I do, I do, I do Believe in Santa Claus

My good friend and fellow blogger, Code Name:Mama, has a post today entitled: We Don’t Do Santa. My initial reaction is “Oh no!” because I am just head over heels for anything Christmas and that includes Santa Claus!  I even have an “elf on the shelf” type thing called Christopher Pop-in-kins.  So, are Dionna and I completely on opposite sides of this issue?

On closer inspection – no.  I’d like to take her post points in reverse order and discuss!

Her third point is “I don’t want to condition the amount or quality of gifts on Kieran’s behavior” and I agree vehemently!  I think the concept of “naughty” and “nice” is a complete fallacy and not something I would ever label my kids with.  I believe both praise and (of course) punishment are counter-productive.  I’m shocked at how many parents “love” December because they have an extra threat to use against their kids – SANTA IS WATCHING!  What a horrible connotation to put on a man (the real St. Nicolas) and a myth (a myth of a man that gives to children).  This technique is all about controlling children which is, by default, conditional parenting.

For more information on parenting unconditionally, read this wonderful article by Scott Noelle, What is Unconditionality?  And, of course, Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting which is available in the BabyDust Library.

I actually own a book/doll Christmas tradition called Christopher Pop-in-kins 1.  The tradition is you read the beautiful story book on Thanksgiving night and then each morning the pose-able doll is hidden somewhere in the house and your child has to find him.  The story includes the line spoken by Santa, “If I know my boys and girls, and I think I do, they will try extra hard to be good when they discover you in their very own homes.”  I don’t read this line and I don’t use the doll in that way at all.  I enjoy the daily tradition of finding the elf.

Dionna’s second point is, “Too often Santa emphasizes the spirit of receiving more than he does the spirit of giving” and I agree with this as well but I don’t think it is inherent in the Santa myth or the reality of St. Nicolas but something that our consumer-driven culture adds to Christmas.  Aellyn is still too young but I think there are many ways to incorporate the appropriate spirit of giving into the Santa tradition.

  1. Do your kids write letters to Santa with loooong lists of “wants”?  Like prayer, which should also not be a list of wants, letters to Santa should include thanks, wishes for others, and then a single want.  My letters as a child were never extensive lists.  The excitement was in the writing and sending (Macy’s has a beautiful mailbox that makes a wonderful tradition).
  2. Does your Christmas include your children making and giving gifts to others?  Do you regularly take old toys to charity?  Do you have your child volunteer with you in age appropriate ways?  For me, Christmas is a season of giving and I actively pursue events that make this possible.
    1. Go out to the stores with your child specifically to buy a toy for Toys for Tots.
    2. Keep a box near your front door and add to in with every grocery trip.  When it is full take your kids with you to drop it off at the food bank.
    3. Make cookies and take them to your local Women’s shelter.  (Remember we think of grown women when we think of Women’s shelters but they are full of displaced kids that sometimes had to leave everything they owned behind.)
    4. Hospitals and Retirement homes always include children in their holiday activities.
    5. Both you and your child go next door and help shovel the drive (if you live where there is no snow, then :P!)
  3. For our family, Christmas is not “about” Santa Claus.  He is just a fun tradition of fantasy that adds to the season.  By participating in religious activities we stress the “reason” for the season.  Lighting advent candles, reading children’s books about Jesus’ birth and other church activities are an important and joyful, gift-free, part of Christmas for us.

Her first point is the one where I don’t agree with her: “I want Kieran to be able to trust us, and lying to him about Santa would be a breach of that trust in my eyes.”  While I respect her position (and especially where her heart is on this) I don’t feel like weaving the fantasy of Santa for my toddler is lying any more than letting her watch Dora is lying to her about talking monkeys with red boots.  I did really like Dionna’s post about the lies we tell our children (read it over at Grumbles and Grunts) but those lies are told for the purpose of manipulation (which is the heart of conditionality).  Of course if Santa is all about manipulation of behavior then I would agree that it was a constructed falsehood.

I see Santa as fantasy and magic.  No different than talking animals in books we read or stories of the stars and moon like my favorite fable (for more read Moon Gazing with your Toddler: Science, Nature, and a touch of Folklore):

How The Moon Regained Her Shape
How The Moon Regained Her Shape
by Janet Ruth Heller

Another point about lying.  When I was 8 and asked my mom “Mom, are you Santa?” she told me yes.  To perpetuate at that point would have been lying.  When I was 3 I didn’t need to differentiate between “pretend” and “real”.  We don’t worry that our children will believe in talking monkeys when they are 20.  But, while they do believe in make-believe it is pure magic and I want Aellyn to have that as long as she can.  As logic becomes part of your child’s reasoning they will begin asking questions about the probability of the Santa Claus myth.  I think it was valuable to figure it out and it sparked great coversations.  I was never upset at my parents.  I was ready to know the details of what Santa is.  Even after I knew the “truth” about Santa Claus I still played the game each year because it was fun, tradition, and magical.  Same with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

When my daughter is old enough to learn that mom and dad are Santa Claus she will already be on her way to learning that she is Santa Claus too.  That, like Jesus, who was real and lived long ago, the spirit lives on when we give and love others.

