Goodbye Kids, Hello Holiday Helper


NOTE BEFORE READING | This post includes holiday spoilers for kids. 

A couple weeks ago (before Easter) Chris had "the talk" with Simon about some of the ways of the world related to the holidays. We had decided together it was time for him to hear it from us vs. from kids at school (whether well or ill intentioned). The talk went really well and I asked Chris if he'd be willing to write up the experience and if I could share it here. My hope is that it might help another parent as they navigate these waters with their kids. Obviously, every kid is different but the approach of becoming a "holiday helper" really seemed to resonate with Simon.

Since before this last holiday season of 2013 (Simon was 11), I have been concerned about how and when we were going to tell Simon the truth about those holiday icons, Santa and the Easter Bunny. You see, Simon has always been a true believer. And that kid has more Holiday spirit than anyone I have ever met. It is difficult to get away with cutting corners during the holidays with Simon. From advent calendars to outside lights on the house, there are certain things that you just do at the holidays....and he truly enjoys every moment and every tradition.

So you can imagine the angst as we had been anticipating how the conversation would go and how he would react. When we discussed it prior to last holiday season, we weren’t sure he was quite ready to make the leap in perspective...from one of innocent believer to one of being “in on the secret”. But it was clear that when he got into an argument with a sixth grade peer about whether Santa was real or not, that it would be time to let him know at least by next Christmas. I think he must be among the very last in his class to still believe. For many kids, it perhaps isn’t a big deal. But to Simon, truth is truth. He has always been a Santa believer and he is getting to the age where it could become another source of division between him and his classmates.

I talked with Tiff about this and she suggested approaching it by emphasizing that we were letting him in on a secret. She also suggested it would be an easier conversation when the holidays were way in the future, such as during the summer. I thought so too. Simon likes being “in the know” when others aren’t. He likes surprises. He loves giving surprises. He is good at keeping those secrets. In short, he is now old enough to join the grownups as a fellow keeper of holiday traditions and spirit.

Ali and I talked about it and agreed that this would be the year.

I decided to lay the groundwork with St. Patrick’s Day. When the kids woke up in the morning on March 17th, for the third year in a row, the Leprechauns had visited us in the night, making their usual mischief by turning over tables and chairs and leaving the house in disarray. What was different this year, was that after dropping Anna off at school, I let Simon in on a secret.

He just grinned when I told him that it had really been me that had turned the furniture over and pretended that it was Leprechauns. He actually thought it was pretty cool...both the trick and that he knew about it.

Fast forward to the week before Easter. I was in the hot tub at our local athletic club with both Anna and Simon. Tiff came to take Anna to the girls’ locker room to get changed so we could go eat dinner. Apparently Tiff had just seen the Easter Bunny walking through the lobby, so she and Anna hurried off to see if they could go see it. Simon wanted to see the Easter Bunny too but I suggested that Simon wait back for a minute while they went ahead. I don’t remember the exact order or wording of the conversation, but this is more or less how it went:

“So Simon, I want to let you in on a secret.”

“Uh, yes?”

“Do you remember Simon how on St. Patrick’s Day I told you that the Leprechauns don’t really exist, and that it was me that turned over all the furniture and pretended that the Leprechauns had visited us in the middle of the night?”

“Um, yeah...”

“Well, that is the same as with the Easter Bunny.”

Pause, pause, pause while I read his face as he is thinking – terrified that this could go very badly.

“Yep, we do that to make a fun holiday tradition for the kids. And all the grownups are in on the secret. And we all play along to make it fun for the kids on Easter. And now Simon, you are old enough to be let in on the secret. Now you are old enough to cross over to the other side and to even help up with the Easter holiday tradition.”

Pause, pause, far so good. No tears. No arguing. He’s clearly thinking. Wow this has to be a lot to absorb for such a strong holiday believer.

Pause, so far so good. If this keeps going this well we might as well rip the entire bandage off. I won’t bring up Santa but this could clearly end up with a discussion about the big guy.

“What do you think about that Simon? What do you think about us letting you in on the secret?”

Finally a grin.

