Wow, these postings are all so interesting and helpful!
I'm a stepmom of a 7 year-old girl and hoping to have another child along the way before too long. My stepdaughter's dad and mom definitely do the Santa thing and so I have done it too (this will be the third Christmas I've spent with my stepdaughter).
My question is: when and how does it stop? She still seems to believe in Santa and the tooth fairy. I don't remember how my mom handled this when I got older or when. At what age have your kids figured it out and how did they do it and how did you respond?
I find I am HUGELY ambivalent about this Santa thing (and the tooth fairy too). My mom was an athiest, so Christmas wasn't about Jesus for us: it was about a time to love friends and family and to experience the joy of giving to people you know and people you don't know. And to anticipate the coming of a new year.
I don't remember any bad feelings about finding out that there was no Santa. Right until my mom died when I was in my twenties, some of the presents from her would say from "Santa" and some were from "mom." It became a formality that nonetheless was a fun, tender reminder of being a little kid. And I think she did it to be consistent for the young nieces and nephews in the house.
BUT: in my own experience playing Santa now, I have to say that the Santa thing does FEEL to me like lying. And in retrospect, I think the "MAGIC" of Christmas or other mythic occasions for me wasn't mostly because of the magical person or fairy who supposedly brought the gifties, but because there were gifties at all and decorations and special food and family coming together and a time to think about how we connect to the wider world.
I'm really not anti-Santa. It's more that I'm struggling with how inauthentic it feels to ME (not to speak for anyone else because this is clearly a personal experience thing) to sneak around with special Santa wrapping paper and special Santa handwriting and special Santa presents (not to be confused with presents from parents) in order to fabricate a mythology that just isn't true.
Pretend to me is a really different thing because in pretend games all the "players" understand that we're pretending. In this case, the kids don't know the rules of the game.
And if it's the spirit and story of Santa that's delightful (and I agree it is!), then it seems like celebrating it as a spirit and story is closer to the truth than pretending it's the truth. I say this partly because I think I WISH I didn't feel like I was lying.
Honesty is such a tangly and important issue...as a kid (in other ways besides Santa) I was often unsure in my family what the "rules of the game" were and as a result I wound up with more self-doubt and lack of trust than is useful to have. I wonder if pretending about Santa could in any way contribute to kids doubting about the veracity of other things we tell them? I really don't know, just wondering out loud.
Maybe this is something that starts to feel weirder and weirder when a kid gets past say four years old. At that young, kids themselves developmentally aren't all that sure the difference between reality and dreams and pretend, right?
Anyway, I find this conversation really helpful!