A college girl once told me that her little sister had asked her if Santa was real or not. Being an honest Christian, the college gal didn’t want to lie to her little sister, so she told her that Santa was make-believe and not real. So her little sister followed up with, “So is Jesus real?”
This just illustrates the point that we should not lie to our children thinking that it will make Christmas more fun for them. Christmas is not about Santa. I grew up with Santa and my husband didn’t. I can remember as a little kid looking all around my bedroom for the elves who were watching me and making that list. And I remember asking my parents how come there were so many Santas around town anyway. I don’t remember ever having the “news” broken to me that Santa was make-believe. We simply out-grew it. My parents always made Christmas spectacular, and, in spite of the Santa thing, I always knew about the real Christmas as being Jesus’ birthday.
At Doug’s home, Santa was not welcome at their Christmas celebration. (In fact, he still thinks it’s a stupid story!) When he was a little kid, he and his younger brother were watching a repairman do something at their house. The repairman asked the boys what Santa Claus had brought them for Christmas. “Nothing,” replied his little brother.
“Nothing?!” the shocked repairman asked. He must have been wondering what kind of house he was in.
“Christmas is Jesus’ birthday,” was the matter-of-fact reply, as though this guy must be from another planet. Of course Doug’s parents gave the kids gifts and filled their stockings, but these were never attributed to Santa.
We did a similar thing as our children were growing up. The celebration was about Jesus and His birthday, and we all gave gifts to one another to celebrate. There was never any lying to our children about Santa or elves or Easter bunnies or tooth fairies. We told them plenty of stories, but they knew when it was a story, and when it was real.
The Christmas Story is real, and it’s not been called the Greatest Story On Earth for nothing. The principle is not that we can’t tell our kids wonderful stories. We can even tell them the Santa story or the Father Christmas story if we like, as long as they know what’s real and what’s not real. We should never leave them confused about when we are making up stories and when we are telling them the gospel truth. Gospel stories are full of wonder, and we never have to break the news to our kids that they aren’t true.
26 thoughts on “Santa Who?”
I feel the same way! We don’t push Santa at our house, even though we have plenty of Santa decorations and books. Our only problem comes when our kids want to tell their friends that Santa isn’t real. We want to always tell our children the truth and so that when we talk about Jesus Christ there won’t be any confusion about whether he is real or not.
Thanks so much for this. My parents did not “do” Santa with us (to the point that when a cashier at the grocery store asked me what Santa Claus would be bring me, I asked her if she meant Satan Claus. Oh dear.) 🙂 My husband’s family loved Santa while he was growing up, but thankfully they respect our beliefs that no, we’re not going to tell stories to our kids to make this season more exciting.
My mom tells a story about a certain conversation she overheard from the backseat of the car between me and another little girl on the way to preschool one December. It goes something like this:
Suzanne, giddy with excitement: Sarah, aren’t you excited for Santa to visit?!?!
Me (Sarah): Santa’s DEAD.
My folks told us the story of Saint Nicholas, and explained as we got older how he had been incorporated into Western folklore because of his generosity when he lived, and that that was a sweet tribute to his nature, even though most people didn’t know the story at all. They also told us that other children believed the Santa from the folklore was real, and that we shouldn’t try to tell them otherwise, because it was like a game some families played and we wouldn’t want to ruin it. We got cute little gifts “from Santa” every year as a remembrance of Saint Nicholas, with the tags written in Mom’s handwriting (we also got, and still get, presents from Mommy-claus and Daddy-claus 🙂 ).
I *really* appreciate and recommend that sort of approach. Saint Nicholas was a real person, a godly man, and a brother, and I think it’s good for kids to know his story. Besides, we got in on a little of the Santa fun, though we never went to see Santa, lest we make like the little girl from Miracle on 34th Street and tell the Mall Santa that Mother was going to get us everything we needed, thank you.
I also think it’s an area of Christian freedom, as long as parents don’t actively lie to their children (“pretending” is not lying, IMO — otherwise Mommy and Daddy might be reluctant to join in dress-up or make-believe games because Little Susie isn’t *really* a bride, dontcha know, and Little Johnny and his friends are neither cops NOR robbers!).
Hah. My daughter at age three or so also told someone Santa was dead. Because I had told her about St. Nicholas.
So good! 🙂
We told our kids Santa was character like Micky Mouse and they were fine with that. Then one day at the mall a “Santa” was giving out free candy canes. I told my kids they could go get one and my 3 year old told me that she thought Santa was real. I told her he wasn’t, though I was thinking abstractly and she was in her concrete realm! Years later had a good laugh because she was convinced he was real because he gave her the candy cane!
Oh, thank you for including the tooth fairy in the list.
