We Don’t Do Santa

November 29th, 2010 by Dionna | 80 Comments
Posted in Children, Consensual Living, Eclectic Learning, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Infants, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity, Strive for Balance, Toddlers

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2008-12-20 03

Kieran was not sure what to think about Santa when he was just a little guy. This is the first - and only - time he's ever sat in the jolly old elf's lap.

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 in my eyes.

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 ornaments for our swap, and he will help us make cards, pictures, and presents for 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.

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. That is why we want to emphasize the spirit of giving more than the spirit of receiving.

Third: 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.1 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.

So what will we do?

Lest people write me off as a total Scrooge, I don’t want it to sound like I’m going to ban Santa in all ways, shapes, and forms. If Kieran wants to sit on Santa’s lap, I’m cool with that (note the obligatory baby/Santa picture above!). If Kieran wants me to read “A Night Before Christmas” fifty times, I’ll oblige him. The fact that we’re going to emphasize that Santa is the spirit of giving, not a literal person who delivers presents, does not mean that Kieran will not be allowed to pretend and fantasize. Heck, Kieran acts out his favorite stories about peddlers and monkeys, broken down engines, dinosaurs, and more. Why not Santa?

But just as we don’t foster a belief that The Little Engine that Could is a real live train, nor will we help build up a fantasy world that involves Santa sliding down chimneys.

Maybe I’m just bitter that we don’t have a fireplace.

Instead of Santa, we’re going to have fun making and selecting our own gifts. We’re going to enjoy time spent with friends and family over the holidays. We’re going to volunteer in the spirit of love and giving.

And that, I think, more than makes up for a childhood devoid of an imaginary elf.

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?


This post has been dusted off and edited from the original version published on Code Name: Mama last year. I figured my reader base had evolved, and the topic is still relevant! For another take on this perspective try Kelly’s post at KellyNaturally.com, “The Santa Dilemma.”

  1. Speaking of naughty and nice lists, I’m reminded of something I saw last year that made me shudder – a shelf elf. The particular family I heard about this from keeps the shelf elf up year round, it “watches the children and reports back to Santa when they are bad.” Ugh, ugh, ugh. The idea of kids being “good” and “bad” is an entirely different subject. Lauren of Hobo Mama recently wrote a great post on praising kids for being “good.”

80 Responses to:
"We Don’t Do Santa"

  1. TheFeministBreeder   feministbreeder

    I never wanted to *do* Santa either, for the reasons you described, and then some. I didn’t want some imaginary man taking credit for the gifts I worked hard to buy. And I remember being hugely traumatized by learning that Santa wasn’t real.

    However – never say never until you’re child is old enough to form opinions for themselves. Seriously. People cannot possibly know for an absolute fact how they’ll handle situations until their child starts asking them questions that you never thought they’d come up with, and never rehearsed how to answer. Santa is everywhere. He just is. Santa DOES “exist” in that he’s a ubiquitous icon. I never told my kids that Santa was bringing them presents, but they came up with that by hearing stories about this iconic figure all around them. It’s quite difficult to explain that Santa “isn’t” real, and honestly, way to rain on a kid’s parade. So, I just prefer to insist that I’m the one bringing the presents in the nicest way possible until they decide to believe me one day. For some kids, they’d just so much rather believe in the mystical fantasy of it all, and I totally understand that. It’s fun for them. I don’t really think that anyone’s a bad parent for playing along, and I no longer consider it “lying.” I’m not going to insist that Santa is coming to town, but I’m also not going to bum them out by pulling back the curtain.

  2. I “do” santa with my kids. My mom tried to tell me from the time that I was really little that he wasn’t real because she didn’t want to lie to me and guess what? I ignored her. And when he didnt bring me anything I was devastated. BUT I kept believing until I was 8 or 9. Really what is the big deal? Why spoil a magical part for the kids?

  3. My boys are too young to understand Santa or lack thereof just yet, but I do have a story to share. When I taught third grade, my students were having a discussion about Santa. I was artfully keeping myself neutral when one student who was of Turkish descent piped up: “Santa is St. Nicholas, and he was real, but he’s not anymore! He’s dead. I saw his grave when I went to Turkey!” Pandemonium ensued. After calming the students down, I told them to go home and talk to their parents, but I assured them that the spirit of Santa would always be alive and well.

