Ho Ho Ho, How Do You Santa?

December 9th, 2009 by Dionna | 29 Comments
Posted in Children, Eclectic Learning, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity, Toddlers

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We have decided not to “do” Santa with Kieran. By that, I mean we’re not going to help Kieran believe that Santa is a real person, and we won’t be following the news reports of “sleigh spottings” on Christmas Eve. More likely we will explain that there is a story about an imaginary person named Santa Claus.

We’re avoiding the Santa Claus story for three main reasons:

First, I’m chicken and don’t want to face a sobbing 5 year old who just discovered that Santa Claus is not real. More importantly, I want Kieran to be able to trust us, and lying to him about Santa would be a breach of that trust.

Second, too often Santa emphasizes the spirit of receiving more than he does the spirit of giving. Think about it – we sit our children on Santa’s lap to talk about what they want to get. We have kids make lists of what they want under the tree. In the weeks before Christmas, kids are overwhelmed with consumerist crap.
We do not want Christmas to be an orgy of gimme gimme gimme. We are going to limit the number of gifts that we all receive, and we will take care in making or choosing gifts for friends and family.
This holiday season Kieran has already helped make cards, cookies, ornaments, and other gifts for our friends and family. He puts serious thought into selecting what gift will go to which person, and he loves presenting his homemade gifts to others. (He also loves dropping money into the Salvation Army bucket every time we chance upon one, but I think that has more to do with the bell and the falling coins than it does his philanthropic attitude.)
We hope to help Kieran’s sweet spirit of generosity grow, and Christmas is just one time of the year to highlight how wonderful it is to share with others.

Finally, I don’t want to condition the amount or quality of gifts on Kieran’s behavior – there won’t be a “naughty or nice list” at our house, nor will we jokingly threaten lumps of coal. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that the parent who keeps a literal checklist of their child’s transgressions is rare, but I don’t even like the idea of conditioning gifts on behavior. And I don’t want Kieran to “behave” in the hopes of being materially rewarded, I’d rather he just learn appropriate social interactions and want to be a cool kid all on his own.
We will give gifts on Christmas (and anytime during the year) because we enjoy making each other happy, not because someone has earned them.

How do you handle the story of Santa?

If you have older children, do they believe Santa is a real person or an imaginary character?

How do you emphasize the joy of giving over the fun in receiving?

2008-12-20 03

Kieran was not sure what to think about Santa last year.

29 Responses to:
"Ho Ho Ho, How Do You Santa?"

  1. Katje Sabin

    We say that Santa is a spirit… one that anyone can don. To be a Santa is to give without expecting anything in return. Linc’s first encounter with a shopping mall Santa was at Crown Center, and he went there to give Santa a drawing and thank-you letter (that Santa was too distracted to really understand that Linc wasn’t giving him a list of demands, which was sad to me… but Linc was happy, he’d delivered his message and that was that. So I got over it!). We never never never tell Santa (or anyone else) what we want… that’s greedy. There’s no expectation of receiving something, but there is definitely hope. And there’s a lot of Santa spirit even a small child can summon, little secrets and surprises… Clayton loved to help fill stockings. To give someone a gift without putting your name on it is to be a Santa, the concept of altruistic giving.

    I love the idea of the Santa spirit. It is what I think Francis Church meant when he told Virginia O’Hanlon that yes, indeed, there is a Santa Claus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes,_Virginia,_there_is_a_Santa_Claus).

    We do leave cookies for Santa… kind of a little thank-you gesture, more than all-night-delivery fuel. We also make sure that the kids know that all the reindeer/sleigh stories are pretend, just like the fairy tales we read. Dealing with the true believers can be dicey, but we approach it like the stories of angels and hell that we come up with when my kids play with religious friends… we say that people have different beliefs based on their own experiences, and that it is not up to us to challenge those beliefs (unless they impact us in a negative way, *cough*Uganda*cough*).

    Rejecting commercial television and radio, getting off catalog mailing lists, and homeschooling all have helped dampen the huge amounts of consumerism noise that my kids have been exposed to. We’ve never had any kid ask for a Christmas toy (birthdays are kind of different… those are about the kid, and I do sometimes ask if there’s a special thing they want, or experience they’d like to try… but never Christmas). The first time they saw another family’s tree before gifts were opened was a hugely confirming event for me that we were doing the right thing (a neighbor’s home in Davis, when their boys were friends with Cordell, invited my kids over during the stocking-time before present-time… they were stunned and not in a good way. They also noticed, after the unwrapping and on their own, how jaded and unappreciative those boys were — “is that all?” — and the huge wasteful mess of boxes and paper).

