Santa Spoiler Alerts!

What not to watch or read if you want to keep the Santa story alive. By Betsy Bozdech
Topics: Early Childhood
Santa Spoiler Alerts!

Once, during the middle of a long drive, my then-preschooler hit me with an unexpected question: "Mommy, is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer real?" I tried skirting the issue -- "Well, honey, he lives with Santa at the North Pole" -- to no avail: "But is he REAL?" She wasn't taking anything less than full commitment. I don't like the idea of not telling her the truth, but in the heat of the moment, sweating bullets, I caved: "Yes! Yes, he's real!"

Now, with the holidays on the horizon, I'm hoping to avoid anything that might spark her next round of grilling.

For families who opt in on the full Santa story -- North Pole, elves, magic sleigh, hauling loot down chimneys (or through radiators) -- protecting a child's belief in Christmas magic can be a tricky thing to negotiate. Save yourself a little angst by keeping these books and movies out of your holiday media rotation until you're ready to have The Talk about Jolly Old Saint Nick.


MOVIES

Even movies that wholeheartedly embrace the existence of Santa can get kids thinking (and asking questions) if some characters are doubters.

  • "A Very Goofy Christmas," age 3+. This short, which is included in the compilation Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, is all about Goofy trying to convince his skeptical son, Max, that Santa is real ... without a resolution that's particularly convincing.
  • Yes, Virginia, age 4+. A young girl's belief in Santa is ridiculed in this animated tale. But it's ultimately sweet and heartwarming, if kids aren't distracted by Virginia's doubts.
  • The Santa Clause, age 5+. The movie begins with Santa taking a fatal fall (Santa dies! Ack!) off the main character's roof -- which leads to him inheriting the red suit and all that comes with it. It's a clever, fun idea, but many characters talk about Santa not being real.
  • Miracle on 34th Street, age 6+. The little girl at the heart of the story, Susan (Natalie Wood), at first doesn't believe in Santa -- which could lead to questions from kids -- but ultimately she's proven wrong and becomes a stout believer in St. Nick.
  • The Polar Express, age 6+. Though in the end this a beautiful affirmation of the true meaning of the holiday, some kids may wonder why the main character, a little boy, is doubting Santa's existence on Christmas Eve.
  • Elf, age 7+. No one has more Christmas spirit than Will Ferrell's Buddy the Elf, but that doesn't mean that other characters don't shake their head and roll their eyes at the notion of Santa. And kids talk about the possibility of parents being the ones behind the presents.
  • Rise of the Guardians, age 7+. This Santa isn't your typical jolly old elf. He's tough, he's tattooed, and he wields swords like a pro. Guardians is a gorgeous adventure, but its departure from tradition could get kids wondering.
  • Ernest Saves Christmas, age 8+. The storyline centers on an aging Santa (who's not dressed in the traditional red, so as to blend in) seeking out his replacement for the job, so it could raise questions about the St. Nick legend.
  • Gremlins, age 10+. This movie isn't intended for kids young enough to really want to believe in Santa, but just in case: Phoebe Cates' character gives a memorable speech about how she found out that Santa wasn't real.

BOOKS

Some kids might not be ready to read that Santa Claus isn't real -- or be confused by Santa origin stories that vary from the traditional.

  • Little Santa, age 3+. This cute picture book imagines Santa's beginnings as a cheery little boy whose family is sick of the snowy North Pole and decides to move to Florida. It's creative, but it completely abandons the saintly, magical St. Nicholas origin story.
  • Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King: The Guardians, Book 1, age 7+. This illustrated chapter book (which is the first book in the series that inspired Rise of the Guardians, mentioned above) invents a heroic origin story for Santa Claus that's totally nontraditional. A young man named Nicholas St. North is a thief and a scoundrel who becomes a hero when the town of Santoff Claussen is threatened by the Nightmare King. ​
  • Superfudge, age 8+. In Chapter 10 of this third installment of the smart, funny Fudge series, older brother Peter tells his mom, "I don't think it's a good idea" to let little brother Fudge "go on believing in Santa." Mom responds that "sooner or later he'll have to learn that Santa is just an idea." 
  • Santa, Are You for Real?, age 9+. A dad tells his questioning son the origin of the real St. Nicholas and the tradition of giving Christmas presents inspired by him. This picture book is for those who are ready to learn the truth -- and definitely not for those who are hanging on to the myth a little longer.
  • The True Meaning of Smekday, age 9+. Early in this story about a girl whose mom is abducted by invaded aliens (which inspired the movie Home), the narrator, Gratuity Tucci, makes a reference to her mom filling Gratuity's Christmas stocking, which could burst any Santa bubbles tweens are holding on to.

