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It’s almost Christmastime,
And by that, I mean that while Christmas is still over two months away, Walmart has had its Christmas decor set up already for a few weeks.
One of the biggest thrills about Christmas for most kids is Santa – taking your picture with him, writing him a letter, making cookies for him to leave out with milk, and awakening Christmas morning to the surprise he brings you.
I grew up with most of those traditions; in fact, I believed in Santa until I was about 10.
Our decision to not include believing in Santa as part of our Christmas holiday comes from two experiences of close friends of mine. Here are their stories in their own words (names have been changed for privacy):
In my family, Christmas is a big deal. All of my aunts and uncles live near my grandparents, and each year we gather at their home on Christmas Eve.
After dinner and the Nativity reenactment, all of the grandchildren head upstairs to the attic. The children are told Santa won’t come until they’re all asleep. Once they turn 18, they can stay awake to help Santa unload the sleigh.
This was my favorite part of Christmas – envisioning my parents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins helping Santa bring in the gifts. Each birthday I was one year closer to getting to actually meet Santa!
When I reached middle school, I would still insist that Santa was real. After all, my family had met him! I got beat up several times about it, so I eventually learned to keep my mouth closed. Everyone assumed that I had stopped believing; no one actually sat down to explain it to me.
Finally, the year arrived. I was 18, and I was going to meet Santa! After my younger cousins went upstairs, we all sat around telling stories and laughing.
I was on the edge of my seat, listening for sleigh bells. After a while, I finally asked, “So, when does Santa get here?”
Everyone laughed, thinking I was joking. In that moment, it all became clear – there was no Santa. My friends had all been right, and I was wrong.
I weakly joined in the laughter, pretending that I was just kidding around. Inside, however, my heart was broken. I cried myself to sleep that night, and Christmas has never been the same since.
When “Chad” first told me this story, he was in tears by the end of it, even though it had happened over 5 years before. It still was a sensitive subject for him that he hadn’t quite reconciled.
I have several boys and a girl. My daughter (“Carol”) is much younger than my boys, so she has always been the baby of the family. We’ve kind of allowed her to be that way, treasuring the magic of everything through her eyes.
One December, when she was about 10 years old, she came to me and said, “Mom, I have a question about Santa.”
With a heavy heart, I began to explain to her the truth about Santa. Her face fell, and her eyes filled up with tears.
At the end of my explanation she asked, “Mom, Santa’s not real? You’ve been lying to me?!”
“I thought that’s what you were going to ask me about!”
“No, Mom! I wanted to ask you where he would live if all the polar ice caps melted!”
She burst into heavy sobs, and ran to her room. I knocked on her door, and she yelled, “You’re lied to me my whole life! How can I ever trust you again?!”
She definitely was not emotionally prepared for Santa to not be real. In jumping the gun, I blindsided her.
While we laugh about it now, I spent several months actively trying to undo the damage and repair her broken faith in me.
After Jill told me what happened, I talked to Carol. She told me then (and has said a few times since) that she wishes her parents had never pretended about Santa with her.
Why We Don’t Do Santa
After hearing both of these experiences of close friends, I’d been hesitant on how to introduce Santa to my children. As I looked at my first child during her first Christmas, I tried to envision explaining to her the truth.
After a while, it became clear that Santa just wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. Here are a few of the reasons:
- My kids (the oldest especially) are very literal. They struggle a lot to know when my husband is being joking or sarcastic with them. They take things literally.
- The idea that we are only good around the holidays and we get rewarded for good behavior with presents replace the need to keep the commandments because God is watching and will reward us with eternal life with Him. It messes up their priorities and reasons for making good choices
- This is also my issue with Elf on the Shelf – in addition to the fact that he’s just creepy! (And way too much effort.)
- The excitement about what we are getting from Santa replaces the anticipation of giving to others.
- Santa gives misplaced gratitude – all of the presents kids receive come from their parents’ hard work. Even when we explain that Santa was the parents all along, that gratitude never gets transferred. I am selfish enough to want a big hug from my kids when I give them the present they’ve secretly been hoping for
What We Do Instead
I want to be clear that this is just my own opinion. I have zero problems with Santa being taught. I just personally didn’t feel comfortable having my kids believe that he is real and a source of presents.
We do, however, still talk about Santa during the holidays!! Here are some of the things we do:
Tell about the real Saint Nicholas
Santa Claus is based on the story of Nicholas, a rich young man whose parents died at an early age. He was raised by a bishop, and he gave away his money to buy toys and food for the poor and needy in his town. He devoted his life to Christ, and became a bishop himself.
He even traveled to the Holy Land to see the place where Christ once was. Along the way, a storm almost sank the boat he was sailing in. He prayed, and the storm stilled. The sailors who were present spread the story of what they saw, which is a big part of why Santa Claus is so well-known throughout the word.
One of our favorite ways to tell our kids about Saint Nicholas is the movie “Nicholas: the Boy Who Became Santa.” It tells the history of Nicholas. We then talk about how Santa is a great example of loving others because he loved Jesus. We love Jesus, too, so we can be Santa to others as well.
Keep up traditions
We still get our pictures with Santa! In fact, two years ago we stood in line for over an hour at Bass Pro Shop to do it.
What we do, however, is talk about how much fun it is to pretend. We imagine what it would be like if there really were a man who was going to come down our chimney to eat the cookies we’re baking.
We write letters to this pretend Santa, telling him what we did to follow Jesus’ example that year. We tell him what we plan to do to follow Nicholas’s example in helping other children who are less fortunate than us.
And yes, we do also have the kids tell him what their favorite things to receive would be that year. How else are we supposed to know what to get them?! 🙂
Don’t ruin others’ beliefs
Even though our kids know that Santa is not real, we tell them that other kids don’t know he’s pretend. We don’t want to ruin their beliefs in something magical.
Instead, we role-play with our kids about what to do if a friend is talking about Santa. We usually say something like, “That’s so fun!” or “I’m excited for you!”
We teach our kids to never, ever tell another kid that Santa is just pretend. That’s their parents’ job, not another kids’ job.
The most wonderful time of the year
Christmas is a magical, wonderful time of the year. Even though we don’t believe in the magic of Santa, we do teach our children to believe in the love of the Savior and His followers, including Saint Nicholas.
By not celebrating Santa as a magical giver of presents, but instead as a devout follower of Christ, we are able to help our children learn to love God even more.
And isn’t that, after all, the entire purpose of Christmas?