After returning home from a long day of Kindergarten, my sweet five-year-old boy, with tears streaming down his face, asked me why we couldn’t believe in Santa Claus.
Years before this tear-stained moment, my husband and I had decided not to “do Santa” with our kids. We have been very careful to tell our kids not to ruin anything for their classmates, friends, and family members. But we felt it was best for our family not to play the Santa game. Fast forward to our first December in elementary school, where our decision clashed with the prevailing Kindergarten culture where teachers enjoyed the magic of Santa at school. From pictures with Santa to his helpful elves visiting classrooms while students were at recess, every other adult in his life was telling him that Santa was indeed real! Yet mom and dad clearly said he was not real. This left him confused and sad that he couldn’t play the game with his friends.
What’s a distressed boy to do, but to beg his momma to let him play the Santa game.
For a moment, I wondered if we had made the wrong decision. Were we totally messing up our kids by choosing not to make Santa Claus part of our Christmas celebrations? Was he missing out on precious childhood memories he would hold on to for decades to come? Would his view of Christmas be forever tarnished because his parents refused to portray Santa as real?
It’s been 9 years since our first clash with the American Christmas culture. That five year-old is now 14, and no scars of being Santa-less can be found that I know of. We’ve also left out tales of the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny treats. Santa and the like are treated like other fictional characters in our house. We can enjoy their stories, but they are never talked about as real-life figures.
But, why? Why make such a big deal over this?
I know this is a touchy subject. And it is definitely a grey area. I am NOT saying that the really good parents don’t do Santa, and the non-spiritual ones do. I am NOT saying that my kids are going to turn out better than those who believed in Santa. All I’m presenting are the reasons we have decided not to incorporate Santa in our Christmas traditions, in case you have yet to, or are in the process of, forming your own family traditions.
1. We want our Christmas to be focused on Christ as much as possible.
Even as an adult, I can feel the pull on my heart to have more anticipation and excitement about the gifts I might receive and the family I get to see, than I do about celebrating the coming of Christ. It is so easy to find contentment in the material instead of the spiritual.
As parents, we want to point our children to Christ all year long, but especially at Christmas. We want them to see, feel, and understand the true “reason for the season.” This is already an uphill battle. Throwing Santa in the mix, especially as the “main event” on Christmas day, only compounds the distractions. Even with our gift-giving, we strive to use the gifts to point back to Jesus.
2. We don’t want to do anything to confuse our children about who God is.
Leading our children to see and savor Christ is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as parents. As Noel Piper puts it, “How confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we’re trying all year to teach our children about God.”
Beyond wanting to avoid confusion, we also want to make sure they know they can trust what we are telling them. If we pull the rug out from under them about Santa…then the Tooth Fairy…then the Easter Bunny…what’s to keep them (from a purely earthly standpoint) from thinking the next big reveal is going to be about God? They cannot see or touch any of these “characters” (unless you count mall visits for pictures). Nor can they see or touch the God we serve. Confusing, indeed.
The risk that my word would be discredited in my children’s eyes when it comes to my God so that I can create a magical Christmas for my kids just doesn’t seem worth it to me. When I say that I believe in a benevolent, powerful, amazing God, I want my kids to have zero doubt that this is true. I want them to be able to trust in what I tell them so they have one less roadblock to their own faith in Christ.
Obviously, these values have a further reach within our words and actions that just Santa Claus. We could be Santa Claus-less yet still confuse our kids about who God is by our own everyday actions. We can forego fairy tales and focus only on Christ at Christmas, yet still wreck our credibility with our selfishness and lack of love the eleven remaining months of the year.
This journey of raising kids who know and love Christ is hard enough. So when it comes to Santa, we’ve just chosen to remove one potential pitfall in our parenting.
For another take on Santa, see Joshua Straub’s post “How Should We Talk to Our Kids About Santa?”