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Real Parents On: Santa Claus

We're a few days away from Christmas, and about a week ago, someone posted a note on my Facebook wall asking if I was planning a "Real Parents" post about how different families approach Santa Claus. To be honest, it had crossed my mind and part of me didn't really want to go there, but you asked, so I reached out to my parent pals and got some really thoughtful, honest, and emotion-filled responses.

Now as far as our family is concerned, we haven't really had to cross that bridge yet because our little iToddler is 150% mortified by the man with the bag. I didn't know she would have the response that she did when I first thought about letting her visit with Santa, I swear. But the resulting picture is priceless. Poor kid.

i swear i didn't know this would be the response at the time, but the picture IS priceless. (i put another $20 in her counseling jar, so no worries)

People were pretty split about jolly old St. Nick. Some love him and totally "do" the whole Santa thing, complete with milk and cookies and naughty-or-nice lists. Some families share the story and tradition of St. Nicholas, the historical figure, and use his legacy to teach lessons of sharing and giving. And some are just completely unimpressed. I'll let you read for yourself what people had to say.

One of my favorite blogs, Stuff Christians Like, did a pretty good article on it yesterday, challenging Christians on one of the more popular arguments...lying to our kids.

This is a very lengthy post, so feel free to pour yourself a mug of hot cocoa and curl up with your Snuggie... I opted out of posting photos with the answers this time just to save time on the post.

The Pro-Santa Argument :: i.e. "Do What You Want, But Don't Ruin it for My Kids"

From Elizabeth S: "I am not really sure I have a “Santa Stance” necessarily, but my entire family does perpetuate the illusion that there is a  Santa Claus.  I grew up believing there was a Santa, and so did my husband, so it was never really a discussion on what we would tell the kids.  We buy and hide presents from the kids.  We wrap each child’s presents in different wrapping paper, and we place all the packages under the tree once the children are nestled all snug in their beds.  I think it is fun to watch the kids get all excited and anxious about the big visit from the Fat Man.  The kids write him letters and sit on his lap, and we have used him as a proposed punishment in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas eve:  You know the proverbial, “If you don’t behave you’ll be on the naughty list, and you’ll get coal in your stocking and nothing else!”  We leave Santa cookies and milk, and we leave a few carrots for the reindeer.  In the morning, the kids find half-eaten cookies and half-drank milk.  They run all around looking for signs that he was there.  At our last house, we didn’t have chimney, so we told the kids that he carefully landed his sleigh on the back deck and came in through the sliding glass door.  So they would check the back porch for sleigh tracks and foot prints.  Let’s just say they weren’t disappointed.  It’s so cute to watch their faces light up and hear their screams of delight.  But even before we became full-blown, faith-practicing Christians, we tempered the secular with the sacred.  We used our nativity set to talk about Jesus’ birth, and we even have had a birthday cake for him on many occasions so that we could sing Jesus Happy Birthday.  We also try to temper our kids’ materialistic natures with reminders that they are blessed.  This is getting easier as they get older, since I can point out the Salvation Army attendants and talk about what they do, they are taught service and sacrifice at church, and they can look around and see friends and family members who do not have what they do.  In the end, I think that families can blend both secular and religious holiday traditions, but sometimes, I do get uncomfortable with all of the lies and truth-twisting it takes to accommodate the questions of eager little minds.  I don’t recall asking so many questions when I was that young.  I guess I was either more trusting or more stupid—perhaps both.  At any rate, I don’t remember at what age I stopped believing in Santa; however, I guess it was right around the time that I found my Mom’s present stash and proceeded to carefully slice open all of my presents with a razor blade, then carefully rewrap and re-tape them so my parents wouldn’t know.  I don’t remember being upset, and I don’t believe that I’m emotionally scarred from the myth; however, I might want to double-check that last statement with my therapist just to make sure.  Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!"

From Jen Mc: "We're a Christian family (as you know) and we've always 'believed' in Santa at our house. I don't hold anything against people who choose to raise their children without believing in Santa, but what I do get upset with is parents who do not make it clear to their children to keep it to themselves. Nothing is more disheartening then having a young child tell your believing child that Santa isn't real and then you have to explain prematurely. It's bad enough that we're 'lying' to our children ; ) Anyhow, it's just happening more and more and I would appreciate if other children and ADULTS would be considerate of those who choose to incorporate Santa into Christmas. O.K., I'm done venting now ;) I've just found myself frustrated with the whole thing. My children understand the true meaning of Christmas and I know that the whole Santa thing is so commercialized, but it's a lot of fun to play the role and watch their eyes light up on Christmas morning. Again, we emphasize that Jesus is the true gift, but with that said we still incorporate Santa without going too far overboard..."

