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Editor’s note: This story includes a frank discussion about Santa Claus. While we at TODAY know that Santa is absolutely real, we would not want to end up on the Naughty List by divulging any sensitive information to younger audiences. So please take care before reading this story.
Charity Hutchinson was stumped. Her 8-year-old nephew Radek, who lives with her family along with his 9-year-old brother, Fedor, came to her recently and told her that he did not believe in Santa Claus anymore. "At the time, I felt sad, because he seemed disappointed telling me his news," Hutchinson told TODAY Parents. "In that moment, I didn't know what to say to him."
Luckily, a few days later, Hutchinson spotted something in a friend's Facebook feed that gave her an idea of how to approach Santa with both her nephews and her own sons, Lucas, 4, and Lennox, 6. The Kelowna, British Columbia, mom said she got goosebumps and tears in her eyes after reading the story, so she posted it to her own Facebook page, explaining, "This is by far the best idea I've seen about telling your kids about Santa."
The approach reveals the truth about Santa to children, but instead of just ending the magic, it replaces it with something even more powerful: it encourages parents to teach their children how to start becoming "Santas" themselves by actively thinking about others and transitioning to the role of givers instead of just receivers. "This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and Christmas spirit," it states.
Hutchinson's Facebook post was shared more than 13,000 times.
Hutchinson grew up without the Santa myth though her husband, Josh, did. They had discussed whether or not to even practice it in their home, and decided this strategy not only makes sense, but also fulfills a need.
"It made me feel like I could happily talk to my kids about Santa and allow them to have all that childhood excitement and wonderment, because Santa and becoming a Santa was going to teach them about the joy of giving and and the true meaning of Christmas," she said.
After reading the story, Hutchinson took her Santa-skeptical nephew aside and tried introducing the concept of "becoming a Santa" to him.
"Something amazing happened!" said Hutchinson. "His eyes lit right up, and that excitement and joy returned to him, and he couldn't stop asking me questions. 'Does everyone know about this? Do my Mom and Dad? Are you a Santa too? Do I go in through their chimney to give them their present? How can I get it to them?'"
Instantly, Hutchinson said, she could see the wheels turning in her nephew's head. "He started planning who his special target would be and what he would get them and how he'd pull it off," she said. "Suddenly, instead of him planning just his Christmas list for us, he was secretly planning his mission now too."
Since telling her nephew, Hutchinson said, "he has honestly been so happy and has had so much extra excitement talking about Christmas knowing he was now officially becoming a 'Santa'."
Because her own children are on the autism spectrum, she and her husband only recently introduced Santa to them. "I haven't had to break the news to them yet — they're still a long way away from that — but [this] story actually made me excited to do it instead of dreading it now," she said.
Child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa said she feels this approach to Santa is "fantastic."
"Teaching children that they are part of a larger community, that they can be magic and bring magic into someone else's life, gives them the best kind of power," she told TODAY Parents. "Be ready for questions, but the bigger point — that kids can still get while becoming a giver — is not only an excellent solution to a tricky question; it has the added gift of being true."
It is working for the Hutchinson family, and Charity Hutchinson hopes it helps others tackle the topic too. "I think the best thing about being a Santa is knowing that you're a part of someone else's happiness," she said.
"I think that what people should take from this amazing story isn't just a way not to break your kids' hearts, but that giving is at the heart of Christmas, and that it also isn't just a one-time-a-year thing. The lesson isn't to just be generous and kind once a year, but to find ways to be a Santa all throughout the year."
Hutchinson said that is a lesson for kids of any age, even if they aren't yet ready to start "becoming Santas." "We should always go out of our way to look for people to help and bless and make smile every day, because that's really what our world needs," she said.
This story was first published on December 8, 2016.