Don’t Lie to Your Kids About Santa

December 12, 2013 — 28 Comments

The longer I’m a parent, the more it becomes clear to me that I’m a rookie at this child raising stuff. Everything is new. Still, I’m committed to get things right the first time as much as I can.

When it comes to Santa, Julia and I decided long ago that we would have that discussion once the time came that our boys were old enough. Our culture’s message about Santa is that we must “believe.” Believe, believe, believe.

But believe in what?

The message of Santa says there’s a big dude far away that kids must believe in–even though they can’t see him–and that he does nice things for them if they are good all year. But if they choose to be naughty, they will be punished and receive things they don’t like.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder why I grew up mistaking Santa as an archetype for God? I think the concept of Santa also helped fuel my legalistic approach to life with Jesus, too. For many years, I thought that if I was good, Jesus would like me. Even now, I am a recovering legalist.

But regardless of your background or to what degree you celebrate Santa, the inevitable outcome of kids believing in him is always the same: they discover the truth. There is no Santa.

Are You Perpetuating A Lie?

Some of you may freak out that I even typed those words, but to me, the discovery that Santa is not real pales in comparison to a child discovering that his parents are liars. And make no mistake about it. If you tell your kids that Santa is real, you are lying to them.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

In time, all kids–including yours–will learn that Santa is not real. But they never have to learn that your words are not real. We’re committed to always speak truth to our boys. So at Christmas, we’ve made a choice to refrain from perpetuating the Santa lie.

So, let’s have the truth about Santa Claus:

  • Santa Claus does not exist.
  • He does not live at the North Pole. Hardly anything does.
  • Elves don’t make toys. Or cookies. Or shoes.
  • Reindeer don’t fly. Neither do sleighs.
  • It’s impossible for anyone to make a world tour in one night.
  • There’s no such thing as magic.
  • The Santas at the mall are not Santa, nor do they work for Santa. They are businessmen who sport a unseasonably thick white beard for 11 months out of the year in order to make major bank taking pictures with your terrified kids at Christmas time. And more power to ‘em, too.

So when we speak the truth about Santa, it may feel like we are not left with any of the good parts of Christmas, but I respectfully disagree.

All the Best Parts of Christmas Are 100% True

People ask me sometimes, “if you don’t do Santa, what do you do?”

We do the truth.

Honestly, I’m jealous for my kids’ affection, and I don’t want a nonexistent, overweight elf-lie getting credit for the awesome gifts we give our kids. Santa doesn’t love them; their Mom and I do. And Santa sure doesn’t pay for Christmas presents; we do. And that brings me to sharing the best parts of Christmas that are 100% true.

Parents’ (and Grandparents) Love for Their Children

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

We love our boys. They are an absolute gift, and it is our pleasure to provide for them. Once a year, it is our extraordinary pleasure to surprise them with all sorts of Christmas goodies. It’s the dedicated time of year where our love manifests in gifts, just as God’s love for us manifested in the gift of the presence of Jesus Christ. What a true joy that is!

God’s Love for His Children

Christmas is all about Jesus, and we celebrate the reality that He not only exists distantly as the deist would believe. Rather, He exists intimately and personally in the here and now.

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

He is Emmanuel: God with us. He didn’t have to come, but He did. That incredible, impractical love became tangible when a teenage girl and her fiancé became parents to a baby boy that was conceived right in the burning heart of God’s love for us.

He is true. And His presence changes everything.

The Example of St. Nicolas’ Selfless Love for Others

The real inspiration for Santa Claus is a man from the early 4th-century named St. Nicholas. Not much is known about his life, and much of it has long since morphed with legend. What is known about him is that he was an orphan from a wealthy Christian family who became known for his generosity and care for children. St. Nicholas’ inspiration for his selfless generosity was Jesus, which is an example worthy of emulation.

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Standing in stark contrast to the lie of the modern, secular Santa Claus myth is the reality of St. Nicholas and his devoted life of service to Jesus Christ. It’s a story worth retelling. And it’s absolutely true.

How We Teach Santa

We don’t want our kids to be the ones with the Santa allergy, so we don’t make Santa out to be a bad guy. He’s not unwelcome at our house. In fact, we enjoy him. We have books about Santa, and we like to have fun with the story, but we make it clear to our boys that their presents come from real people that love them enough to give them one.

Santa Claus is just a character. That means we treat him the same as Wolverine, Cinderella, and Darth Vader. These characters are totally fine when kept in their appropriate context. We have lots of fun with them, but they have their place. We’d no more try to convince our boys that Santa is real than we’d tell them Superman is real.

