To Believe or Not to Believe in Santa Claus?

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This blog post centers on a bit of controversy in our home. For the record, I grew up believing in Santa; Nate did not. Neither of us is certain one way is better than the other.

Now that I’m a mom, this time of year always causes me to question whether we want our kids to believe in Santa Claus.

For some, the dilemma is completely ridiculous. Of course kids should believe in Santa! Don’t deprive them of that innocent joy and magic! Let them be little! (This was my reaction when I first heard that some kids never believed in Santa Claus.)

Why our kids don't believe in Santa Claus

Or perhaps it’s clear in the other direction: if you lie to kids about Santa, they’ll learn they can’t trust you!

But for me, it’s not that simple. This could be the year our daughter really gets into Santa. We could tell her she won’t get any toys if she doesn’t listen to Mommy and Daddy, and she would believe us.

We could take her to the mall and persuade her that the jolly man in the red suit will be coming down her chimney on Christmas Eve, and she would get excited.

We could help her listen for reindeer on the rooftop and tell her that Santa ate the plate of cookies, and she would be convinced.

I want to make a great decision now (while our kids are itty-bitty), because it’s hard to backtrack later in this situation.

And, as of now, I don’t think we’ll encourage our kids to believe in Santa. Here’s why:

Why Santa doesn't stop at our house. One family's take on Santa Claus.

1) I’m not comfortable with the deception.

I think most kids recover from the Santa Claus lie. I think most kids eventually understand that their parents had good intentions. They realize that their parents wanted them to feel the magic of Christmas. In time, they appreciate that their parents loved them so much that they went to great lengths to make Christmas extraordinary and special.

And I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus because their parents told them that both Santa and Jesus were real; therefore, since Santa isn’t real, Jesus must not be either. (UPDATE: I had a reader comment to say that this was true for them!)

But I don’t want to lie to my kids. I want to always be honest with them in age-appropriate ways.

2) Similarly, I want my kids to be truth tellers.

It’s not hard to teach kids to lie. I won’t tell you it comes naturally, because I don’t want to start (a different) fight. But our girls have already learning how to hide things. At age three, our oldest daughter was running to the closet to eat stolen candy. She hid toys she didn’t want to give back. It took her a little too long to confess that she did, indeed, “whack her sister in the face.” Some of these things are playful and silly, but we’ve been talking a lot lately about how important it is to tell the truth, to be honest, to not hide things from mommy and daddy.

You see where I’m going with this, right? If we’ve been encouraging our girls to be truth tellers, how can I, in good conscience, turn around and encourage an untrue story about a man who brings presents to good little boys and girls? How honest do I have to be in order to raise kids with integrity? 

3.) I don’t want the holiday to be all about the crazy amounts of stuff they’ll find under the tree.

Kids love Santa because Santa brings them gifts. Right? That’s at least part of the reason we’re crazy about that chubby old man.

Do I sound like a hypocrite if I say that we will definitely have Christmas gifts at our house? It’s a great time for us to buy some of the random big things we, the parents, have had our eyes on all year–a balance bike, an easel, maybe even a rolling luggage set that’s ridiculously cute. But I don’t want our kids to be obsessed with the stuff. And, to prevent that, I think we need to be extreme in our approach to Christmas. Our kids won’t be writing to Santa with ridiculous, out-of-the-question wish lists. If they have specific requests, they can direct them to Mom, Dad, or the grandparents.

(That’s also why we’ll be boycotting television with commercials most of the year–hello, Netflix!–but tv is another topic entirely.)

I don’t want Santa’s magic and unlimited resources to encourage greed and selfishness.

4.) Santa shouldn’t be the star of Christmas.

I don’t want to be cheesy on this blog or with my kids. But somehow, someway, I want to make sure we have our priorities straight at Christmastime. If parents don’t teach otherwise, our kids are going to learn from mainstream society that Christmas is about lights, lawn decorations, the Christmas tree, cookies, Santa, reindeer, Christmas carols, family, and gifts. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. But I want to make sure that we’re not trading things that are good  for that which is best. I recently read a blog post that was strongly against Santa.  While I’m not sure I agree with everything written in this particular post, this quote stuck with me:

“For a five-year-old, how can Jesus compete with Santa? Our children don’t have spiritual perspective; when faced with the choice of allegiance, they have a baby in a manger, or they can get a jolly, twinkling, flying character who will bring them presents. This is going to be an easy choice for them. My friend Andrew, who identifies himself as a member of the “non-believer corner” put it this way:

I always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me, but when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache.”

