Pausing To Reflect with Lisa Foster
Dec. 22, 2022

Is Santa Real? With Sara Kostelnik

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Happy Holidays everyone!  

Join me this week as we discuss our kids' age-old question: Is Santa real? 

I invited Sara Kostelnik, mother of two beautiful children and founder of Jade Scott Design, an interior design studio based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s the host of the fabulous podcast Living Elemental where she educates and inspires her listeners on how to curate a life through the lens of their living spaces.  

In this fun conversation, Sara and I discuss practical techniques to address and handle this delicate question with our children. We discuss the fine lines of balancing the reality of truth with the happiness and wonder our curious children possess with the big jolly man in the red suit. 


Jade Scott Design:  

Real Life Momz:

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Happy holidays and welcome to Real Life Momz. I'm your host Lisa Foster, and Real Life Momz is a podcast that’s about connecting moms through real parenting conversations. I believe that moms have so much insight and knowledge, and together we are powerful. On this podcast, we give moms a voice to tell their stories and share their expertise and resources through real conversations. And this week, I invited Sarah Kostelnik, a mother of two beautiful kids, founder of Jade Scott Design, an interior design studio based out in Pittsburgh, and the host of Living Element Podcast, where she educates and inspires others to curate a life through the lens of their living spaces.

And today, we're answering the age-old question Is Santa Real?


Hi Sarah, welcome to Real Life Momz, and happy holidays to you and your family.

Yes, same to you. Thank you, Lisa. I'm so excited to be here and talk about all things Santa.


The topic this time of year, <laugh>,

It's a big topic. I mean, this, this season has a lot of holidays, right? There's Hanukkah and Kwanza and Christmas. But yeah, today we're gonna narrow in the guy on the big red suit Santa, and just how to ask your kid, like if your kid comes to you and says, Hey, Is Santa Real? Because that happens right to everyone who celebrates Christmas. Like how do you handle that? So maybe you could just tell us a little bit about yourself before we really dig into the topic.

Yeah, yeah. So I am married, and I have two children. They are both under 10, so they're about to turn eight and 10. Oh. Um, and so we have one older one who's starting to ask questions. And then we have the younger who we're still, you know, playing the, playing the, uh, oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Just.

Playing the game, I guess You believe? Yeah. If you believe, then it's true. Those were the words that kept coming outta my mouth. If you believe, then it's true. Right?

<Laugh>. Oh my God, that's exactly the conversation how it goes. Yes. Same words. And we celebrate Christmas. We're not, um, uh, we don't really celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas. It's more of just the spirit and the holiday time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> in general, I'm more of a spiritualist. So that's kind of my path that we're gonna, you know, if we're talking in that term, so mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but just the holidays in general and just spending time with each other and what that really means as a family.

I mean, that's really what we're celebrating, uh, in our household.

Awesome. And, and same here. Same here. We're not very religious either. I happen to have grown up Jewish and my husband kind of just celebrated Christmas. I'm not really sure what he grew up with. But, um, once again, we're also very just spiritual and just into the holidays and just happiness and family time really. Okay. So you said your older one is about 10 and he's the one that's starting to ask, is that correct?

Yeah, and I would say he has asked previously. Um, I'd say maybe the last two Christmases. Yeah. Um, but it's always been exactly what you said, like, mom is Santa Real? And my response was always the same. Well, what do you think? Yeah. And, it was always, well, I think he's real. And I'm like, well, if that's your belief, then that must be true because we, I mean, we, that's like our message in everything, right? Yeah. Like what we believe is true. Right? Yeah. So that's always been my response. And this year was a little different.

It was, um, he asked with the preface of, I want the truth. <laugh>. Yes. Very serious <laugh>.