When you take Santa out of Christmas, you’re not degrading the Christmas experience. You’re enhancing it. You make the message of Christmas shine for what it really is: a true story of love-made-manifest for the people you love most. After all, that’s what Christ did for us.

What a beautiful Christmas truth. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Hayden Wreyford

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Hayden is a storyteller, musician, designer, Apple fanboy, and genuine people-person. Never one to sit still for long, he mixes serious creativity with a logical side and a desire to leave things better than how he found them. He's been known to keep the room laughing with an impression or quick one-liner, and is proud to hail from suburban Atlanta with his beautiful wife and two young boys. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+

28 responses to Don’t Lie to Your Kids About Santa

  1. This is the best post about Santa Claus I have ever read! I’ve always felt this way but never been able to talk about it as you so eloquently have put it! Part of my thought is telling them about the existence of Jesus and also Santa but then them finding out Santa isn’t real. I never want my girls to question the existence of Christ or believe we would lie to them. Feels like you have given voice to my heart about Christmas and what is really important, thanks!!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Tiffany! I think we’ve found that keeping Santa as a fun character has been the best approach to enjoying that childhood nostalgia, but not compromising on the reality of Jesus and our conviction to model truthfulness to our boys. Thanks for reading!

  2. I enjoyed this article and learning your views. I think we will adopt a similar approach with our children.

    • Since it is engrained in us as children if we are “good” we will get gifts/blessings from Santa “who sees everything” how much do we transfer that believe over to God as adults- it is so hard to separate that from our lives that if we are getting blessings it is because we deserve it or if we don’t get blessings it’s because we are doing something wrong. Gods grace and blessings can never be earned otherwise they wouldn’t be grace.

  3. …And it truly bothers me when people say to their kids (and usually only at Christmas, so what about the rest of the year?) “you better be good or Santa won’t bring you anything” First of all, that’s not true! You could have a child who misbehaves all the time and you will still get them Christmas presents. Secondly, I want my children to behave because Jesus sees them and they know that is how they are expected to behave. As Christian parents we need to always point our children back to Christ as the ultimate authority and guide in our lives.

  4. Well I can respect your view on Santa and how you want to teach your children truth. Don’t you think that children have the right to believe in Magic? They will have a life full of TRUTH as adults why not let them have an imagination and believe in the impossible? I have never come across a person that said their relationship with God was ruined because they found out that Santa was not real. You said you were jealous of the love and respect Santa gets and want the credit for his gifts. I would then assume that you would be the same with donations. Insisting that it would not be anonymous. The point is to give and be selfless. The fact that you know you are doing something to make another person happy should be gratitude enough. I loved the watching my children’s delight at Disney World. They believed that they truly were meeting the REAL Cinderella and many more. I just think it is sad to take away the idea of magic and make-believe for a child. You can share all the other beautiful Christmas aspects with out taking Santa out of the equation. My children know that God’s list is the most important list to be on. As for Tiffany’s irritation for parents gifting bad children, that is simply poor follow though. Parents say that they will ground their child, turn the car around, “if you do this one more time”. Empty threats happen all year round not just with the concept of Santa. Say what you mean and mean what you say is the rule I have always gone by.

    • Becky, thanks for reading. I think respecting other’s feeble attempts to make the best calls we can as parents and giving a lot of grace goes a long way here. We likely disagree here, so I want to tread carefully, but I will respond to your questions.

      I don’t believe children have the “right” to believe in magic. It’s my own belief that the Christmas “magic” so many people chase this time of year is a hoax. It’s clear that people desire an encounter with the supernatural, but sadly, too many settle for the Santa myth when the truth of the supernatural is right in front of them: God humbled Himself, put skin on, and came to earth. It doesn’t get more magical or supernatural than that, so Jesus is what I want our kids to focus on.

      In Jesus, the promise is that He will work everything together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). In Jesus, the promise is that nothing can separate us from his love (Rom 8:38-39). In Jesus, we have the promise that nothing is impossible for Him (Matt 19:26). If it’s magic you want, there it is!

      The Santa story is just glitter and glue on a piece of construction paper. The Gospel is pure diamond. The true Christmas story is supernatural. Come and get it.

      I also quickly wanted to address something I think you may have misunderstood. It’s not that I want credit for Santa’s gifts. I don’t want his mythical character taking credit for mine. You make an assumption on my stance regarding donations, but that I see that as an entirely unrelated topic. You are simply mistaken in your assumption.