We also don’t do Santa, but have felt more like social misfits over the tooth fairy than Santa. When our oldest lost his first tooth, suddenly we looked at each other and realized we had to have a tooth fairy opinion. Neither of us felt like telling our 6-year-old that there was a tooth fairy, so we just congratulated him and told him he could keep it if he wanted to. Later he learned other kids got money when they put their teeth under a pillow. He was 7, and he came up and asked what might happen if *he* put *his* tooth under his pillow. “I don’t know,” replied his father. So, he tried it, and my husband left him a trial sized tube of toothpaste with a note that if he would brush his teeth better, maybe they would stop falling out. Thankfully, he took the joke in good humor and I think he was happy to have a good joke to tell when other kids asked him what he got for his teeth. 🙂
When our oldest was a baby we decided to not do Santa (or Easter bunny or tooth fairy) first of all, it was the whole lie to them thing, but he also didn’t want some imaginary guy getting all of the credit for the neat things they got!!! 🙂 I’ll never forget one year, a cashier asked Naomi if we were going to have the Easter bunny on Sunday. Her reply was, “No, we don’t eat rabbits!” The cashier (needless to say) was very confused! 🙂
I grew up with Santa and Jesus, however I was never confused when I figured out Santa wasn’t real- wondering if Jesus was also just a made up story. I knew he was the real deal because I SAW my parents live out their faith in Jesus everyday of the year. Jesus was with us everyday, apart of all of life, every detail. That to me was very distinct from a Santa who visited just once a year and my mom and dad never mentioned the rest of the year. We knew the true meaning of Christmas from an early age too. I don’t find anything wrong with having a little fun with make-believe.
So many funny stories! We don’t do Santa with our kids either. We did teach them about St. Nick though to explain where Santa Claus comes from. My kids love the story. Last year, we were at some Christmas event and some ladies asked my kids what they wanted from Santa. My son laughed and said, “Santa’s not real!” The ladies looked so shocked at his response. He walked over to me laughing, because he thought the grown ups believed in Santa Claus still!
I am so thankful that my Dad was honest with me about Santa when I was little! It made it so easy to believe him with even more important things. When I was growing up, Dad had a fabulous beard and he would paint it white and slip into a Saint Nick get-up, which I thought was hilarious because I knew it was just part of our Christmas fun and nothing to be taken seriously. It just amped up the jolliness of the day to see my Dad sacrificing his dignity for the sake of making his little girl laugh. He would then remind me about how Christ came as the perfect gift with no strings attached. He was a gift for the “naughty” and not just the “nice”.
I remember figuring out Santa (OK, I was ten which is a little old) and telling my mom. She pretended like he was still real, which 1) made me feel guilty for knowing this secret info, and 2) I never trusted her the same way again. Your posts about doing Christmas up big are so helpful…now that I am a parent, I am finding ways to way outdo Santa.
How do you teach your kids to gracefully answer the tooth fairy question? We give the kids a gift for loosing a tooth, but tell them that the tooth fairy is not real.
Thank you so much for the posts and comments too! They have really helped me to start thinking about how to do Santa (and now the tooth fairy too-we’re northern Irish so the easter bunny doesn’t come into it!) It’s really helpful to see how other Christians have done things and to hear how different everyone’s views are and I think the reminder to make sure that Jesus is the biggest present of all is key!
As a child we were brought up in a churchgoing family but Santa was done as he was amongst all our neighbours and friends. I can’t really remember when I found out about Santa-it certainly didn’t shock me as much as finding out that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were brother and sister-that was a BIG deal!!!!However I vividly remember for my brother’s 5th birthday party (he was born in December) my parents took him and his friends to see Santa Claus the movies where some girls sitting behind told all the wee boys about Santa so all the children went home in tears-we were not the most popular family for a while after that one!
On a practical note regarding the tooth fairy (or whatever you do) my mother as a dental nurse used to insist we put the tooth in a glass of milk by our beds to keep the tooth healthy for the fairy to use. In the morning the glass would be empty and 50p underneath the glass. So I may have been mislead about the tooth fairy but I did learn about dentistry and what to do with a knocked out tooth and my parents said making the switch was easy peasy!
I’m a little surprised to see such a hard line for Santa.
When it comes to Santa Claus, I always think of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. As we all know, “Father Christmas” plays a central and important role in Narnia, and Tolkien went so far as to send his children letters from Father Christmas during their entire childhoods–he spends a lot of time carefully reviewing wartime logistics for Father Christmas in addition to creating an entire world in the North Pole. Was he lying to his children or taking away from the glory of Christ?
Lewis often discusses the “Truth” of myth. Aslan is certainly not real, but he is True. I think there is something important about believing in the Truth (not the fact) of Santa Claus, whatever that might mean for each family. There is something important about collective and joyous imagination, of celebrating the mysteries and gifts we have yet to understand. Nothing overshadows the Greatest Story Ever Told, but that doesn’t mean there are not many smaller stories reflective of it.
We celebrated the loss of teeth by leaving money under the kids’ pillows too. Not much fanfare and I don’t recall having fairies involved except as a joke.
