A recent online debate has prompted me to repost this blog I wrote three years ago. As a child I dearly loved Santa, and was deeply pained to learn he was only a story. As a parent, I wondered if there wasn’t another way to avoid that sticky problem. Well, there is, quite a simple one, in fact:
We don’t do Santa at our house.
Now, before you label me a killjoy, call social services because I’m a terrible mother, or weep for my children because I’ve lost the Christmas spirit and am destroying the holidays, allow me to explain myself. Then you can start sending the critical responses.
I promise this won’t be a rant such as I once experienced delivered by a woman who was fond of pointing out that the letters in Santa can be rearranged into Satan. (She was also fond of roasting the opossums that wandered into her yard; I never accepted her offer to sample her stew.) This is an explanation of how we’ve chosen to do something more.
We used to do Santa for our three oldest children (who are now in their twenties) when they were younger, but over the years we’ve distanced ourselves from the magic, tricks, and well . . . deceit. Our six younger children never hear us mention Santa, unless we happen to be talking about a town in California.
As a child I dearly wanted to believe in Santa, despite the incongruities of his origin and abilities. I went to the point of analyzing, as thoroughly as my eight-year-old brain would let me, how he did everything in one night (magic dust, with some sort of cool physics involved), who all the other guys in Santa suits were (secret agents, bugged with mikes and recording devices to send the messages to Santa), and where he lived (under the ice cap—and this was many years before “The Santa Clause” movie; they stole my idea). I also concluded that the version of his origins, as told by the claymation TV show “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was likely the most accurate, primarily because I thought the name Burgermeister Meisterburger was genius.
I still struggled with aspects of Santa, such as why reindeer seemed a viable mode of transportation, and the fact that Santa’s handwriting looked exactly like my dad’s calligraphy. But I eventually decided that my dad simply changed the tags once the presents arrived because elf writing was illegible.
So it was with utter shock and dismay that I received this news at age nine, casually delivered by my mom: “You know Santa’s not real, right?”
No, I did not!
In fact, I’d wrestled with this so-called truth for years—since I was five, at least—to make sense of a man of magic when I knew—knew—there was no magic.
So the whole Santa-thing was really a trick?
And the entire world was in on it?
What was the point of that?!
Why did all the TV shows and movies and stores and schools and even church, of all places, perpetuate the mythology as truth only to eventually say, “Ha! Fooled you!”
I was devastated. Then I was furious.
What other cherished beliefs from my infancy would be revealed as also hoaxes? For many months I worried that something else, something far more important and vital to my happiness, would also be revealed as a scam.
Fast forward fifteen years, to when my husband and I have a child old enough to know about Santa. Suddenly all those feelings of betrayal rushed me when my husband asked, “So how should we do Santa?”
I didn’t want to! I didn’t want to expose my children to the same beloved stories only to find out later they were merely stories.
But, family and societal pressures told us our children had to have Santa, and who were we to buck tradition? So, for our first three children, we did Santa. Visited him, sent him letters, wrapped the presents “from” him in special Santa paper, and all was fine until those kids started asking legitimate questions about his veracity.
Now I had a problem. I had always vowed I would never lie to my children (that’s not the same as teasing, which is a completely different form of torture). When they asked a sincere question, I would always give an honest answer about everything, from the Tooth Fairy to what Daddy means when he waggles his eyebrows at me.
(“Um, that means we need to talk. In the bedroom. Choose a movie—any movie you want.” Ok, so my honesty is relative.)
But the Santa Really Exists (SRE) movement meant I had to lie to my children, if only to protect their innocent friends from the reality. And I hated that.
So, after a few years of this moral quandary, I told my husband I simply wanted to quit Santa at our house—who were we to buck tradition? Whoever we wanted to be!—and happily he agreed. Since then, we’ve never regretted the decision to focus on our family and friends, and not even bring up the old fat man in red with an odd laugh like garden tools.
What are the benefits of not participating in SRE?
First, Santa doesn’t come off as a jerk. Trying to explain to my children the disparagement of Santa in delivering toys made me feel like a fraud.
“Why did the neighbor kids get a lot more from Santa than you did? Uh, you see, Santa doesn’t actually make the toys; he’s like a Secret Shopper. He buys the presents, wraps and delivers them, then sends us the bill. Yeah, that’s right.”
That was the only way to explain why our budget for each child was $45, while the neighbors had a budget of $300 for each kid.
My children accepted that answer until the year we were in a position to do a Secret Santa for another family. They eagerly helped us choose and wrap presents, but then the unavoidable question arose: “Why isn’t Santa shopping for them and just donating the presents?”
