Whether or not to include Santa as part of your Christmas celebration at home is an issue in some Christian families. Maybe you’re deciding what you want to do in your own family. Or maybe you’re curious why this is even an issue.
(Full disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. You know the drill. It doesn’t cost you anything, but helps support the blog.)
Let’s start with two brief stories from my own life. For what it’s worth, I grew up with Santa as part of our family’s Christmas. When I started my own family, we included him without giving it a second thought. I don’t regret anything.
I was a young mom with a toddler, and some friends and I had a book group to discuss The Mission of Motherhood (which is fantastic, by the way–give it to yourself and a friend for Christmas!). To my surprise, I learned that some Christian families are staunchly against bringing Santa into their homes at Christmas. I had never heard of such a thing, and I couldn’t decide if it was silly or super-spiritual. Hmmm.
I was driving my son in the car. He was about 7, I think. He asked me if Santa was real. I wasn’t prepared! I hadn’t thought about how to answer this! So I asked him, “Are you sure you want to know the answer to your question? Or would you rather wonder about it some more?” He said he wanted to know, so I told him. I mean, if they’re asking the question, they’re already pretty sure of the answer. I reminded him that he couldn’t tell any of his friends. Just like we got to have that talk, his friends should get to have the same talk with their own parents. Don’t take that away from them.
I lobbed this question to my Facebook friends. Boy, did they have a lot to say! It was fascinating. Over 30 people chimed in. I’ve grouped the comments into “camps” to make it easy for you to find what you’re looking for. I can’t wait to hear your feedback. (Apparently, Santa is a hot topic!)
Imagination and Fun
The overarching theme in the Pro-Santa camp? He’s a fun, magical part of childhood and since kids are only little for a short time, run with while you can. Consider this that a friend posted: “I knew a guy once who wanted to rid his household of all things that weren’t directly logical – that didn’t connect to something ‘real’. He took away Santa from the kids, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Finally, when he told his kids he wasn’t going to buy them anything with fairies his 4-year-old daughter said, ‘But daddy, I need fairies.’ There it is in a nutshell.”
Another dad had this to say about imagination: “We do Santa! The girls are 7 and 8. They were all about owls last year, and unicorns and rainbows this year. Without their imagination, they will be limited in their abilities later in life. They know Daddy is Santa, but that doesn’t stop them from imagining how Santa is like Jesus. Santa gives us good gifts similar to how Jesus wants to give us eternal life. Celebrating Jesus birth is the core. How that is displayed I believe takes many forms.”
Believe it or not, I got a story from one friend about how a family’s decision not to do Santa led to really hard feelings. She told me, “I have family who did not do Santa when their kids were little for the same reason a lot of people here have said they don’t. The kids are all now grown and have small children of their own. They were told from an early age Santa wasn’t real because my aunt and uncle didn’t want to ‘lie’ to their children, as the season really is about Jesus. Although they weren’t given the chance to believe in Santa, my cousins now feel it’s very important to let their own children believe.
“All of them feel like they were cheated out of a fun piece of ‘typical/normal’ childhood tradition. My cousins grew up in a devout Christian home, and they are devout Christians now as adults. I know it’s unusual, but I just wanted to give an example of what this decision looked like for one family. When the kids grew up and were getting married and starting families, it was a big sore spot for them and there were a lot of hard feelings over this.”
Some families embrace Santa and do it up big, some do it less, but they all share the excitement about imagination, belief, and magic in childhood. Bottom line: It’s a ton of fun. And you don’t have to let it overshadow the fact that Christmas is about Jesus.
Santa Points to Christ
Santa and Jesus? The two don’t have to be incompatible at all. From another friend: “I love Santa. I couldn’t wait to play Santa for my children. It has given us so much joy and great stories over the years since my parents did a great job playing Santa. If it wasn’t for him, I may never have learned anything about Jesus. I think Santa is a wonderful tool to reach the secular world. The church we attend now is using pictures with Santa as a way to engage the community and I think it is great.”