That’s some pretty deep food for thought.

Shouldn’t the “awesomely simple truth” of Jesus to be enough for my family? Isn’t that the “best” thing about Christmas?

A Happy Medium?

But….we’re not completely against Santa, tradition, innocent holiday fun.

So what will we do?

Here’s a rough idea of the alternative we’re working on: we’re going to encourage our kids to have fun pretending there is a Santa Claus. We’re going to tell them that Santa isn’t real, but they can pretend he is. We can go to bed early on Christmas Eve, because we’re pretending he’s going to come down our Chimney. We can go see him at the mall and read books about the elves in the North Pole (just like we read other fiction books). They can use their imaginations and dream up stories about Mrs. Claus or the other less-famous reindeer. We’ll encourage that fantastical fun.

But we won’t tell them Santa is real. They’ll know he’s pretend….at least as much as any young kid “knows” the difference between reality and fiction.

And I hope they love it! Because pretending is fun. Even our two-year-old loves pretend play! She is thrilled to pretend to bake cookies and pancakes, and we often catch her having pretend phone calls with her grandparents or her baby friends. Together our girls spend hours and hours each and every day playing baby and mommy. Their imaginations are rich and their creativity is strong.

I want Santa Claus to be really fun in a pretend way–like Mickey Mouse and the characters we read about in stories.

By the way, I asked my four-year-old today if Mickey Mouse was real and she said, “Yeah, sometimes. Like when we saw Mickey at Disney World. But mostly he’s pretend.” She did meet some a version of Mickey Mouse at Disney. She understands the concept of dress up and costumes. So, in a sense, what she said is very true.

Here’s another quote I pulled from a relevant article about the wonderful possibilities that go along with pretending:

“When parents tell their children about Santa Claus they encourage belief, not imagination. The features children suppose to characterize Santa Claus are not imagined to be true of him, they are believed to be. Children do go on to fill in further characteristics of Santa Claus not contained in the original story, but this is no more an exercise of their imagination than their efforts at filling in characteristics of China that are unknown to them. Evidently, insofar as increased imagination is supposed to be what is gained through the Santa Claus experience, this can be much more effectively pursued by having the child pretend that Santa is real, rather than believe he is.”

The Santa experience could be about imagination and pretend instead of belief.

This year, we’re focusing on the St. Nick story (this book is our favorite). And our Christmas Bucket List has some ideas that direct our attention to things other than ourselves (and our wish lists).

We still have our doubts about how we want to deal with Santa in our home, but at least we’re having the conversation.


16 thoughts on “To Believe or Not to Believe in Santa Claus?”

  1. Love this. Thanks for sharing. My friend & co-blogger, Amy, has an almost 7 month old & they’re keeping gifts simple from the get go with: something you want, something you need, something to wear & something to read. I love that too. Keeping a good perspective on receiving gifts & not letting parents go overboard with spoiling their kids. All good things 🙂

    1. I’ve been keeping up with your blog, Sarah! Love that you’re writing (again?)! I’ve heard another little saying that goes: something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something to share (family gift). I like that, too! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Thank you for sharing. My son is 14 months old and i’ve been struggling with this from the get go. It’s not that i want to take away “the magic” but i dont want Luke to believe that we have to make something up for it to be good enough. I love the idea of pretending there is a santa but teaching them he is not real and the real meaning of Christmas is always number 1. It’s a tough subject to discuss and you’ve really hit it home. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sheena! It sounds like we share the same inner struggle. I would love to hear an update in the (distant?) future on how things go at your house!