  4. Janine   AltHousewife

    It’s a conundrum because I don’t really like the idea of Santa – to me it’s just a step below teaching your kids religion as fact, which I’m opposed to. BUT I don’t want my child to be the one who ruins it for everyone else at school, etc. :(

  5. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    My mom was the most magical Santa when we were growing up. It literally took me 12 years to realize that her handwriting was exactly the same as his, because I believed so strongly in this friendly, warm, and charismatic fat guy that loved eating the cookies I left him, and left me presents in return for my kindness. I feel like the belief in something magical and happy is what Santa is really about . . . people that take Santa as a rule enforcer, or use Santa to threaten the punishment of no toys on Christmas as a part of their disciplinary tactics just ruin it for everybody. I really enjoyed the idea of Santa as a magical entity- I knew as I grew how the religious origin of Christmas (we were Catholic) was both entwined and separate from the Santa and reindeer bit, but for me they always overlapped – I was always mesmerized with the story of Rudolph, how his nose that got him teased and laughed at actually made a difference when the foggy Christmas Eve came . . . and as a child, I remember thinking at the same time of how Jesus came into this world as a little tiny baby in a stinky manger next to a cow – but he was the son of God. It was all very fluid and wondrous to me, and not at all about “you’d better be good or you’ll get nothing from Santa”

    We never feared that Santa wouldn’t bring us gifts, nor did we get upset if we didn’t get what we wanted – because, growing up, it wasn’t about “if you are good, Santa will bring you gifts” – it was more along the lines of Santa being a magical, jolly, guy who brings joy to all children around the world because they are so precious to him. There was nothing in my mind about being good or being bad . . . my mom is a Montessorian and I was raised without praise or punishment, nurtured in an environment where my general preciousness as an individual was paramount – I always felt loved and always felt “good” – well, until I was a teenager anyway HAHA – Santa didn’t have anything to do with behavior for me. To me, he was just a really cool guy that in my mind, I figured, was pals with God. Can’t you see Jesus riding with Santa in his sleigh? I totally imagined that as a kid LOL

    So I don’t think that the belief in Santa is such a bad thing. I don’t buy into the argument about not lying to my children about Santa because I feel that taking away the magic of Santa and the ability for a child to wonder about the traditional stories (religious and secular) of Christmas is worse. But that’s because my mom didn’t manipulate Santa to try to guilt me into behaving. That wasn’t what it was about. When I figured out that Santa was my mom, I thought I was SO clever, and that SHE was so clever for having been the best santa EVER. I wasn’t mad at her for lying to me. I didn’t think of it as lying at all. I just saw it as the end to a fun childhood game. . . I actually remember saying “You were a really good Santa!” to my mom.

    I am excited about following in my mom’s footsteps and being the best Santa I can be to my children. I won’t manipulate Santa to get “good” behavior – mostly because “good” and “bad” aren’t words we use in our house. We set limits, and we model appropriate behavior . . . I’ll guide Abbey if she is not being “nice” or “respectful” but I’ll never tell her she’s “bad” – my only issue is going to be dealing with other children ruining Santa for my kids by telling them he’s not real. I haven’t figured out how to handle that yet except to tell them that they can believe in whatever they want to believe and they don’t need to do what everyone else is doing.

    Oh, and about the “Shelf Elf” – Again, like Santa, in my opinion . . . NOT a “vile” or “awful” character . . . he’s a magical elf that moves around the house. . . what’s not fun about that? Oh wait – I know what could make that innocent game a awful travesty: Parents who use the shelf elf and abuse the belief in Santa to extort “good” behavior out of their children. My sis-in-law uses the shelf elf during the fall and at Christmas, and her toddlers adore him. They don’t fear him. . . they think it’s so fun to imagine him moving during the night when they see him in a new place the next day. They just think he is a fun, magical creature, like Santa. But then again, my sis-in-law, like I am, is following in my mom’s footsteps with the idea of a magical and loving santa. . . and we both raise our children with respect for them as individuals, not as “good” or “bad” children.

    I can’t change the behavior of other parents, but I sure won’t tell my child not to believe in Santa just because other parents have tainted the magical game in their quest for “good” children.

    • NancyRoxanne   Nancyroxanne

      Beautiful and lovely reply-I completely enjoyed it, totally agree and am also that much more excited for the Christmas holidays :)

  6. Amber   AmberStrocel

    We ‘do’ Santa.

    My husband and I both have fond memories of Santa from our own childhoods. We want to share that with our children. And so we do. I don’t really sweat the rest of it.

    Also, I will totally cop to lying to my kids. How else will I get a chance to eat chocolate, like, ever? My 5-year-old often catches me. I don’t think it’s destroyed her trust in me. She knows that she can count on me for the big stuff, and that’s what’s most important to me.

  7. Tat   muminsearch

    We don’t do Santa either, but it hasn’t been a conscious decision, it just happened that way. My son has always been terrified of Santa, so why tell him that his worst nightmare would be coming to leave presents? He’d have scary dreams all night!

  8. Lisa C   edenwild

    I spent a lot of time thinking about this last year and this year. Our son is two this year so wanted to start figuring it out.

    At first I wanted no Santa. But then I realized Santa can’t be avoided in our culture and extended family. So I decided he can be exposed to Santa but we weren’t doing present from Santa and weren’t going to insist that Santa was real. That’s where I was last year.

