Here she goes again, some will think. But I thought I would share why we don’t do Santa for all those who are unsure of their stance or interested. I’m literally just sharing why we do this – as always – not why I think anyone else should or shouldn’t do.
It helps in my case to understand what my childhood memories surrounding Christmas and Santa entailed. I won’t go into the religious side aside from a disclaimer that I was raised religious and am now an atheist for many reasons. Santa, however, was a separate issue.
For me, working out that Santa wasn’t real was an all in one deal. I realised the tooth fairy wasn’t real when I suspected as much and stayed up til I felt my Mum’s large hand under the pillow instead of the tiny fairy I was told came in to leave the coin. UH HAH! But it wasn’t all discoveries or joy at being in on the secret for me. I quickly dismantled the tooth fairy, Santa, and the Easter bunny all in one go as a young child. I confronted my Mum in tears. My main emotions were those of betrayal and feeling stupid. Of COURSE these weren’t true, I thought. Silly me.
But even deeper – why had I been lied to? I’m not going to lie, it was a dramatic revelation in my mind. What else were they lying about? My trust was shattered. I have a pretty poor long term memory but I definitely remember how awful it made me feel. My reaction comes down to my personality. I’m a knowledge seeker and someone who is quite logic-based (if you know anything about MBTI, it probably wouldn’t surprise you that I’m an INTP.)
Of course, for most kids it’s more upsetting that the dream has been shattered. Bye bye magic, right? It affects all kids differently which is why I don’t think one answer makes sense to all. It depends on your feelings about Christmas, your child’s beliefs in magic and how you feel about perpetrating a lie to keep the fantasy alive.
My son was similar to me. I continued the Santa thing with him despite my experience because, well, the western world is surrounded by this tradition. It’s just one of those things you do if your beliefs don’t conflict with it. I never pushed the fact personally. When I did talk about Santa, I spoke about where the story originated from. I was very vague! I was honest about the men in the shops being people dressed up as Santa ‘helping’. I said vague things like “lots of people believe _____” and never explicitly confirming or denying. My husband was different, his experience as a child was different and he really loved the joy it brought kids before they realised; which is fair enough.
Cam saw through it all earlier than me. He is logical to a fault like me and magic really doesn’t fly with him. Sure, he loves to pretend and his imagination is incredible, but he likes ‘the truth’ like me.
At almost 4 he came to me around Christmas time and asked:
“How do reindeer fly?”
I stalled, “How do you think?”
He wasn’t having it, and I knew that determined look in his eye, he wanted me to tell him what he already knew. He said “no Mummy, how do they fly?”
I said “magic!” somewhat weakly.
“But magic isn’t really real?” he said, not really a question but his truth.
“A lot of people believe in magic,” I continued to stall.
“Is Santa real?” he asked openly staring right at me. “Do you want him to be?” I asked gently.
“I don’t think he is” he said in a matter of fact tone.
“Where do you think the presents come from?” I asked. That had him stumped.
“I don’t know. Who does it?” he said, before pausing and looking at me suspiciously.
“Well it’s got to be someone who knows you, who loves you and who is able to get them in under the tree?” I said.
“It’s you and Daddy! I knew it” he said and I messaged Mike with a “Santa SOS”
“You’re right, how does that make you feel?” and we talked it out and processed it.
It might be odd to think of an almost 4 year old being to clued in for some. I know his younger sister – now 3.5 – wouldn’t speak with me like this. But this obviously fueled my discomfort with the whole idea. Lucy was 2 at the time and I knew we were planning more children and I just didn’t feel comfortable with lying to my kids about this. So hubby and I had big chats about what this meant for us.
Would we let them believe what they wanted – perpetuated by society and the media? Would we continue it at home? Would we feed the lie? How did that make us feel? We tried not to think about what other family or friends would think – this was our decision and needed to be treated as such. It became pretty obvious that it wasn’t something we were comfortable with.
SO WHY EXACTLY DO WE NOT DO SANTA?
Lying and Respectful Parenting
For us, as respectful parents, it felt off and at odds with our ideals to lie to our children.
We don’t lie in any other way to our kids. We are always age appropriately honest with them. All the hard topics, including death and sex, are treated like any other topic – honestly and respectfully. So why then would we lie about a jolly red man who comes into our house and gives our kids gifts?
For similar reasons we don’t lie about the tooth fairy or Easter bunny either (we don’t do Easter at all).
Rewards and Punishments
As any readers would know, we don’t use punishments or bribery to parent (what we DO do), but so much of Santa is about naughty and nice. Again it just didn’t align with our parenting to enforce blind obedience and outsource this level of judgement and fear-based compliance to an imaginary man when we wouldn’t want to impose it personally.
