Why I Don’t Want My Kids to Believe in Santa, but Still Do Santa Traditions

Here’s the secret for telling your kids the truth about Santa – there’s a reason why I don’t want my kids to believe in Santa. But you can still do Santa traditions at Christmas without your kids believing that Santa is real.

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.

You may be already preparing for Christmas.  If you are, make sure you don’t miss out on tons of Christmas ideas we have here on the blog!

One of the biggest thrills about Christmas for most kids is Santa – taking your picture with him, writing him a letter, reading books and movies about Santa Claus, making cookies for him to leave out with milk, and awakening Christmas morning to the surprise he brings you.

I grew up with faith in most of those holiday traditions; in fact, I believed in Santa until I was about 10.

Our decision to exclude our kids from believing in Santa as part of our Christmas and holiday season comes from two experiences of close friends of mine.  Here are their stories in their own words (names have been changed for privacy):

Why I Don't Want My Kids to Believe in Santa

“Chad’s” Story About Believing in Santa

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 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.  At 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.

“Jill’s” Story About Believing in Santa

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 I Don’t Want My Kids to Believe in Santa

Why I Don't Want My Kids to Believe in Santa, but Still Do Santa Traditions

After hearing both of these experiences of close friends, I’d been hesitant on how to introduce Santa to my children.  As I looked in wonder at my first child during her first Christmas, I tried to envision explaining to her the truth.

After a while, it became clear that belief in Santa just wasn’t something I felt comfortable with.  I realized most people just didn’t want my kids to believe in Santa!

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, replaces 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 parent’s 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.

Kids Believe in Santa

What We Do Instead

I want to be clear that the reason I don’t want my kids to believe in Santa is just my own opinion.  I have zero problems with Santa being taught.  But I just personally didn’t feel comfortable having my kids really believe in Santa and that he is real and a source of presents.

We do, however, still talk about Santa during Christmastime and 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.

Nicholas 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 world. We want the focus for Christmas to be on the Savior, not on Santa.

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.

Why I Don't Want My Kids to Believe in Santa, but Still Do Santa Traditions

Keep up traditions

We love Christmas traditions, even those that involve Santa. 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 our house and eat the sour cream sugar cookies we’re baking and drink our famous crock pot hot chocolate.

Then 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 around the whole world who are less fortunate than us.

And yes, we do also have the kids tell him what their least favorite holiday things to receive would be that year. How else are we supposed to know what holiday gift to get them?!  🙂

We still pretend that Santa comes down the chimney to fill our stockings! And if you’re looking for ideas on what to put in your least favorite holiday others’ stockings, check out this list of 50+ stocking stuffer ideas that aren’t candy.

When we do give presents, we spread them out so that they don’t overwhelm Christmas day.

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 reality to ruin their beliefs in something magical.

Instead, we role-play with our kids about what to do if a friend or parent is talking about Santa.  We usually say something like, “That’s so fun to watch him!” or “I’m excited to watch him for you!”

We teach our kids to never, ever tell another kid that Santa is just pretend.  That’s their parents’ and adults’ job, not another kid’s job.

The most wonderful time of the year

Christmas is a magical, wonderful, and joy full time of the year. Even though we don’t want our kids to believe in the magic of Santa, we do teach our children to believe in the love of the Savior and His followers, including the tradition of Saint Nicholas.

By not celebrating Santa as a magical giver of presents, but instead as a devout follower of Christ, we hope we adults are able to help our children learn to love God even more.

And isn’t that, after all, the entire purpose of Christmas?

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  1. Thank you for sharing this! My son was very upset when he learned the truth about Santa and has not wanted to have his kids believe when he’s older. I’m going to share your article with him for some ideas on how to achieve this in a good way! <3

    1. WE’re so glad this was helpful!! 🙂 We had a wonderful time this last Christmas with pretending about Santa and talking about giving the way that Nicholas did to show our love for Jesus.

  2. Growing up the in my first 12 years we didn’t really know about “santa” in england. We had father christmas, same concept but much less commercialized and I don’t ever feel as if I missed out. That being said, now living in the us- my in laws may not understand if I don’t bring in santa claus in our family christmas (now being pregnant with my first) but this is a great read while deciding this!

  3. This is actually a more powerful article than you know. I’ve researched and written before about the impact that “little lies” have on kids. These kinds of things seem innocent to us but can actually sow the seeds of distrust and even create minor amounts of trauma. It’s normal in our society to treat kids almost like second-class citizens and lie to them about stuff even for no reason, and even for the sake of cute traditions. But there are real world consequences to this behavior. Great piece!

  4. Honesty is truly the best policy! I was surprised that an 18-year-old still believed in Santa but everyone one processes things differently. Like me, I like how you still take pictures with Santa.

  5. This is a hot button topic at my house. My husband doesn’t want to do Santa and I do. It was good to read the account of people who went through the experience of discovering Santa wasn’t real.

  6. Those are definitely impactful stories. Just like you said, it depends on who your kids are and their personalities. My brother told me when I was five and I don’t ever remember being sad about it or feeling like I was betrayed or lied to because I didn’t even know what lying was. Personally, I think telling kids at a young age 5 or 6 in a way where “THEY” get to BE santa is the way to go because the magic is still there. At that time, they’re not mature enough to feel betrayal. However, my husband has a different opinion. His best childhood memories are from Christmas and involve santa so that is very important to him. Our 10 year old this year just came up to me and asked, “So santa isn’t real right? I just can’t figure out how he would be.” I told him the truth and now he’s super excited to be santa for his 2 year old and 7 year old brothers! And of course, we teach about Jesus’ birth and what that means. Now, when it comes to the other fictional characters like the Easter bunny, we do not act like those guys are real.

  7. I love the idea of writing letters to pretend Santa and telling him about ways you tried to be like Jesus that year!! My little is still a newborn but that’s definitely something I want to consider doing. Thanks for sharing!

  8. This is similar to what I did with my kids. I had a similar traumatic experience when I found out Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t want to lie to my kids. We have always done stockings and talked about Saint Nicolas, but I never made a big deal about it as my parent did.

  9. This is amazing! My husband and I decided to something very similar with our children, but I really like the points that you bring up about not ruining Santa for others and to play pretend. Those are really good ideas and I’m going to adapt them into our household too! Thanks so much for sharing, this is beyond helpful.

  10. Great article! Thanks for posting even though I’m sure it’s controversial. I learned Santa wasn’t real when I was five and I don’t remember being sad, but I know for some, it’s completely devastating to find out. My husband never really had Santa incorporated into Christmas, but knew about Saint Nicholas. For our kids, they know who Santa is, but they know that mom and dad get them their Christmas presents, and we try to instead keep Christmas focused around Christ. We feel like by doing that, we are being honest with them, but that’s just our philosophy. No judgement to those parents who do it differently! Thanks you again for sharing!

  11. We taught our kids that Santa is “fun” and made sure in a subtle way that they knew it was mom and dad filling their stockings. We also made sure they knew they were not allowed to tell any other kids because every family does things differently. We never made a big deal about any of the rest of it, enjoying Santa based activities and taking pictures when it happened, but not going out of our way for it. Believe me, they know mom keeps the naughty and nice list! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  12. This was so helpful. Thank you. I grew up with Santa but my husbands family doesn’t do Santa at all. This seems like a happy medium for both of us ☺️

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