  3. Oh thank you for this post! I needed this so desperately this year with my 5 yr old! The first three years of his life we never mentioned Santa and then last year his cousins got him believing in Santa. So, I fell into the pressure and got him a robot ($10) from Santa. This year I’ve felt so strongly that I should focus more on keeping Christ as the center of our Christmas. My son just flat out asked me the other day, “Is Santa real, Momma?” as he was getting out of the bathtub and I responded, “No, honey. He’s just pretend. It’s fun to pretend isn’t it?” My husband kind of flipped out because I just dropped the bomb on our 5 year old like that; and to be honest it wasn’t very thought out so then I got worried about what I did. Then, just tonight, my son walks in with his robot (from Santa) and said, “See, he IS real! He brought me this last Christmas!” To which I didn’t reply. . .. lol

  4. “And I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus because their parents told them that both Santa and Jesus were real; therefore, since Santa isn’t real, Jesus must not be either.”

    *Waves* I know it’s just the internet, but now you can say you’ve met one. 🙂 I know a few others like me too.

    Did it turn me insta-atheist? Nope. It took three or four years for me to get confrontational about it and about eight to renounce religion altogether. In that time, I read the Bible a lot and did a lot of research into religion. But realizing, not only that my parents lied to me about Santa (Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.), but that they went to great lengths to perpetuate the lie was a serious eye-opener for me as a child. It taught me that I had to think for myself and question things–even the things trusted adults told me couldn’t be taken for granted. It really wasn’t a huge leap to realizing that the stories in the Bible weren’t very credible, no more than the ones in my fairy tale and mythology books, or the ones my parents used to tell me about Santa.

    Will Santa have this effect on all kids? No, obviously not. But watch out for the ones labeled “gifted”, the ones who are constantly asking “how” and “why”, the ones capable of making big leaps of logical thought. If you want to keep them in your church, my advice is to always be as honest with them as you can be. Yeah, Santa can be fun, but it all depends on what you think is more important: having fun, or teaching your kids your values.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

    PS: I love your idea of teaching them to “pretend” that Santa is a thing. That’s sort of close to what I did with my kids. We never did the Santa thing at all, but some kids they knew really believed and the kids asked Hubs and I about it one day. So I asked them what they thought. They decided that it wasn’t possible for a big man to fit down anyone’s chimney, or to get around the whole world in one night, or to have a flying sled with flying reindeer, etc. Once they had basically come to the conclusion themselves, I explained that they were right, these things were impossible, but that this is something for parents to discuss with their kids so they shouldn’t go around telling other kids that Santa isn’t real because it might hurt their feelings. Basically, that we should let them play pretend as long as they need to and not ruin their game. Instead, we should have fun with them, even if we know it’s just for pretend!

    1. Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to add your two cents. Your response was so honest, thoughtful, and respectful. Thank you for gently correcting me–it’s very interesting to hear your story and how Santa and other mythical figures led to you doubt trusted adults! While I hope that my daughters learn to think for themselves and question things, I don’t want to lose their trust in the process. :/

      I will definitely take to heart your advice to be extra careful with my daughter who, although only two, is constantly probing us to give her satisfying answers to “how, what, why” questions!

      Again, thank you for writing. I feel as though your thoughtful comment deserves an equally thoughtful response. As more ideas come to mind, I may come back to write more!


  5. This is almost exactly what we have done with our kids. We play, pretend, and enjoy but never have told them any lies. Always have had the theory that when they ask, we will be totally honest. Our 7 year old just asked and we told him. We also shared a lot about other kids and how to handle it if asked, it’s a long discussion but a good one. So far it has went very well with our two oldest kids {neither have ruined the story for other kids who believe, we even have cousins whose parents go to GREAT lengths to fake it, our kids just play along, since we prepared them for it}. They love pretending still and I think appreciate that we never lied to them. By the way, I grew up believing as did my husband, we just made a different decision for our kids. So far so good {our oldest is 11, youngest is 4}. 😉

    1. Hi, Carisa! Thank you for taking the time to read, pin, and comment. Your wisdom is so valuable. Thank you! A few people have asked how kids who don’t BELIEVE in Santa can be guided not to ruin it for others. It’s awesome to hear that things have worked out well for your kids as they interact with their cousins. Again, thank you for sharing your insight. I’m encouraged to hear from someone whose kids are just a few years older than mine that this idea works in the long run. 🙂

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