Keeping Santa’s secret: Children who learn the truth enlisted to help younger kids retain the magic

The medallion of the Society of Seasonal Secret Keepers
The medallion of the Society of Seasonal Secret Keepers The Kansas City Star

It’s the unspoken elephant in every room every holiday season. It passes through adults and older siblings via furtive whispers and knowing looks. The secret of Santa Claus must be guarded at all costs.

When it isn’t, it can be, well, shattering — especially if you think it signals the end of free toys. No names, but a certain young boy handled the news poorly. I … uh … this young boy threw a fit, would not talk to his parents for a week.

Worse, as the oldest of four children, miserable and confused, this young boy had to keep mum, making sure none of my … his sisters found out.

Where was the Society of Seasonal Secret Keepers back then?!?

With just this sort of tragedy in mind, Emily Parnell of Overland Park, author, web designer and mother of two, founded an organization to help guide children — rudely jolted with by what may be the first step toward adulthood — into becoming Secret Keepers.

Her son, Cooper, age 10, was the inspiration.

“Cooper asked me about Santa’s secret just after Halloween of 2013. It was a rough couple of months after that. He was angry and upset. I wanted to give him something to help with the transition,” she said.

Parnell went online to find something that might help Cooper with his newfound knowledge. Disappointed, she set to work on creating her own, and the Society of Seasonal Secret Keepers was born.

Parnell’s first concern was inclusiveness, so she brought in different perspectives: “It was important for me to make it work for a lot of different family situations.”

Friends Susan Lustig and Janie Rainn both contributed and helped edit the materials that would be used on a website and in books. Her husband, Thad, aided with design. Her mother, retired counselor Linda Brown, advised.

The project moved into high gear this September, when Parnell set up a Kickstarter campaign, covering initial production costs. The first 50 books going to society members arrived from the printer last week, just in time for the holiday.

Parnell, however, does not see the project as exclusively seasonal. “The conversation about the secret can happen anytime, so I wanted to have the materials available year-round.”

The $27.99 kit, called a field guide, includes an 84-page book, a special medallion — You get a special medallion? A certain young boy could have been totally into that! — and a secret society complete with special missions sent from an official mentor, via letters in the mail.

“The letters provide a physical object for the kids to go along with emails and the secret missions, with ongoing support for new Secret Keepers for about a year. And the whole kit comes in a tote bag, for hiding the materials away from those who don’t yet know Santa’s secret,” Parnell said.

“We would like to really provide ongoing support for these kids. I’d like for them to have their roles as Secret Keepers reinforced, so they understand how important their new job is.”

Parnell hopes her project can help make learning Santa’s secret easier for children ages 5 to 13.

“Our overall message is one of growing up and responsibility, using your knowledge of Santa’s secret to help Santa and help others. It’s a very important secret to keep.”

More information about the Society of Seasonal Secret Keepers can be found at the website

Derek Cowsert is an intern with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program. He can be reached at