Why not Santa?

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I get asked a lot about why we don’t do Santa in our family. The most basic answer would be that it just doesn’t fit in with our values. This can be a bit of a heated subject, but I understand that every family places importance on different things, and there’s certainly no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. So here are some of the reasons we choose not to do Santa in the traditional way:

It’s a lie

A lie is “an intentionally false statement” or something intended to “to convey a false impression”. No matter how much you justify it by saying it’s just a little white lie, or continuing a tradition, or protecting the magic of childhood, unless you actually believe that Santa lives at the North Pole and flies around the world on his sleigh delivering presents on Christmas Eve then presenting it as truth is still a lie. And it often leads to more elaborate lies and deceptions as children get older and begin to question the possibility of Santa.

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, which is fine. For me, it all boiled down to the simple fact that I couldn’t bring myself to look my children in the eye and tell them that Santa is real. I remember the moment when I was talking to Aaron and knew that I had to tell him one way or the other. The thought of lying to him made me feel sick inside and I just couldn’t do it.

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It’s conditional

Naughty or nice? Those aren’t labels I want to apply to my children, nor do I want them to think that other people must fall into one of those categories. It gives the impression that people are deserving or undeserving, and I don’t want them to believe that love is conditional on their behaviour. As a Christian mother, I want to demonstrate grace to my children. Grace is generous, free and can’t be earned. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

Santa is often used as a threat to manipulate children into behaving in a certain way. Bribery can certainly be effective, which makes it a very tempting discipline tool, but I want my children’s behaviour to be motivated by a desire to do what is right, rather than by a desire for reward or a fear of punishment. Besides, using the threat of Santa not bringing your child any presents leaves you with a big problem if they continue to misbehave. Either you follow through, which would be rather harsh, or you don’t follow through, which undermines your parenting.

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It’s not fair

For some children, Santa fills their stocking with a few small gifts. For others, he brings hundreds of pounds worth of expensive presents. Does that mean a child isn’t good enough if they don’t get the costly gift they asked for? Or what about all the children in the world who are homeless or starving? How do I explain to my children that Santa gives nothing where it is needed most? Do those children not deserve their wishes to be granted?

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It’s materialistic

Whether you celebrate it for religious reasons or not (and that’s an issue I still have my doubts about), surely Christmas is supposed to be a time of kindness and joy rather than consumerism and materialism. Yet Santa puts the focus on getting rather than giving. Children are encouraged to make lists of things they want, which parents must try to obtain or risk exposing the lie. Of course, adults usually throw in some moral lesson about how it’s better to give than receive, but most of what children experience at Christmas is centred around getting presents. How can children begin to understand the importance of giving to those in need when a supernatural being supplies them with lavish gifts from their wish list?

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When you mention to someone that your family doesn’t do Santa, there seem to be two main objections. Firstly, that it robs children of a magical childhood, and secondly, that it spoils it for other children. In my next post, I’ll try to address some of the potential problems of not doing Santa and explore ways that Christmas can still be a magical experience for children.

16 Comments

  1. I totally agree with you! We’ve always told our kids Santa isn’t real but it’s fun to pretend. They like to play pretend Santa games and talk about him, but like you, I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of lying to their little faces and telling them he’s real. And they’re not robbed of anything! I could go on and on, but yeah, I agree with everything you’ve said!

  2. Karmin

    I understand your perspective. I had a similar problem. I never planned to NOT “do” Santa with my son, but the first time he asked me about him I couldn’t bring myself to lie! He LOVES Santa, reindeer, snowmen, and costumes. He is fully aware that Santa is a costume, a cartoon, a character. He knows that “Santa” is not real, but still enjoys him (just like he enjoys Spider-Man, Power Rangers, etc.). That works for our family.

    We treat Christmas as we do all of the other birthdays that we celebrate: give gifts to the one we’re celebrating, and eat cake. I’ve been having my eldest two kids make gifts for Jesus this year (my children are ages 5, 3, 2, 1). They draw a picture, make a craft, whatever, and put it in a wrapped box. Those presents will go under the tree along with our gifts to each other. Since Jesus is not here in bodily form to accept them, we give material gifts to each other instead. I want them to make (and eventually buy) gifts for Jesus, though, in order to remember each day that HE is the one we’re celebrating. I love our family tradition. 🙂

    We also do a daily Bible-based advent calendar. Behind each door is an item used to represent a verse or story about or told by Jesus. For example: salt, mustard seed, stone, cross, nail, grapes, goldfish.

    That’s what works for our family, and I believe every family should make their own God-led decision about what they’re comfortable with. We continue to keep our focus on Jesus’ birth and eventual death on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins through our daily activities, and we have a little fun and show some thoughtfulness towards each other along the way!

