we do say “leave teeth for the tooth fairy” (DC2 response:  Daddy is the tooth fairy, and I’d rather keep my teeth).  But we also never contradicted people saying such things.  And we have been careful about making sure they know not to spoil it for other kids.

Grumpy Nation, When did you or your children (if applicable) stop believing in creatures like the Tooth Fairy et al.?


23 Responses to “When did you or your children stop believing in the literal interpretation of folk figures?”

  1. CG Says:

    The tooth fairy was the weak link at our house, because in our exhaustion DH and I would forget to put the money out and then very obviously remind the kids later to look. Once they realized the tooth fairy was not real, they would ask about the rest of it and the whole house of cards would come down. We won’t lie to them so we would ask them first if they really wanted to know or if they wanted to maintain plausible deniability! Each subsequent child came to the realization earlier. I think our oldest figured it out in third grade and the youngest in kindergarten. Interestingly, I think the Easter bunny concept is dumb and literally told the kids we were hiding eggs for them when they were little, but they picked it up from somewhere and believed in it in spite of us. I think Santa is wonderful and magical and would have kept that going longer if I’d been more competent. And yes, my positions on those two figures are inconsistent, I realize.

  2. Alice Says:

    I stopped in grade 2 after the mockery of my classmates pushed me into asking my parents for a second year. I remember feeling so betrayed by my parents because they lied to me about the existence to begin with.

    My stepdaughter held out until grade 7 and would get angry at the suggestion that Santa wasn’t real. I still feel like we adults collectively failed her—we should have broken it to her before then. It’s not that she didn’t question at a younger age. It’s that her questions weren’t answered with truth. We evaded in our house because we didn’t want to go against her mom. We should’ve talked with her mom about it and told her that we were answering truthfully years earlier.

    In part because of her and in part because of me, we didn’t do the “real” thing with my own daughter. Instead, we “play Santa” and the other creatures. We still have the stories and the surprises and activities, just not the belief part.

  3. Steph Says:

    I held on to Santa Claus for longer than was probably reasonable. I kinda knew intellectually that it had to be my parents (really my Mom). But she was good at hiding the presents and at hiding the special wrapping paper that “only Santa uses”, so it felt like I had evidence that it wasn’t her. Or at least a lack of evidence that it WAS her. The jig was up by 5th-6th grade, but I got “Santa presents” through high school, I think. It was more for fun at that point – my Mom loves gifts and gimmicks, and it felt special to us too. (If you like country music, Alabama has a good song called “Santa Claus, I still believe in you” which about sums up my feelings)

    I felt my parent’s hand under my pillow at some point so that wrecked the tooth fairy pretty early. I kept pretending though – I remember going and crying because the “tooth fairy” only left me a quarter (or maybe 50 cents) and for the last tooth I’d gotten a whole dollar. I can’t remember how old I was at the time though.

    I’m not sure I ever really believed in the easter bunny? That was almost certainly the first one to go, if I ever actually believed it.

  4. Alison Says:

    My son from a very early age had a sort of quasi-belief/quasi-playing-along. So he knew that I was getting “Santa’s” gifts, and liked going to the store to buy gifts to help Santa but very much wanted to put out a stocking, even if it was full of things he’d helped me pick out, and seemed to think that if he didn’t put out the stocking, Santa wouldn’t bring the gifts. I think I took him aside at 3 and told him not to say anything when his cousins put out cookies for Santa— he wanted to poll the grownups and make sure they liked the Santa cookies.

  5. FF Says:

    I never believed in any of these things. My mother explained to my sister and I that some children believed in Santa, but we knew better (Jewish family), but also not to tell them–she had announced to her entire kindergarten class, “My mother says that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus,” which didn’t go over too well. We knew that our Chanukah presents were from our parents and grandparents. And I’m pretty sure that when my sister or I lost a tooth, we were just given money without having to put the tooth under a pillow.

  6. delagar Says:

    I used to tell my kid that the Hanukkah elves brought his presents, but he would always point out that I was lying, that his father and I bought the presents.

  7. Socal Dendrite Says:

    Haha, this is a good one. I love the “magic” of stockings and presents appearing under the bedecked tree, so I still maintain a level of denial about Santa (or Father Christmas, as we knew him). I think I figured it out around age 6 or 7. I vividly remember accidentally finding a stash of wrapped presents in my parents’ closet during a game of hide and seek. It didn’t upset me – I think I sort of knew anyway by that point – but I distinctly remember telling myself some sort of story about how they must be helping him out, not because I actually believed it but because I didn’t want the magic to end.
    I was looking forward to sharing this magic with my kids – where we all end up knowing the truth but we don’t really acknowledge it because it is a fun game. I would never outright lie to my kids or go to extreme lengths to “trick” them (I do use different wrapping paper, but the writing is clearly mine) and there’s always a bit of a nod and a wink. When asked outright, I say things like “what do you think?” or “I don’t know, but I think it’s fun to believe”.
    But of course your kids can have other ideas – my first born is extremely rational and somewhat obsessed with being “right”. He figured it out very quickly, and was not shy about letting us know! He’s the type to be that second grader announcing it to the class *cringe* (I hope he didn’t do this, but I can just picture it…). His younger sister is much more the type to enjoy the pretend, but I’m pretty sure he gave the game away to her fairly early on, even though I encouraged him to let her figure it out for herself. They’re nine and seven now, and I *think* he’s realized that it really is fun to go along with it. I’m pretty sure I heard him excitedly whisper “he came, he came!” early last Christmas morning :)
    Anyway, I enjoy Father Christmas’ sherry and mince pie on Christmas Eve after they’ve gone to bed, so I have no plans to stop that any time soon.
    For other figures, I find the Easter Bunny kind of creepy, so I’ve never got into that (we do an egg hunt but I think it is clear it is us putting the eggs out); we do the tooth fairy but it’s pretty low key.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh, my favorite children’s book of all time is The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes about a little brown single mom country bunny who (spoiler) gets picked to replace one of the Easter Bunnies because she is super organized, athletic, and kind. Even though all these rich white city bunnies laughed at her when she was little and said girls can’t become an Easter Bunny and she should get married and have children instead. Published 1939.