She makes a great point about seeing Santa as an approachable bridge between Christians and non-Christians. In fact, one of my friends who is not a Christian (born Hindu and now following Art of Living) told about how they celebrate Santa and his spirit of giving: “So we do decorate a tree in a simple way, Santa we heard is the spirit of giving more than the form, so every year we give (from our home) and collect also blankets, toys, and medicine for Dallas downtown shelter for children and adults. For my kids, we don’t spend as much, and when they visit these shelters we feel more grateful and joyful seeing them enjoying. We felt this time is all about giving and being with family and praying for joy and happiness for everyone including us. (This is what we understood of Jesus is abidement of love and compassion throughout his life and even when he is on the cross, Santa also represents joy and spirit of giving). Yes!”
Putting Santa and Jesus on the same team, my friend Barbara Hanchette posted something very thoughtful, and very spot-on, in my opinion. Since other moms loved it, I’m just quoting the whole thing here:
“Who is Santa? He’s everything Jesus wants us to be. He is selfless, compassionate, giving, wants to bring joy to children and everyone he knows. He is the feeling of warmth in your heart, the glow in your eyes. Most of all he is love. We take our kids out and pick angels from the angel tree and show them how to be the spirit of Christmas. When they were smaller, they received presents from Santa. They remember all the feeling that they felt. Now that that they are older and understand how it feels to receive, I think it makes them much more excited to become what they dreamed Santa would be.”
Family Tradition and Connection
There’s a lot to love about Santa. Everything he represents, and the family traditions connected to him. One of my friends has a really sweet tradition on her husband’s side of the family, with a long line of family members dressing as Santa in their small town.
My friend Laura Bird, whose kids are now teenager, kept in mind all along that she was really Santa. I love this! Here’s what she had to say: “We did Santa. Not as the big thing but he was part of our Christmas. Kids went for photos and wrote letters. For me it was a magical part of childhood and I wanted that for my kids. I always told them that someday they would know just how much Santa knew them and loved them. I still call myself Santa at the this time of year because when they finally put it all together I reminded them of what a said about knowing and loving them.” What’s neat about this is that you have a Santa secret, but you’re planning on the kids being in on it someday.
The Heart of the Issue
A great point one of my friends made is that the real question is whether or not Christ is the center of your home. I like this because it asks the real question, which isn’t really about Santa. It’s about priority, and about worship. My friend Terri Lee shared that in her family, they make a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve, sing “Happy Birthday” to him, and leave a piece for Santa. She said, “After all, Jesus is the reason Santa comes around.” Her kids are teenagers now, but they still keep up this tradition. Which is a good reminder that the traditions you put in place now will likely be picked up by your kids in their own families. This is a pretty cool one.
Breaking the News
The moment will come when your child will ask if Santa is real. It’s probably not important why they’re asking, so don’t dwell on that. Chances are, if they’re asking, the jig is probably already up. And they’re ready to hear it. One of my friends commented that her kids range in ages from 11 to 6, so their awareness is at different levels. For now, she redirects questions with, “What do YOU think?” In that way, she’s letting the kids take the lead as they hear things and become more aware (or skeptical).
One way to answer questions is by explaining that he is not real as far as the story about the man in the red suit flying around with his reindeer– BUT he is real in the sense that he represents giving at Christmas, and people give in his name. So, anyone can be part of Santa, and a lot of people collectively are Santa. Younger children may not understand this abstract explanation, so use your judgment on that. Be careful not to take something that’s already confusing and make it even more confusing.
A fantastic way to transition from learning the truth about Santa to keeping the tradition going is to “play Santa Claus” for a family in need. Once your kids find out that he isn’t real, they can join in on the secret and have fun being Santa themselves. Choose a family you know of, or choose an angel from an angel tree, and let the kids play a BIG part in being someone else’s Santa. It’s kind of a perfect way to get some character-building in a season that easily gets too “me” focused.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
The #1 reason some families have a problem with Santa is that there are already so many distractions at Christmas that pull focus from the whole point–the birth of Christ. Here’s the argument: The secular world has embraced Christmas, and that has ushered in all kinds of things that are fun and family-oriented, but aren’t about Jesus. Christmas should turn our hearts toward the promised Messiah and all the hope and joy that brings. To introduce Santa, a gift-wielding cookie-eating flying reindeer-owning character is a big, big distraction. And one kids can’t resist.
The lying part is a big deal for some parents. For some moms, it’s just practical! One friend wrote, “I just cannot sustain the constant lying when my kids ask me 12,759,485 questions about all things Santa.”
