As I sit down to write this post, I know I am about to step on a lot of parent’s toes. I am anticipating a wave of backlash and to be excluded from holiday playdates. It is sad, but true.
Because Santa is one of the most controversial topics in parenting.
Before having a child, I never dreamed that jolly old Saint Nick was divisive. I didn’t realize there were sides and opinions and parent teacher conferences when someone spills the beans in class.
I thought it was a joke that everyone takes this so seriously. But they do. And I do, too. Now that I have a child, I definitely have an opinion about Santa and his role in our family’s Christmas celebrations. And my opinion on this is not exactly with the crowd.
So if you are set on telling your kids that Santa is real, this post isn’t for you. #sorrynotsorry. It is for parents with young kids who aren’t sure what they are going to do about the guy in the red suit just yet. It is for those who aren’t quite sure how to go about explaining Santa within the context of faith, and maybe to give you a few ideas for what to do instead.
Alright, got your egg nog? Let’s do this!
Why we don’t believe in Santa…
1. Santa is for the parents, not the kids
A big reason that I have heard other parents give me for spinning the Santa-is-real lie is because it makes the kids so excited and telling them it isn’t real takes that away from them. But that is simply not true. Kids get excited for opening presents because they are kids. Whether their loving family members give them the gifts or if it is a mythical figure that makes the delivery makes no difference.
Santa is for the parents. Parents love trying to weasel the wish list from their children. They love to hide the presents and then set up the “big reveal” on Christmas morning and see their kids’ faces. In fact, I know a lot of parents are pretty disappointed when their children figure out the truth.
The parents probably believed in Santa when they were kids. It is a familiar tradition that parents gleefully pass on. The kids wouldn’t know the difference between a Santa or no-Santa Christmas if you tell them the truth from the start.
Parents get the most joy out of doing the Santa thing with their kids.
2. Santa teaches that Christmas is about getting, not giving.
If getting any toy your heart desires is achieved by magic on Christmas Eve, then suddenly the focus of Christmas can easily shift to being all about what you are going to get. In fact, most people encourage it when they ask children what they are asking Santa for Christmas, or they ask after holidays what Santa brought them that year.
It’s all about the gifts. Some parents do a great job reminding their children of the true meaning of the season, but it is a very difficult balance to strike when you plan to hit the Santa line at the mall with your child’s list of demands in hand.
Santa’s whole function is to bring children gifts. He doesn’t remind us to be kind to one other, or to give to the needy, or to spend more time in prayer. He just brings STUFF. Sure the kids put out milk and cookies, but in what world is giving a fictional fat man calories going to teach children the joys of giving and serving their community? It doesn’t. It is just another way for parents to trick the kids that he really was there.
3. Santa is conditional on good behavior…kinda.
Okay, not all parents threaten with Santa. But a lot do. In fact, Santa’s list is checked twice to see who is naughty and nice. Good behavior has always been tied into Santa. And I just think that is a really backward way to discipline.
Many times, when a child is naughty the parents will say that “Santa is watching”— have even heard strangers say that to kids during the holiday season. It is weird, and 99% of the time, Santa comes and gives these kids gifts anyway.
If you make Santa hold to his “naughty and nice” list-checking method, no child will make it all the way to Christmas on the nice list. None of us would. (That’s why we need Jesus.) So as a parent, Santa is an empty threat, used to discipline.
Not following through is generally not a good disciplining method. And ruining your child’s Christmas just to uphold the fantasy of Santa is really mean and could ruin EVERYONE’s Christmas. You pretty much parent yourself into a pickle on this one.
*note* If you want a more modern way to threaten your children with fictional characters so they behave, check out Elf on the Shelf. Plus…It is even MORE fun for parents (see point #1).
4. It is a lie.
This is the biggie. Telling your kids that Santa is real is a lie. It may seem like a white lie to a lot of people, but it really isn’t.
Believing in Santa creates an alternate truth to a young and developing mind. It develops a faith in Santa that is based on the abuse of a child’s natural trust in their own parents and a ridiculous display of faux evidence. I know that sounds so heavy, but that’s because it is.
My husband and I are Christians. We plan to talk to our child about God, a lot. We pray as a family, even though he is too young to understand. And if we tell him Santa is real, then as soon as he learns the truth his next question should be “Is God fake, too?”.
We want our family to tell the truth, to trust one another, and to trust in God. I am not about to gamble that by ruining my credibility with my children over Santa. Even if you aren’t Christian, don’t give your child a reason not to trust you.
Instead of lying about Santa…
Talk about Santa as a symbol of the season.
It is impossible to avoid Santa. We are all going to have to talk about him, but we can tell the truth from the start. I plan to tell my child that Santa is an imaginary character that is very loosely based on St. Nicholas. I want to tell him all about St. Nicolas, but Santa will not come to visit our house.
I want to introduce Santa as a symbol of the Christmas season, just like the Christmas tree. He is a part of the holiday because many parents tell their kids about him. But he isn’t real.
Christmas can still be a very special time of year for children without believing in Santa. We always take a lot of extra time to become involved in church functions, volunteering to help the needy, and donating gifts, toys, food and clothes to various charities.
Make getting involved at Christmas a fun tradition with your kids that replaces the shopping, Santa pictures, and any ‘selfish’ activities. Christmas season is a great time to focus on being as unselfish as possible.
As kids get older, let them choose how they want to help their community this time of year. It could be volunteering, cooking for others, or even caroling. Spread the cheer!
Change the language around gift exchange.
Talk to your kids about why we exchange gifts with those we love on Christmas day. We give them because we love each other, just like God loves us. He gave his son as the ultimate gift for us all, so it is a tradition that we do the same for each other on Christmas (and throughout the year). We will also tell them about the first Christmas presents that the three wise men gave to Jesus as a way to explain gift giving at Christmas in particular.
Banish the idea that Santa gets to all the children of the world in one night to give them gifts. The reality is that many children don’t get Christmas presents. I know this is hard to talk about with very young children, but telling the truth here is an opportunity to encourage a spirit of service, giving, love and gratefulness.
Which brings me to my favorite alternate Christmas tradition:
Instead of hiding all the presents in the attic until “Santa” brings them on Christmas Eve, put out all the presents as you collect them. Sure, this makes a lot of clutter in the living room, but it is a beautiful picture of how much you have to be thankful for as a family.
We are creating a Christmas tradition where for each present under the tree, every member of the family attaches a sticky note or tag with something they are grateful for. Intentionally practicing gratefulness at Christmas will hopefully serve as a powerful reminder to be grateful throughout the year.
I know that my opinion on Santa isn’t the norm. We choose not to tell our child that Santa is real because it is a missed opportunity to create an alternative Christmas filled with giving, gratefulness and honesty. What you choose to do as a family is up to you, because YOU create your own family traditions. If you do so thoughtfully and with love and intention, you can’t go wrong…whether Santa is included or not.