    Linc has an aunt that keeps asking him what he wants for Christmas, and he’s definitely being seduced by the concept that you can custom-order your own gifts. We’re in the process of squelching that idea as fast as we can… he’s helping make things to send to her, and thinking of things we can give to others. It’s an ongoing battle, but I think it is so worth it… my older kids are all generous and love surprising each other at Christmas.

    Hang in there, mama! It gets easier as they get older and can be enlisted as co-conspirators in your merrymaking!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I love the idea of “everyone can be Santa.” That captures what Santa *should* mean. And I have no problem with leaving cookies, etc., as long as we make sure he knows it is pretend.

      • CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

        I’m all for the Cookies for Santa part, if by “Santa” you mean “Papa”… Yes, we should leave lots of cookies out for SANTA… wink, wink…

  2. Emily

    I have to disagree with this one. I am an aunt to now 9 nieces and nephews ranging in age from newborn to 19 years of age. Most are somewhere in the middle where Santa is no longer “real”. I have never once witnessed any of them become completely disturbed over this fantasy becoming a non-reality. From my own adult perspective, I do not recall ever feeling disturbed when I realized Santa was not real, nor did I ever distrust my parents because of it, or think that they were liars because of it. But for small children, the fun of Christmas is receiving gifts. The joy of giving is something you discover when you’re older, at least in my experience.

    If you really want to give Kieran an idea of the true meaning of giving behind Christmas, why don’t you do what my parents did? Let the child enjoy the fun and fantasy of Santa, but strongly encourage the message of Christ alongside of it? I never got the two confused, I understood both messages loud and clear, and seeing as Jesus Christ is the true meaning of Christmas, are you incorporating that lesson into the giving of gifts?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      But why does the joy of giving have to be reserved for later? Kieran loves giving now! For example, we made ornaments for a Christmas exchange, and we made several extra to give away. One was for an elderly neighbor; on the day I said we were going to take an ornament to Mary, he talked about it all day – “ornament, Mary? Ornament for Mary!” He colored on the card we made for her, then excitedly bundled up and ran to her house, ornament in hand.
      These are the kinds of things that I feel it is our privilege to encourage. If you don’t help them experience the fun in giving as children, why would they want to as adults?
      And believe me, he will experience the joy of receiving ;) – I just don’t want him to come to *expect* lots of loot under the Christmas tree.

      • Katie

        My husband has a strict rule of one gift from Santa and 2 from us. Three gifts thats it. Strictly to eliminate the “lots of loot” part. I hated it at first, but its growing on me. It makes me really think about what to get her and find meaningful gifts that I hope she’ll hold onto.

        Ps. for birthdays she only gets one gift

  3. Katie

    My DD, Marin, who says she is no longer 2, but “almost three,” adores Santa. Yes, I take her to the yearly Kids Christmas Party our friend throws, and Santa comes and brings all the kids a small gift that the parents have strategically hid in the truck in the driveway. But the magic of seeing her see him is priceless. Her eyes light up and every time, she runs up to give him a hug. She sat on his lap, and opened her gift, he read her book to her and posed for numerous pictures. It wasn’t about greed, it wasn’t about commercialism. It was about being a child and the magic of Christmas.

    We watch Santa movies, and leave him cookies and milk. She even thinks he has left his hat at our house (she found my Santa hat).

    I don’t encourage her to ask for things, I encourage giving and being a good friend. We give her old things to people who need them, and she is happy that another kid can have them. “Mommy I so happy,” she tells me afterward. This is what Christmas is about, giving. So what if she adores Santa on the side, she knows the true meaning.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and I love your daughter’s name)!

      I understand a parent’s joy in seeing a child enjoying the magic of Santa. There is an argument to be made on both sides. I just wanted to share the reasons behind our decision.

      Peace :)

      • Katie

        I’m a friend of Emily and Matthew’s, by the way. Been reading your blog since the begining.