      Lastly, I want to respectfully point out that if your intention is to “say what you mean and mean what you say,” you will likely have a difficult time reconciling that philosophy if you tell your kids Santa is real. They will inevitably find out that what you told them was not true.

  5. You have articulated very well what we have done in our home. We never really talked about Santa specifically until our oldest asked. We told them that Christmas is about Jesus so we celebrate Jesus. We have a birthday party Christmas morning with cake and singing before we read about His birth. We give our girls 3 gifts each emphasizing the 3 gifts of the wisemen. I know I wanted my children to always look to Christ. Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about them outing the lie to other kids about Santa, they just told anyone who asked them what Santa brought them that we don’t celebrate Santa we celebrate Jesus. At 18 and 16 they both love The Lord and have never thought a thing about Santa other then what you have pointed out, he’s a fun character. You are doing a great job as a dad. What a blessing you are to your family. Merry Christmas

    • Kathleen, thanks so much for the kind words. You guys really go all out! I’m sure they will have some great Christmas traditions once your girls start their own families. Thanks so much for reading. Merry Christmas to you, too!

  6. My wife and I still get push-back (even from our own family) on our Santa stance, which incidentally is the exact same as yours. I knew before I even had children that I wouldn’t perpetuate the myth. Now with 3 boys in the house, as difficult as it sometimes is, it’s completely worth it. My view has always been this…

    “Daddy, is Santa real?”
    “Of course he is.”
    “What about the Easter Bunny?”
    “Oh yes, absolutely.”
    “The Tooth Fairy?”
    “Just as real as Santa and the Easter Bunny.”
    …years later…
    “So… Santa isn’t really real, is he?”
    “No, he’s not. But it was fun to pretend, wasn’t it?”
    “And neither is the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.”
    “You got it. We were just trying to fill your childhood with magic and memories.”
    “OK, I guess that explains why Jesus doesn’t make any sense either. That’s just a lie too.”
    “…”

    I had no intention of having that conversation. Don’t lie to your children.

    • Jamie, [high five]. You are dead on correct. I have run that exact same “I ain’t havin’ it” conversation in my own head and come to the same conviction. When my wife and I sat down to discuss Santa, we already knew we felt as you described. We just had to determine what to focus on instead. We’ll take Jesus, thanks. Thanks for sharing that!

  7. WHat a great post! I am having a ‘back and forth argument with a close friend on this one, who is a messianic Jew! I think that it is VITAL that we tell our children the truth, not only about the fictitious Santa Claus, but also about the fact that Jesus was most certainly NOT BORN on December 25th. We need to do our research carefully on this one, since there are many mean hearted individuals spreading ‘hatred towards Christmas’ since it really was based on a pagan holiday.
    I think the practice of Christmas is fully legitimate even though there may have some pagan elements that were originally associated with a celebration at this time. That doesn’t make our celebration of Christmas the same as that old celebration. In fact, it’s quite different. We are celebrating the birth of Jesus.

    There is nothing in the Scripture that says that we need to do so, but I am of the opinion that it is entirely appropriate. It is appropriate, but not obligatory.

    Even Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, wasn’t given by God in the Scriptures. It just reminds people year to year of God’s faithfulness and His goodness! That’s not a bad thing, and I hope you agree! What we do on Christmas is focus, annually, on the birth of Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how anyone can look at the Christmas holiday we celebrate, or the Carols we sing during this season, and say that this is in any way-pagan!

    The word “Christmas” dates back to the Roman Catholics deciding to hold a ‘Christ-Mass. Many people am friends with take it to the extreme! They don’t even like using the word “Christmas, because’ if say this word’, somehow it denotes “you are affirming the pagan rituals” instead of intent that most Christians have in this day! I think not celebrating it, well that it is like ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. It is my belief the word “Christmas” is simply the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. WE are NOT affirming its’ roots!! For anyone to say ” Well, 500 years ago it was celebrating the birth of a ‘Sun God or of a man named Nimrod”, well, that was then, THIS is now because that is NOT what it means to most Christians. When we say the word Christmas, we are not blaspheming. It just seems to be much ado about nothing. It really boils down to this: should we,as Christians, set aside a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? Of course we should!
    Should someone have a Christmas tree or stockings? That’s a separate question, and I say you should answer that one for yourselves! But should someone celebrate the birth of Christ? How could anybody object to that. Let’s all keep our focus on CHRIST and press toward THAT prize!

    Thank you for ‘letting the Light Shine’ on this subject!

