Santa Who? FAQ's About Why We Don't Invite Santa to Christmas...

To the inquiring minds who want to know a little more about our Christmas without Santa, I address your questions below. But first, a brief introduction to our family's practice, because you should know that we do give our kids Christmas gifts, feed them regularly, and let them out of their rooms at least once a month day...

We have never taught our children to believe that Santa Claus is real. It's not that we're grumpy people; it is more accurate to say that Santa simply never fit in. From the beginning, we made the decision to put Jesus first and our traditions were very simple. Introducing Santa into that picture felt very awkward. In order to build a belief in a magical Santa, time would have to be invested and we came to the conclusion that we simply did not wish to make that investment.

When we spoke to our little boy of the Christ Child, we wanted him to know Him as Truth itself and never be thrown into doubt because we lied about Santa. We believed it was possible to raise a child to know and love Jesus and also have Santa, but we also knew there was a risk there. Was it worth it? We didn't think so. And so we moved on. Seven children later, we haven't felt the need to change our approach.

As the kids got older, they began to run into other children who believed in Santa. I'll never forget the first time one of my kids told me about a believing friend. Our child (about 8 years old) came home from a sports practice truly troubled, thinking that his friend was in need of some serious mental rehabilitation. He really believes that Santa comes down the chimney and flies with reindeer! Do you think maybe I should tell him the truth? Do you think his mom knows? I found that pretty funny and had to admire the sincere concern my boy had for his friend. No, son... it's okay. His mom and dad will tell him when they think it's the right time. 

Since then, we've had many conversations about our Santa-less family culture. Many people have inquired about the why and how of it. The following FAQ's are the most common and listed in no particular order. Feel free to add more in the comments...


*We don't do Santa, but now that my kids are no longer babies, I just know Santa is going to come up when they hang out with their believing cousins. What should I do?

Santa can be a great divider among families! We have never had this issue but my kids have had to deal with it among friends. This is our family rule:

1. Never reveal the truth to another child if you are not asked. That is the right of their parents and not your business.
2. If an older child asks you directly if you believe in Santa, then you should be truthful. You are not required to purposely tell a falsehood about your own beliefs to anyone and it is not your responsibility to perpetuate one.
3. If the child is very little, do not answer but tell them to ask their parents. 
4. When in doubt, always defer to their parents.

That being said, I don't think a 3, 4, or 5-year old is necessarily capable of remembering or implementing these rules perfectly. In fact, it seems to be the nature of little people to tell a thing like it is. At the risk of sounding like a jerk, I suggest that it is not your responsibility to protect and perpetuate a falsehood that other parents have told their kids. They knew the risk when they started the game and should willingly take on the burden. They should not expect a youngster from a different family culture to carry it for them.

I recommend that you do not reprimand your children for telling the truth when they are asked directly. On the other hand, do not tolerate meanness or a deliberate attempt to interfere with another family's practices. With a very little one, just let it go. It is altogether too confusing to explain. Take the hit yourself and teach them delicacy as they get older. The good news is that the issue only comes up once a year!

*Have any of your kids ruined Santa for someone else?

I know of one specific situation in which my daughter told her friend the truth because the girl asked. The mother was angry and confronted me. I apologized for causing her disappointment but I could not fault my daughter. The girl asked directly "Do YOU believe that Santa brings you gifts?" My unfortunate child was caught between two options: Truth and Lie.

After my daughter answered the question directly and honestly, the girl said:
"I thought so, but I don't want to tell my mom because I probably won't get as many presents."

So the answer to your question is a partial yes... because she didn't ruin it for a child, she ruined it for a mother.

*We have taught our kids to believe in a magical Santa and now have changed our minds. How should we go about revealing the truth?

I don't really know because I don't know you or your kids, but my strong suspicion is that direct and honest communication will be the best approach. Kids are like all people in that they appreciate respect and are built up when we treat them with dignity. I would approach it this way: After telling the child you wish to talk to him about an important subject, you could say something like the following...

Sammy, we have always told you that the story of a magical Santa Claus is real. The truth is he is not real. Many parents in our culture like to pretend that he is with their kids because it can be a lot of fun. But we want you to know that we will never lie to you, even about fun little things. We can still play Santa but now you will know what adults know. {Insert info about the real person of St. Nicholas, the truth of the Christmas story and the Church's teaching on lying... and be prepared for an awesome conversation.}

*Where is your imagination???

Solidly intact. Our family culture is filled with myths, legends, faerie stories, and games of pretend. But we are not confused about what is real and what is pretend.

Mommy, are fairies real?
No, there's no evidence to suggest they are.
But Mommy, could fairies be real?
Yes, if God wanted fairies to exist, there would be  fairies.

God is bigger than our imaginations. If He wants us to have a magical Santa, He can give us one, but He has not done so. What He has certainly given us is the awesome example of His faithful friend, Saint Nicholas. I fully support imaginative play when it serves truth. Convincing my kids to believe in Santa is not as simple as encouraging them to use their imaginations, but also asks them to deny their God-given reason.

