Who would have guessed a nice old guy bringing presents to the delight of children across the globe could end up being a divisive figure? Today along with not talking about politics or religion in polite company, we probably ought to add Santa to the list. I do not wish to add to that debate by defending the right jolly old elf or by passing judgement on those who do, but it occurs to me that for those who have grown up in Santa celebrating homes, maybe you’re not sure what it even means to leave Santa out of Christmas. Maybe that seems grinchy or gloomy or heartless. Since I grew up in a home that didn’t “do” Santa (and yes—I was that kid in kindergarten that let the cat out of the bag) I thought I’d just give you an overview of what that looks like in case you’re curious.
WHY: We ask our kids to trust us on a lot of important issues they can’t verify for themselves. Especially because I am a mother of adopted kids, I put a high priority on them believing the stories we tell them about their origins although until they are adults and can read their own paperwork, that is an act of faith. So we have chosen not to confuse them by asking them to believe something that eventually we’d have to admit isn’t true.
We have no problem with the fact that you might include Santa as part of your Christmas traditions and we ask our kids to help keep the secret for your kids. We tell them never to lie, but it is not their responsibility to explain it to another child. They know that some kids believe in Santa and we’re all okay with that.
OUR HISTORIES: I didn’t grow up with the idea that Santa was real. I never even considered it was a possibility that anybody did. In fact, I think in disproving the idea of Santa to my kindergarten class I tried to explain that it was just like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Yes. The trifecta of innocence smashing. In my mom’s family her mother as a child believed in Santa long past the appropriate age and her dad ended up mocking her for being so gullible. My grandma was so crushed by this that she didn’t want to mislead her kids so my mom didn’t grow up in a Santa family and was pretty passionately honest with us about it.
My husband’s family did Santa with all the traditional gusto and he survived just fine. He remembers that being a fun part of Christmas, but not really what was important. He has expressed that there were some problematic aspects of Santa as he looks back at that experience. If you are a family with very limited finances, it can be confusing for a child— why does Santa love some kids more than others? My husband also feels like he was less grateful than he should have been for the sacrifices his parents were making to give him an extravagant Christmas. When I asked for something outside of my parents’ budget my mom would say, “We can’t afford that. How about this?” and give an alternative. It’s just a little less complicated than if a child has their heart set on being good enough to earn a really pricey toy.
WHERE’S SANTA: So here’s where you’ll find Santa in our house— everywhere! We don’t have a problem with the Santa imagery and we don’t teach our kids that it’s scary or wrong. There’s a great Veggie Tale on St. Nicholas that we’ve watched and we talk about how St. Nicholas is a man worth admiring for his bravery and generosity. They love to have us read “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, although it isn’t what we read the night before Christmas. We read Luke 2:1-20 with our kids to emphasize the birthday we’re celebrating. Here’s one thing I love about Santa— he can be whatever color we want! We have African Santas on our tree and around the house. I get a little uncomfortable about black Jesus and blonde Jesus, but Santa is imaginary— we can have fun with that. We don’t do the traditional picture with a mall Santa, but that’s mostly because I’m cheap.
PRESENTS: We do presents! We do a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve and explain how we give each other gifts because of our joy at The Gift we’ve been given. We talk about the Wise Men and how we’re imitating them as the first gift givers of Christmas. They know who bought their gifts and even love having a few gifts that mysteriously come in the mail from Nana Claus and Papa Claus. They know they’re from Nana and Papa, but think it’s funny to imagine them as Santa and Mrs. Claus. They express thankfulness to the people who bought their presents. Brian and I have also started our own family tradition of taking them shopping after Christmas to pick one present they want. We don’t buy them anything before Christmas since they get so much from their grandparents and this way we can find that one accessory to what they already got that would make those toys even more fun. They get to shop with us, talk about what’s on sale, what gives them the most value for their money, even add some money from their piggy banks if it’s outside the budget we’ve established. They don’t get a lot of experience with these concepts, so we’ve found this is a fun way to help them learn.
JOY AND FUN: We are not aiming for a boring Christmas. We want this to be a time of joy and laughter and even a little extravagance as we think about how extravagantly God showed His love. By removing the element of a fictional Santa, we aren’t trying to remove the mystery or playfulness or fun. We’re just choosing the mystery of the incarnation and the fun of a family gift exchange. I never felt deprived because my family didn’t “do” Santa and I’m not sure it would have been possible for the Christmas experience to have been any more joyful or fun than it was for me.
NO PRESSURE: So here’s the bottom-line— if your conscience feels clean about how you handle Santa (whether that’s celebrating or not), be confident that you’re doing the right thing. I don’t believe this is a moral issue as long as you’re handling it well. I’ve never tried to talk anybody out of doing Santa and I don’t plan on starting today. I know when I read “anti-Santa” stuff sometimes I feel like they’re sucking all the joy and fun out of Christmas and I don’t want anybody to feel like that’s an either/or situation.
So have fun this Christmas! It’s a birthday party, People!