That’s my take.  Thanks for the thought provoking post Dionna.  We are definitely on the same page on the things that matter most I think.

What is your take on Santa Claus with your kids?

Show 1 footnote

  1. This is the original “elf on a shelf” and was created in 1975 by an Ohio mother.


Author: Paige

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  1. Nice response :) I really understand and agree with the way you do things – there is definitely a way to incorporate Santa without making him a gimme gimme gimme guy.
    This is the part I still don't completely agree with/understand:
    "I don’t feel like weaving the fantasy of Santa for my toddler is lying any more than letting her watch Dora is lying to her about talking monkeys with red boots."
    Maybe it's the variation among families. In my family, it was "what do you want Santa to bring you," sitting on Santa's lap, leaving Santa cookies (which were found half-eaten the next morning), etc. etc. – those things to me ARE much more than discussing Dora with a child. In the Santa situation, the parent is actively (at least in my family) working to perpetuate a myth for the kids. When the parents finally have to confirm the truth (that Santa is not "real," that he is just the spirit of giving, etc.), surely kids realize that the parents have been pulling the wool over their eyes. (And no, I don't have horrible memories of finding out about Santa, it's not even a blip on my childhood radar!)
    I just don't see how actively instilling the belief in Santa is NOT a lie. Is it a bad lie? Not necessarily – I understand the parents who wax poetic about the childhood joy and wonder at Christmastime.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your viewpoint – and let me reiterate again, I'm not judging families who "do" Santa. We've made a different choice, but different choices do not equal judgment :)

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    • You are right. I"m pretty "active" in my perpetuation of the myth.

      I think to each their own but I wish I could get everyone to stop using it as a punishment/incentive! Then I'd be happy! :)

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    • I don't see letters to Santa and the half eaten cookies as perpetuating a myth or a lie, but more like make believing and playing pretend with your child.

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      • I think there is a difference. When you are pretending your couch is a fire truck and you are rushing to save someone in your fire truck, your child doesn't believe that it is actually a fire truck or that you are actually going to a fire or that there are really people in serious danger. For the most part, children believe there really is a Santa that he really comes into their house and brings them gifts, etc. etc.

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  2. I agree with a little of both of you. We will "do" Santa and stockings and gifts but we will always tell our children it's just pretend and that mommy and daddy are "Santa" (along with the real story of who St Nick was and why we continue it). I won't make my kids sit on his lap or ever pretend for even a second that Santa is a real person watching them and coming into our home to deliver presents. My feelings come in part from watching families around us and our own experiences. My 8 yr old nephew asked his mom if "Santa was real like Jesus was real" and she said yes. My husband found out the truth at 4 and wondered if that meant he didn't haven't to go to church anymore (assuming that if Santa wasn't real, neither were other mythical people he couldn't see). My mom felt devastated and betrayed, but continued the myth with us. I was extremely embarrassed and very sad when my parents finally told me at age 9, on Christmas morning. I think you can have the magic without telling your kids he is a real live person. I only have a toddler, so we haven't really put this into play yet but I think it will work out well.

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  3. I am very on the fence on the whole 'doing Santa' deal.

    My husband is into the idea of 'doing Santa' because it was the fun and whimsy that Santa is that he remembers. But, when he reminisces he only talks about sneaking around to find all the presents his parents hid after they had found out Santa wasn’t real. Not about the family traditions and giving during the holidays.

    I’ve come to find that he is really just fixated on getting and receiving gifts – it's always just "what do you want" (for any occasion really) not something that is thought-out, made, or carefully chosen. It's always just been that time of year to get stuff and not much else.

    For me, I did get the "do this/don't do that or Santa won't come" from my mom and she would sit me down with the ads to find things I'd like for Christmas every year. It was never about the traditions and the giving it was always about having Santa come and bring you everything you want.

    I guess because Christmas had no other meaning to me as a child besides getting lots of gifts it makes me want to change things for my daughter (future kids). I'm all for making it more about showing your love, giving thought-out gifts or handmade gifts, giving back to the community and people in need, and creating traditions. For me I bake, crochet, and search high and low for that perfect sentimental gift.

    When I was in high school I was in a singing group that toured around to all the schools, retirement homes, hospice centers, etc. so we could sing and spread cheer for the holidays. This is what forever changed my view of the holidays and made me learn that giving joy and making others smile was what felt really good above all.

    So, now I just have to get my husband more on board about creating traditions and get into the spirit of giving and not so much about Santa!

    I think either way if you do or don’t do Santa if you have traditions, you teach the importance of giving for the right reasons (not out of obligation or pressure but out of the goodness in their hearts) then you’re on the right path. As long as Santa is just a tradition and like you said not the “reason” for the season then I can totally see perpetuating the myth :)

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    • Beautifully said. I love this "This is what forever changed my view of the holidays and made me learn that giving joy and making others smile was what felt really good above all."