Consumerism and Social Implications
I’m really not a fan of supporting consumerism and all that it entails. This is an ongoing battle for us. It could be a post within itself and isn’t simply a Santa issue.
I don’t want my children to subconsciously learn that materialism is positive and Santa is part of the problem. Too often we contribute to children assigning happiness to consumer goods – and that really concerns me.
Children are being aggressively marketed to now more than ever. There are now so many direct routes of access to market to kids – packaging, shops, signs, television, social media, internet, etc. Big retailers obviously benefit from kids feeling that they NEED toys or other gifts.
I personally only have to look around at the masses of adults who assign success and happiness with material possessions and know that this isn’t what I want for my children.
The social implications was something that really resonated with me. It came as a revelation after we already decided the Santa fantasy wasn’t for us. I was explaining while we were donating toys that some kids don’t get anything for Christmas. Some families don’t have the money and some children don’t have parents or parents who care. Santa really feeds the shame that poorer families feel around Christmas.
It feels wrong to me personally to support a fantasy that hurts others.
So what is Christmas without religion or Santa?
Admittedly if it were up to me alone, I wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas at all. But my hubby loves it and my kids love it and that’s reason enough for me. For us it comes down to spending time together as a family, love, kindness, sharing gifts and doing what feels meaningful to us as a family. There is much more to enjoy about Christmas.
My kids still sometimes like to pretend Santa is real – like any child pretends they are a superhero or that fairies are real – whilst understanding they are not. Imagination and magic and fantasy can exist without falsities.
But are we stealing the magic of Christmas? This is a commonly held belief. Take away the lie and fantasy and you must have sad kids without the magic and awe that Christmas can bring, right? For us this hasn’t been the anywhere near the case and I think it really comes down to the family itself and the values you perpetuate.
Thank you for reading!
You can find us on Facebook and Instagram for more unschooling and parenting inspiration.
Interesting perspective. My youngest (of5 children) was absolutely devastated to be told the truth about Santa, at the age of ten. He appeared to go into a phase of mourning for several weeks after, and I really wished that I had been honest with him from a much earlier age. My other four had been able to take it in their stride, but I was genuinely heartbroken by his reactions. This is such a difficult situation, especially as our society is so pro-Santa.
Theodora Jansen says
I believe Dr Suess summed this one up nicely in “the Grinch”
“It came without ribbons, it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more!”
We have never done the Santa thing. I felt like an idiot when as a kid I realised all the grown ups had been lying and pretending and I didn’t want to do that to my children. My kids have always known the truth.
At age 5 my eldest child asked if Santa wasn’t real why does everyone pretend he is. So we talked about it honestly. We talked about pretending something for fun and imagining to create a bit of magic. Then we talked about being tricked into thinking something that isn’t true. We discussed it openly. At the end of the discussion I asked my kids (and have asked every year since) “what do you want to do? Do you want me to act like there is a Santa even though we know the truth? Or shall we just not bother?” both kids wanted to join in and pretend. Now they are 8 and 6 and sometimes in the run up to Christmas they won’t want to pretend that there is a Santa, other times they do, They aren’t confused. They choose whether to participate in the charade or not. As a family this works perfectly. They chose to have a photo taken with a shopping mall Santa last year, my first Santa and the kids picture. They were so excited and pretended Santa was real and all of that. 2 minutes later we were sitting down in a cafe talking about how Santa isn’t real and they wondered who the man in the Santa costume really was. It is no different to when they pretend there are flower fairies in the garden or when they put their dress ups on and pretend they are someone else. It is in the spirit of pretend and they get to choose which makes it all the more fun.
This approach really speaks to me – thank you so much for sharing!
Would love a post on your thoughts on consumerism and parenting/ family culture. We struggle with this big time especially being atheist this time of year ( we do what you do though)
Natalie Wright says
We are a large family, so if we had to be excessive at Christmas it would be crazy, last Christmas we did a ‘secret santa’ and budget was $20. No other gifts were bought. For extended family we make gifts. Kids had more fun guessing their secret santas. Hate the consumerism that creates entitlement. We are however Christians so do celebrate the “birthday of Jesus”. (Not debating just our belief) 😀
We choose not to interfere with our child’s imagination. We don’t talk a lot about Santa when the kids are young, but rather let them gather their own information and let them create who they want Santa to be to them. Kids actually prefer to believe in Santa than not, even when they know the truth. Fairy tales and creative, imaginary stories are wonderful for children and their development. As they reach the age where they are coming out of their “dreamy” state, around 6or 7, they may start to ask questions about Santa and if he and his reindeer are real. A healthy response is to confirm that they are as real as they want to believe. If they choose not to believe that is fine. It is very harmful to carry out the exaggeration to the point of insisting he is real or by “proving” he is real by deceiving or misleading the child. However, it is just as harmful to interrupt their right to make-believe and the natural process a child goes through with their imagination. My children, when looking back of their belief in Santa, will be able to say that it was never mom or dad that talked much about Santa but that they pretended along with them as little or as much as was led by them.
