Navigating the month of December with children under the age of twelve in the culture of Santa-centered celebrations is a careful dance. Making the decision has had an impact on our December celebrations in ways I could never anticipated when we made this seemingly simple choice.
Everyone expects that your kids will be visited by Santa. This is especially hard when they are the preachers children and they have not just the usual folks but entire churches full of people asking them if they are ready for Santa to come.
I will never forget the first year Santa came up in our house. We calmly explained to our six, four and three year old that Santa was based on a man named Saint Nicholas who was a real person who gave lots of gifts to poor people. We read them a story about St. Nicholas and they were pretty comfortable with the idea that St. Nick was real but Santa is a way people honor what he did. On Christmas Eve at the end of the worship service one of my church members asked our very verbal three year old if she was ready for Santa to come. The response to this wonderful, elderly member of my church? “Don’t you know that Santa is dead?”
Yup. Santa is dead. That’s how our three year old translated all the justification we so logically laid out.
I’m not going to pretend it is easy. It is hard on a family and kids and on innocent bystanders who just assume that everyone celebrates like they always have.
We have found that some things help.
We don’t make an issue of it. When our girls ask, we tell them the truth but we try to be gentle and we try to be sensitive. They want to be the same as their classmates and its hard for them not to be. If they don’t talk about it, we don’t talk about it.
We let them pretend. Our now five year old very vocally announced a couple of years ago that she wants to pretend Santa is real. That is fine with us. She talks about Santa coming and she wants to see Santa and she is just like every other five year old you are likely to meet. But she doesn’t realize that Santa is supposed to bring her presents on Christmas morning so its funny that all the Santa stuff comes out in early December but is not mentioned at all on Christmas Day.
We talk to their teachers. This is the tough one. Every year towards the end of November I contact all the elementary teachers and tell them that we do not use Santa in our Christmas celebration. I explain our reasons (See the previous post) and ask that they not tell our girls that Santa is real or to have them write letters to Santa. I don’t care if the rest of the class does such a project but I am very, very adamant that Christmas is not about them asking for stuff they want. We have had several teachers give them alternate projects. When Santa comes to visit class I ask the teacher to let me know and I pick our children up for a special date. We do something fun and more exciting then Santa together. I have never had a teacher push back or be less than understanding. One very amazing teacher saw that our daughter was struggling and told her that she could come anytime during the day and talk to her about how hard it was. It helped to know that her teacher was her friend and was okay with her knowing Santa is not real.
Its really, really hard to have friends who believe. We have five sensitive, caring daughters. We try really hard in all things to not bully them into believing what we think is important. We figured out very quickly that making this choice meant that they easily felt like something was wrong with our family and by extension them. We have combated this in two ways.
First, we encourage them to talk about it and ask us questions. We read stories about Santa and we include him in small ways in our December preperations. There are all kinds of imaginary characters around them all year that are important to them (Rapunzel, Minions, their dolls, for example) so Santa just dove tails into that category. We just always figured that outlawing Santa completely would be too much for them to understand, especially when there is so much out in the world.
Second, we encourage them to be sensitive to their friends. We always tell them that different families celebrate Christmas in different ways. What Jesus wants is for all families to be happy together and to have lots and lots of love at this time of the year. For some families, Santa Claus helps them be really happy and show love. For other families, like ours we do other things. We have lots of traditions that have built up around celebrating Jesus’ birthday that are somewhat unique to our own celebrations. We tell them that they don’t want to take happiness away from their friends Christmas by telling them that they are wrong about Santa. Our children are sensitive enough to other kids feelings to understand this. Mostly I think they just go along with their friends, we don’t pressure them into any certain response.
For us, not including Santa is not about changing some deep seeded problem in society, its about worshiping and celebrating Jesus Christ as authentically as we can.
I have learned that most people are taken aback when it comes up. I have had churches that have Santa visit and while it makes me uncomfortable, I think that when we keep the gospel front and center we can find a place of letting it be just innocent fun. In all things, its important to have a relationship with your children where they can come to you when they are struggling or when things don’t make sense. We are honest with the older girls, we know its hard but they are learning about faith and life in ways that change them daily, not just in December. We have been able to have some really profound moments of faith development with our oldest two children as we make sense of what we believe and why.
I hope this helps some of you who may want to go in this direction and don’t know how. Soon I will do a post on some of our traditions that help fill in the Santa gap this time of year and that make the celebration in our house about Jesus.