“I think it’s pretty cool.”

And then started the questions.

“Wait, so when does the Easter Bunny hide the eggs?”

“He doesn’t. The Easter Bunny isn’t real. I am the Easter Bunny. Or mom is the Easter Bunny. Or maybe now you can even be the Easter Bunny. Every Easter morning I (or your Mom) set my alarm for really early and I get up and hide the eggs before you and Anna wake up. That’s why you never see the Easter Bunny.”

“Oh. But what about the Easter baskets?”

“That’s also grownups. We buy stuff for your baskets and then put them out early in the morning when we hide the eggs.”

“Oh, I see.”

“It’s a pretty cool tradition isn’t it? All the grownups having the same tradition to make the holidays special fun for the kids.”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

“And Simon, now YOU can be a part of that!”



He’s clearly still processing and thinking.

“Um, what about Santa Clause? Is he real?”

Here we go....Leprechauns, the Easter Bunny.....they’re cute, but hardly the focus for weeks if not months prior.....but Santa....oh man that is where things could go really sideways.

“Well Simon, it’s the same with Santa. Santa is a tradition created by grownups so that all the kids can have fun at Christmas. Just like the Easter Bunny or the Leprechauns. It is a secret that the grownups have to make Christmas magical. And now you are old enough to be let in on that secret also."

At this point he again visibly grins and even chuckles as he puts all the pieces start to fall into place for him. Pause, pause, pause.

“That is how Santa always knows what you want for Christmas. Because Santa is really Mom and me. We keep track of what you are saying you want for Christmas and then we get you and Anna presents from us but we also get you presents that we say are from Santa. And now you are in on the holiday secret.”

Then the grin fades to a brief look of concern as he poses the next question.

“Wait, will I still get presents?”

“Oh yeah Simon, you’ll still get presents from Santa. You will notice that even the grownups still get presents from Santa. We just always wrap those in one kind of wrapping paper that is different so they look like they are all from Santa. But really they are from each other.”

“But what about when we see Santa and tell him what we want for Christmas?”

“Well that is another grownup in a costume pretending to be Santa. You know how this year you were saying that Santa looked different than last year? And remember how Santa in Bend looked different than the Santa here in Eugene? That’s because they are different grownups in costumes. But since either Mom or Dad is always with you when you go see Santa we know what you ask for. Santa Clause is a great tradition that all the grownups around the world are a part of and we do it for kids at Christmas. And now you are old enough to be a part of that tradition. Pretty cool huh?”

“Mom and I talked about it last year, but we weren’t sure that you were ready yet to be let in on the secret. But this year, we think you are old enough to be a part of it and to be able to keep the secret yourself and to even help us. Now you can help and even be the Easter Bunny or Santa yourself! ..........Let’s go get showered up Simon so we can eat dinner.”

Then with a look of excitement he flicked his hand in the air (one of his signature moves) and declared, “Goodbye kids, hello helping holidays!”

And with that he grinned and seemed to stand a little taller as we walked to the boys locker room, where he continued to ask a few more questions about the tradition of Santa Clause... from the other side.

It went as well as I could have hoped. His heart wasn’t broken, and Simon still has the greatest holiday spirit of anyone I know. And now whenever he talks with us grownups about the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause in the presence of Anna, he includes a knowing wink. I love that.

Welcome to the other side Simon.

The image at the top of this post is from my 2011 December Daily® album. See more details here.

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94 thoughts

  1. Anthea says…

    That is so beautiful. I'm going to share with some friends at the same stage.

