I have three children, ranging from five to 10 years old, who won’t be getting a visit from Santa this year. In fact, they have never received a single present from the man. Santa never came to my house as a child, and my kids won’t ever hear sleigh bells on our roof either. We just don’t “do” Santa.
Before you go calling me a Grinch, allow me to explain. I actually love Christmas, and I celebrate it with a fervor. I bake dozens of pies and buy far too many presents. I would leave our Christmas tree up year round if my husband didn’t insist on sticking it in the attic every January. This time of year is full of traditions in our family. Santa just isn’t one of them.
The church I grew up in taught that good Christian parents told their children the truth about Santa. Our pastor was afraid that the kids would be confused by the similarities of Christ and Santa stories. The story of an immortal man who you can’t see but is always watching so that he can reward you for good behavior sounded too much like what we learning in Sunday school.
The church also warned that when children learned that their parents had lied to them about Santa, they might wonder whether their parents were lying about God. Obviously, many adult Christians grew up listening for reindeer on Christmas Eve, but in our faith community, it was a given that Santa could drive a dangerous wedge between your children and God.
In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn’t alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played. That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa’s lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real.
When my husband and I got married, we attended a conservative church that took the same hard line on Santa. Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, our former pastor would preach a sermon berating any parents who allowed their children to believe in Santa, reiterating the message that a gift from Santa may interfere with a child’s salvation.
When our first son was born, we went along with this. But things got a little trickier when we became foster parents. I could not bear the thought of taking away our foster child’s belief in Santa, so we taught our biological son to play along with whatever kids happened to be in our home during the holidays.
Eventually, we left that church for reasons unrelated to Christmas. I’m not sure if our new church has an official Santa policy, but if they do, I’m pretty sure it is more grace based and assumes that God can reach my kids even if they think their presents arrived via sleigh instead of mom’s SUV.
As I became disillusioned with our former church community, the moratorium on Santa in our house remained, but the reasons behind it changed. I am no longer afraid that my children will lose their salvation by believing in a little magic. Honestly, I just really don’t like the message that goes along with the current, commercialized version of Santa.
I want my children to understand that people are valuable no matter what they look like, who they believe in, or how much their parents make. If Santa gives presents to all the good little boys and girls, it goes to reason that if a child receives fewer presents, or no gifts at all, they must not have been as good. I don’t want my kids to grow up believing that the child with a new x-box is somehow better than the one who got a little car from the dollar store.
I want them to know that families give what they can to each other at the holidays because they love each other. I want them to know that we help buy gifts for families in need because they are just as deserving of a wonderful Christmas as any other child. I believe it’s critical that they understand that many people do not celebrate Christmas as we do, or at all, because they believe differently – not because their children are bad.
I also want my children to know that their own worth is not defined by what is under the tree. This Christmas is going to be a tight one for us. We won’t be checking quite as many things off their lists as we usually do because the industry in which my husband works is struggling. I don’t want my kids to think a smaller pile of gifts is in any way related to their behavior or their personal value.
I want my kids to understand that sometimes families struggle, but we come together and make things work anyway. I know many families make things work while embracing the magic of Santa, but all the gift tags under our tree will still say Love, Mom and Dad.