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About Betsy Bozdech

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Betsy's experiences working in online parenting and entertainment content were the perfect preparation for her role as Common Sense's executive editor of ratings and reviews. After earning bachelor's and master's... Read more

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Comments (35)

Parent written by Charlenawt

Add Santa Claws to the list. When the mother goes on a rant about how Christmas is a marketing gimmick orchestrated by the stores and wouldn't allow her son to have a Christmas tree in his room, I just told my son that I didn't like the way the mom was acting and that we would have to watch something else.
Kid, 10 years old

there are kids who believe in santa and can see this article, y'know. not that i believe in people who only eat cookies and milk while riding in a sleigh powered by reindeer, one with a red nose. :P
Kid, 11 years old

I never really believed, however if your kids really do believe, don't ruin it for them, if they have doubt, tell the truth.
Teen, 15 years old written by sillysasha123

I agree with a lot of this article! I'm not sure however, if characters merly having a doubt about Santa being real would raise red flags, especially if the character begins believing by the end of the story. I suppose it depends on the kid though... :)
Teen, 14 years old written by BandFanGirl

I found out Santa wasn't real because I was (and still am, haha) a ninja when it comes to finding out what my presents were. At the age of 9 or 10 I would sneak into my moms wallet when she wasn't around and find receipts from where she had bought some Christmas presents. When I saw some of the same things under the tree with a 'from Santa' tag, I put the pieces together. It didn't traumatize me or shock me. I don't know why some parents act like their children will be emotionally scarred for life when they find out Santa isn't real. To be honest, I wasn't even disappointed, really. I know that not every kid will have this reaction, and some of them probably would be disappointed, but it won't scar them for life.
Parent of a 3 and 5 year old written by ionFreeman

Santa is a huge lever to use on kids' behavior as Christmas approaches. We have one fewer discipline trick when they stop believing
Parent of a 8 year old written by troymiller319

What is wrong with you people? The movies on that list sans Gremlins are all great stories about Santa. There is nothing wrong with believing in Santa Claus. It gives so many opportunities for great memories with your kids and teaching them great values of giving and being selfless. You people and your strict bubble parenting kill me sometimes.
Parent of a 7 and 11 year old written by lizard0618

A good idea is to never tell your kids about Santa and never have them think he is real. Though tell them a little about him and make them not tell kids at school he is fake.
Parent of a 7 and 11 year old written by lizard0618

A good idea is to never tell your kids about Santa and never have them think he is real. Though tell them a little about him and make them not tell kids at school he is fake.
Teen, 17 years old written by Tech_8ight

This article is like religion. If kids question the existence of Santa, we tell them that he's real and whoever says otherwise is naughty. Also, anything that deviates from the traditional image of Santa must not be accessible to our kids. If kids question the existence of God, we tell them that he's real and whoever says otherwise is lost. Also, anything that deviates from the traditional image of God must be banned from the public. Santa is an outdated tradition and so is God.
Adult written by Big-Brother

It's about avoiding movies that make kids question the existence of Santa, not telling parents kids should not think you them self.
Adult written by marybethc1

I would add Petes Christmas to this list. It's cute but Santa "forgets" Pete and they make a big deal out of his parents scrambling for an explantation. This repeats as he has to repeat his day. We watched it tonight and am really hoping our 5 and 7 year olds dony start asking questions.
Parent of a 11 and 13 year old written by Babsyoung

I like Amalthea's comment. My husband and I felt the same way about having to eventually tell our kids about Santa. So, we never told them he is real and we remind our kids not to spoil it for others. (I think they have leaked it out a couple of times.) I like the concept of Santa, just not the dance we have to do to keep the story going. I want my kids to trust me when I teach them about Jesus, and this seems to contradict that trust. Some kids take it very hard when the find out the truth, I would rather not do that to them.
Adult written by 23sdkjfhs