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Michelle says…

    Awesome post and Chris do an amazing job of navigating separate households every day of the week... clearly equally putting Simon and Anna first and foremost... this collaboration and sensitive and love filled handling of the truth behind the magic shows both your dedication.... congrats to you both xx

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Paula says…

    Such a tender hearted post. Simon is going to make a great holiday helper, no doubt. I had to go to my "treasures" drawer after reading this and pull out a letter to Santa in the North Pole that my sweet girl wrote in 6th grade. She told Santa that she doesn't care if everyone is making fun of her, she will always believe. Talk about tugging at heartstrings. When we broke the news, it was hard, as there are no small children in the family for her to help with. But she gradually came along .... all her gifts are still surprises. After about a year she said "It would actually be kind of creepy to sit on Santa's lap at my age anyway." LOL
    Tooth fairy was just as hard...she would put thank you notes under her pillow with instructions "leave the tooth please." And once when the tooth fairy forgot, she drew her a "get well" picture, for she was certain the tooth fairy must have been sick.
    I think it's as hard on us as them sometimes to have to change some beloved traditions.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. rhonda n says…

    Thank you so much Ali for sharing this story with us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Karen says…

    A wonderful story and explanation for Simon. Fantastic that Chris shared that with us. Thank you. My oldest,my daughter was a true die hard believer and she makes me so happy when it comes to holidays. We went through a similar experience where she had a disagreement with classmates about Santa and they went out of their way to convince her she was wrong, we stepped in after this and had the chat about the magic of holidays and how wonderful it was to feel this way. I discussed how I still love the magic of Christmas and how she knows this from the way I behave around Christmas time.
    We talked about what happens and I to discussed how she can now be our helper when finding out what her little brothers want.
    She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
    She started to make the connections and then asked about the EB and Tooth fairy and anything else she could think of. It broke her heart, and mine to watch her.
    From there we talked lots and when I asked for her help out in the shops to get something for me without the boys seeing or going to pay for something for me without them seeing she loved it. She would come up beside me and whisper what they want or if we were having a conversation about Christmas list she would say what we do, You can add that to your Christmas wishlist and Santa might get it for you, then do the slow wink thing to me or Dad.
    It definitely was a huge step but now at 12 she is very happy being on the surprise side. And I like one of the ladies above still keep the magic alive for her by getting a number of gifts that she has no idea what they are.
    She has now taken lead on decorating the house and the tree and taking out all the very special decorations to hand out one by one to their owner to put on the tree, I love sharing that tradition with her, especially because she is the oldest and my only girl.
    She continues to keep the magic alive for me and her Dad, her, her brothers. She is an awesome girl and will be a believer for the rest of her life.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Georgia says…

    You both are amazing parents. This post made me tear up. Go Simon!

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. cindy b says…

    AWESOME! Great story!

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Fiona says…

    Oh Ali, thank you and thank Chris for sharing this!!! such a wonderful and uplifting story - I'm so glad Simon took it so well and what a reflection of the amazing parents he has. My oldest is turning 7 and I'm already worried that someone at school will ruin it for him sometime soon - and he in turn may ruin the surprise for his little brother. I loved all the suggestions and it's given me an idea for an approach to take - when we feel our oldest is ready to be a "holiday helper."

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Gabi says…

    I too think that this whole story is pretty cool!

    Thank you, Ali (and Chris) for sharing the story with us, we will need to do the explanation to our son soon as well.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Lorna S. says…

    I'm 64 and I still believe in the spirit of each and every holiday. And my mom is 98 in years, yet can get as thrilled as a 5 year old over the special Easter basket centerpiece that was brought to her by the Easter Bunny. There's a wonderful line in the movie "Miracle on 64th Street." Believing is having faith in things you can't see. I remember the first time I heard that and held on to it for many years before I actually understood it. The more people who can share the spirit of a holiday helps keep the magic and joy for children of all ages.

    Well done - all the way around!

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Terri says…

    This post made me cry. I have a son who will be 12 this week. He's growing into a fine young man but it makes me sad he's not a baby anymore. His mean teacher told his whole class Santa wasn't real:(

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  12. Carolyn..,b.. says…

    Hi Ali,
    We went through the same thing 2 years ago..My aspergers son was in grade 6 too and the kids asked does he believe in Easter Bunny he said yes I have seen the footprints (when he was 6). Yes a truth is a truth..I did not want him being teased or made fun of either..We had the "big " talk..I thought it would be really hard but he was fine too.We did it all EB,Santa,Tooth fairy.Did mention at dinner have you told Liv ( little sis ) about Santa..So now its out of the bag..
    We still have just as much fun on all the holidays..I still HAVE to hide the eggs and Christmas we have elf and lots of other traditions..Now I get all the credit not Santa makes it easier..
    I know exactly where you are coming from and we still do not tell anyone outside of our house about what we believe..
    Loved reading your post..

