December 8th, 2015

Let the Santa Wars Begin


“How can you lie to your children?” one mom demanded of another on Facebook last week.

“How can you deprive your children of the magic of Christmas?” came the retort.

It happens every year – let the Santa Wars begin!

On one side, we have the Die-Hard Believers. These are the folks who panic when a 6-year-old asks why Santa at the mall had blue eyes this year when last year they were brown. They can be found crawling across snow-covered rooftops on Christmas Eve – creating sleigh marks and reindeer hoof prints with their bare hands.

Don’t mess with them.

On the other side, we have the Truth-Demanders. These are the parents who believe that teaching children Santa is real is a bald-faced lie. They teach their children about Saint Nicholas and grow indignant at his likeness being used to hawk everything from Bratz dolls to power tools this time of year.

Don’t mess with them either.

It has been my experience that intelligent, well-intentioned people fall on both sides of the Santa debate. Ultimately, I think that how you feel about Santa Claus is largely determined by how you were raised.

If you were raised believing in Santa and it was a beautiful, magical experience for you, you are going to want to share that with your own kids. If you were raised not believing in Santa (as I was) you will likely find the idea of telling your children Santa Claus is real to be absurd.

I once asked my mother why we didn’t “do” Santa in our family when I was growing up. I expected some kind of philosophical answer about the importance of not muddying religious holidays with secular traditions, but what I got instead was a sobering story of practical parenting.

“We tried to do Santa,” my mom told me, “But the day your brother came home and told me that his friend must have been a better boy than he was because he got more gifts at Christmas, that was the end of Santa.”

In my family today, we don’t teach our kids that Santa Claus is real, because well,… (spoiler alert!) he isn’t. We do teach them about Saint Nicholas and celebrate his feast day, but they know that we are the ones who fill their shoes with goodies on December 6. There are presents and stockings on December 25, but they know that we and their grandparents are the ones who make that happen.

But we don’t shun Santa Claus either. In fact, he’s a rather jolly fellow to have around this time of year. We read about him in storybooks, watch him on television, and joke about how he might manage a midnight entrance at our house, where the chimney leads directly to our wood stove.

I can assure you that not believing in Santa Claus need not spoil anyone’s Christmas experience any more than believing in Santa necessarily secularizes it.

When I was growing up, I had a real sense of Christmas being about Christ’s birth and the gift of salvation. The fact that my parents saved their money to buy secret presents, baked special treats, and brought a tree into the house to cover with lights as a means of celebrating God’s great gift of love was all the magic I needed.

Though I had friends who believed in Santa, I never felt deprived of the experience. On the contrary, as I fell asleep each Christmas Eve, listening to my parents fussing with presents in the living room, I felt loved and secure just knowing the care and sacrifice they put into preparing Christmas surprises for my brothers and sisters and me.

I loved the warm glow of Christmas tree lights and I reveled in the “magic” way our Advent wreath’s pink and purple candles were replaced with beautiful new white ones in time for Christmas morning. I watched Christmas specials, played with Santa dolls, and read secular Christmas books with a great sense of joy and anticipation.

Today my children do the same. I like to call it “pretending to believe in Santa.”

We believe in the jolly old elf in much the same way we “believe” in Curious George, Winnie the Pooh, gnomes, or fairies. We tell their stories in great, magical detail. We discuss the logistics of Santa getting around the world between sunset and sunrise. We wonder about the number of elves he must employ and what Mrs. Claus might be cooking for his Christmas dinner.

But we stop short of telling anyone he is real.

In the end, I think our approach to Santa Claus is best summed up by something one of my younger brothers said years ago when he was just a little boy:

“I know Santa isn’t real … but how does he get into our house?”

Yes, let’s talk about that. Forget the Santa Wars this year, and let’s just talk about that.

This is an old column of mine that originally appeared at Inside Catholic.


3 comments to Let the Santa Wars Begin

  • Claire

    I was brought up believing in Santa, and I did find it to be a magical experience. But we have chosen to downplay Santa for our son. We have taught him about Saint Nicholas, and we told him that now that St. Nicholas is in Heaven with Jesus, there are Santa’s helpers on earth who carry on his tradiation of giving gifts. Some where Santa costumes, some don’t. I’ve told my son that he is one of Santa’s helpers when he gives gifts. However, he hears so much about Santa at school that he still talks about Santa coming down the chimney. I let him talk about it without encouraging it, if that makes sense. Because I have told him some pretty unbelievable things about God, I want him to know that when I tell him things like that, I’m not just pretending. That being said, I don’t have a problem with people who handle Santa differently.

  • I love hearing your perspective, Claire! Thanks for sharing that.

  • Teresa G

    We just re-watched the movie “The Polar Express” with our kids, and I was reminded of why we keep the “idea” of Santa alive in our family. The middle kids and I discussed it after we watched, that Santa, especially in this movie, represents all that is good, all that is lovely, magical, right, and wholesome. He is someone who inspires hope, kindness, charity towards others, and mercy (the elves are heard saying about a little boy who was on the “naughty” list, “Let’s give him another chance. We’ll keep him on the watch list and see how he’s doing next year, but for this year he gets a gift”). Who does that remind us of? Why, our Good Lord Himself! As all creatures should, Santa reflects the goodness of Jesus, and the gifts he brings are but a foretaste of all the Lord has for us in this life and the next.

    Our oldest kids, now in their 20s, were not really into Santa, but as their younger siblings came along they themselves liked to put up the ruse of Santa each year. We haven’t really focused a ton on that aspect of the Christmas season, but it hasn’t been a detriment at all to our kids. There have been no traumatic cries of “you lied to me!”, more just “oh, I’m an older kid now and in on the secret”. Our youngest is 5 so our days of keeping up the ruse will be gone soon. But the magical, fun, inspire-them-to-be-good, “idea” of Santa will always have a place in our home. I like Danielle’s way of saying it: “pretending to believe in Santa”.

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