Please add "Ernest Saves Christmas" and "Miracle on 34th Street" to the list for having characters who doubt.
Teen, 14 years old written by bakeranimator

This was an excellent guide! Good call on including Superfudge; I was a big fan of Judy Blume's "Fudge" series growing up, and I literally read Superfudge a month or two after I discovered "the truth" let's call it. If I had chosen to read that book any sooner... it wouldn't have been pretty! Would it be possible for you to create an "Easter Bunny Spoiler and "Tooth Fairy Spoiler?" I see disbelief in those figures pop up everywhere in media whether it be the main focus of the plot, or come completely out of nowhere (I'm looking at you We Bought a Zoo.)
Parent of a 7 year old written by LtTawnyMadison

When my daughter was 6 and she lost her first tooth, the next morning she asked me if the tooth fairy was real. I said, "What do you think?" which is what I've been doing since she was 4 and first started asking about various magical entities being real or not. (My husband and I agreed that we would not lie to her about these things.) Usually she says that she thinks they are real, but this time she said, "I think parents put the money under the pillow." I am not sure why the tooth fairy didn't survive her scrutiny but she's now 7 and this is probably her last Christmas with a "real" Santa. She started asking about him a while back because she "knows magic isn't real" -- where she got that from I don't know; she's just VERRY practical -- and the reindeer use magic. Incidentally science is her favorite subject in school! LOL!
Parent written by ray_scanten82

Great. Let's start hating santa claus and any other characters and dismiss everything related to christmas for our own and for our kids. Let's convert to radical atheism and will impose our kids that any religion, even if it's something like Buddhism or Confucianism that doesn't have any personified deities, is a lie anyways. Let's treat people who believe at least one thing as suckers, who can't handle the facts of reality. Let's see anything fictional as being lame and stupid, and accept only things that are extant in a material form. Let's accept and get over facts of reality that can't be changed, the persistent information that is not being updated and can't be updated. Let's not celebrate any holidays since they are not realistic and let's abide the daily routine, which is more important to exist. Let's stop believing in our dreams and start working harder and harder to get a still very low chance of making them come true. Let's accept everything sad as true. What is the reward? What is the benefit? Which success this can lead to? What good is in this system? Please explain it to me.
Parent written by Donat

I wholeheartedly agree with you. The children should be raised by us knowing that they will believe in magic. And they should not be shielded from the fact that they will be faced with the truth sooner or later. My policy is to usually answer any doubting question by "what is your opinion on the matter?", because we cannot impose our view of the world to them. We can only ensure they open their eyes and see it as it is.
Teen, 17 years old written by 1raptor

My bro and I never really believed in Santa, but a friend of mine was crushed when he learned the truth in third grade. Just tell your kids he was real, but the whole idea of him being magic isn't. Also, tell them not to hurt other kid's beleifs
Parent written by ray_scanten82

Actually, Santa Claus was inspired by two personas: one real and one mythical. The real one was St Nicholas (in fact, I was baptized as Nicholas), who is still an idol to me. He was all about charity (Santa selflessly gives presents). The mythical one was Odin, a Norse mythology's supreme god. He knew all sagas (legends) and runes (languages), also he was appearing to people in different appearances (Santa knows everyone who is either naughty or nice, and every person can appear to another one as Santa). The actual truth about any characters (including Santa Claus) lies in a difference between physical and virtual reality. Santa, like any character (including movie/game/book/comic/cartoon characters), is more about being virtual than being not real. If something is not real, then if you tell someone about that thing, nobody would even have been knowing about it (hence, you just came up with that thing!). Anything that just gets born in the minds of people, automatically becomes real - but part of a virtual than physical reality. Characters get presented as "real" by using various aids, including holograms, robots and performers. Maybe old school parents were not used to virtual reality, so they just think in the field of physical reality, knowingly stating what is and what is not extant there. Modern people, which are more used to seeing stuff on screens, animation, video gaming, AR/VR goggles, should always know about virtual reality and that it is being reflected exactly in physical world. The "magic" you are talking about is the actual influence of a virtual reality - the Christmas spirit - on us. Various philosophers were knowing about influence of surroundings on us, and Feng Shui is all about controlling the influence of what surrounds us, and making the world around us more pleasant.
Teen, 14 years old written by Jesse W

