I remember how hard this was for us, when we went through the same thing a few years back (my son was 4). I’m afraid there’s no easy (or perfect) solution, but in my opinion, you’re dealing with two distinct issues, and personally, it helped me to think about them separately.
One issue is that you don’t want to upset people (when your kid spills the beans). That makes a kind of sense, but at the same time, I don’t feel like it’s truly your job to worry about it. Some kids believe in fairies. Some kids believe Star Wars is real. In 2 years, your son and his kindergarten pals will swap and argue these truths. And any kid who really wants to believe in fairies or Santa will do so despite having been told the facts.
Of course, in your current situation, it’s a family matter, and short-term, so I’d handle this particular season differently. I’d probably just hold off on the truth for one more year. Wait it out.
But the second issue here is that you don’t want to disappoint your own kid. It’s hard to see him not get what he wants, but this is training for life. In a few years, he’ll be disappointed by all kinds of things. He won’t make the baseball team, and he won’t get invited to Danny’s birthday party, and he won’t go to Disney on spring break. For me, Santa was the beginning of that process—helping my son come to terms with disappointment. I simply told him Santa didn’t come to his house because he was Jewish. I explained that not everyone gets the same things. And since we were with my non-Jewish in-laws for Christmas that year, he got gifts, just no Santa. Because Jews don’t believe in Santa.
Then, after the holiday was over, when there was less risk of him telling other people, I told him the truth. And swore him to secrecy. To be honest, he loved that—knowing something other kids didn’t, keeping the secret, growing up a little bit, and knowing it.
Laurel Snyder is the author of books like “Bigger than a Bread Box” and “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher” and Project Manager for Atlanta at InterfaithFamily. Find her online at laurelsnyder.com or on Twitter @laurelsnyder.