Okay. So it changes because I have to, I have to add you. So my kids are older, right? I have teenagers. Um, so this happened to me a while ago, but there is this feeling of like lying to them. At least for me, there's this feeling of like lying to them when you're saying that and they're kind of really asking, and you're like, well, if you believe it, then it's true. And, and that feels okay to a point when they really are asking. And then it's at a point like, am I just lying <laugh>? You know? Yeah. And yeah. And now I just need to tell them. Yeah. So tell, tell me about that. Yeah, absolutely. Because they're, you know, they're at a maturity level that it's, it's not, you know, physically possible for a chubby guy in a red suit to come down the fireplace when they go to bed, and the fireplace is on, right? It's hot. Like it's just not happening <laugh>. So Yeah. That now you're, you're, you don't want to start having them question their own sanity. Like, no, like what <laugh> the questions you're asking are appropriate. You have the, you know, whereabouts and the, you know, the maturity level to understand that in reality, a lot of these things we tell you are not true.

So you don't wanna, you know, misguide them. So yes, at, at a certain point you are essentially just lying. So <laugh> and I think you can tell when they're ready, you know what I mean? And whether it's, you know, the way he said, you know, in all seriousness, I want the truth. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, I just knew then, and I never really knew what I was going to tell them. Um, I never really prepared for it. I just kind of always knew I would know what to say at that moment.

Okay. So what did you say?

So, um, we were in bed. Our,, one of my favorite times with my kids is Tuck in time. It's like the only time they are fully present with me, you know, otherwise, they've got all these things going on, their social life, their iPad time, whatever, they're friends. So Tuck in time is a special time. And that's when he caught, he did catch me off guard, I will say, cuz I wasn't prepared for that. But he, you know, started with, I want the truth this year because last year, I'm not sure, but I think I heard you and dad shuffling around downstairs and I was like, well, <laugh> and me and my husband lately, I mean, I don't know about you, but like, we can't make it past nine o'clock.

So Christmas Eve is like, it's a long haul <laugh>. Oh no. Right. Trying to get them to bed. <laugh>.

Totally. They have to be asleep, and then you're up late, and if you have to build anything that's like the worst, forget Yeah.

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. Yeah. Forget it. Um, so I just kind of leaned into it, and like I said, I don't, I have picked up things along the way that I've maybe read or heard or, you know, seen a post somewhere about how to tell your kids. And so I've always had these like things in my, you know, that I've ingested that I've never really thought about and put together for myself. So what all I explained to him was, you know, at one point in time there was a man named St. Nick. And again, I don't really know very many saints and what they all mm-hmm.

<Affirmative> were about and what they taught. Um, just cuz I don't have a very strong religious background, but I just shared, there was a man named St. Nick, and he really believed that all children, regardless of, you know, their situation, their family status, their financial status, he believed that every child deserves to feel special.

And even if that's just one day a year, that was his, you know, that was his joy in life, was to bring that joy to a child every single day, or at least one day out of the year. And, um, you know, I think I went on a little bit more with, you know, a little bit more of a storyline to just kind of make it a story. And his first response to me was, thank you for being honest and thank you for not just saying, no, he's not. No, I think he appreciated it. And that's my son. He loves a good story, right?

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he's very curious in that sense. But he was so sweet about just, if you would've told me no, Santa's not real, I think I would've been disappointed. But now that I know, like there's a real story behind it.

Like there's an essence of Santa Claus, he is like, that's pretty cool. You know? And then we went on to, well you can't really, you know, make sure, you know, your sister needs to find out when she's ready. You know, nobody likes to have that spoiled, like I'm sure there are friends at school that are probably starting to say things and you're questioning like, well I still believe, but do I believe, you know, <laugh>? Yeah. So it was important that you know, you gotta let your sister when she's ready to ask, you know, we could share this information because there's this fear that they like get into a sibling argument. And then he's like, well, Santa's not real.

Like I <laugh>. Really that's not the case. You know? Um, because I think that happens a little too frequently. So yeah, I mean it was, it was a really sweet and tender moment and I, like I said, I really kind of flew by the seat of my pants, but you know, that's a story that I picked up along the way that just felt right and it's what he needed to hear. And he appreciated the story, whether it has real truth to it or not, you know? Yeah.