  4. Emily

    I am not saying he cannot enjoy giving now by any means. My parents encouraged us giving to the poor. Once I completely on my own wanted to give one of my beloved Cabbage Patch Kids to a little homeless girl. But why can’t he have both? I am just opposed to taking away what could be such cherished childhood memories, as Katie described in the comment below mine. Also, what about when he goes to school, and tells the other kids that Santa is not real, and those sobbing 5 year olds’ parents call you angry that Kieran ruined the fun for everyone else? Not trying to argue here, just wondering how that will be handled…

    • CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

      I don’t know if our thoughts will change on this slightly once Kieran moves to the “not deathly afraid of costumed people” phase of his life… maybe something more like what Katje was talking about where Santa is a symbol of giving vs. being a “real person”…

      Regarding heavily-costumed characters, this summer he was squirming and crying to get away from Sluggerrrrrr at a Royals game… not sure if Kieran was afraid of the mascot suit or whether he’d been traded to his hometown team and realized he didn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract. I’d cry too.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I never said he couldn’t have both – he will be receiving several presents from us and from family. I’m sure he’ll take great joy in them :)

      As far as other kids, I’m not sure why it it would be my responsibility to perpetuate a myth for other people’s children. Of course I’m not going to encourage Kieran to wreck the beliefs of other kids, but if parents are going to tell their children that Santa Claus is real, it’s their burden to deal with the fallout when the kids find out otherwise. And that is going to happen one way or another, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much debate on the topic among parents.

      I don’t think Kieran will miss any of the magic of the season because we don’t encourage him to believe in a myth. We will make our own magic by sharing Christmas stories (including the story of Santa), making Christmas gifts/cookies/etc., singing, spending time with friends and family, etc.

      A literal belief in Santa just isn’t integral to celebrating Christmas as far as I’m concerned. Like Katje said – he can think about Santa/Saint Nicholas as the *spirit* of Christmas, I have no problem with that. I don’t have a problem with him wanting to sit on Santa’s lap. But I’m not going to let him wonder why I allowed him to believe in a real Santa when he will inevitably be disappointed someday.

      • CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

        @emily – as far as a 5 y.o.’s belief in Santa being ruined, there are several other ways that could happen such as older siblings, older kids in the neighborhood, movies/tv, etc. etc. or even some other 5 y.o. who has already caught on b/c he snuck around and saw “mom and dad” putting presents “from santa” under the tree on the 24th… the kid will have to realize at some point that Santa is not real, just like the tooth fairy, easter bunny, etc

    • Hi.

      My kids don’t believe in Santa (never have) – and they’ve never once ruined it for another child. My kids are 21, 10.5, 8, and 5.5 yrs old.

      Just to toss that out there.

      We do the spirit of Santa and when pressed by the kids, I’ve told them that I don’t believe, and I am the one leaving the gifts (calling upon the spirit of Santa and all) – since I don’t believe, I wouldn’t want them to be disappointed if I didn’t leave the santa gifts and and I was right about there not being a Santa and they woke up to nothing – but they can choose to believe in the physical Santa if they wanted. Once I told them that that’s perhaps how Santa’s magic works – parents filled with the santa spirit continue on with it so their children can have a bit of that magic too.

      Also, to toss it out there, the fact that my kids know that I am the one leaving the gifts has never once taken away from the magic they experience come Christmas morning.

      Regarding the commercialism of the holiday, Santa is the one that leaves the commercial crap for the girls – he leaves the things that they think they want because of advertising or whatever else and I get them presents that I know (suspect) they will actually enjoy. I aim for four gifts, the one thing they ask for, one thing they need, one thing to wear and one thing to read type of deal – Santa brings one commercial thing – nothing big, and some stocking stuffers. Sometimes a game or paper or something.

  5. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Thank you for reading Katie :) I hope to meet you someday!

    • Emily

      I get your point about not perpetuating another child’s beliefs, no matter what they are, but… ah, forget it, this will just go in circles.

      However, I am still wondering about my point about Jesus being incorporated into Christmas at your house? I mean, isn’t he the ultimate picture of sacrifice?

      • Katje Sabin

        What about the solstice? Isn’t this story about Jesus going to take away from the joy of celebrating the turning of the year? Isn’t the return of the sun the ultimate reason for the season?

        Societies create their own stories to fit their circumstances. When people were so dependent on the earth, the Yuletide was paramount. When communities were linked tightly to their churches, those stories moved to the forefront. And now that we are a commercial culture, Santa is the new figurehead.

        We’re lucky that our present day communication and social opportunities allow us to create the communities that support our needs… and that we can choose those circles that best reflect our values. As America is a melting pot of ethnicities and traditions, so our own family rituals reflect a joyous stew of ideas, stories and rhythms that best fit our needs.

        The only hard part is when one group insists that another group must adopt their values. Live and let live, and keep Giftmas/Christmas/Yule in your heart the best you know how, and lo, the days will grow longer, spring will return, the babies will grow and another year will slip by.