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Linda T. says…

    This is awesome.

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. kate Adderley says…

    What a beautiful post Ali, well done to Chris as well for writing such a wonderful story, and to Simon , who is now one of us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. dawn says…

    LOVE LOVE THIS SO MUCH!! So glad it went well and I know Simon will be a great secret helper!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. J3SS1C4 says…

    I seriously love this! I don't have kids yet, but I remember when I became Mum's holiday helper (I have 2 little sisters), and I still always found Christmas to be magical! I would stay up Christmas Eve and help Mum wrap, and I would have Santa's milk and cookies. Mum always made sure to wrap my presents herself so I didn't see them and still had a surprise. It's so awesome to hear that Simon is so enthusiastic about being your Holiday Helper, and that he gets to help keep the magic alive for Anna :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. krys72599 says…

    I'm 53 and still a believer! What really came across in this post is that you can still believe and know the truth! And that is a wonderful gift - that Simon can still believe in the magic of the holiday(s) even though he's in on that "grown up surprise." I'm going to refer my niece and nephew to your post - their kids are babies still but they all grow up much earlier than we did, so this way they'll be prepared!

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. tiffany h. says…

    Thank you for sharing this family moment with us. You all are great at this parenting gig. Seriously. I was a child of divorce. It was not amicable at all. Although it is what it is. I sometimes wonder what it could have been if their focus was different. More on the kids than on each other. You & Chris are doing a wonderful job navigating co-parenting.

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. C.Robin says…

    What a lovely post, thank you so much for sharing this with us!

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Eileen says…

    My daughter was my son' sage when a friends parent talked about Danta not realizing that she still believed. That was a nightmare and I don't want that to happen to my son, so I have been thinking it might be time to tell him but it breaks my heart!! My 3 kids are all 9ish years apart, so when we told one we always had another one who still believed and kept the holiday magic alive. This time my son is the last one. He won't have anyone to help keep the secret alive for which was hoe I handled it with my other two also. It's so sad, but this post reminded me it's something I should do for him. I like the idea of doing it over the summer, I never knew when I should do it.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Tracy says…

    A big round of applause to you and Chris! I think I am going to try this with my 11 year old, too! He has also always been a big believer (and he is also an ASD child), and I was getting worried about what would be said at school. This helps so much!

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Brooke says…

    I'm happy I wasn't the only one crying while reading this! My eldest is 5 and in his second year of schooling and I've been paranoid ever since he started (because that's how I found out) that 'this' would be his last year. I still believe and had been thinking about going down that path but as you have with Simon there is a time to let them in. I love that you have shown this is a new chapter, not the end of it all (as I'd been dreading!!), and that there is still much fun and magic to be had.

    And thanks for sharing Chris. I take many life messages from reading here and what you and your extended family do and how you live is a huge lesson to everyone no matter your own set up.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Brooke says…

      *their own (set up).

  23. Katie Bolinger says…

    That was a great way to tell him. My son is also 11 and still believes but as an only child there is no helping necessary. Wish me luck in breaking the news to him.

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. christine d says…

    The "secret" part is exactly how I approached that with my kids. The two older ones love to help hide things and even buy gifts at Christmas. They were very excited about that part so knowing the truth was fun and not devastating.

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. Abby P says…

    I absolutely love this story!! The funny thing about being let-in on the secret is that some kids (mine - who are 22 and 18) STILL want the traditions to continue, which we do. NO presents under the tree till Christmas morning (yeah, it sucks staying up SO late to put them out, but it's only once a year...for a good cause)! We still do the advent calendar (items are hilariously suited for my boys' ages). And the first one up, runs and yells, "SANTA'S BEEN HERE! SANTA'S BEEN HERE!" Just being a grown-up doesn't been you have to let go of great traditions!

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