*I no longer want to do the Elf on the Shelf but I don't know how to tell my kids. Help! 

Just tell them. They are people like you who will feel respected and loved by being included in the truth. You don't have to stop the game, but one important element will change... they will know that it is just a game.

*What do I tell Grandma and Grandpa and Aunts and Uncles? They are not going to like this!

I am blessed with the full support of every family member in this so I can't completely relate. But I can imagine! I would just be brief and straight forward. Do tell them ahead of the holiday so that there is no Christmas Day drama and so they can prepare in whatever way they choose. Tell them that you want to be the one to tell your kids the truth and not wait for some mean kid at school to do it. Tell them that those years are coming when you need your kids to be able to say "My mom and dad have never lied to me."

The relatives may say something like this: But you believed in Santa and you turned out fine! To which you can respond: Yes, and my kids will turn out fine without believing in Santa. 

*What do you tell your kids when they see pictures of Santa or see him at the mall?

Nothing really. All the kids know Santa is just pretend and so they take some measure of enjoyment from the images and songs. It's really not a big deal or distraction for them.

*Do your kids wish that you had taught them to believe that Santa is real? Do they feel like they missed out on any fun?

Absolutely not. To be sure I answered this question correctly, I put it to each of the oldest four, including two teenagers who can occasionally be contrary. Not one even hesitated. The overall impression I got from their answers is that they felt that offering them the truth was the most respectful thing we could have done. One child said that he would have felt upset and embarrassed upon finding out that he had been duped with such a thing. Another said they know that we have never lied to them about anything and it would be stupid to ruin that good record on such a thing as Santa. So there you have it... no ambiguity there.

*But you turned out fine and you believed in Santa, right?

Yes, and my children will turn out just fine without him. Full disclosure: I don't remember a time when I believed in Santa although I am certain there was a time when I did. I do, however, remember pretending to believe in Santa for the benefit of the adults in my life. Having said that, my turning out fine had nothing to do with Santa. I turned out fine through the love of people in my life and above all, by the grace of God.

If you are asking if I think I was harmed by the Santa myth, I have to answer that I have no idea. But I also have to tell you that I never truly believed in the reality of the person of Christ and the Nativity narrative either until my adulthood. In that context, the Santa story may not have hurt but neither did it lead me closer to Christ. At best, he was a neutral addition to that drama.

*How could believing in Santa possibly hurt anyone?

When your little one looks trustingly up into your face and asks, "Mommy, is Santa really real?" and you say "Yes, He is", you're asking that child to trust you. And he will. It is likely that, someday, that same child will  look at you and ask, "Mommy, is Jesus really real?" and you will say "Yes, He is." The child is asking for the truth and deserves purity in our responses. Our children need to know that we will not lie to them and must be able to trust our word in all things because we are their primary witness to love of Jesus Christ in their lives. 

*Lighten up, okay?

Never! *wink*

*Do you really think it is a lie to tell kids that Santa is real?

Do I really think it is a lie to tell kids that a fat man in a red suit flies through the air with magical reindeer and really and truly comes down people's chimneys? Well, it certainly is not a truth. No matter which way you look at it, the Santa myth is not true. Is there an acceptable justification for such a deception? That is for you to decide with your family. Faithful Catholics are somewhat divided on this point but I would exhort you to prayerfully read what the Church has to say about truth and lying here in the Catechism. It's pretty serious business.

The Catechism quotes St. Augustine's teaching that "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving." That's pretty straight forward. The fine print discusses the gravity and conditions related to culpability in the sin of lying but the definition is never in question.

*Don't you realize all the fun you are missing? Christmas would be boring without Santa! 

Says who? As soon as Easter is over, my kids are already thinking of Christmas! And what do they most look forward to? Christmas Mass! The smells, bells, sights, and sounds have captured their imagination and their hearts. The presents and family celebrations are the icing on the cake. Call them Catholic nerds but that's the truth of the matter. I am grateful that their sense of the sacred has not been so dulled that they need a pretend story to excite their interest in the beauty of Christmas.

*Do you think that Christians who have Santa are bad?

No, of course not. I cannot speak to the motivations that drive family decisions nor to the methods they use to communicate truth and joy to their children. The purpose of this post is to clarify my family's position (which is in the American cultural minority and widely misunderstood) and to answer commonly asked Santa questions from my own little perspective.

I have lived with Santa and lived without Santa, and my seasons without have been richer since they have become more Christ-centered. Does my experience mean Santa is objectively bad? No. It simply means that I am free from having to worry about the matter at all and that my kids know who to thank on Christmas morning. There's more room in our heads, hearts, and homes. I am grateful for that measure of simplicity in a sometimes overwhelming season. And in all honestly, I am grateful that I never have to fret about how to break the truth to my kids, because they have had claim to it all along.

What is your experience? I'd love to hear it!

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Posted on December 9, 2013 and filed under "Christmas", "Santa Claus", "Santa".