Why We Don't Do Santa at Our House

We don’t “do” Santa at our house. And according to many people, we might as well be in the running for worst parents of the year because of it.

I beg to differ.

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Let me take this moment to dispel you of the misguided notion that not doing Santa is a horrible thing. Here are some of the comments that we get regularly -- and why these comments are missing the point.

  1. "You’re ruining your kids' imagination!"
    To hear others say it, if you don’t do Santa, your child will be one heck of a dullard. I love imagination, I love watching and engaging with my daughter when she’s deep in pretend play. I love it so much I strive to foster that in my child all year round. Believe it or not, Santa sometimes makes it into these stories as he, too, is a character she loves and pretends with -- she just doesn’t think he’s real. Let’s talk about the Santa-imagination link: I’m not sure Santa actually encourages imagination. Santa, in our culture, is personified to such a degree that there's no room left for imagination. Children know what he looks like, what the North Pole is like, what the reindeer look like, and so on. Kids can even go online and follow his progress on Christmas Eve. If I believe something exists, it's not my imagination I’m using, but something else entirely. My daughter knows Santa is a character like Harry Potter, Queen Elsa, or Red Riding Hood -- a wonderful, fun, and amazing character that enriches her life with stories and movies and play, but she doesn’t need to feel that any of these characters or stories are real to enjoy them. Indeed, part of the magic of these stories for us is the knowledge that they persist and delight even when they are not real.
  2. "Your child will ruin it for everyone else."
    For some, the belief in Santa is like a house of cards, so fragile that one family bucking the system threatens the entire belief structure. People worry that a child who doesn’t believe in Santa will run around telling all children that Santa isn’t real. A few problems with this reasoning: First, why is the concern only with families who would traditionally fall in line and not those who have what others seem to feel are “valid” reasons to opt out, like, say, being Jewish? I don’t remember anyone ever being concerned that our Jewish friends would “ruin” Christmas for everyone because they didn’t do Santa. What’s so different about the rest of us? I don’t care one way or another who does what, and I believe parents have their own reasons for their choice. Second, this suggestion implies that you require a full delusion to go on around your child in order to support their belief. The idea that a child won’t believe because people are telling them otherwise counters what we know of children’s minds. Ever try to tell a scared 4-year-old that there is not, in fact, a monster under the bed? The thing about kids is that if they believe something, they will believe it ... until they don’t. Third, at some point someone will tell your child Santa isn’t real -- usually a child who has just figured it out (as opposed to someone who never believed). Who can blame them? When I found out, I wanted to shout it from the rooftop, not only because I felt like I had just solved something, but because I felt my friends had to know. They believed something that wasn’t true, like they were being pranked, and that had to stop. (Don’t worry, my parents made it clear that it’s okay for others to believe and that it wasn’t up to me to tell them anything different.) If you don’t want your child exposed to any other ideas besides the ones you want them to have, lock them up and make sure they see and speak to nobody else at Christmas time. The world is filled with different ideas and it’s our duty as parents to teach them the difference between belief and fact. If our kids know that belief in Santa is just that -- a belief -- it’s not influenced by someone saying they don’t believe. It’s just another perspective.
  3. "You’re robbing your children of a childhood."
    Seriously folks, what kind of horrible childhood did you have that Santa was the only saving grace? I do often wonder how much of our obsession with Santa and Christmas is because it's the one time of year we allow children to be children. What if our kids weren’t so overextended that they have time to let their minds travel wherever they like? What if we weren’t so harried that we spent time with them every day -- real, fun time, not just getting home late, eating, and going through the nighttime routine? What if each day they had time set aside to be free from school or work and to just enjoy being a child? I can’t help but think that the need to have our children believe Santa is real might cease to be so important. The stories might just bring enough joy and magic without having to try and force a belief.
  4. “You’re taking the magic out of Christmas!”
    This one makes me so sad because it implies the only magic of Christmas comes from thinking that Santa is the only thing that makes Christmas magical. The Santa of today may have roots in St. Nicolas, but the focus has shifted dramatically and is no longer about teaching children about the spirit of giving or celebrating kindness. The first problem here is that Santa, if treated as real, teaches our children that only “good” children deserve kindness. I’m not suggesting that we need to “reward bad behavior” but rather that all children deserve kindness, especially during the holidays. If Santa simply represents the spirit or magic of Christmas, we can focus on showing kindness to all people, especially those most in need. The second problem is that Santa reinforces the idea that people “get what they deserve." If Santa is real, children who don’t get gifts didn’t deserve them. When we believe this, we are actually reducing the degree to which we’re supporting the real spirit of Christmas, namely giving to others. The third problem is that the "magic" of Christmas for many children remains in the realm of commercialism. Children are concerned with presents, wish lists pages long, and a sense of entitlement that is antithetical to anything magical. How many kids tear through opening presents because all that matters is seeing what they got? How many end up sad and upset because Santa didn’t get them what they wanted, especially when they were “good”? The magic of Christmas lies in what you do with it and the kindness you show to those around you. You don’t need to think Santa is real, you just need to make sure you create an environment that is filled with love and happiness, and that can be done with or without Santa.
  5. “How on earth do you celebrate then?”
    First, I have to be clear that I couldn’t care less if you do Santa with your kids. And my Christmas looks a lot like yours, probably. We decorate our tree, listen to our Christmas music, drink cocoa, and dance around. We read Christmas stories throughout December and watch all the Christmas movies. In the spirit of giving, we have our kids pick out a star from the charity tree at our local mall and pick out and pay for half of the present they will donate to this child. We explain why they are doing it and the good that comes from it, which means they have to know that Santa isn’t real and why we’re making sure all children can enjoy Christmas and receive a gift. We also pick one big charity to donate to each year and then the kids help select a gift if it’s relevant. On Christmas Eve, we hang our stockings, make cookies, and enjoy a wonderful family night. Christmas Day, we open presents in the morning followed by a big brunch. We have some down time before a big dinner and then a final Christmas movie. It’s wonderful, magical, full of imagination, and hopefully creating memories our children will carry with them for a lifetime.

Do you tell your kids the truth about Santa? Why or why not?


Image via Kevin Dooley/Flickr

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