Well, and it's funny you say this because that was kind of the same story I told my daughter. Now, once again, we seem to be very similar. Like I don't have a religious background in this at all. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I must have heard somewhere that St. Nick also is this, you know, really generous person who loved to give gifts to kids. And you know, parents kind of continued that tradition is what I was telling my daughter when she asked. And then the one thing I added that was really important for my daughter was that you know when you know now you get to start giving as well.

So now you get to actually do the gifts for your brother. So for her, so she was like thrilled because we did the elves. Now, do you do those elves, <laugh> in the house that moves around magically.

Actually, unfortunately <laugh>.

Thinking like kill a parent. Oh my god. Those things are like so high maintenance cuz you kind of have to move them every day. And if we don't move them, then they wonder if they look bad.

Yes. Yes. And God bless my husband because, he's the first one up in the morning, so it's been his job. But he, last year we had a few moments where we forgot to move the elf. Oh. But so far this year our elf comes on Thanksgiving, so it's like a whole month of elf-ness, you know,

<Laugh>. Yeah. It's a long,

I don't know. I mean, it's a long one. Um, but he, thankfully he's very, um, good about moving the elf and I don't have to worry about it, but mm-hmm. <affirmative> last year I wasn't so on top of it.

<Laugh>. And, and here's, here's the good thing for parents listening, what I did was I gave the elf to my daughter. So once she knew she was in charge of the elf, oh, it's brilliant, right? Because you don't have to.

Do it.


That's, that is brilliant. Because my son came up, he asked, he was like, can I move, can I hide our elf, our elf's name is Pete. Yeah. He's like, can I hide Pete? And I was like, um, I kind of questioned it cuz I'm like, I don't, I don't know. I didn't know how involved he should be, but now that you're saying that, it's,

Oh no, it's really brilliant. No, first of all, now he gets to continue the traditions cuz he knows, and you no longer have to wake up at like 4:00 AM to move this elf. Right. <laugh> and I dunno about you, but our elves seem to have grown. We have like Parker is one and then Jingle is the other. They have like a, I think they have a reindeer to everybody's moving <laugh>. It's like, it's.

Like a whole.

Family. Yeah. So.

Yes, I know some families that each child has an elf, and I'm like, oh man, that's a lot. No, we have one family, Elf. That's it. Okay. But I love this idea, of having my son in charge of the elf. Yeah, that's great.

Yes. Yes. So, that is something I think is good. And, I like that she was able to take it over. My son on the other hand now is also older. And he was interesting because he was kind of afraid to ask, you know, like he came into the room after Christmas like, um, I think it was either night of Christmas or the next morning or something, and he was like, so I kinda have a question. Um hmm. Uh, no, forget it. And like would walk out and it was really funny, and I knew the question, but my husband happens to be, I think he is Santa Claus, I'll be honest.

<Laugh>, I think the man is Santa Claus in another lifetime because he was devastated when my daughter was asked and found out he was more hurt by it than she was. She was like, oh, okay.

You know, but he was like, oh my God, she knows, but we have one more kid, so it's okay. And my son, you know, being the last one and my husband was in the room, so I was kind of waiting for him to catch odd and be like, okay, come on, come on, you could do this. And he didn't. And then finally I had to like break it cuz see everyone was struggling. And I said, do you wanna know if Santa's real? And he is like, yes. And I was like, okay, here's the story, you know? And so we did the whole story again and, but he took it much better.

And then we had to comfort my husband. So I don't know if you have anything to add for husbands that were traumatized. Yeah, we didn't know. All the kids know. Yeah.