    John

    • Thanks for sharing that, John. People get really uptight about many thing surrounding Christmas. I don’t intend to add to that by sharing my thoughts here, but I do think it is worth thinking about the traditions we embrace and why we personally choose to follow them. The sake of tradition is becoming less and less valuable to me as I learn to favor things with deep meaning. Thanks for reading, man.

  8. I wrote a two-parter on this very thing last year: http://xxpolymath.livejournal.com/1967.html and http://xxpolymath.livejournal.com/2108.html I’m not a great blogger, so it’s not as pretty and well organized. But I tried to explore a little more the potential psychological and relationship damage that can stem from the Santa myth. Over all conclusions are the same though. Santa is a great character. It’s okay to have fun with him, but not to set him up as a Truth. St. Nicholas is a wonderful alternative and true!

  9. It’s so funny my husband and I were just having this discussion the other night just in preparation for future children. I’d read another article and I had really considered the ramifications of lying to my children about Santa Clause.

    After asking my husband his experiences with learning Santa wasn’t real and then relfecting on my own I realized that both of us barely remember learning the truth. In fact, the only thing I do remember is how indifferent I was to the whole thing.

    Santa was fun when I was little and then I grew up and the truth became self evident, almost a natural progression. I don’t remember feeling betrayed or disappointed and ESPECIALLY not about my parents’ behavior.

    So we discussed it and decided that magic and imagination are FUN and that’s all Santa is meant to be. I completely agree on your assessment of Santa as a behavior modification tool, but at the same time I’ve heard my sister use it and her children again seem indifferent to it.

    The fact is..we as adults take things too seriously sometimes. It’s meant to be a lighthearted tradition and that’s how children take it. I wish we could too.

    Also, as my husband pointed out:
    “I don’t want my children to be the kids at school that tell everyone Santa’s not real.” Ha!

    • Reblparn, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that Santa is fun. I just think some parents can take it too far by insisting their children believe in him when they know that’s not true. As long as he’s kept in his proper place as a fun character, I’m all for Santa. That’s more that I’m getting at with the post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for reading.

  10. I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and views. Today my granddaughter asked me if Santa was really real. Well, her parents don’t want her to know different yet, and far be it from me the mother-in-law to make waves, so I asked her what she thought.
    She said, “Well, I know there really is a North Pole, right?” I affirmed that.
    She said, “And actually there is a South Pole, isn’t there?” I affirmed that.
    She said, “What about all those Santas all around the rest of the world?”
    I said, “Well, most people call them Santa’s helpers.”
    She said, “Well, should I believe it or not?”
    Still not wanting to make waves with her parents, but wondering what to do….
    “Well, when my boys were little, I told them as long as they believed, there would probably be a present under the tree on Christmas morning from Santa, and when they got old enough not to believe, then there wouldn’t be one from Santa. and so they would say, ‘Oh, we believe! We believe!’ every year for many years.”
    She said, “Well, then I think I’ll just believe.”
    Then she said — just as my boys always said — “But one think I know for sure, Mawmaw, Jesus is real because He was the baby who was born in the manger.”
    I said, “Yes, Laci, Jesus is real, and He will always be real no matter how old you get.”
    She said, “I know that.” and went back to watching the Mrs. Santa movie that she was watching on Hallmark Channel.
    So, all you have said, and what happened today, as well as the experience of my childhood and my boys’ childhood and now Laci’s, brings me to the conclusion that the important element here is that we teach them Jesus sooooooooo real (as my parents taught me, and I taught my boys, and we teach my grandchildren) sooooooooo real, that the make-believe is very obviously just that – make-believe – and if they want to make-believe it is real even though they know differently, I can handle that. I actually am careful to never say “Of course Santa is really real or you’ll not get gifts if you are bad or any of those ideas……. and as they get older, we talk about the spirit of Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas that it is about giving to others and making others happy (as Mrs. Claus was doing for the children in the movie), and they recognize it quickly and readily as what they have been taught through Bible Reading and Sunday School — and of course the celebration of Jesus’ Birth through reading the Christmas Story and singing Christian Christmas Songs and having prayer before we ever open presents or stockings on Christmas Eve……. It has worked for three generations in my family; it just takes honesty and honest effort. Thank you for your ideas…
    I DO totally agree it is not right to just swear and declare that he is real and lives at the North Pole and actually comes down the chimney and all that…. They know that is make-believe if we don’t convince them otherwise………… Just my opinion for tonight.

    • Thanks, Carol. I understand that trying to avoid drawing the ire of your son/daughter’s kids can be tricky, so I can appreciate your sensitivity there. Everyone has to make the best choices they can around this subject, and I realize it’s a bigger deal to some than others. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Hayden, Thank you for the well written post! We have a lot in common with you on this and it is really funny hearing our 4 year old debate adults about the existence of Santa.

