When you’re a kid, the idea of a jolly man with a white beard in a red suit coming down your chimney after landing on your roof in a sleigh pulled by reindeer is a magical, wonderful thought.
But as you start to get older, something about the whole situation seems a bit fishy. How does Santa visit all the children who celebrate Christmas in the world in one night? Do reindeer even have wings to fly? How does Santa know the presents I want?
While there are answers parents will come up with—“Honey, Santa works at the North Pole with magical elves who can channel your brains to determine that you want an iPad—but there’s a time in everyone’s life where they come to realize Santa isn’t real.
Sorry to break the news to you, if you’re above eight years old reading this.
That’s right—eight is the age when majority of kids stop believing in Santa Claus.
A 1978 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry studied children’s beliefs in fictional characters—from Santa to the Easter Bunny—and found that four was the age that kids believed in Santa the most—with 85 percent of kids this age all about the guy. That’s probably because this is an age most children can comprehend things and understand what’s going on, but not quite logical just yet.
When kids were six years old, the number drops to 65 percent if kids still believing in Santa. Maybe a few bullies in kindergarten are responsible for this number dropping at age six, but at this point the majority still believe.
But when the kids hit eight years old, the number drops significantly to only 25 percent of kids believe in Santa.
In a more current study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Cognition and Development, 83 percent of 5-year-olds believed that Santa Claus was real.
“We have found in more recent studies that that number of 85 percent sounds about right,” said Thalia Goldstein, assistant professor of applied developmental psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
“Children’s belief in Santa starts when they’re between 3 and 4 years old. It’s very strong when they’re between about 4 and 8,” she said. “Then, at 8 years old is when we start to see the drop-off in belief, when children start to understand the reality of Santa Claus.”
These studies only looked at American children, but interestingly, the number is similar for European children.
According to a study published in the European Early Childhood Education Research Association in Finland in 1999, 92.5 percent of parents thought “Father Christmas,”—what they call him there—was real for their children up to the age of eight.
“It’s not a coincidence that children stop believing in Santa during the early elementary school years, because that’s a time when they are developing more sophisticated notions of what is possible and what is not,” said Andrew Shtulman, a cognitive developmental psychologist and associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
When did you or your kids stop believing in Santa Claus? Was it around age eight?