  6. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Honestly, this post wasn’t about Jesus or sacrifice, it was about Santa.

    A more interesting question might be, why would a Christian want to tell their kids that Santa Claus is real?

  7. Heather   xakana

    I don’t believe in lying to children, so that’s why we aren’t “doing” Santa, either. I explain the St. Nicholas story (only just calling him Santa for simplicity since Lilly’s only 3) and that Mommies and Daddies become Santa for Christmas each year. Lilly just tells me “I like Santa, he gave me a mint!” (referring to her memory of the photo with Santa last year, lol, yes, she still remembers) so I’m not sure how much she gets.

    When she’s older, I’ll explain that other kids truly believe in Santa and not to spoil it for them, so it’s okay to play along and have fun with it, that that’s also a part of the winter holiday fun. I plan to explain Santa as the gift giving spirit of the season when she can understand that better… she prefers the stories to any explanation right now and I won’t spoil her fun.

    My MIL still insists that Santa’s real. She never gave the “there’s no Santa” speech and she sticks to her story, lol, so her kids were never upset by it. I think if you’re going to do it, that’s the way to go, lol, but as we both know from stories in our parenting group, there ARE children who grow up traumatized by this early betrayal and lie.

  8. We do Santa. In my opinion, kids have this amazing ability to imagine things real but also accept the reality of truth when it shows up. My daughter had imaginary babies for over a year and completely believed them to be real. One day, she realized they weren’t. No drama, no mystery, she was just ready to say goodbye to them (all 12!) She knew all along that we didn’t see them and it didn’t bother her at all to believe in them. My kids have spent hours chasing fairies around at dusk, convinced they were there and playing tag. Did they *really* believe it? Not likely…but the fun of being able to pretend was just that – fun. We’ve looked for elves, pretended to find genies, hidden from leprechauns playing pranks. There are so many ‘myths’ out there and in my experience kids love hearing them and playing them. At no point has there been any devastation at realizing it was just play. When they first hear that Santa isn’t real, I’ll ask them if they believe in him. If they do, we’ll continue. If they don’t, I’ll tell them story and explain that it’s a fun thing to pretend and they’ll move on. Except in my case I *will* tell them to keep it a secret because I wouldn’t want them to spoil someone else’s fun.

    As to the commercialism and giving, I think that’s completely different from Santa. We are having homemade gifts, we gift to those in need, we donate, we volunteer, we completely expose them to the spirit of Christmas/giving. My kids only create a wish list when I ask them for one (makes shopping more efficient) and it had 3 things on it. Just pointing out that lumping Santa and commercialized gift-giving isn’t fair, in my opinion. THere are generous, kind, happy, Santa-enjoying kids out there :)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I agree with a lot of what you said Stacy. I wonder if your daughter had an easier time giving up the imaginary babies because she did it on her own terms. I’d be willing to bet that the kids who are allowed to grow out of Santa (or any imaginary thing) have an easier time with it.
      And don’t get me wrong, I’m not on a mission to take away the Santa fantasy from every child we meet – I’ll help Kieran keep it a secret.

  9. Parsnip Milkdud

    Okay I just have to ask… If Kieran wants to leave milk and cookies out for Santa, is it going to be cows milk or mama’s milk?

  10. Melodie   bfmom

    I was fully prepared to do as you are saying you want to do. And then I found myself doing the opposite right around age 2 1/2 when they are starting to get it. At first I was like “what are you doing Melodie? This goes against everything you wanted to do!” I’m still not sold on my own actions, however, it’s the magic of it all. I enjoy bringing a sparkle of wonder to my daughter’s eyes. I balance things out by telling her that Santa is not a real person, but a magical one. I’m sure it’s confusing to her, but isn’t that what magic is all about? ;)

  11. We will also not be “doing” Santa. I will not lie to my kids. Plain and simple. But we will read the books about the stories of Santa, and how he came to be, and what people believe and things like that. I think Grandma will have a hard time with this one, as she has problems with a lot of the things we do, lol. I never believed in Santa (in fact I was terrified of him. Just the idea of someone being in my house, lol) and I never once told a child who did believe in Santa that he was not real. To each his own and this is what we choose to do!

  12. the Grumbles   thegrumbles

    oh! thanks for linking to this from our lying discussion!

    you’ve probably swayed me pretty far away from the whole Santa thing now pending husband discussion. i completely agree about the consumerism aspect of Santa versus the joy of giving. we’ll see.

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