The Pro-St. Nicholas Argument :: i.e. "He was a Real Guy, and We Enjoy His Legacy"

From Lori F: "The Santa thing is a struggle for a lot of Christian parents for varying reasons. Does the commercial Cola Santa detract from that sweet baby Jesus? Is it kosher to tell your kids LIES when you are trying to teach them to be honest and truthful? I know well the feather ruffling problems with Santa.

Growing up I never had a horrific "reveal" experience when all of the sudden I realized I was *lied to* and there was *no Santa*! I don't remember ever falling out of love with this Christmas tradition. I DO remember becoming old enough to JOIN in, making crafts in secret and then eventually being able to buy little trinkets that I could sneak into those stockings for my family members. Can you image mom and dad's surprise when Santa has left them unexpected gifts? Giving in unexpected ways.. that definitely fits into the season!

But back to Santa and my own kids. Their knowledge of Santa will grow as they do. I don't have to worry about explaining every detail and they aren't really asking! We probably do take a bit of a different approach since we are catholic. We celebrate St. Nicholas day on Dec 6th and my kids know that YES- Santa is REAL. He was a real person, St. Nicholas, who was a Bishop with his own inspiring story who lived long long ago. You can google it, find great illustrated books about it and really put Saint Nicholas in his place- as a servant of our Lord!

My own parents had a tradition of one "big" present and your stocking being from Santa and everything else was from family members. We have continued that tradition and this year we will only be doing stockings and one Santa present on Christmas. This way we won't be overwhelmed with so many gifts and be able to enjoy what we have been given; with enough space to still fit a little birthday party for Jesus into the day!  We will continue to celebrate the Season of Christmas in the weeks after Dec 25th. Family gifts will be opened on Epiphany, when the Magi came with Gifts for the baby Jesus. Our plan is a simple plan of education. We indulge our kids with as much fascinating historical information as we can stuff into them =)

If you want to start learning about the real Santa Claus here is a great resource! http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38"

From Meredith R: "In our household it's never been a big issue. I grew up believing in Santa he would leave presents under the tree fill the stockings etc. I do the same for my kids with a twist. They know who Santa is, we don't go to the mall to get a picture, they do make a list each year. When comes to the question "Is there a Santa and does he bring our gifts?", we are truthful. Yes, there was a man named St Nick. No, he does not bring our gifts. However they do know that other kids believe that so, they are very good sports in not telling them that they know. Here's the twist--We Celebrate Jesus with a happy birthday cake party hats and a candle for each kid. They get 3 gifts from us one for each of the wise-men that brought gifts to the baby Jesus. It has made for a fun way to still have the traditional Christmas with Santa. There is a really cool children's book that tells the story of Santa in a nativity setting."

Note: this is where our family will probably end up once the iToddler is old enough to understand Christmas. We want our family to focus first on Jesus, but if there is a lesson to be learned from the beauty of a life lived to honor Christ, we're all for sharing that too.

The Santa...meh...Argument

From Charissa H. at The Squirrel Factor: "I've honestly taken such a beating over my stance this year that I'm pretty done talking about it. It seems strange that Christians are the ones who seem the most passionately upset about our decision to tell the real story of St. Nikolas (including the part where he lived a long time ago and isn't still alive) in order to let Christ be the star of the day. I get so frustrated by the way commercialism and atheistic traditions have taken over what should be one of our holiest holidays. I love the Advent Conspiracy. We have gone to an all handmade gifts policy in our house in order to further this ethos in our family."

From Jen T: "We told our children the truth about Santa from the beginning.  A good friend Jen H. bought us a nice book that we bring out every year that tells about the real Santa Claus.  We also found a wonderful episode of Adventures in Odyssey that tell about the real Santa Claus.

The hard and awkward part for us is explaining to our children that we want them to respect other families’ wishes to keep this custom and to not discuss Santa with other children.  Understandably, we’ve received a lot of input from concerned parents that our children are going to ruin their children’s Christmas.  It doesn’t make for cheerful holiday conversation when Lily responds to grandma’s question of, “What is Santa going to bring you this year for Christmas?” with, “Santa is dead.”  While, at such teachable moments, we found ourselves rapidly transitioning to damage control, we have never once felt like our children missed out by not taking the Santa route.  Our kids still get presents (too many, it seems!) and we enjoy shopping for each other’s stockings.  This is an especially good family thing, because my husband can take the kids out to shop for each other and me for stocking stuffers with their own money.

