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'I Cried All Winter': People Share the Moment They Realized Santa Wasn't Real

From sadistic elementary school teachers to parents who are just bad at lying, learning the cold, hard truth about Santa is traumatizing—even, or especially, if you're 14 years old at the time.

Sophie Saint Thomas

Sophie Saint Thomas

Photo by Rob and Julia Campbell via Stocksy

While a few chumps might have just learned Kris Kringle doesn't exist from a Broadly headline, many of us discovered our parents' deception as children, through other traumatic ways. For some, it was the fault of a cruel school teacher, or because we sized up a chimney and realized there was no way a fat guy could squeeze through there. For others, the cold, hard truth came at the hands of well-meaning parents who couldn't come up with plausible explanations for suspicious occurrences fast enough.

However it happened, there was no turning back—the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny didn't stand a chance. We asked people to dredge up their most tearful memories of Christmas innocence lost.

Read more: Why Kids Are Unreasonably Terrified of Santa Claus

"Damn, girl—finally"

I was in 8th grade and still blissfully in awe of Santa and his Christmas magic. All my other friends had stopped believing years ago, but 14-year-old me still clung to the holiday nostalgia and was the only one left in 8th grade that still wholeheartedly believed in Santa. I officially found out when I went under the tree that Christmas morning and all the "from Santa" gifts were addressed in my dad's super-distinctive medical handwriting. You can't mistake it anywhere. As I read the tags, the dread set in: It was them the whole time. They stopped disguising it to send me the message that they were Santa. All my friends were like, "Damn girl, finally," and I cried all winter. Madeline

A suspicious smokestack

I learned very young; I was about five or six. My dad brought me up to the roof to hang out with him while he patched leaks, and I saw the chimney, which was only about 6 inches in diameter. The conversation went something like this:

Anton: Dad, is that the chimney?
Dad: Yes
A: It's so small. How does Santa fit down it?
D: Um...
A: Daddy? How?
D: Alright, Anton, I'm not going to lie to you. Santa isn't real. But that's a secret. Don't tell your mother or brother!

I didn't tell my mom or brother, but I had to tell everyone at school. It created quite a controversy. The principal ended up calling my mom to tell her what I had done and how horrified all the other parents were. When my mom confronted me about it, I tried to play it off like I had just figured it out, but she didn't buy it and suspected dad right away. She confronted him about it, and he got angry at me even though I never spilled the beans.Anton

It suddenly occurred to me that I had no way of independently verifying the existence of God.

The year of realizing things

I was seven or eight (I remember this because my mother was watching a news report about Princess Diana's death at the time of this story), and my parents were in the middle of an emotional, years-long divorce. All of this must have been on my little mind, I guess, because I was lying awake in bed one night and it suddenly occurred to me that I had no way of independently verifying the existence of God—something that had generally been taken as a given in my house. This was a pretty distressing thought to have for the first time, so naturally, I ran into my mother's room and asked her if there really was a God. At first, of course, she told me yes, but when I pressed her, she admitted that she wasn't sure. I went back to bed fairly shaken, and when I awoke the next morning, newly an atheist, I sat down to breakfast and asked her, "So, I guess Santa isn't real either, then?" I figured out the Tooth Fairy pretty quickly after that. Paige

Enriching horror

When I was in 4th grade, I was in a class called "Enrichments," which I guess was supposed to be for the gifted kids. We had a very forthright teacher who had no time for bullshit, and she expected the same of us, as kids special enough for Enrichments class. I still believed in Santa at the time, and so did many of my classmates. Near Christmas of that year, the teacher began the class by stating: "I'm glad to be teaching kids who I assume all understand that there's no such thing as Santa Claus." My mouth just dropped in horror. One of my friends started crying. On the way home from school, I asked my mom, who admitted there was no such thing as an actual Santa, but that he represented "the Christmas spirit, which is about appreciating those you love." Despite my horrible way of learning the truth, I thought that was a very nice explanation. –Sophie

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A slippery slope

When I was six, my dad told my older brothers that once I, the youngest brother, didn't believe in Santa anymore, the family would go on a ski trip to Vermont for Christmas. My brothers immediately proceeded to walk straight to my room, break the news absent any empathy, and then go to Burlington Coat Factory to pick out their gear while I stayed home and cried. I don't think dad thought that one through. Mike

"Santa must have left your gifts in the garage!"

My parents were pretty disorganized, and when I was in second or third grade, they forgot to get my brother and me presents in time for Christmas. I guess there was a miscommunication about which one of them would be buying stuff, or they thought they could wake up before us and figure something out. But as kids typically do, we woke up super early on Christmas morning, only to find an empty living room. My mom cheerfully made up some story about how Santa must have left our gifts in the garage, and my dad would go get them. I'm not sure where he went, but he got some random things from somewhere and wrapped them in the garage while my mom distracted us. I remember getting a weird book and possibly some birthday candles. Actually, he might have just looked for stuff that was already lying around the garage. The whole incident was more confusing than upsetting, but they don't really like to talk about that particular Christmas. Emily