Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Don’t Hate Santa

Even though my husband and I decided early on that we would not “do” Santa with our son as he grew up, I do not hate Santa. I am in no way concerned that the letters of Santa’s name can easily be rearranged to spell “Satan.” In fact, I like the idea of Santa. I like decorating with Santas at Christmas. I even buy wrapping paper covered with pictures of the jolly old elf. I am not a Santa hater.

And yet we never did the Santa thing with my son. Here are five reasons behind our decision:
1. I didn’t want to intentionally lie to him about where gifts came from, with the inevitable moment at 8, 9 or 10 when he would indignantly accuse me of deceiving him.

2. I wanted gift-giving in our home to be about being thoughtful and loving with each other, not about being on a naughty or nice list.
3. I didn’t want our Advent and Christmas preparations to be centered on a folk tale, but rather on our faith and on our religious practices.

4. If I was going to have metaphysical conversations with my son about bi-locating and omniscience, I would rather they be about the Trinity, not about Santa.
5. A part of me really wanted to be intentionally counter-cultural, and this seemed like a meaningful but pretty simple way to experiment with parenting counter-culturally.

6. I am creeped out by (phobic of) department store/mall Santas. Not “doing” Santa meant that never once would my son sit on a stranger’s lap in public.

So this year he is 8, and we have reached a milestone - his best friend finally knows that Santa is not real. We will finally have a Christmas free from the anxiety that my son will be the Santa spoiler. Honestly, though, he is at the point where we would have told him the truth anyway, and so it seems like a good moment to reflect on my motivations and whether or not they have made any difference in our Christmas experience as a family.
Here’s how it worked out:

1. I think that he appreciated knowing that we were being honest with him, but when I asked him this week if he wishes we had pretended Santa was real, he timidly said “yes.” Of course there would have been many opportunities to have fun with it. There is no denying that. I also am confident that if we had pretended, he would have complained later that we had lied. So it is kind of a “grass is greener” scenario.
2. I had a vision that by not doing Santa, we would avoid the materialism of the holiday. I was wrong. Our gift opening still ends with a little voice saying, “It that it?”

3. & 4. I will say that intentionally focusing on the religious elements of the season has made for some great conversations with my son. We talk about the incarnation, the nativity, the message of angels and the love of God. We talk about peace on earth and hope for a better world. There were a few Christmases when he turned a little preachy about the religious elements of the season, “tattling” to me about friends at school who don’t even know who Jesus was, but that has passed. I think that was a natural byproduct of teaching him that something was important for our family, and him trying to figure out if our family was different than others. I was always very careful to never badmouth Santa, or children who believe in him, so he moved out of that phase by the next Christmas.
5. Being counter-cultural was actually the most difficult part of this experiment. What my son wanted from Santa for Christmas was the primary talking point for all checkout ladies, dental hygienists, and teachers. I was shocked at how quickly people assume that a family practices Christmas. I had just a brief glimpse of what it might feel like to raise a child in a different religion in this culture. I had people criticize me for this choice. I was told that I was robbing my son of happy childhood Christmas memories. That was not fun.

6. The avoidance of standing in line on a visit to the mall to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas actually wound up being the very best result of this choice. If this had been the only outcome, it would have been enough for me.
I read more and more of parents struggling with making this decision one way or the other. Either they struggle to create a perfect Santa experience for their children or they suffer the criticism of family and strangers when they choose a different path.

I don’t hate Santa. I believe that the story of Santa, just like so many other folk stories of our holiday traditions, represents some of the good and wonderful parts of our Christmas tradition. I do wish, since so many other things have become controversial in the vast world of parenting choices, that we could just leave each other be when it comes to our choices about Santa. That seems to be in the non-sectarian holiday spirit.
Around 6 when my son realized he would soon start losing teeth, he sat me down and asked if it would be okay if we pretended that the tooth fairy was real. I agreed. But the fact that I consistently misplace his newly liberated teeth before they ever make it under the pillow reassures me that I would have been a pretty bad Santa in the end anyway.


  1. In my family, we were told that the presents in the stockings hung by the fireplace were given by Santa. All the other gifts were labeled with the gift-giver's name. I have continued with this practice, as I think that it helps the children to exercise gratitude. I love getting a hug and kiss and big thank you from my Santa-beleiving nieces and nephews on Christmas morning!

  2. Thank you for this, Rebecca! Now that we are parents, we've been trying to sort this out for ourselves.