That's funny. That's funny. No, it's kind of the opposite. I actually was feeling bad because my son kind of got me alone and I was feeling like, hmm, I hope my husband's not disappointed cuz we had never talked about it. Like, what do we do? Like what's the story? Like, what are we gonna tell them? We never had the conversation about it. And um, so I was like, I hope you're okay with it. Like I told him, you know what I mean? So that was my reaction to him not being there when it happened and was my story.

Okay. And my husband, he's my husband's like anything goes, I mean, he is like the most chill guy on the planet. Like, he's like, yeah, sounds great. You know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, but it's funny, I'm like, I still would like you to have like a conversation with him, but he won't like he won't because he likes to still tease the kids, like Yeah. You know, keep Santa alive. Um, yeah. What do you mean Santa's not real? Like that's kind of his playful part in, in the whole story. So.

Yeah. So that's,

You know, that it was more me probably than him, you know, that he wasn't there and he didn't get to experience it. And I hope that's okay. You know,.

<Laugh>. Yeah. Yeah. So, that's good. At least yours; your husband isn’t traumatized like mine.

Yeah. Yeah. <laugh>.

Now do your kids still believe in some of the others? Like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or any of those? Or is Santa Well the last,.

Yeah, well, they did believe, well they, my daughter still does. Um, but with the question regarding Santa that now everything else is, uh, truth be told, you know, the Easter Bunny, same story, same with the Tooth Fairy. So he gets it now. That's all kind of one in the same story. Um, but we haven't really had like a in-depth conversation about those two, interestingly, I don't think. I think they just are like, they get it now, like yeah, it's your parents, you know? Yeah. So, I don't know. No, there's no, like, I, I hope they don't ask me cuz I don't think I have a story prepared for like the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy <laugh>.

Yeah. I.

Feel like How about you? Have you shared?

Yeah, so it's interesting cuz they learned about the other ones. Um, earlier on, like the Easter Bunny once again, we don't really celebrate that. We were just over at someone's house, and the Easter bunny was putting out the eggs, and my daughter actually saw her Uncle Steve put out the eggs, you know, <laugh>. And she's like, uh, that is not the Easter bunny. You know,

<Laugh>. So,

So that was ruined pretty quick. But it's interesting how they don't, like, even if they found out about one, they don't question others. Like my daughter found out, um, also about the tooth fair. Now granted, she was getting older. I had forgotten I did a bad mom move. I have to say this is gonna go up there. I'm gonna say it out, out loud, but I forgot to put the money under her pillow one day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And she was older. I mean, it had been going on for a while, and my kids lose teeth late in life. So this is like, you know, at the point where you're like, okay, don't you know already, right.

So I forgot I fell asleep, whatever. She's like, huh, the tooth fairy, and looks at me, didn't put money under my pillow. And I look at her, and I'm like, all right, gigs up. I am the tooth fairy <laugh>. And then, wait, I went one step further; it's bad. I'm gonna put it out there. I'm like, I will give you 20 bucks if you don't tell your brother <laugh>, oh,.

You still, cause he was still very young, so he was, you know, he was just losing teeth, right? And so I was like, just don't tell your brother. She was like, 20 bucks. Ok. I'm like, and that's what I did. I was like, here's for all the other teeth that you'll lose. But still, they did not question Santa at all. Like as if like, these other fairies are definitely not real, but Santa is, you know, so it's so interesting how that one seems to linger on, but yeah. So hopefully, hopefully you'll do a better job than I did with the other two.

<Laugh>. No, that's great. And hey, I love that you're honest about it. I mean, I think I've definitely almost, almost forgot. And luckily, I, I think I remember, so I remember, okay, so the first year my daughter lost, she lost her first tooth on Christmas Eve, and it was like a joke that the east or the tooth fairy and Santa would be like running into each other that night, Uhhuh. So that was the first time she lost. And that was two, I think two, two Christmases ago. And then I think the closest I came to forgetting was, um, I did not slip the money.