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  4. You couldn't of said it better myself. Wow, we agree :) hehe! While my 4 year old can be pretty selfish, she has her moments of caring and love. We adopted a 5 year old girl for the holidays and I told her we are helping Santa by being her elf. Everytime we go out to a store, she has a thoughtful idea on what to get our little girl. Jesus is the reason for the season <3

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  5. Reading the blogs and replies to them gives me great optimism for the future. People/society have/has an incredible capacity for kindness and it's good to hear young mothers talk about such good things to teach their children. Surely, each generation can only be better than the last with mothers like yourselves. Santa or no Santa, we must pass on kindness. John Lennon saw the answer to kindness as having no god because so much hatred had occurred in the name of such. God or no god, we must pass on kindness.

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  6. "When my daughter is old enough to learn that mom and dad are Santa Claus she will already be on her way to learning that she is Santa Claus too."

    LOVE this. We have a three-year-old and I doubt she'd even believe us if we told her Santa wasn't real because of what she's seen and heard from others. I think you're right that when a child is old enough to think it through and ask, it is time to tell them. My husband and I did have the Santa talk but both agreed that we loved the tradition as children and were not traumatized by learning the truth, so we do it. We do try not to OVERdo it, though. This year we are going to do three Santa gifts (two of them will probably be handmade, one of them might even be the stocking), to keep things simple and in honor of the three kings' gifts to the baby Jesus.

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    • Oh I love the idea of 3 gifts from Santa in honor of the 3 kings. When I was a kid ALL the gifts were from Santa except one from mom and dad. I'm finding a lot more people do all gifts from mom and dad and ONE from Santa. I haven't thought about what we will do – I think I have till next year to worry about it since my girl isn't 2 yet!

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      • I wasn't going to do Santa with my son, but society makes that hard. But I want the bulk of the gifts to be from people he really knows. It will let him appreciate the love that surrounds him, and I can teach him to write thoughtful thank-you notes (not that Santa shouldn't get one, I guess, but he'll never get to see/hear Santa's response).

        In some families I know, Santa does the stockings. So fruit and little things.

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  7. I thought I would be a parent who didn't do Santa but here I am doing Santa and loving the magic that that brings to my children. I do worry about when they find out he's not real and I hope they don't hate us for perpetuating the myth. But I carefully choose my words when talking about Santa. I say that he is magic. Things that are magic are things we don't understand but that make us happy and alive with wonderment. I tell them not that I believe in Santa but that I believe in magic. It's not the perfect situation and I do wish my dad wouldn't dress up as Santa and surprise them and talk to them every year like he does because I have told the girls that since Santa is magic we don't ever see him. (just like fairies). I have told my dad this but he has his own desires around providing magic for the kids. So far they don't seem to care or notice what is going on so I guess I am the only one with the issue thus far.

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  8. My hubby is rabidly anti-Santa. Of course, we didn't end up with children, so it isn't so much of an issue. I rather stand in middle ground. I have always loved Christmas and all that surrounds it. (Had someone say to me once, "You're the only person i know who knows ALL the verses to ALL the Christmas songs!" She wasn't being complimentary.)

    I would like to share with the children (who never came) about the traditions and stories, but not encourage belief in a person. But i'm not sure my hubby could have compromised even that much.

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  9. great post! I am in your boat! We do Santa in this house BIG TIME! But without conditions and with teaching that Jesus is the reason for the season, etc.

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  10. I love your post! I will be doing santa with my family…it will just be a fun aspect and light hearted.

    I remember finding out my parents were really santa and thinking it was so fun to now know the real secret of santa…my little brothers and sisters didn't know yet…and when they found out, they were a part of the fun then too…it wasn't a feeling of being lied to, but of being let in on the real fun, a delicious secret…

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  11. Great post. It's good to hear it. All my family "do" Santa but my hubby and I have elected not to.

    I'm Catholic so here's the plan: St. Nicholas's Day which is Dec. 6th is celebrated by putting our shoes out and receiving small gifts. (Like the stockings hung by the chimney with care.) This is European. We will talk about the saint and explain that it's a tradition. Christmas Day is reserved for decorating, spending time with family, and worshiping Jesus. No presents will be exchanged. Epiphany, Jan. 6, or the Day the Three wisemen present gifts to the baby Jesus, we will exchange bigger gifts. Also discussions about gift giving and the true spirit of the gifts given to Jesus. The gold,etc was to ensure Jesus's family's prosperity to fill a need. We'll try to exchange gifts out of need more than desire. Things like homemade stuff, books, and special toys.

    The idea is to make the season about Jesus and not about Santa (who is St. Nicholas and not nearly as important).

    Hope that helps give people an idea of what maybe to do about the Santa dilemma and presents in general.

    Pax Christi

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