What feels like Intentionally and systematically lying just doesn’t sit right with some parents. One of my friends said that she and her husband are committed to being “painstakingly honest” with their kids because they see it as a long-term trust issue. She added, “When the Santa thing came up, it wasn’t an issue, because we already knew how it fit into the broader vision for our family. We want them to know that if Mom or Dad said it, they really mean/believe it. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s so worth it!” This is a case of a family having a strong conviction about it. Obviously, if you’re uncomfortable with lying, it’s not going to be fun for you or your child.
Fun with Fake Santa
So you don’t think that the Anti-Santa camp is a bunch of killjoys, there are ways to blow the lid off Santa early and still have fun with it. It’s just letting the kids in on the secret early. As one dad explained, his family explained Santa the same as any other fictional character, but one that was part of Christmas. “He was just a fun game. ‘Daddy we are making Santa cookies. What kind does he want this year?’ Giggle giggle.”
Handling Extended Family
Rejecting Santa can be a sore spot with the rest of your family. Maybe cousins do believe. Or maybe grandparents want to talk about him or take the kids to get pictures with him. This is going to have to be an area of conviction for your own family, and knowing your kid. But decide early so you can let family know what you’re doing.
My advice? Kids are going to know about Santa whether you have him at home or not, so it’s probably okay to let your kids know that Santa is a big part of Christmas to a lot of people, and that’s okay for them. Most kids can play along and have fun with it just like kids can go to Disney and have fun with characters they know aren’t real. Indulging in a little Santa fun with other people doesn’t have to intrude on your home’s focus on Christ.
That said, if you have a strong conviction about the issue of Santa, make a point of talking to family early about it. Don’t do it on the fly or after Grandma has already made plans or spent money on anything you’re going to veto. Keep the emphasis on all the other fun and meaningful stuff you’ll all get to do to together, while being clear about your boundaries.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for your kids to understand that just as your family has decided against Santa, other families love him. It’s not your kid’s place to: A) spill the beans, or B) condemn anyone. What a great opportunity to teach your kids how to be gracious with differences.
Anti-Santa, BUT Pro-St. Nicholas
As it turns out, quite a few families teach their kids about St. Nicholas and how the story of Santa Claus got started, but never led their kids to believe Santa was real. In these cases, the emphasis is on St. Nicholas’ faith and the spirit of giving. This allows the family to keep the focus on Christ and serving others.
If you want to read more about the real St. Nicholas, here’s a short biography about him (click the pic):
What Would that Look Like?
One of my friends says they are downplaying Santa, and taking this year to talk more about St. Nicholas. Her daughter is the perfect age (early elementary) to start understanding more, and let’s face it, kids love stories. They are using this book as their jumping-off point. There’s also a DVD that goes with it. (If you have RightNowMedia access through your church, you can find the video there.)
Another family does it this way, and let’s face it, if you can bring ninjas into it, what kid isn’t going to love that? “Nicholas was a ninja for Jesus helping people without taking credit for it. Now days when people want to be ninjas for Jesus at Christmas time, leaving gifts without taking credit for it, they use the code name Santa Claus, and we can be like Nicholas and show Jesus’ love too. It’s a fun thing, but not a pretend thing.”
If you’re a podcast person, you’ve GOT to go to my friend Angie Elkins’ podcast, Chatologie, Episode 23. She talks to Kristin Kessler Schell about how her family’s celebration of St. Nicholas Day has reached way beyond her own home. The whole episode is fun and encouraging, but if you just want to hear about St. Nicholas Day, skip to 30 minutes in. Great ideas in there.
Can You Have It All? Yes!
If you’re wondering if there’s a way to include Santa in your Christmas, keep the focus on Christ, and talk about St. Nicholas…you can! Logically, it makes sense, but I also heard from families who do just that. The only trick to this is that you have to be intentional in striking the right balance and not leaving anything out in the fast pace of the season.
So, does this debate come as a surprise to you like it did to me? Riddle me this–Are there certain denominations that seem more concerned than others? And what really cool ways have you seen families do Santa or not do Santa to keep a Christ-centered holiday? Based on how much my Facebook world had to say, I know there’s LOTS more!