      • Socal Dendrite Says:

        That sounds lovely! I wish we’d had that book when I was a child. Generic bunnies are associated with Easter where I grew up, in the same way as chicks, flowers, eggs, and other signs of spring, but the Easter Bunny as a character who hides eggs and brings chocolate was not a thing at all. I wish we’d had that book as a child.

  8. Lisa Says:

    I never really actively “sold” Santa, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. Largely because I want my kids to think of us as sources of reliable information. (I may have taken this too far when I was 9 months pregnant and my 8-year old asked if mommies ever die when they give birth and I explained that yes, sometimes they do, but not very often…) My kids know the stories of Santa, and gifts show up in their stockings and under the tree. I’m not exactly sure what they believe about it. I don’t think my oldest ever really thought about it, my middle child I think wants to believe but is 14 so they certainly know the truth, and the youngest may or may not. We don’t make a big deal of it. The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are things I’ve always thought of as fun stories but not something to be taken literally. I don’t think my kids “believe” in either of them per se. Any more than they believe that a leprechaun really brings gold chocolate coins on St. Patrick’s day.

    If you need a good Tooth Fairy hack, I made tooth fairy pillows for each of my kids. They’re little stuffed things that look like a tooth with a pocket to put the lost tooth in (lots of examples online). They hang them on their bedroom door when they lose a tooth. It both eliminates the need to feel around under pillows and provides a visual reminder before I go to bed to minimize (sadly, not eliminate) the likelihood of me forgetting.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DC2 actually made a tooth fairy pillow for us of hir own initiative. I don’t know where the idea came from. It’s felt and hand sewn like a pillow (yay montessori) with a little pocket on it and a drawing of a tooth on the pocket in sharpie. Zie kept it under hir regular pillow though and not on the door. Zie was also very eager to prove hir hypothesis that DH was the tooth fairy (before zie started collecting hir own teeth).

  9. Debbie M Says:

    I believed in Santa Claus until quite late (in my head it was age 10, but it couldn’t have been quite that late–maybe age 8). At that point I started to suspect and asked my mom point blank if he was real. And she told me the truth. It was a sad day; I still love the Santa Claus of my childhood.

    But then I also got to learn more about my parents. Like why when we woke up early and ran into their bedroom with the news that Santa had come, they weren’t excited at all. Grown-ups! Who can understand them?

    Especially that one year when they were putting together both our bicycles and both our toy boxes (with sliding chalkboards and shelves) until 4 in the morning and then we ran in all excited at 6 am. (Santa brought the gifts that weren’t wrapped.)

    I feel like I always knew about the tooth fairy, though we did celebrate, and the Easter Bunny I learned about before Santa somehow. Now I have mixed feelings because I hate lies. I would like real magic, but not fake lying magic. (I don’t even like watching magicians now that I know that some of the stuff they do behind the scenes is appalling.) But I wouldn’t want to burden my children with secrets, either, so I have no idea what I would have done if I’d had kids.

    P.S. I enjoyed your line, “Santa is overshadowed by grandparents in the gift department.”

  10. accm Says:

    Both my 9yos have been clear on all this for 2-3 years, although my DD insists she still actually believes. Whatever! The tooth fairy (when she remembers) and Easter Bunny still show up, and my own parents facilitate Santa when we visit them at Christmas. No belief required. :-)

  11. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    I think I was seven when I learned Santa wasn’t real from a classmate. That was when I confronted my parents and learned the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy weren’t real either. I remember crying and feeling really betrayed that they had lied to me. My husband and I are on the same page about telling our kids it’s all make believe from the start.

  12. maya Says:

    We’re definitely in the did-not-actively-promote-Santa-Fairy- -or-Bunny camp.

    We talked about how some families believe in them (so we have to be respectful), but in our family it comes from your hardworking parents and grandparents.

    I wonder how much of that is immigrant/working class ethos. I think I’ve seen a study about it somewhere.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s an interesting thought. I’m definitely first gen, but my dad had his own European Santa Claus traditions that were slightly different from the US traditions.

      I think a lot of not ever really believing for me actually came from Sunday school and the Catholic Church. They were big on how Christmas is celebrated around the world and also St. Nicholas. I think it’s harder to believe if you realize Santa Claus isn’t the same or even a thing everywhere.

      • Maya Says:

        I can see how witnessing different traditions would disturb the capacity to believe/buy into the prevalent mythology. I like that read.

        What I meant by immigrant/working class ethos was far more petty–lol–mostly that I want my kids to give the credit to me (not Santa or whoever) for working hard to buy them something.

  13. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I never believed in Santa myself, I thought the Easter bunny was a horrifying idea, and I think those might be the only ones I knew about from Western culture.

    JB knows that I’m the “Tooth Fairy” (proxy). We didn’t really ever tell the kids that these were real because we didn’t think it was necessary. They still get the presents and such, we just prefer to have them know and be appreciative of the people who did the work.

  14. Matthew D Healy Says:

    According to my mother (it happened before the beginning of my narrative memory), I pulled on the beard of a department store Santa and said I no longer believed he was real because there was no “tactile response.” Yes, she remembers me using that phrase. Nobody who knew me as a child would be very surprised that I grew up to be a scientist.

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