Many parents worry about whether they should encourage their children's belief in the physical reality of Father Christma, about the potential impact of lying to them and what to do when their children realise they've been lied to.
Rest assured, parents, it's not all up to you. In fact, the best approach involves supporting your kids while they figure it out on their own. They will, and it won't be as bad as you expect.
Research in the field of developmental psychology suggests that such fantastical beliefs are not actually harmful, but are associated with a number of positive developmental outcomes— from exercising the 'counterfactual reasoning skills' needed for human innovation to boosting emotional development.
When kids question the magic
The majority of children will at some point believe in Father Christmas. While many children learn these beliefs at home, the cultural support for Father Christmas is so strong that children in households that don't actively endorse the myth still sometimes believe.
However, most children will abandon their belief by the age of eight.
Though many parents fear this transition, it's an inevitable part of growing up.
Father Christmas is a mix of mundane and magical qualities. He is a jolly man dressed in red with a snowy beard. He also flies with the help of reindeer, visits all the world's children in a single night and knows if you've been naughty or nice.
Younger children are often interested in general details about Santa, like: "Where does Santa live?" Older children are more likely to hone in on Santa's extraordinary abilities: "How does Santa get around the whole world in a single night?'
Should you bust the myth?
If your goal is to extend your child's belief in the physical reality of Santa, you can respond to the questions with plausible explanations or evidence. This is where NORAD, the online tracker that shows Santa's progress around the globe on Christmas Eve, can come in handy.
Finally, if you think it's time to usher your child into the common adult understanding of Santa as a beloved fantasy figure, you can provide different, disconfirming evidence and explanations.
My Santa myth was busted shortly after the discovery of gift tags in my mother's robe pocket. Regardless of which strategy you choose, it is inevitable that eventually the evidence against Santa will become overwhelming and the belief will become unsustainable.
Lies with good intentions
If your child finds out you have deceived them, how will they respond?
As it turns out, probably pretty well. In a study examining children's reaction to discovering the truth about Father Christmas, parents generally took the transition much harder than their children, who actually felt quite positive about the discovery.
And why wouldn't they? Father Christmas is one of countless things children learn through the testimony of others. Because we rely on others for so much of what we know.
Children are also discovering the truth about Father Christmas around the same time they are starting to understand that some lies are told with good intentions.
Why Santa is for small gifts
Believing in impossible beings is a special kind of magic available only to children.
Research suggests that fantastical beliefs are associated with a number of positive developmental outcomes. So, if your child is still a believer, feel free to protect that belief.
As your child ages, especially if there are younger siblings in the house, there are creative ways to keep the experience positive, even after their belief in the physical reality of Father Christmas has been abandoned.
Always remember, as children are figuring out how the world really works, that they are going to look to the people and things around them for evidence.
It might be a good idea to give modest gifts from Santa and save the big ones for parents, because no matter what your family income, every child deserves to feel loved by Santa on Christmas morning.