Thank you for all of your comments on my last post, it’s been really interesting to read them. In this post, I’d like to have a look at some of the potential problems of not doing Santa and how Christmas can still be a magical experience without him.
Spoiling it for other children
This seems to be the number one objection against telling your child that Santa isn’t real. I do find it slightly amusing that amongst all the things children say to each other, denying the reality of Santa is seen as such a huge crime! Although obviously I would never want my children to deliberately or accidentally say something that would cause distress to another child. I explain to them that some children believe Santa is real and we can play along so that we don’t upset them. When they are older I would be happy for them to talk about it with other children, as group discussion encourages critical thinking and respect for the points of view of others.
However, even if a child did challenge the reality of Santa, I think it’s unlikely that a believing child is going to change their mind unless they are already at a point where they are beginning to question it. At a young age, the beliefs of their family are much more influential than those of their peers, and what their parents teach is usually seen as the absolute truth. I remember having a fierce argument as a child over the existence of the tooth fairy, but none of my proof swayed my believing friend in the slightest!
Whilst other children haven’t been an issue so far, adults are a different matter! Santa is so deeply ingrained in society that everyone goes along with it and even promotes it. Suddenly in December my children get stopped my dozens of strangers, asking them whether they’ve been good or what Santa is going to bring them. It’s lovely that they want to spread the happiness of Christmas, but some of them can be very insistent so be prepared to step in and explain if your child starts getting confused.
A magical childhood
The other common argument often used against families who don’t do Santa is that childhood should be magical and children grow up too fast nowadays. Funnily enough, the loudest objections tend to be from people who have no problem dressing their daughters as mini-adults, letting their sons play age-restricted video games and living a life ruled by the pressures of commercialism! Even if I am robbing my children of believing in Santa, I’m confident that I can protect their freedom to enjoy a magical and unhurried childhood in many other ways.
There seem to be three main approaches amongst families who “don’t do Santa” (by which I mean in the traditional sense of insisting that he is real), but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Santa isn’t involved at all. Every family does things in their own way, with their own traditions and celebrations, and I’m sure anyone who doesn’t do Santa will agree that it can be just as magical and special!
Santa as a belief
This approach is often used to explain religion nowadays, by saying “some people believe this…” and letting the child choose what to believe. When they ask questions, you can turn it around by asking “what do you think?” This might work well for families who want to include Christmas folklore and legends from around the world. For some people, allowing the child to believe can be a good solution. For others (and I probably fall into this category), reinforcing the child’s belief by ringing sleigh bells, drinking milk and leaving bite marks in carrots might seem uncomfortably close to trying to convince the child. There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s a very individual thing.
Santa as a story
We all know that children have fantastic imaginations, but we seem to impose our adult viewpoints on that by thinking that something can only be “magical” if children believe it to be factual. Actually I almost wonder if the reverse is true. Dragons pop up more often in my children’s imaginative play than any non-mythical creature. They pretend to be Kipper and Tiger far more than any non-fictional characters. My favourite playground game as a child was about a magical kingdom that only me and my friend could enter. Make believe is limited only by your imagination, whereas reality is limited by real rules. Could we go as far as to say that by making Santa too real we actually destroy some of the magic? Perhaps not, but I think it’s enough to refute the argument that Christmas can’t be magical without a real Santa.
I know a lot of families who choose to “make believe” Santa. The children enjoy many or all the usual traditions, whilst knowing that Santa is a fictional character just like any others in books or on TV. I suppose this is more or less what my parents did when my brother and I were children. We used to leave our stockings at the foot of our beds and go to sleep with much excitement, waiting for Father Christmas to come. I remember sending a letter to Santa up the chimney using the draught from our open fire. Occasionally we would put out mince pies or carrots, and sometimes we would try to stay awake to see him. But I don’t remember a time when we actually believed, I think we always knew he wasn’t real. It didn’t make it any less exciting or magical though!
Santa as a historical figure
The story of Saint Nicholas is a great starting point to explain the historical origin of Santa and how the traditions of stockings and gift giving developed. Many parts of Europe still celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on the 6th, but it can also be combined with Christmas. Stockings can be filled to remember Nicholas, rather than by him, and acts of kindness can be encouraged as part of the celebrations.
One of the advantages of Santa not being real is that Christmas will never lose its magic when the children realise that he is just a story. There is no disappointment and the celebrations are just as exciting year after year.
I suppose we’re currently somewhere between Santa being a story and a historical figure. Aaron happened to mention Father Christmas today, so I asked him some questions about what he knew. He told me all about Santa’s helpers, and his reindeer, and how he delivers presents on his sleigh. Listening to him talk, I started to wonder if he really did believe. So I asked him, and he looked puzzled for a moment before saying “no he’s pretend” and then carried on talking as if I was daft to ask. To him, Santa being real or pretend made no difference!
While I was writing this, I couldn’t help noticing many similarities between Santa and God. I’ve heard the comparison before, but never really paid much attention. He lives forever in an inaccessible place, has helpers, is omniscient and omnipresent, judges people, keeps lists of names, sometimes grants requests, gives gifts to the world and performs miracles. Sound familiar? I’m not really going anywhere with this point, I just found it very interesting.
I hope these two posts have answered why our family doesn’t do Santa and explained that I’m not a complete killjoy! Thanks to those of you who have shared how you celebrate Christmas in your families, it’s lovely to hear how everyone does it differently and chooses different aspects to focus on. I’m sure all of our children will grow up with wonderful memories of Christmas, whether Santa was real or not!