PLEASE DO NOT LIE ABOUT SANTA. If you your children lied to you, would you want to trust them? Why should your children trust a liar? What good comes from lying anyways?
Parent written by Donat

Lies are part of everyday human relationship. Children use lies because they saw adults doing it to them and see that it can be used effectively. About the issue of magical beings, however, it is much better to return the question to them and ask what they think the truth is. That way, you do not impose your views on them.
Parent written by ray_scanten82

While trusting that wise man, I think for kids is rather better to already start being santa on themselves, instead of relying on existance of that santa outside themselves.
Adult written by hbandrsn

A wise man once told me "First you believe in Santa; then you don't believe in Santa; then you ARE Santa." Santa is the spirit of selfless giving, so he is real, living within each of us who believe in that value. When I tell my children I know Santa is real, I also offer to tell them how I know this, that you can never un-know a truth once heard, and that it may not be exactly what they expect but it's wonderful. So far neither has asked to be in on the secret but my son probably will soon, and because I have brought him up as I have when I do explain how Santa is real he will know I have not lied to him.
Parent of a 7, 9, and 13 year old written by May Lillian

Another book for the list is Adam Rex's "The True Meaning of Smekday." Early on, the main character explains her mom was abducted by aliens while filling a stocking. Last I checked, this site suggests age 9 and up for that book, but age 9 could be a little early for some families. I have seen movie trailers that seem loosely based on the book and I'm looking forward to it, but I hope this scene is not in it!
Parent of a 5, 7, 9, 13, and 15 year old written by alohabonita

I am so on board with you!!! I hate movies that leave doubts about it all, and cause me to have to deal with those uncomfortable questions! Questions that may cause them to have their hearts hurt-- like my Mom when she was 4. Her Mom said, "Donna Lee, there's no such thing as S......." To her dying day she remembered feeling a certain heartbreak, and never did much care for encouraging the Santa thing. BUT--you forgot one--- Santa Buddies. I won't let my little children watch it. And, in order for my older young children to watch, I first gave them a private quiz to see of they were old enough!! haha...They thought I was crazy. It went something like this. Can you tell me everything you know about Santa? How do you feel about him? Essentially I needed them to confess on their own, and not with me prodding them, that they knew "who Santa is." Then to soften any remaining blow that I had somehow inadvertently destroyed their faith in me, because of [what I call] "the big lie" I speak to them about the tradition of the original man, Saint Nicholas, who began this tradition. So, in truth, there was a Santa Claus, but now we parents carry on the tradition of his amazing legacy of love. I am also quick to point out that (for us, at least) Christmas is a time to celebrate the ultimate gift-- The gift Jesus Christ gave to save the whole world. We merely give gifts to symbolize the ultimate gift, and to show our love for others... Yep, that's how I handle it. I wish I'd never joined the "santa" bandwagon, but at the same time, I wouldn't have wanted my children to be the ones dashing the hopes of other children, by them having announced, "Nuh-huh..it's just your Mom(Dad)!" Thanks again for the article.
written by Amalthea

My parents kept the Santa thing going on with me for much longer than they should have. Granted, I was a child during the '60s and '70s, so there wasn't as much worry about "Santa spoilers", and I always seemed much younger than I was, so it was easy. Anyway, I found out in school, to make a long story short, through public humiliation. Now, my husband and I have 2 daughters, and we agreed to just not make Santa an issue. We didn't play it up, but we didn't bring it up, either. We celebrate Christmas exactly as you describe it. The girls love singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. When they got to be school age, we explained to them that some kids believe that Santa is real, and impressed upon them not to "spoiler" it for them...and, now at ages 12 and 9-1/2, they never have.
Teen, 14 years old written by Jesse W

Do not hurt your kids about Santa. Tell them the truth. It will be hard at first but the result is rewarding.

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