Spoiler Alert! If by chance any little kids are about to read this article, please stop and go play — Santa Claus is real … until further notice!

Santa will be making his usual rounds this Saturday night, delivering to children all over the world on Christmas Eve, just in time for kids to wake up on Christmas Day to open all their gifts from Old Saint Nick.

If that were true, and if Santa were really real, that first paragraph would be the story of the century. But don’t tell little children, who mostly believe that their Christmas gifts come from Santa versus mom and dad, Aunt Sally or Grandpa Joe.

It’s a perplexing predicament for parents — do I tell my kids Santa is real, and at what age do I tell them otherwise?

“My son thinks he’s real,” says Oak Park parent Robin Funk about her 6-year-old. “He has no doubt. When he sees him he gives him a hug. It’s not a question at all. He’s all about it.”

But her family is Jewish and doesn’t celebrate the Santa tradition. During Hanukkah, her family gives presents to each other.

But when they visit her in-laws, the Santa tradition is in full swing, thanks to her father-in-law dressing up as the jolly old fella. And Funk’s son doesn’t seem to notice that grandpa isn’t in the room when Santa shows up to hand out gifts. But Funk’s 8-year-old daughter last year noticed.

She still thinks Santa is real, Funk says — he just doesn’t come to their house. This year, though, Funk said her daughter already is planning to pay closer attention to see if grandpa is there when Santa arrives. But the family has that covered — a neighbor is going to dress up this year and drop off presents instead of gramps.

Growing up, Funk also believed in Santa, but she always knew her presents came from her parents, and understood that Santa skipped coming to their house on Christmas Eve.

“I was pretty sure he was real because he was everywhere. You saw him at the mall, but I just knew that he didn’t come to our house,” she said. “I don’t know when I knew he wasn’t real. I just found out on my own.”

Funk said she’s going to let her kids find out on their own, too. Her daughter’s friends at school are already planting seeds.

“She says, ‘Some of them said they don’t believe in Santa.’

“It’s not that they said they don’t think he’s real; they just don’t believe in Santa. I think it’s neat that they believe in this magical thing,” Funk said.

Funk has also decided to let her kids discover on their own the truth about the Tooth Fairy — her daughter recently lost a tooth and found a pleasant surprise under her pillow.

Carrie Summy, who’s not Jewish, also grew up believing in Santa. She recalled seeing Santa with her mom in the kitchen. Looking back, it was very likely her dad dressed up, she says.

“I woke up, came downstairs and saw something. Maybe it was Dad. I was still kind of sleepy and ran upstairs.”

But Summy’s belief in Santa was dashed when kids on the playground started telling her that Santa wasn’t real.

“My mom assured me that Santa was real and that she knew he was. She promised me that she actually saw him,” said Summy, an Oak Park parent of four kids. “You believe whatever your parents say is gold. That was the first time I learned that parents don’t tell the truth.”

Summy said she didn’t want to do that to her kids, so for them, Old Saint Nick is — so far — very real. To keep the appearance up, she and her husband buys gifts for their 1-year-old too.

“It becomes very expensive,” Summy said, who’s not so sure if her inquisitive older daughter isn’t putting one over on her.

“I think she’s pulling me along this year,” Summy said with a laugh. “I think she knows that I know that she knows he’s not real — if that makes any sense.”

Santa who?

The Santa Claus we know today is very different from his varied and worldly origins. In fact, he wasn’t “born” in America.

The history began with Nicholas of Myra (now present-day Turkey). A bishop in the 4th century, he was known as “Nicholas the Wonderworker” because of the miracles associated with him. Nicholas, an early Christian saint, was also known as an anonymous gift-giver to people — thus planting the origins of Old Saint Nick. The real Saint Nicholas became a treasured story for early American settlers, later inspiring folklore and writers of the time.

Another notable European influence is Sinterklaas, a traditional holiday figure from the Netherlands and its neighboring countries — Santa Claus is a transliteration of “Sinterklaas.” The Dutch also brought to America such traditions as wrapping gifts on St. Nicholas’ Eve, which was originally on Dec. 5.

Christkindl (Christ child) was another holiday gift-deliverer, celebrated in such countries as Germany, Switzerland and Austria — Kris Kringle is an Americanized re-spelling of Christkindl. But those “Santas” looked nothing like the person we know today.

That image comes from the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Santa’s rosy red cheeks, beard as white as snow, and big bag of toys derive from that poem. But this Santa was more elf-like — “what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”

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