Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Santa: Let's Play Pretend

As usual, some great post out in the blogosphere spurred me to share.  This time it's Kelly at kellynaturally.com and her post on The Santa Dilemma.

We don't do Santa.  Well, that's not totally true.  We love Santa traditions.  We go on a Santa train ride each year.  We leave out cookies for Santa, a carrot for Rudolph, and even cheese for Santa Mouse.  We read lots of Christmas stories some that include Santa.  We sing songs that include Santa.  We watch the Christmas movies.  Growing up these traditions were some of my favorite things, long after I discovered that Santa didn't exist.  At the same time, we don't do presents from Santa.  We don't send letters to Santa (mostly because we don't do the presents, so it's never presented itself that way).  We don't go to see Santa in the mall to tell him what the kids want.  But most of all, we simply don't try to convince our children that Santa is real. 

I can't bring myself to try to make them believe that something just isn't true.  I've heard from lots of people that I'm making them 'miss out' on the Christmas magic and the fun of childhood.  For me, part of the magic and fun of childhood is the joy in pretending, the joy in knowing that something is not real but losing yourself in it just for the very sake of fun.  And that's what Santa is to me.  Santa is a fun way to pretend.  It's a fun way to celebrate the season, to celebrate giving, and to gather together as children and adults and play pretend, something we could all stand to do a little more.  As a result, it's not important that my kids believe that Santa is real for them to enjoy all the fun of the season and its traditions.

The other part of why I feel uncomfortable with the idea leading my kids to believe Santa is real only for them to discover that we've deceived them years later has to do with our faith.  We are Christians.  We believe in God.  We take our kids to church, and we talk to them about who we believe God to be.  We don't expect our children to believe exactly what we believe, now or ever, but we do believe in giving them a foundation in what my husband and I believe while also encouraging them when age-appropriate to explore on their own.  So we talk about God.  It's not hard to see the consequences of teaching your child that both God and Santa are real, only for them to discover that you knew otherwise and were lying to them the entire time about Santa. 

Finally, skipping the focus on Santa and sustaining the myth, we free ourselves to more easily focus on the reasons behind Christmas.  As we enjoy playing pretend in our chosen Santa traditions, we are also lifting up the spirit of joy, giving, and play that Christmas brings.  These same things tie into our celebration of Advent and our foundation in the reasons for our family's celebration (yea, that whole Jesus thing). 

My kids are still under the age of 4.  Last year, I had a bit of a crisis of my belief when my almost 3 year old chose to argue with me about whether Santa was real or not.  (What can I say, he really likes the Polar Express, and therefore is firmly grounded in the fact that Santa is in fact real despite all of us doubters.)  I admit, I freaked a bit.  I tried to convince him.  But in reality, the boy thinks Handy Manny is real, or any number of a variety of other characters. 

I've realized that with the kids so young, there has to be some developmental understanding of where they are at.  I won't argue with the kids this year.  Though, I will tell once if they ask, in the same way I would with Mickey Mouse.  Our beliefs and our approach will be much more real as they kids get older, ask questions, and we choose not to perpetuate a myth but instead celebrate a great game of pretend.  I'm not sure exactly what we'll tell them about other people's beliefs, except that we encourage respect for other's beliefs year-round and I hope that will help carry us through.  We'll see what this year brings!


  1. This is almost exactly how I feel about Santa. He's a cool mythical person that we can pretend about, but I don't want to be the one telling my kids he's real. I never thought about a toddler's inability to tell story from reality though. I'll have to remember that as he gets a bit older.

  2. This is exactly how I was raised, Jamie, and for the same reasons. I have gotten a range of reactions from others over the years, but I never, ever felt like I missed out as a child.

  3. If I'd blogged on this, this is how I would have liked to say it. We're Christian too so it does add that other dimension to the debate but as Dawn said too, I never felt I missed out either. Santa is a small part of our Christmas traditions so hopefully our children will recognise that and not be devastated when they discover he isn't real.

  4. I like this post a lot. My daughter is too young to be a part of this conversation, but I have been putting some thought into what to do about Santa. My mom still gives us presents from Santa. That said, I don't think my brothers or I actually ever believed in him. It was too obvious even to our young minds that mom just liked to pretend. I'll probably go your route, i.e. enjoying Santa traditions without claiming he is real. However, I'm a little concerned about my kid being the debbie downer in pre-school who needs to tell all the other kids Santa doesn't exist. Any advice on this?

  5. I definitely don't plan on perpetuating it after my kids begin questioning. Lie upon lie is not okay with me. When they are done with Santa, so are we. Although we have never really spoken much about Santa until this year (my son is four).

    @Meredith: some people who don't "do Santa" have said that they tell their kids to respect what other people believe although it's different from them. But kids only understand that to a certain point. I wouldn't be mad at kid or their family who told my kids. But I'm not that attached to the story. It's hard!

  6. Meredith - I don't have advice. I might by the time Amelia can tell other kids so check back with me. LOL. We taking it year by year and seeing how we maneuver the hurdles as they present themselves. It hasn't really come up much yet. But I'm hoping the whole respect thing carries through like Alex mentioned.


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