We also love Tolkien’s Father Christmas letters and Lewis’s Father Christmas handing out gifts in the thawing Narnia. Father Christmas evolved from the stories about St. Nicholas, and Santa is just an American version of the same tradition. Even the stories about St. Nicholas are pretty sketchy, but they take God into account, whereas Santa Claus has been successfully secularized. Even so, all the stories can be redeemed to glorify God. My point is that when we tell the stories, we have to take care not to mislead our children. We want to keep Christmas Christ-centered, not Santa-centered.
Our folks didn’t want to lie to us, but since they didn’t want us to go around bursting other children’s bubbles we were told to not talk about it with other kids, telling them there was no Santa.
But my parent’s biggest problem with Santa, besides the whole lying thing, was more basic. It is the works righteousness that was most objectionable to them. You get coal in your stocking if you haven’t been good. No grace in that story. The story is used by some to make kids earn their Christmas gifts, but that would make the gift not a gift, but a wage.
God-like qualities are also attributed to him in the American version. “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
I learned from my British ‘flatmate’ of 5 years that this is not the way ‘Father Christmas’ is portrayed to them.
But what has always puzzled me is how many children are scared silly of the man in the red suit, crying and trying to get away as the parents stand around laughing. My husband’s family has always done “New Year’s Father”, who arrives late on Dec. 31. At our New Year’s celebrations the kids were always trying to get away from him.
And speaking of the real St. Nicholas, if we want to remember him, we can anonymously give to needy children, which is what he did. You could get your kids in on the act with that one; how to give to someone who needs it without getting any credit for it.
I just want to encourage you that if you do Santa, keep it Christian in quality. And as Nancy said, if you are pretending, the child should know that. If you don’t do Santa, it should not be the equivalent of ‘bah, humbug.’ We can celebrate full throttle without Santa, but there is nothing to celebrate without Jesus.
Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone!
We do not do Santa, but our kids inevitably run into him at the story in illustrations and especially when the well meaning checkout ladies ask, “So, is Santa coming to your house?!?” (Helping them think of a gracious, prepared answer is helpful to the older kids.)
In order to give the kids a (mostly) historical perspective on the real St. Nicholas, I highly recommend the Veggie Tales movie. It does a great job of showing the generous spirit of the original St. Nicholas, helps kids put him in perspective of Jesus, and it just plain silly. I laughed out loud, so it is good for parents too 🙂
Thanks, Nancy, for bringing this topic up!
We did not do a very good job of teaching our children about how some people tell their children that Santa is real and it was not their job to set the neighbor kids straight. We got into trouble more than once over the years from our kids “bursting the bubble” of some of their friends, before we got the message of tact across. At five and six or so, I think they thought it was a matter of evangelism to stand up for the true meaning of Christmas.
I’ll never forget the time my daughter, at the age of three, said, “Mommy, Santa Claus takes all the presents away from Jesus.”
I was one of those kids who was really shocked when I found out there wasn’t a real Santa. It caused some trust issues for me. It didn’t phase my brother or husband at all. We decided to err on the side of not causing unnecessary doubts in our kids’ minds, so we haven’t done the Santa thing, at least not as it is currently done. They know about St. Nicholas, and that Santa is a form of shorthand for “what did Mom and Dad give you?” They’ve also been taught, not always 100% successfully, to not meddle with what other parents do with their kids. 😀
Loved this post. When our 3-year-old asked why there was a bearded man in a red suit everywhere, my husband told her all about St Nicholas confronting Arius. Then she went around excitedly telling everyone about how Santa punched a guy in the nose. I love that she thinks all the Santa displays are because he stood against heresy and defended the faith. We’ll get some more nuance in there later.
I love this post. I found out about Santa from my mom after she explained to me about sex at age 8. I said to her, “If I’m old enough to know about this, I’m old enough to know the truth about Santa.” (I must have had doubts asking it like that.) When my mom broke the news to me, I was devastated. I cried & cried & cried. Last Christmas, I was finally convinced that we should not “do Santa” if we ever have kids, but we are nervous about how our parents will react when we have to cross that bridge. Oh, well, right is right.
The reason I won’t teach my kids about Santa is all the attributes our culture gives him that actually belong to God:
1. There is someone who loves us at Christmas time.
2. There is someone who sees everything we do and is always wanting us to be our best.
3. There is someone who wants to give us great gifts (and has already).
4. There is someone who can be everywhere at the same time.
It is God not Santa…I am choosing not to participate in the Santa Myth. Give to God what is God’s.
My parents and grandparents always sorta *asked* us in a joking teasing ay if Santa was coming. And when they told us to be good, we were never fooled. It must have been disappointing to my mom! Santa Clause even came to my fifth birthday (dec 21) and I flew to the window, threw the curtain back, and said, “huh uh! I see his car!” (It looked like Uncle Buck’s!)
Jesus, however, was documented in a very important book- the Bible. I never had a problem with that. Maybe we were just smart, I don’t know!