A reader writes:
My husband and I have a difference opinion when it comes to the Jolly Old Soul. I think it’s harmless fun and brings a sense of magic to the season and I think kids need some magic in their lives. He thinks that when kids find out “the truth” it’s more harmful than never believing. Our kids are 4 years old and 18 months so we need to figure this one out this year. I’m just curious where you stand on Santa and how to go about not allowing the secular stuff to override the true meaning of Christmas Day.
It has been my experience that intelligent, charitable, and well-intentioned people fall on both sides of this issue. See here for a Catholic apologist’s pro-Santa point of view.
I think that ultimately, how you feel about Santa is 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 (as I was) you will likely find the very thought of telling your children Santa Claus is real to be absurd.
In our family, we don’t teach our kids that Santa Claus is real, because … well, he isn’t. We do teach them about St. Nicholas and celebrate his feast day, but they know that we are the ones who fill their shoes with goodies on December 6. They do get presents and stockings on December 25 as well, but they know that we and their grandparents are the ones who make that happen.
But I can assure you, not believing in Santa 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. And the fact that my parents saved their pennies to buy me 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 magic enough. Though I had friends who believed in Santa, I never felt deprived of the experience. On the contrary, I felt loved and secure just knowing the care and sacrifice my parents put into buying, wrapping, and 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 used up pink and purple candles were replaced with beautiful white ones in time for Christmas morning. I watched Christmas specials, played with Santa dolls, and read Christmas books with a great sense of joy and anticipation.
Today my children do the same. We enjoy pretending to believe in Santa, in much the same way we pretend to believe in Curious George, gnomes, or fairies. We tell their stories in great, magical detail. We discuss the logistics of Santa getting into a house with no chimney. We wonder about the number of elves he must employ and what Mrs. Claus might be cooking for his Christmas dinner. We love Santa.
As I wrote last year (don’t bother looking for the post — it’s been swallowed up by the universe) I think our approach to Santa is best summed up by something one of my younger brothers said years ago when he was just a little guy:
“I know Santa isn’t real … but how does he get into the house?”