During the holiday season, the question many parents grapple with in terms of their children is the question of Santa Claus—to believe or not to believe. This issue has baffled parents for generations. And it’s not always an easy one to deal with, particularly if you have two parents with opposing views. Some people believe it is equivalent to lying to a child to promote the myth of Santa Claus and that can be traumatic when the truth is actually discovered. Other people see no harm in allowing a child the magic of believing. After all, it’s only for a few short years and most children figure it out at some point anyway.

I remember my own childhood back in the 1960s. My parents had us believing in everything from Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Even by the time I entered grade school, I never thought to question the existence of Santa Claus. I wanted to believe. And so, I steadfastly ignored other children who tried to enlighten me on the subject, and instead, held onto my own convictions. I was shocked therefore when at the age of seven, I was pulled aside by my older sister who matter-of-factly announced there was no Santa. No Santa? How could that be? You may as well have told me the sky had fallen.

I knew my older sister often teased me, as older siblings are inclined to do, so at first, I scoffed at her announcement. A seed of doubt sprouted, however, when she pointed out that the candy we always found in the bottom of our stockings was the exact same kind as in the candy dishes on our living room coffee table. I debated her logic, but I stubbornly insisted Santa had probably run out of candy and had been forced to improvise. My sister then pointed out something even more damning—Santa had delivered exactly what she had asked for last Christmas even though she hadn’t bothered to write a letter to the North Pole. I was convinced our mother must have written in her stead, but again, doubt gnawed at me.

After stewing for several days, I finally resigned myself to the fact my sister was probably right. And so, I passed along the revelation to my little brother. After all, I figured if I had to suffer the bad news, then he had to as well. He was dismayed and wondered if this meant an end to our presents. I must admit, I hadn’t thought of this line of reasoning, so I spent an anxious Christmas that year lying in bed at night willing Santa to be real so I would be assured of receiving my presents. In the end, we did receive our gifts, and I don’t remember ever actually confronting my mother or father; it was simply an unspoken expectation for years that we believed. And so we pretended long after we really knew the truth.

When I had my own children, my husband was emphatic about being straightforward with them so we told our sons the truth from the very beginning, and we freely admitted supplying the presents under the Christmas tree. I remember having to caution our sons that many children did believe in Santa so it would be unkind to tell them otherwise. Each year at Christmas, my older son would roll his eyes with an exasperated sigh when he found out his best friend still believed. He was annoyed it meant yet another year of having to play along.

Admittedly, there were definite benefits to our strategy—at least I didn’t have the awkwardness of attempting to explain how Santa could be at two shopping malls at the same time, or how his weight kept fluctuating as we came across thinner or fatter Santas, or why he apparently didn’t know other languages when he received letters from children around the world. Yes, it was certainly easier, but somehow, I missed that magical element of the holiday season. All of us at some stage in our lives have to have something to believe in, even if it is only for a short time. And when wisdom or cynicism (or both) finally catch up with us, it’s still nostalgic to reminisce about our own innocence.

So, how to handle the age-old question of Santa Claus? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer, but I think if I had the chance to do it over again, I would allow my children to make up their own minds. If they asked me about Santa, I would turn the question over to them—“What do you believe?”

I think we would all be surprised at their answers.

Susan Gnucci is a local author and a proud “nonna” to an adorable three-year-old grandson. She enjoys sharing her experiences as a first-time grandparent.