Learning the truth can be hard.

Alissa Godwin of Sayreville can remember confronting her mother at age 8 about whether the stories she'd been hearing all her life are real — that a jolly fat man in a red suit travels around the world in one night, using flying reindeer, to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls.

When her mother revealed the answer, Godwin was devastated.

(If you're not sure about this whole Santa thing, you may want to stop reading now. The quotes start to give it away.)

"I remember being really upset the following year because it wasn't as exciting knowing that my mom was the one eating the cookies and buying the presents," Godwin said. "It definitely changed Christmas, but my little brother still believed so we played along for him."

Her brother ended up handling the news even worse. But he was 10 years old at the time, and his mother said it was time to come clean.

"I figured I had to tell him before the kids made fun of him," said Debra Godwin. "He was at the age where he really should know."

Santa and child
Digital Vision, ThinkStock

If you have to be the one to initiate the "Santa talk" with your child, it can be an uncomfortable situation. But, according to Dr. Steven Tobias of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown, most kids by age 8 or 9 have already gotten hints of the truth from peers or older siblings.

"Like a lot things nowadays, it's probably not up to the parents when the kid is going to find out," Tobias said. "You're probably going to be reacting to something the child's already heard."

Tobias noted there are ways to reveal the truth to your children without making it seem like you've been telling a bold-faced lie for years. After all, St. Nick is a symbol of giving and represents the magic of Christmas spirit.

"Talk about the meaning of the holiday; talk about why kids get gifts," he said. "No, Santa Claus isn't a real person, but he can be real in your heart, in our imaginations."

Tobias said these conversations rarely leave a kid "traumatized." It's a sad reality of growing up, and it's one more glimpse of innocence that slips away.