“Well,” I invented wildly, “he’s asked us to help him because, um, he’s too busy—”
“What, buying presents for the rich kids?” my eight-year-old daughter asked cynically.
I didn’t have an immediate answer for that. No matter what kinds of stories and explanations I created, Santa came across as a self-serving jerk whose services were available to the highest bidder. That’s not the spirit of Santa.
Second, we don’t have to lie to our children. By not playing into the SRE game we don’t have to keep up the façade that, something that I’ve always taught my children isn’t real, suddenly is for the month of December. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy fantasy and magic—Harry Potter, Narnia, dragons and Merlin—we’ve got all the books, movies, costumes and games, and it’s fun and serves a purpose, but just not in the real world.
In our early parenting years we frequently struggled with juggling the mythology of Santa with the story of Jesus Christ, who we hold as reality. Once one of our children even said, “My friend at school said Santa is just your parents. So what is Jesus?” The notion of magic and miracles was so confused in her first grade mind she wasn’t sure what to believe.
And that bothered me, to my core. That was precisely what worried me as a nine-year-old. I had even decided, when I still believed in Santa, that on some level Jesus and Santa were related, and shared priesthood power and magic to accomplish Christmas.
Then Santa was revealed to be pretend, and so what about Jesus Christ?
For more than a year I paid very close attention in church each Sunday (well, it’s one way to get a kid interested about religion), waiting to hear something that would suggest that Jesus Christ and priesthood power were also just convenient and “fun” little lies. In fact, an acquaintance of mine who became disenchanted with all organized religion and the notion of God, told me the seed of that was planted when he learned Santa wasn’t real. It was society’s aggressive tactics to preserve this imaginary man, and the lengths to which everyone bought into the lie, that shocked him and led him to believe that everything is, at its heart, a hoax.
But I knew, in my heart, that Jesus Christ was not a hoax. After that year of deep ten-year-old introspection I developed a testimony of my Savior. I still believe in Him, and in my Heavenly Father, and in the Holy Ghost. I have felt them too many times influencing my thoughts and decisions to pretend my conscience is that clear and forward-planning. I have experienced miracles and even seen the laws of physics altered on two occasions to prevent potentially fatal car accidents. I have heard whispers, felt nudgings, and even once encountered a gentle cosmic slap upside my head trying to knock me into awareness when I was particularly hard-hearted.
God is real and involved and intensely worried about our welfare. Santa, however, is not.
I didn’t want my children facing those same troubling questions about what is real and isn’t, especially at such tender ages, so we quietly abandoned Santa a dozen years ago. When my children ask me the hard questions, such as if the Tooth Fairy is real, I answer with, “Is the Tooth Fairy magic? Remember what I’ve told you: magic is only pretend and for fun, but the power of the priesthood in Jesus Christ is very real and very powerful.” They don’t worry about magic anymore, because they have something better.
But, you may fret, what about the Spirit of Christmas? The Spirit of Santa?
Someone once remarked that Santa is the Savior in costume. That got me thinking: why not cut out the middle man and get straight to the Savior? We don’t need to be “Secret Santas”: we can be something grander, realer.
In other words, why not let Christmas be the time that we try even harder to be . . . like Christ? It’s His birthday we’re celebrating, after all. Why not celebrate it by doing what He did?
When you think about it, much of what we do in the name of Santa is what the Savior did and taught. Want to help that single mom down the street? Do so, and in the right spirit. Think about what the Apostle James wrote in describing pure religion: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. (James 1:27)
Want to bring clothing and gifts to those in need? Visit those who are ill or lonely? Go ahead, and remember who suggested it first (hint: wasn’t Santa). Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. . . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:36; 40)
Let’s donate, share, encourage, serve, and love in the name of Christ, not Santa.
Yeah, Santa’s a good guy and all, but not nearly as great as the Savior of the world.
So don’t feel sorry for my children because they don’t have Santa. Oh, they’ll get plenty of presents on Christmas Day from their parents and siblings, along with stockings full of candy and Pringles, and there will be a few surprises snuck in after they’ve gone to bed on Christmas Eve, but if they happen to leave out a plate of cookies, they’ll know they were eaten by Mom and Dad while we put the candy canes on the tree.
Our kids don’t have Santa, but what they have instead are parents that don’t lie to them (well, not about anything important) and a truer sense about the meaning of Christmas.
After all, it’s Merry Christmas, not Happy Santa Day.
“I don’t hold with traditions just for tradition’s sake. I’m rather progressive that way.”
~Perrin Shin, “The Forest at the Edge of the World”