I think I fell asleep. And luckily when I went in to wake her up in the morning, I remembered and slid it under her pillow and was like, Hey, it's time to get up anything from the tooth fairy, you know? Oh. Like, so I, saved myself very, you know, very swiftly, but.

<Laugh>, I have; I have done that before, too, actually. I, I pretended it fell and I was like, oh no, it's right here under your bed. It must have fallen <laugh>. So yes, those,

And, and the tricky thing is when they move their tooth, you know, when you tuck them in, you know where the tooth is, but then like, they'll move it. Sometimes it's like, oh. And then you're like wiggling your hand. You're like, where's the truth?

<Laugh> can't find the tooth. Once in a while, we left it there. We did leave it there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Cause my daughter wanted to keep it, so she was debating. I was like, well, maybe you could write a note and leave the, ask the tooth fair to keep it there. You know, know. Oh. Which made it easier for us because I, yeah, yeah. I wouldn't have been able to like slip money and find the teeth; I'll be honest. So.

Yeah. That's, that's great, that's a great piece of advice for, for others listening. How do you handle the tooth to just <laugh>? Let's keep the teeth; let's keep them.

Yeah. And actually, they disintegrate. Did you know this? I put it in a box. Looked like later they, they're gone. They're like disintegrated. They did not save. So I don't know. Unless.

It's just hurting. Yeah, I threw them all away.

<Laugh>, <laugh>.

I'm like, where do I put the teeth? That's kinda creepy. I dunno.

So, well they dissolve anyway, so there you go. Did a Good job. Good to know. Yeah, good to know. I'm trying to bring a little bit more meaning to the holidays for my family. So tell me your favorite holiday tradition.

Oh, favorite. Okay. So Christmas Eve is just our time together. It's the four of us. Um, we a few years ago decided we're not doing, you know, all the things running around. So we usually make a really nice meal. Um, my family loves when I make lasagna, well, probably more my husband loves it than my kids. They're still like, you know, they're, they're getting older, so they appreciate food more, but you know, they're still like, oh, lasagna. But it's Mary and my husband's favorite meal.

So I'll usually make a nice lasagna. And we always purchase a family gift every year. Um, and that's something, sometimes it's like the form of a game or some way we can spend time together. Um, so we open a family gift and then I give each of my kids, um, a gift of pajamas and a holiday book. Um, which is getting a little more challenging because the books as they get older, you know, there's not that many that are relatable to them, or at least I haven't found, we'll say that.

I mean the small children's books or the picture books were much easier when they were smaller. But they get a pair of matching Christmas pajamas and a holiday book, and we decide to either play the game that we just opened or we read the books, and then it's Christmas movies and the fireplace. And there's just something so magical, magical about just; I'm sure you, I don't know, you know, the tree mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the lights and the candles and just the coziness. I mean, to me, that is the essence of the holiday and Christmas Eve and morning mm-hmm.

<Affirmative>, um, just that intimate time together. So that is, that is my favorite part of Christmas. Yeah. She's the coziness on Christmas Eve.

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I love that because it is a lot of the hustle and bustle in trying to get together with people, and yeah. Just getting things ready. I love that slowness that you guys created to be with your family. That's amazing. That's amazing. Yeah. So I'm gonna think about that.

About you. What's yours?

One year we actually built a gingerbread house, and as much as that sounds kind of like, you know, not that big of a deal, we made it a theme. So it was, um, the Elf, we love elf the movie. And so we watched Elf, the movie, put the fireplace on, and we got all this like candy and stuff, and we actually made the elf, you know, the guy, and we made all the different things from the movie, and we put it together, and that was our gingerbread house. And it was just fun cuz we were all together watching the movie and trying to create, and everybody's pretty creative in my house.

So it was really fun to try to, you know, make these little snowmen and all this stuff out of like marshmallows and candy and stuff like that. So I think we're gonna, um, bring that back too, cuz that was, that was really.

Fun. I like that.

So you can add it to your cozy pajama night.