  3. Hi Sarah, brilliant post about a tricky subject, could rile a few people and you have to be brave to bring this up.
    I think I meet you in the middle on this one. I don’t think I’ve ever actually said ‘Santa is real’ and tend to go ‘i guess it’s possible…’. I never let them write lists and always tell them that they get a stocking whether they are good or not, i too hate the asking for presents and the conditionality of it. We spend a lot of December discussing how thrilling it is that anyone gets us presents at all! Today we read about Saint Nicolas (I know a little late!), and together came to the conclusion that he didn’t bring us any food because we’re rich, not poor. But now i think maybe I should be careful about what message they get over the next few years about what poorer children receive. One thought is that there are the shoeboxes that people send which mean that children from other traditions and economic circumstances do get presents at Christmas, although of course only a few. Also, I don’t want to encourage a perspective of pity towards others, more respect which inspires help.
    As non-Christians we don’t have the magic of Jesus to fully celebrate, (although we certainly celebrate the story and the message of love), which perhaps brings a very magical element (in the wonder sense) for Christian children. For us, Santa does a similar thing, one man devoting his night to bringing presents to EVERY child, that’s also a message of love to all the children. xxx

    • Sarah

      Some really good points there Ali, especially about less fortunate children. I can definitely see how, for some families, Santa is a message of love to all children. xx

  4. bethelbunch

    Interesting post, Sarah. As Iona is a similar age to Aaron I’ve been faced with this issue a lot this year, too, especially as when she heard “I Believe in Father Christmas” a couple of weeks ago she asked “Mummy, do you believe in Father Christmas?”! I’ve reached a different answer to you, as I was raised in a Christian home but we still did the whole Father Christmas thing and it never made me feel lied to or doubt what I’d been told about God. I adored “doing” Father Christmas and neither my husband nor I wanted to deprive Iona of that, but I still don’t want to outright lie to her. When she came right out and asked me (a few years before I expected!) I replied by asking what she thought. She replied that I didn’t believe in him, then asked why. Hmmmm …. ! I said it was because I was a grown-up and grown-ups don’t believe in a lot of things. That seemed to satisfy her. My personal decision is that I will not lie to her, but story-telling is a different matter, and when she asks for the absolute truth she will get it.

    • Sarah

      Sounds like you’ve found a balance that works just right for you. Thanks for sharing, it’s really interesting to hear how everyone does it differently. 🙂

  5. I recently posted a question about this in the Home Education UK Facebook group…what a thread that was! We don’t do Santa either, I just couldn’t lie to Isaac. Good post 🙂

  6. Bec bart

    I’m guessing you don’t expose your child to tv, books and films either. Or else you only read/watch factual books and films?

    You also assumes there’s only one way to ‘do’ Santa. I don’t do lists, I don’t do naughty/nice, I also don’t do all gifts are from Santa. My son gets a stocking from Santa in return he leaves Santa a present of mince pies and reindeer food. He doesn’t/won’t get to ask what he’s bought, everything else is from who bought it, because they deserve the credit for working their arses off. When my son asks me if Father Christmas is real, I will explain to him fully, in the same way as if he asks if mr tumble, superman or God is real. Im not judging you for what you choose to do, but this article is narrow minded. I enjoy fostering my sons imagination without imposing all the things you morally object to and automatically assume everyone perpetuating the myth is guilty of.

    • Sarah

      Hi! We don’t have a TV, but my children do sometimes watch DVDs and we enjoy lots of stories and fairytales. Imaginative play is really important to our family. I’m aware that there are many different ways of doing or not doing Santa, as you’ll see in my next post. I think it’s great that your family does Santa in a way that works for you. 🙂

  7. Betsy

    Wonderful post! I completely agree! We don’t do Santa at our house, either, for these reasons and more! A little thought on the subject of imagination. Telling kids that something is true is not having them use their imagination. It can be argued that parents who tell their kids that santa is real are doing more to kill imagination then those who tell them it’s pretend. It takes more imagination to take a pretend story and play along, then to be told something is true and is a fact. That leaves no room for IMAGINING the details or other stories.

  8. I’ve just come across your blog post and have to say it is a relief to finally find someone who agrees with me!
    Right this minute I am being bombarded with people all over social media talking about santa, santa, santa! It’s al about posing their children for cute photos with a fat old man in a red suit at the local shopping centre, how many presents are too many, and a rather embarrassingly immature and aggressive conversation about how “stupid kids are who ruin santa for other kids and I’ll teach my girls to call your stupid kids stupid”. All I can see there is that these parents are teaching their children that anything different to their opinion or belief should be criticized and insulted. Is this really the way to go??
    I’ve never done santa with my kids, I tell them that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and we don’t believe in santa because he is a made up story. I’m sure non religious people could turn that around, but this is how we do it in our house.
    I had abuse hurled at me when I decided to not feed my children the santa lie. “They will grow up with NO IMAGINATION! How could you take that magic away from them!!!”
    In the almost 5yrs old my daughter’s life she has proved time & time again that she has a very active imagination, and instead of me feeding her a commercialized fantasy about Christmas and presents and YOU HAVE TO BE GOOD OR YOU GET NOTHING attitude, I teach her & her brother that it is about love, family and celebrating the birth of Jesus.
    Sorry for the essay length rant, this is something that I am obviously very passionate about!

  9. Anonymous

    As a first time mumm contemplating how we want to raise our little guy – I really appreciated your fresh, mindful perspective! Thank you for being brave enough to share your counter-culture ideas!
    =)

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