    This year I decided that I DO want to tell him about Santa (just as I like to tell him about fairies and other fantastical creatures–but I never say that they are real, I’ll let him figure that out). But I am going to tell him the story of St. Nicolas and how he was a generous man, and that he lives on as Santa Claus in our imagination, or something like that. The focus will be on how he was a giving man. I am considering doing stockings on St. Nicolas day. On Christmas Day we just want to focus on Jesus. I think we will do three gifts after Christmas as a way of remembering how the three wise men gave gifts to Jesus. My main problem with Santa is not that he is imaginary, but that he steals the spotlight from the real meaning of Christmas.

    • amanda

      i agree santa does, lets let the holidays be about the holidays not toys and money and shopping!

  9. Jennifer H

    My husband and I have been arguing over this since before we were married! We have been trying for our first for two years, and in lieu of making myself crazy about infertility I have made me myself knowledgable about the type of parent I want to be! My husband was that kid in first grade who “ruined” Santa for the other kids, and he thinks the idea of spreading a lie to our future children is preposterous. Ironically, I am the one who first become interested in AP and, along with its tenants, the idea of not lying to your children. I grew up loving the Santa tradition. In my family, we opened our gifts from each other on Christmas Eve (my mom was a day shift nurse, which meant she would always be there at night on the eve of a holiday). Then we opened the gifts from “Santa” on Christmas morning. Everyone- even the grownups!- got one gift from Santa. I loved it! I don’t remember when I realized that Santa wasn’t real, but it was in no way traumatic for me. Reading these posts and comments has given me a lot of food for thought, however. Thanks for that!

  10. Chrystal @ Happy Mothering   HappyMothering

    We’ve gone back and forth on the subject and we will be doing Santa. I actually posted a poll on my blog last week on this subject and am suprised that so far the majority of people are “doing” Santa. I thought there would be more votes for not “doing” Santa after a lot of debate I’ve heard lately. Stop by and vote if you get a chance!

  11. amanda

    i have thought of the not doing santa thing, it never scarred me as a child to find out. my mom explained that he was indeed real but he just is not magic. she explain the story of saint nick, who did go and break into peoples houses and give goodies. though we did it different we never had long lists or big things and looking back half the time we asked for things for each other from santa. i hate the hallmark of the holiday i really do, but i could not imagine not ever having had believed. we focus on the true meaning of jesus, togetherness, kindness and sharing. it is not all about the gifts or quantity it is about the thought and love for us. we will teach our child that but i am not taking santa. you don’t do tooth fairy either right?? meanie lol. i am not bashing you, i just plan on doing things differently and thats ok.

  12. Amanda   Half_past_crazy

    Wow, I hadn’t even thought of it like this before! But you make excellent points, and now I’m wondering if maybe we should skip out on Santa as well.

  13. I told my kids last year (when they were 2 and 4) that Santa was pretend. I felt a twinge of guilt, but like you it’s a myth that I’m not interested in perpetuating. There’s plenty magic in the world of children, they don’t need to believe in some guy who gives them gifts if they’re “good.”
    Lots of their friends believe in Santa, and it seems there’s enough room for everyone’s beliefs.

  14. Carly

    I really enjoy the excellent points you made in this post and this discussion is very interesting! While I am not a parent I felt inclined to share my opinion on a few points…
    As far as children not noticing the difference in what Santa brings families, when they are young and whole heartedly believing in Santa, I believe, they are still in that realm of being where the world is very small and dont really notice or seem to consider what is happening outside their own home. When they get older they start to consider these things and, I believe, that is how Santa starts to naturally dissolve away and kids harmlessly discover the improbability of the whole scheme.

    And as for one kid “ruining” it for another, well, I feel the joy and beauty of Santa is that you have to believe. I have found that so long as children want too, they will ignore reality and bask in the enjoyment of the fantasy. I have noticed that at a very young age (in Kindergarten) kids will engage in discussions of rather or not each “believes in Santa.” Most seem to know its a game, but want to participate anyway, so they “believe”. I think that’s fun for them.

    On the other hand I am SOO glad to read that many parents are pushing the commercialism out of Christmas! Things will hopefully start turning around in society soon too.

  15. Kat

    This has been a really interesting post & comments for me because I decided not to do Santa and I have felt like I am the only person in the world who feels that way. It seems like everyone around me uses Santa, he’s all over the shops and front yards and people are already asking my two year “What is Santa bringing you?”

    It’s not the lying or the fact that my daughter will find out one day, but the commercialism that gets me. I’m not even getting a photo with Santa because of the commercialism of it. And also I really don’t think Santa is necessary for instilling the magic of Christmas and in fact I think he puts an emphasis on receiving gifts rather than on giving and spending time with family. I don’t think my daughter will enjoy Christmas any less without Santa. Plus I also hate the naughty/nice thing to illicit wanted behaviour.