A great way to reveal Santa and learn some wonderful history is to read The Autobiography of Santa Claus with your kids. He was a real person and a quite marvelous person. Learning the facts about our traditions today is very interesting and bring understanding to the Santa celebration of Christmas.
If the media and public impact of the narrative surrounding Santa was all positive then I think I would be less inclined to make a point of answering the “is it real?” question honestly.
The reason we don’t, as I said, is because we don’t want to perpetuate the lie. Just like with superheroes or fairies or dragons, we share the narrative as fictitious. It does nothing to belittle their imaginations – they are just as imaginative and creative. They come to these conclusions themselves more often than not!
Thanks for sharing your opinion. We have explored the many stories of Santa and we enjoyed that. As an unschooling family it goes without saying that we explore the questions in an organic, meaningful way to us.
First of all, thank you for sharing all your creativity and ideas. I find your blog amazingly inspiring. Thank you for that.
Even when i’ve been following your blog for a couple of years, i’ve never commented before. I read this post a week ago and haven’t stop thinking about it, so i finally decided to comment.
I totally understand your point of view about Santa’s implications. When i got pregnant, i told myself i wouldn’t follow this tradition, but i’m not the only one in the family. There’s a dad and also great parents that love it, so i had to follow it. We celebrate christmas with love and respect, i think that is the most important thing.
But what triggered something in me by reading your post, was when you touched the subject about what is real and what is not, like fairies.
Can we really be sure that fairies are not real? Do we have evidence of that? Maybe we can say we don’t have physical evidence of their existence, but we also can say we *don’t* have evidence of their non-existence.
We can’t see, touch or smell love, but we know it exists, right? Maybe we don’t see fairies because they exist in another dimension that our regular senses cannot be aware of.
What if your child see ghosts, and you say they don’t exist because you have never saw one, but what if they really exists, how your child would feel when you say he’s lying or just imaginating it?
What if he talks about angels? Do you tell them they are not real?
The thing is, i didn’t believed in angels or fairies until last year. I had a life crisis, and after that, i began to communicate with angels, archangels, starbeings, spirit animals and yes, fairies.
I’m a channel, a medium that communicates with beings of light. I’m part of a big community of people that has awake to their spiritual gifts, and do their best to develope their skills and share their intuitive services.
What i know now is all kids are able to see, feel and/or hear angels, fairies, ghosts, etc, because they still don’t have limiting beliefs. But they start to loose that connection as adults implant in them their own ideas about what is real and what is not.
I was one of that childs. I could talk with angels, and later i was visited by deceased loved ones, but i was told it was only my imagination. So i started to doubt about myself. about what was real and was not.
As a parent, i try very hard to be respectful of my child’s feelings, emotions and experiences. As an empowered mother, i want to raise an empowered child. I don’t want to tell him “yes, fairies do exist” or “no fairies are not real”, i want him to experience the fairy realm but himself, so i ask him “what do you think about fairies? do you think they exists? if so, how do you think they are, have you seen one?” etc.
Maybe i’m wrong now. Maybe i will discovered later fairies and angels do not exists and i was hallucinating or suffering a mental illness. Or maybe i’m right. I’m open to both possibilities. We should all be open to all possibilities.
I want my child to have his own personal and unique experience, and to not be limited by my own beliefs. I wish the same for all childs.
Thank you for reading this.
If you are interested, i leave you here some articles about these issues:
About clairvoyant childs: http://www.sarahpetrunoshamanism.com/blog/my-child-can-see-spirits-is-this-normal
About imaginary friends: http://www.amandalinettemeder.com/blog/2014/6/2/imaginary-friends-who-are-they-really?rq=child
Peace of I
Rach Aubrey says
I’m so glad you wrote this, I thought I was the only person who was uncomfortable with lying to my kids.