Why did we go the “anti-Santa” route?  There were lots of little reasons.  Probably all the ones you have heard before.  Mainly, our position is based on our feeling that Santa Claus has become a vehicle for the secularization of Christmas and, as such, is now too much of a distraction from the real point of Christmas.  However, I had the opportunity to re-focus my rational this year when discussing it with our youngest and here is what I came up with…  Imagine it is your birthday and instead of everyone being excited for you and celebrating you, everyone was excited and talking about someone else?"

From Kelly W.: "This is a touchy topic, mostly because there's just no way around severely offending people who "do Santa".  The concept of Santa is a fond tradition in so many families - both secular and Christian - and it's amazing how grown adults protect that tradition vehemently for their kids.  Don't think it's that big of a deal?  Find out what it's like when it's YOUR kid who blurts out to his whole preschool class that Santa isn't real.  Or what happens when he tells the neighbor kid, who is proudly showing off the toy he "got from Santa", that Santa is a "big fat fake". Good luck!  Because apologizing your way out of that mess is quite the task.  And so is explaining to your well-meaning child that it isn't nice to interfere when other parents choose to lie to their kids.  Santa is in the mall, at Christmas parties, and the grand finale of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Ladies in the grocery store ask my kids what they want Santa to bring them for Christmas..... he's in Christmas movies..... he's on gift bags and ornaments....he's pretty much the epicenter of the American Christmas.  And as I watch all this, year in and year out, I struggle even more to hold my tongue.  I love Christmas!!  I absolutely LOVE IT.  It is my most favorite holiday.  But I freaking HATE Santa!!!  Hate him with a passion!   There.  I said it.

I could write an entire dissertation on why Santa is a problem. For now, I'll spare you the filibuster and just share the basics:
1) Santa and God are FAR TOO MUCH alike.  They are both omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal.  They both see you, hear you, and know your name.  They judge whether you are good or bad.  "He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows if you're awake.... He's knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"  They even keep a list (or in God's case, the Book of Life).  They live in places that are far away and unseen by humans.  They perform miracles.  They have helpers.  They both give us gifts, some of which are the very desires of our hearts.  Both require offerings (tithes, sacrifices, or in Santa's case: cookies).  Both even have a long white beard.... or so the story goes.  We sing songs about God. We sings songs about Santa.  Both are cherished and believed in by children.... but not necessarily by 'educated' adults.   It sounds funny, doesn't it?  As grown-ups we know the difference, right? But think about these comparisons through the eyes of a child.  The wonder, the magic of it all.... the blurry lines between what is real and what is fantasy.  And then wait until that impressionable child finds out that ONE of those beloved beings is NOT REAL.
2) As sweet as the idea of Santa is, convincing your child he exists is a flat out lie.  And it's often done in the years when children are developmentally forming a moral base as part of their personality.  During this time, parents reinforce what is real and what is not, as well as what is true and what is false.  A trust relationship is built. So when you say Santa brought their toys.... they believe you.  The moment they find out Santa is not real is far more damaging than people realize.  It is the end of childhood innocence in more ways than one.  Not only is the reality of Santa's existence out of the bag, but so is the fact that they HAVE BEEN LIED TO by the people who told them lying is wrong.  Average age kids find out that Santa is not real: 6-8 years old.  Average age kids begin experimenting with lying: 6-8 years old.
3) The Santa exchange is egocentric by nature.  Have I been good or bad?  What do I want?  What can he give me?  What can I get?   There is no emphasis whatsoever on GIVING and GRATITUDE, which in my opinion are the two biggest assets to the true meaning of Christmas.   The Santa concept leaves only room for ME.  It never focuses on the people around us and what we can offer them.  And it sure as heck has no reality when it comes to world view.  Have children who live in poverty been "naughty"?  There's also no thanks to be given when a child receives a gift from Santa, because he magically dropped off the loot and flew away.  No big deal. They have no concept of the cost, the time, the thought, the effort, or the love that may have been put into making their Christmas memorable.
4) Santa is a major distraction from the true meaning of Christmas.  The birth of our Lord has become a little footnote beneath the glam and flash of the American Christmas, where Mr. Claus is the leading man.  Just yesterday, my son was in a public school art class making "holiday cards" and was expressly directed NOT to write "Merry Christmas" on any of them because it could offend people.  Christ offends people. Think about that.  People don't care about that.  But I guarantee you they will be offended at what I have to say about Santa Claus. What kind of society do we live in where we can insult Jesus, but not Santa?"
How about your family? What's your St. Nick tradition?

Merry Christmas

Tradition!

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