Our family does not celebrate the tradition of Santa at Christmas, at least not how many Americans do. For our family, he is a fun character, like Buzz Lightyear or Lightning McQueen. The kids get excited about seeing him in the mall, singing songs about him, watching movies with him as a main character (Elf and The Santa Clause are two favorites), and putting up decorations or seeing inflatable versions of him on neighbors’ lawns.
But for our family, Santa is not the mysterious being who measures our children’s behavior all year long, and he is certainly not the source of the presents under the tree.
Our oldest daughter was 4 years old the first year we decided against the Santa tradition. We were a young couple, just 25 and 26 at the time, with three young girls under 4. Money was very, very tight. In those early years of our marriage, we often gathered with my husband’s brothers and sisters at his parents’ house for Christmas morning. His older siblings were more financially established with their families, and our 4yo daughter looked at her cousins’ huge pile of presents, then looked at the few items spread between her and her sisters, and asked “Why does Santa love them more than he loves us?”
NO, I thought to myself. This will NOT be the story she understands about Christmas. I did not want her equating worth or worthiness with gifts, especially not at Christmas, a time when we ought to be celebrating all mankind’s worth to our Father in Heaven.
I don’t remember the conversation exactly, I don’t remember it being traumatic or drawn out. Instead, it was just a shift in thinking – the presents are from us, dear, and this is what we are able to give you right now.
It’s been relatively the same with each of our kids – no grand declaration, no wringing hands while we dispel childhood fairy tales. It’s just been understood that when our children ask for gifts at Christmas, they ask us, and when they thank someone for gifts at Christmas, they thank us.
Of course, the one conversation we do have is that each family treats the Santa tradition differently, and that our kids are not to talk about it at length with their friends. Our decision was a personal one, and I want to respect others’ decisions as well.
There have been many times over the years when I’ve seen our decision as a kind of freedom. No sickening stress over how to provide the presents kids are sure they’ll get because they asked Santa (and Santa can do anything). No great lengths to guard the truth of how the presents arrive under the tree. No power play of “you better be good, or else Santa will know!” to elicit better behavior from my kids. Certainly not everyone who celebrates the Santa tradition has these moments – I understand that for many, many parents the tradition is as fun for them as it is for their kids – but I’ve seen these exact scenarios over and over, and it’s not for me. Plain ol’ parenting seems hard enough without all of that.
There have also been many times over the years – in fact, it happens almost without fail – when people learn our family does not celebrate the Santa tradition, and their comments of shock and judgement come rolling in:
- How could you do that to your children?
- How could you rob them of their innocence like that?
- Kids become adults way too soon – why take Santa away from them?
- Why would you take the magic of Christmas away?
- What is Christmas without the magic and belief in Santa?
I think the problem here is that many people treat Christmas and Santa with a “baby and the bath water” mentality. No Santa = no magic. No magic = no Christmas. No Christmas = no childhood. Suddenly they make it sound like I’m shoving my 5yo out the door with a briefcase and tie and reminding him the rent is due by the 5th.
Truthfully, this passionate outcry I experience from many people is totally beyond my understanding. Especially because I am so mindful and respectful of their decision to celebrate the Santa tradition.
I won’t go into every answer that rolls around in my head when people confront me about this, but I will say two things. First of all, the implication that I’m robbing my children of anything would first require that it was something they were given. But my kids have never equated Santa with the magic of Christmas. The magic of Christmas to them is the lights that only go up at this time of year, the music that is only played at this time of year, the gifts we only give (at this scale) at this time of year, the cold weather that only comes at this time of year, the special amount of time we have together as a family at this time of year. It’s candy canes dipped in hot cocoa, it’s snuggling up together in new pajamas and slippers. It’s setting out the nativity scenes and reliving the story of Christ’s birth. It’s the spirit of giving that has to do with love, and not Santa. It’s the idea that anything can happen at this time of year, because our hearts seem to be more open and miracles seem to be more abundant. That is all very, very magical to them. And Santa has never been part of the equation.
Second, if most people talked with any of my kids for 10 minutes or more, they would quickly discover that there is no lack of imagination, belief, wonder, or innocence in my household. In fact, I think we might suffer from an abundance of those qualities! My children are each amazingly creative individuals, and have reveled in every ounce of their childhoods. And again, Santa has never been part of the equation.
I guess I will say one more thing. Though the Santa tradition is based on many sources, both ancient and modern, both foreign and domestic, I think it’s important to remember that the degree to which most Americans celebrate it is far different from many other places in the world. So what are we to say about those many millions of children? That they have no magic, no wonder, no innocence in their lives? That their Christmases (if celebrated) must be dull and cheerless? Would anyone really say that on such a large scale? I would think not, which makes me wonder what makes our family fair game.
At any rate, every Christmas this topic comes to the forefront of my mind, and with a 5yo I’m currently instructing to keep the Santa secret for his friends’ sake, it’s especially relevant to me this year. I hope that whatever you celebrate at this time of year – whether that’s Christmas or not, whether it includes Santa or not – that your days will always be merry and bright.
EDITED TO ADD:
I originally wrote this post in 2012. Our youngest son has now declared: “Mom, I’ve decided to believe in Santa.” He has stuck to his guns on this, writing out a ‘Dear Santa’ Christmas Wish List, and sharing his concerns about our broken chimney. It’s been an interesting development, and one I welcome. He has chosen to process the truth I’ve told him, and then decide upon another truth entirely. I think that’s incredibly profound for a young boy, and while I will still be completely honest when he asks me about Santa, I will also be completely respectful of his right to tell me I’m wrong.
**Side note: It seems I’m not the only crazy lady who doesn’t celebrate the Santa tradition with her family. Amy of Mom Spark and Annie of Mama Dweeb wrote some posts about this same topic (click on links to read) – I appreciate their perspectives!