I am not big on Santa (I don’t recall finding out) for littles; particularly when Santa gives the big presents. I think that those presents should come from the parents + explaining that they earn that money by working, explaining that money just doesn’t appear. My daughter is only one, she didn’t get a present from Santa last year just from us and it was only one. This year will be the same. I really hope to raise her with kindness (I even bought Kindness Elves from the Imagination Tree! I cannot wait til they arrive!) So Santa for us will bring something small, like a book or pencil case, nothing fancy. As for the not telling, I think I will more than likely be vague like you – ‘some people believe..’
On a side note, I remember a little boy I taught (who is five next year! My goodness!) discussing Santa with his dad and telling his dad but he isn’t real + couldn’t understand why the other children thought he would come. I was shocked at the time, thinking it had taken away something from him, but in hindsight, he had. He still loved Christmas and was very excited about it.
Anyway, enough of my ramble. Great post + great food for though.
I think this whole article was grossly overblown.It’s about american and worldwide folklore whether we call him Santa, Kriss Kringle or any other name. Kids outgrow it and it goes away. Maybe the author had a really horrible experience on finding out he wasn’t real, but I don’t think thats the norm. I have 3 grown sons and it wasn’t ever an issue for any of them or for me or my siblings. I think finding out that life is not a big fantasy is a rite of passage. and children today grow up too fast as it is. Let them have some fantasy and mystery that’s all in fun anyway, while they can. Ok, it sucks that everyone is not equal in how they care for their kids or how much money they spend., but it’s always a good life lesson to teach helping people not as fortunate as we are.
Literally just sharing why we do what we do (and many others looking at all the comments on Instagram and Facebook) :)
I loved your post. I have a four year old girl. My family and I don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving (a really grotesque holiday if you haven’t heard of it) and for all the same reasons. I’ve never been able to put it in words as well as you just did! We live in Salt Lake City where Christmas is celebrated very prominently. We seem to go against the grain in most aspects of our lifestyle, but when it comes to our core beliefs and morals, there’s no other way as far as we can see.
We celebrate birthdays, we buy toys whenever we are inclined, and we make handmade toys regularly. She’s highly imaginative and creative. There is no lack of magic in my little ones life.
Yes! You nailed it. We do the same. December CAN be a wonderful month of celebration, fun and family connection without either religion or Santa being a heavy part of it.
Just wanted to add another benefit to ‘not doing santa’ is that the kids know that we buy and give them the gifts and they are grateful to us, not to some imaginary man! That also encourages them to gift to others because they know there is no santa to do it – we’re the ones who can and should help.
Definitely! Cam is just starting to feel that this year.
Hi, I too have a little boy just like yours at the age of four. My husband is from a culture where there is no santa, so he straight out very innocently told my son “of course you know that santa is not real”
Ok, no tears or drama, it was a simple matter of fact.
It did not occur to my husband that my son living in a western country would inform his play friends “santa is not real”.
I had distraught parents at my door asking me to speak to my son and to tell him that he was not to tell their children that santa was not real. I even had a school principal telling me that it was not allowed.
I chatted with my son, who said “but santa is not real and you always said it is most important to always tell the truth”…… My son suggested that he could say something like “ok, everybody is different, that is what you believe and this is what I believe” (very mature I thought for a 7year old) parents didn’t like that either….I was being asked to encourage my children to be dishonest but i also did not want my son upsetting other children whose parents were telling them that my son was wrong…I am sure they were thinking “why would my friend want to spoil my fun and upset me?)
Have you had any experiences like this and how do you deal with it…?
We are lucky to be home educators and also Cam knows he just doesn’t have to answer. He knows some people believe and just doesn’t say otherwise. As in, you don’t have to lie but you don’t have to speak your truth either as some parents like their kids believing and some kids aren’t in a space where they are ready to hear it.
Yes, we homed also. I think “you don’t have to lie but you don’t have to speak your truth either” may be oversimplifying, kids will discuss what’s important to them especially as they get older. I don’t think this discussion can be avoided amongst children and I think it’s good to encourage open discussion amongst kids too…cultural differences embraced…?
When I explain things to my kids that I know other parents or kids may not want to know or hear, such as human reproduction, I tell my kids not to tell their friends because their parents may not want them to know and the kids might not understand so they may get scared or upset. It’s not asking them to lie, it’s asking them to be considerate of other people’s ways. We often talk about how different people believe different things and everyone has different ways of doing things.
PS – My kids believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, despite their school friends telling them otherwise. I know they have some doubts, but they still enjoy the magic and the surprise of it all at this point in time.
i told my children that different people had different beliefs and it wouldn’t be a good idea to expose them to the truth. it would just cause problems between us and their families.