    My only dilemma is that I do worry that my daughter will spoil it for other children. The other day I read an article which said that a mother was thinking of suing a teacher for telling her child that Santa wasn’t real. While I don’t think it was the teacher’s place to say such a thing, I also cringe at the thought of someone getting sued because of it. In the same article the mother talked about how her child was so ridiculously afraid of Santa that on Christmas Eve she would be so upset and yet they continued with Santa.

    We haven’t told my husband’s family yet who are hugely into Christmas and Santa because I don’t think they will understand us. But I have already heard my mother in law use Santa to try and illicit good behaviour from my nieces. I shudder to think she might say similar things to my daughter.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Suing her?! My husband just commented that he hopes the only outcome of that is that the parent has to pay the legal fees of the teacher. Ridiculous.

      I think by the time you’d have to worry about your child really having a chance of spoiling it for someone else, she will also be old enough to understand that some people believe different things, and you can simply model respect of those beliefs. Plus, if a child wants to believe in Santa, they will believe regardless of what some other child says to them.

      And if my mother or MIL said something like “be good or Santa won’t bring you any presents” to Kieran, I would have no problem gently explaining that we were not using Santa as a behavior influence. Maybe you could practice it a few times – just in case :)

      • Sarah

        I think in order to be able to gently talk to family members about not using Santa as a behaviour modifier you’d need to have family members who at the very least respect you and your decision to raise your children the way you feel is right.

        We haven’t talked to family about Santa yet, but we already expect an issue b/c my MIL believes she knows best and HAS to prove it every time she’s around our children. i.e. we had an emergency a couple weeks ago and asked her to watch our older DD, who is high energy, spirited and when stressed has potty accidents. KNowing how we handle things my MIL took it upon herself to tell our DD that she stunk if she peed in her pants (she only ever dribbles before running to the potty) and my MIL would leave if she did it again. ALso told her if she climbed on her own bed she’d likely fall and die (She climbs everything all the time).

        If we tried to tell my MIL we don’t do the Good/Bad aspect of Santa she’d have to ‘show’ us how much better it is – then we’d have to deal with weeks of trying to help our DD recover.

        Of course the ILs only look at Christmas as a time of receiving – to the point of having a specific list of must haves (or else) and everyone must coordinate what they buy everyone else so there are no duplicates. There is nothing generous about hte season in their home and they couldn’t understand anyone trying to focus on the giving rather than the receiving.

        DD has told others about Santa – but at the same time they’ve always been adults – at 4 I don’t think she’s likely to tell other children -a nd as she gets older I suspect she’d love the magic so much she’d want to maintain that for others. BUt we’ll wait and see.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        That is AWFUL. I would not leave my child at someone’s house who talked to her like that. I’m sorry Sarah, that must be really difficult to live with :(

      • Sarah

        It was our own house – it was her own bed she was told to stay off of. It was also an emergency. OUr younger DD, Agatha needed emerg surgery. Otherwise we wouldn’t have asked them to babysit.

        Because we treat our children the way we do, they can bounce back from stuff like that, however it does cause problems when they visit b/c they really don’t think we’re good parents. :P After all good parents would have potty trained children, who never bounced off the walls, and who never talked back. So we know the Santa thing will be an issue – after all, it’s just one more way we’re doing things differently then they did it. And that’s threatening to them.

      • Kat

        Yes I might need to practice before bringing it up with my MIL. I really don’t think she’ll understand.

        One thing I’m finding difficult at the moment is that EVERYONE (strangers, family, friends) is asking my daughter “Are you looking forward to Santa coming?” or “Santa is coming soon” or some such comment. My daughter doesn’t know who Santa is. I’m not keeping him from her. But I don’t talk about him either unless he’s around (like in shops) and then when she asks me who he is I say “Santa” and leave it at that.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        I’ve been really surprised that we haven’t had anyone say that to Kieran yet. Are you on my FB page? I’d love to see what other families say to something like that – I’ll ask today!

      • Kat

        Thanks I’ll go look at the responses.

  16. Eileen

    The other day we were out shopping and someone asked the girls about Santa coming. And Ella set her straight about how Santa isn’t real anymore, but at Christmas people try to be kind and generous like Saint Nick and remember Jesus. I was deeply impressed by her stepping up and informing an adult she’s never met about what we do in our home. The woman was taken aback, but didn’t say anything.

    A case of swapping one fictional character for another then. I feel sorry for children who don’t get the full magic of Christmas their parents are so busy being politically correct, yet on the other hand state god and jesus as a fact! hillarious yet just as risky. My husband started reading the facts about the religion drilled into him as a child, he has far more resentment over that pile of bull than Santa.

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