Yeah. Yeah. And I like the idea of introducing something maybe new or different each year because I think what we try to do is all the things, right? Yeah. We try to do all the holiday events, we try to do the making cookies, the gingerbread house, and then just maybe picking, like you said, one theme this year. What do, what do we wanna do together this year? And, and that be it and that be enough and that be okay, right. We don't have to do all the things. So I love that message too, of just pick one, pick one or two. Doesn't have to be all of them. Yeah, I love that.

And making things more simple, cuz I like the way you said cozy, making it more simple. Yeah. And just really that family unit to kind of connect. I love that too.

And one thing I think is I wanna mention too is about the gifts themselves. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> one thing we do, and we have always done this, and actually I didn't really do this intentionally, I just kind of just started doing it. But any like high-ticket, an expensive gift my kids have gotten for Christmas has always come from us. My husband and I. It's never come from Santa because I think a lot of times, you know, not every child's situation is, you know, not every kid's gonna get a PlayStation or not every kid's gonna get an iPhone.

And just knowing that, like, well, why didn't Santa get me that? You know? Mm-hmm. I think it's helpful for parents to maybe take some ownership of that a little bit. Like, this is a gift from us, you know, your parent, you know what I mean? I don't know. I feel like that's worth sharing because I think that's an important message for kids, um, and other families, you know? Yeah. So.

Maybe, and I have to say thank you so much because I have to say like, not growing up with Christmas, right. My husband, I kind of let him take the lead because he grew up with it and I just figured he knew how to do it. All our big items, like the gift that the kid always wanted from Santa. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> always from Santa. And I hated that I was resentful of Santa. I was, cause I was giving like underwear, socks, and things they needed that I just was pushing into the Christmas because I was like, they need it anyway.

Let's make it a gift. Right? Yes. And, the bouncy castle outside was from Santa, and I was like, I mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, I gave them underwear. Santa gave them a bounce of Castle. And I just felt so, I, I'm gonna be honest, I'm very honest. I'm gonna, I felt resentful. I felt resentful of Santa.


And when my kids found out about Santa, I was so happy because now those special gifts that I actually really wanted to give, like the cell phone, um, was from us, you know? Yes. And thank you, thank you, thank you. Because of people like myself, if I would've listened to this podcast, I would've turned to my husband and said, that's not what people do. And <laugh>, I didn't have that background, so thank you.

Yeah, sure, sure. Yeah. It felt like an important point to make because, you know, my kids, you know, they're, they're not, we're not in a very wealthy part of town. You know, it's, but we are fortunate enough to be able to buy them those, those top gifts that they want, and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but not everyone in their class is. And so that, that was just top of mind for me. Um, you know, and I just felt the need to share. So.

Great. No, I think it's, uh, an amazing point, and I, I do thank you for that. Well, thank you for talking to me about that, just the holidays and sharing your insights and your story about Santa I hope you and your family have just a happy holiday and enjoy your Christmas Eve with your lasagna alone. Yes. And you with your family <laugh>.

Thank you, Lisa. Same to you. Thank this was; this was fun and such a treat, to be able to talk about Santa a little more openly. So got one more kid to go, and we'll be on our way. So, but regardless, the essence of Santa is real. It's, it's all in the joy and the comfort. So.

Yes. Thank you. Yes. If you believe it is true,

Thank you for listening to this episode. I hope it helps you when your kids ask about is Santa Real or the Tooth Fairy. And I'm wishing you all a happy holiday.

Sara KostelnikProfile Photo

Sara Kostelnik


"Sara is the founder of Jade Scott Design, an interior design studio based out of Pittsburgh, PA. Sara works alongside her clients intentionally to create elemental spaces that support the mind, body, & home utilizing the timeless philosophy of Feng Shui. Sara is also the host of the Living Elemental Podcast, where she educates and inspires others to curate a life through the lens of their living spaces. You can find more at her website at, and on most social channels @jadescottdesign"