Every Christmas morning my brothers and I came down the stairs and sat in anticipation waiting on the stairs for Dad to unlock the dining room door to see if Santa had been before we ran in excitedly to our presents. [Yes, we lived in a big old house where the rooms were locked if no one was in them…] I wasn’t a child big into fairy tales or make believe. But Christmas was exciting. Then, when I was 9 or 10 I realised Santa was made up. I was shocked that my parents had lied. Mum was very insistent that any time I had asked about Santa she asked me what I thought, she hadn’t told any lies. I get that finding out about Santa isn’t a big deal for many kids but it really shook me. And I felt utterly mortified and embarrassed that I had fallen for it and was one of the oldest kids in school to still believe. I became the kind of child that questioned everything. I took nothing for granted any more.
There was never any crisis of faith (I’ve heard some people say it made them question whether Jesus was made up too) but it did make me read lots and my faith was definitely my own by the time I started secondary school. I don’t tend to follow rules unless I can see the purpose. I play devil’s advocate any given opportunity. And I definitely don’t follow the crowd. Just because everyone else is doing something is not a good enough reason for me. Most of this stemmed from finding out about Santa.
Believe me, I get that it’s all part of the Christmas fun, isn’t it? And most people aren’t traumatised by their experience. Colin and I are also living proof that believing in Santa as a child doesn’t mean we walked away from our faith. We don’t resent having grown up with Santa in our homes. But when it came to our first Christmas as parents, we decided we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a topic that gets discussed frequently enough and we know plenty of parents who also “don’t do Santa”. Certainly in attachment parenting circles it’s not unusual and it’s definitely even less unusual in the Christian circles we move in. That’s not to say I think all Christians or attachment parents should do the same but it is something I think we need to think about why and be sure of your decision. So if you’ve done that and decided you WILL do Santa, then that’s great for your family!
As in many of our parenting decisions, being intentional, we started from a baseline of not having Santa (not following the crowd) and thought about why we would do Santa. And we just weren’t convinced by the arguments – it makes Christmas fun, it does no harm, children need make believe etc. So, I thought I’d write about why we decided to do Christmas without Santa. Firstly as Christians:
Santa's characteristics overlap with God
No matter how mildly you do Santa, there are basics of Santa’s story that are intertwined with traits of God. They both can see you all the time, they keep a book of names that you want to be in (although Santa’s is based on behaviour and God’s isn’t – see point about behaviour), they are eternal, omnipresent and never change or get older. The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
We are teaching our children all about these important traits of God and the overlap with Santa's characteristics wasn’t something we were willing to introduce just for the sake of it.
Christmas is not about getting presents. Nor is it about snow or a warm fuzzy feeling. For us, it’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus. My fondest memories growing up are of the male tenor solo in the church carol service’s O Holy Night. The order of service was the same every year and it was the magical start of Christmas week – church lit only by candles and all the classic carols celebrating Jesus’ birth. Christmas morning was always about going to church. And my home church was NUTS….the Christmas morning service was 9am! As teenagers mum would wake us just in time to get there and we’d turn up not having opened one present – the gifts were never the key part of the day. Seeing our church family, exchanging hugs and warm greetings with them as we celebrated "God with us" was the best start to the day.
And now as parents, without Santa looming large over our December, we can celebrate in the weeks leading up to Christmas with an intentional advent, anticipating and pointing our children to the hope that came that first Christmas with Jesus’ birth as a tiny baby.
Then the reasons than aren’t Christian, more intentional parenting decisions:
We have decided to respect our children as people and part of that was taking the decision that we would not lie to them. When they talked about Colin’s dad this last year in particular I regularly mentioned that his body was getting less strong and soon he would die and go to live in heaven with God. We were explicit and clear when this did happen. No using fluffy language or making his passing from this earth ambiguous. When Daniel has asked about periods, I told him (age appropriate material of course) and we moved on. We’ve talked about the differences between men and women and use anatomically correct words for the human body. They know where both of them came from (Daniel can point to my section scar, Rory knows he came out the bottom below my womb).
To then lie about something to try and make Christmas magical goes against all the other areas where we try to be honest and upfront with them. It’s a simple ‘fun’ lie at the start, but what of when they start asking the how – how does Santa get down the chimney? How can he possibly deliver presents to everyone in the world in one night? It could open a can of worms we just weren’t interested in opening.
The whole rewards based side to Santa – whether you’ve been naughty and nice – is a real bugbear of mine. As Christians in particular I guess I’m uncomfortable with the fact that you need to be good, a common misconception about how good works can earn you eternal life.
Even if you don’t use Santa as a disciplinary tool (e.g. stop pushing your brother or Santa won’t come) regularly people ask children if they’ve been good for Santa. We’re only in the middle of November and mine have both been asked maybe five times already, mostly in shops. So if you decide to tell your children Santa is real but not do the “have to be good for Santa” thing, you’re going to have to counter all the voices saying they have to be good to get presents and that could get very confusing!
Not doing Santa allows us to have a much simpler Christmas. In recent years we’ve done the 4 present Christmas – something you want, need, wear, read. This year they don’t need anything really, we have far too many books and clothing items so we’re actually just going to give them a few toys each. They’re getting a play shop and accessories (like scales and a till) to share and then a board game each and a few stocking filler gifts like a personalised mug for Hot Chocolate Fridays.
If we were doing Santa, there would be a whole lot more coming into the house and a few well thought out gifts is much easier when there’s no Santa muddying the waters.
Here’s a reason I bet you weren’t expecting! Daniel having DS made us think about things that might be harder for him. There’s a lot of research that shows for children with DS peer friendships are great and work well, right through to teenage years when they start to become more difficult as the gap widens between children with learning disabilities and those without. Part of this is due to their interest in younger activities. We had noticed a number of parents writing about their adult children with DS that they enjoyed the fact that they had a ‘forever child’. A 30 year old son who still believed in Santa, or a 24 year old daughter who was obsessed with Mickey Mouse. For us, we always want to encourage age appropriate behaviour for Daniel. And part of that was no Santa. Why make it harder for him by introducing Santa, then have to tell him at 11 when he moved on to secondary school that we’d made the whole thing up.
Those are some of the reasons why we don't do Santa. Of course, as my husband would tell you, it may just be because I'm a contrary so and so who hates following the crowd and likes to do things differently! But for now I’m not trying to convince anyone to do the same, just be confident in your decisions as a parent and the values and aims you have for your family. Know that they are well thought out, and you can’t go wrong really. And hopefully a post like this stops some of the comments we get – how we're sucking the fun out of Christmas, being cruel to our children, denying them a key part of Christmas etc.
I hope to do a follow up post on the how – so how we explain the Santa story, what we do when people ask them about what Santa is getting, interactions with children who do have Santa come to their house.
I’d love to hear what you do for Christmas! Do you have Santa and if so, what do you enjoy about the Christmas traditions you have around Santa? If you don’t, I’d love to hear about what traditions you have, and maybe how your ‘no Santa’ went down with family and friends? Do you feel like a lone voice?