The cashier at the grocery store leans down to J and asks him if he was a good boy this year. The bank lady asks him what Santa is bringing him for Christmas. Thankfully, my son is shy and doesn’t usually answer. But to our family friends and familiar acquaintances, J proudly states, “Oh, Santa is a legend. That Santa at the breakfast was just a man in a costume.”
I am that awkward parent.
Before I go into our reasons for not doing Santa with my kids, you should know that I don’t think Santa is all bad. I think the image of Santa can in some ways encourage a giving spirit, sharing with those who are less fortunate, and general joviality and jolly-making. However, I respectfully disagree with the practice of encouraging “belief” in Santa, when- frankly- he just isn’t real.
What can I say? I don’t like making my son believe in something that isn’t true. I don’t want to perpetuate a story only to find him one day embarrassed and upset that I had been lying to him for years about an imaginary fat old man with flying reindeer. I want to respect his intelligence, young though he may be.
In addition, I just can’t get on board with the practice of using Santa as a threat/reward system. “You had better be good, or Santa won’t bring you any presents!” I don’t want my son to expect presents for his good behavior. I want him to be well behaved simply because it is the right thing to do. When I rely on Santa as a disciplinary checkpoint, I end up usurping my own authority as a parent.
And what about all of those gifts? Who gets the thank you card if Santa brought them? Does this mean I need to address a card to the North Pole after Christmas is over? And what about all of those people who actually brought my kids the gifts- do they receive any thanks, or do they all have to play along too?
My biggest beef with Santa is that he tends to hog the entire Christmas scene. While the right jolly elf may have originally been a symbol of giving and protection for the needy, he has turned into a wish-granting genie upon whom children everywhere have strung their hopes for the newest gadgets and toys. We forget the historic Saint Nicholas and the formation of the legend of Santa Claus. But far more importantly, we forget the Christ child, how the church began celebrating His birth, and the reasons for His coming.
So here’s the deal. I just expressed a lot of anti-Santa sentiments. But that’s not really the full picture, so let me clarify.
I don’t poo poo Santa entirely. I don’t shun him and push him away. I enjoy the history and legend of Santa, just as much as I enjoy any other history or legend. But I treat him as what he is- a legend based off of a historical figure. And I don’t pay him any particular attention.
Case in point- my hubby and I just played music for a local “Breakfast with Santa” in our area. We go to our local Christmas celebrations in town, complete with Santa and Mrs. Claus strolling the street and greeting children. I don’t think it’s evil to enjoy the characters for who they are, so long as they stay in their proper place.
So, from the start, we have told J about Santa. We have told him who he is, how he reminds of the story of St. Nicholas, and how he is symbolic of giving to others. But we have also told him that he is just for pretend, and that there is no real Santa squeezing down our chimney in the night on Christmas eve.
We’ve read books like Santa Who? by Gail Gibbons, which explore the origins of and various traditions celebrating Santa through history. We’ve used websites like Saint Nicholas Center to inform our discussions and answers to Santa questions at home. This Pictorial History of Santa Claus is a fascinating exploration of Santa’s evolution over the years. In fact, there’s so much to learn about this cultural icon that it almost seems a shame to ignore the opportunity to talk about it honestly with our kids! After all, there are so very few folk traditions that remain quite as lively as this one.
So we enjoy Santa in our own way. But he doesn’t steal the show at Christmas for us. What is our focus for the month of December?
We celebrate with Advent readings from our children’s Bible, hang characters on a nativity scene, and talk about the colors and symbols on display at our church. We read the Christmas narrative together and sing carols on Christmas morning. We talk about how this little baby was God in flesh, Savior of the world. And for some reason, Santa just doesn’t have a big part in that.
Am I robbing J of a happy childhood or of some part of the magic of Christmas?
It could just be my opinion, but he seems perfectly content without the concerns of being good enough to please the spying old man who will maybe give him all the Things and Stuff that will feed his inner greed on Christmas morning.
No, he doesn’t seem to mind.
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