Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ditching the Naughty and Nice List: A Faith Perspective

I imagine this post isn't going to be popular. In fact, I'll be ducking to avoid getting hit with tomatoes from the moment I hit publish.

Last year I wrote about our approach to Santa Claus. Basically, we enjoy the fun Santa traditions with the knowledge that it's all pretend. Don't worry, my kids have awesome imaginations so instead of being deprived, they are let in on an exciting game of make-believe that we all play together. We are continuing with this approach this year while reminding our almost five year old son to not ruin the game for anyone else, because we respect how other people choose to celebrate.

 This year I was struck by another reason why we don't do Santa in the way some families choose. Without getting into all of the history of Santa, Christmas, and the like, the popular Santa tradition is that Santa keeps a list of naughty and nice children all year in order to bring the nice children gifts on Christmas morning. This lends itself as a convenient tool for parents to encourage good behavior in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  In the words of the popular Christmas song,

You better watch out! 
You better not cry 
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town 
It doesn't stop there. Parents and the people who sell things to them are taking it to new heights. While I was aware of it last year, this year the Elf on the Shelf is quickly gaining popularity.
Each Elf on the Shelf package contains an Elf that your family gets to name along with a storybook explaining how the elves watch little boys and girls to report back to Santa nightly on their behavior. There are instructions to move the elf around each night so it adds to the idea that the elf is coming and going each night.
Similar to many Santa traditions I enjoy, I think the story of the elf is cute, and I love the idea of moving it around each night so the kids could excitedly wake to see where it is each morning. I also know how much we'd all like to ensure the best of behavior from our children to make life a little less stressful during a particularly harried time of year.

But, in the end, I have a problem with the very idea of naughty and nice list. I'm not a fan of labeling kids good or bad. I'm not a fan of threatening kids. I don't think manipulating kids is a healthy parenting approach. Not to mention, threats aside, it's a rare parent that would actually follow through by withholding Christmas presents to a child. It's not to say that in a fit of frustration and bad parenting, I didn't tell my kids the other day that I would return all their Christmas presents. I'm not perfect. I apologized to them and reality checked myself. I sincerely get the allure.

For us as a family of Christian faith, we celebrate Christmas because our faith celebrates the birth of Jesus on that day, the most magnificent gift we could be given. We give gifts to people we love and care about on that day in celebration of the gift we received in Jesus. We didn't receive the gift of Jesus because we were on the nice list.

In the same way, I strive to practice unconditional parenting because it's the example we've been given in faith, I also strive to celebrate Christmas with my family in a no-strings attached celebration of the gift we've received and a sharing of the unconditional love we've been given kind of way. With my kids and my family, there will be no naughty or nice list. Instead, we will give and receive gifts not because we deserve them or because we've earned them, but because we are sharing the joy of the most wonderfully undeserved gift we could ever receive. Jesus.

This year, I'm even more confident of our approach to Santa. While I can't wait to take a train ride with Santa and leave him milk & cookies, I'm hoping to ground our experience of the Christmas season in faith and giving. By the grace of God, we will celebrate.


  1. I love your approach. Not tomatoes from this house :) We to explain that its a story and there are characters and ppl. that dress up (Same as Halloween.)and we tend to run with what the kids pick up. Last year Ry told us that Santa in the mall was a man who decided that every kid deserves a toy and he is there making sure everyone gives a gift to a kid. So this year we didn't change that and he was old enough to understand shopping for others so he picked out all the gifts for others and did a great job. (I did not buy doubles to gift to him to ensure he remembers this next year and doesn't come to believe he will get that item.) Happy holidays from this house to yours!!!!

  2. I think I commented on your post last year as well - bravo! It truly amazes me that more people don't think about this with their small children. We were not raised with Santa, nor was my best friend's family. In addition to the reasons you listed, our parents also didn't want to encourage lying - they know Santa isn't real. If it's not a fun game of pretend, it feels like a lie. Also, when Santa DOESN'T turn out to be real, then is Jesus real? I mean, we don't see him and we're supposed to believe in him. Thanks for this post, Jamie! I will help shield you from the rotten tomatoes.

  3. No tomatoes here, either. But - we do celebrate with Santa - and the Elf on the Shelf. I was raised w/Santa and loved it. I didn't feel lied to or cheated at all. It was fun. But if it's not for everyone, I'm fine with that too. I think we should be free to celebrate any holiday a way we see fit - as long as we are not harming anyone. Some may say that I am harming my kids by keeping up the lie, maybe. Who knows what issues they will uncover later in life that will have been my fault? So if you want to celebrate Jesus with no Santa, I say do it. Although He is the "reason for the season", I also don't believe that using that day and making your own traditions is wrong. To each his own.

  4. Thank you everyone for your lack of tomatoes!

    I guess I should rephrase some of my post. It's not that I want the entire season to be all Jesus and nothing else. That's not us. We do all the fun Santa stuff, we just all know it's pretend. For us, it's more a matter of not doing things in a way that contradicts with our theology or parenting philosophy.

    Allyson - I agree that whatever works for your family is what's right for you. We emphasize that a lot with our kids with keeping it a secret as a way to respect the way other families do things.


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