  12. While I appreciate your point of view, Hayden, I have to admit I don’t agree, and I feel a little saddened by posts like this. I am a Christian, and my kids believe in Santa.

    • Rachel, I read your post. We agree on far more than you think. Everyone has to make the best call they can for their family, and that’s my heart here. It would seem others would agree as this post has gone viral since it posted.

      Still, I would caution that guilt is not the appropriate reaction, and certainly not the message of my post. Many Christian parents simply lie to their children outright, insisting they believe in something that will ultimately, inevitably prove to be 100% untrue. There are implications to that for parents and the kids that should be carefully weighed. Many parents already understand this, and are looking for a healthy alternative to the persistent message of the modern Christmas culture that insists on unwavering belief in the falsehood of Santa. My goal is to point out a few glorious, redemptive alternatives to the emptiness of elves, chimneys, flying reindeer, and Santa legalism.

      For our family, the full-on Santa experience is just not worth it. We took the boys to see Santa two days ago, so we don’t abstain. But admitting he is just a character and having fun with him has been the best option we’ve found. I’ve heard from several who still do Santa and have pushed back on this post. Again, everyone has to make the best decision they can for their own family, but for everyone who is proud or unapologetic that their family still does Santa, there is still that inescapable conversation where the truth comes out: there is no Santa. It’s my personal belief that discovery has a negative impact on other stories that parents have insisted to their kids are true.

      Thanks for reading, Rachel, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

      • Thanks for your reply, Hayden. As you said, I think we agree on far more than we can communicate through blog comments. :)

        I agree that the appropriate response is not guilt, but I think in “traditional church” today, it far too often seeps in, not just in debates about Santa but other things as well. I just know that many of my parent-friends feel so clueless about so much of their parenting lives that it doesn’t take much for that guilt to begin to creep in. I want to be breaking chains in parenting, not linking more chains. Parenting is hard enough as it is. I am NOT saying that we ever do this guilt-chaining intentionally…I just believe that words and the way we say things are very, very important. I read so many parenting articles out there that are so full of you should be doing this and you shouldn’t be doing that, and I just think, why can’t we present the “truth” as we see it and then let others decide whether or not they want to do it for themselves? On a sort of unrelated note, my husband and I practice emotionally intelligent parenting, and I write a whole lot about it, especially being the parent of a very strong-willed child, and I have been raked across coals for the way we do things (I’m starting to get a thick skin because we believe the Spirit guides us in every decision we make concerning our children). It just makes me think that if we could all just love a little more and accept different opinions a little more we’d be able to do this parenting thing together instead of alone.

        All that to say, thank you for your response and for your wisdom.

  13. How do you explain why other kids believe in Santa? And how do you get them not to tell other children that do believe the truth?

    • Hi Ashley. Our kids still talk about Santa, and we still let them do stuff that involves Santa. They are still little, so they probably don’t fully understand this nuance, but we don’t insist that they believe in him and actively tell them that he will be coming down the chimney, etc. If another kid told them that Santa was coming down their chimney, our guys would likely play along, not giving it much thought. But if you pressed them, they would tell you they know he is not actually real. For kids, that reality/fantasy line is blurred more easily than it is with us as adults.

      I think people make a much bigger deal out of “ruining Santa” for other kids than it should be. First, if your kid isn’t the one who says Santa isn’t real, it will be some other kid. Later in life, they will have people telling them Jesus isn’t real, too. They will have to weigh evidence and make up their own minds. My point with this post is to encourage parents to insist on the truth so that when kids weigh evidence, they will always know that Mommy and Daddy told them the truth. Even if it means Santa is a casualty of that.

      • You seem to always have the right response, Hayden. I’ve been enjoying this discussion more than most blogs I follow, primarily because it doesn’t devolve into “I’m right, you’re wrong, that’s that.” There has been great discourse here about a very valid parenting issue.

        As for my family, Santa simply doesn’t come up. I’m sure my boys hear it at school and other places from friends, but we’ve told them that it’s alright to pretend. If another kid wants to pretend Santa is real, that’s OK. Don’t spoil their fun. I don’t even mind if my own boys pretend, as they know truth from fiction. But that is the key, knowing the truth. My middle child changes costumes daily. Today he’s a cat, tomorrow it’s Batman, then maybe Mario. Nothing wrong with that. Hayden’s overall point isn’t “pretending Santa is real is wrong”. It’s “outright lying to your kids is wrong.”

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