Ask me: “Help, my husband and I disagree over Santa”

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Dear Bronwyn,

Our son is still too young for it, but we’re trying to figure out how we will handle Santa in our family. My inclination is to not do Santa, but my husband doesn’t see the harm. We both want Jesus to be the focus, but he is skeptical about how we could avoid Santa in a culture where everyone seems to be in on it. How would we keep our kid from telling others? Would it be  awkward for him in situations like when the store clerk asks him if he made his list for Santa? Would he be the ‘weird’ kid or feel left out? The cultural pressure makes it tempting to just slide into doing Santa.

My husband also wonders whether  doing Santa is really that bad? How is it different from not telling our kids that the Mickey Mouse at Disneyland that he adores is a random person dressed up in a costume? I don’t hate the idea of Santa, but I don’t know how to handle both the Santa and Jesus story in my house. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this?

Signed,

Not-The-Grinch-Mama

Dear NTGM,

 I think this is more of a marriage question (how do you negotiate different opinions about important family values) than a parenting question, in some ways… since you and your husband need to come to an agreement on something you both feel comfortable with.

 NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma State vs OregonOur family, for various reasons, has chosen not to tell our kids that Santa is real. Somebody said to me last week that they treated santa as a “mascot” in their house, and I thought that was a really helpful way to think about it: like the Oregon Duck who appears at all the football games and for whom UofO fans cheer when they see it in a parade. But no one is suggesting that it’s a REAL duck or that we should feed it bits of bread or try to find its eggs.

 My thought is this: I think we can tell the Santa Claus story without insisting that he is real. I think the difficulty comes when we put effort into the deception: “this gift is from santa, honey!”, and “you have to believe in Santa or else the christmas magic is ruined” à la polar express. These are not constraints we put on Mickey Mouse: we let the world of imagination be the world of imagination, and understand that sometimes the characters we see in books turn up in movies… or on the streets of Disneyland. Yay.

I think as kids grow older there is a natural separation between these fantastic characters and those which are “True” without our needing to sort through every story and say “you know the Brothers Grimm tales weren’t based on fact, right?” And similarly, I don’t think we should tell our toddlers emphatically: “Santa isn’t real…. everyone is deceived.” I think there are low key ways of welcoming the Santa figure into our lives just like we welcome Big Bird and Elmo and Mickey and Anna and Elsa and Olaf. They’ll outgrow them, and they’ll figure out they’re not real.

 So perhaps, don’t feel you need to be the whistleblower, but I wouldn’t feel either that you need to make the Santa magic come alive. To the person who asks about making a list for Santa… your son might recognize that from stories or movies, but a quick “we love the Santa stories but we get presents from our parents at our house” would be enough to politely let the adult asking know where you are at without being rude.

As to how to handle it if your son blurts out that Santa isn’t real to another kid… I don’t have any triumphant stories to tell on that front. We told our kids again and again that each family has their own way of telling the Christmas stories, and that in some families they believe Santa is real, and that they should keep their views about Santa to themselves, but one day I still landed up with a situation with my kindergartner and her friend in the back of our car as the two 5-year olds yelled at each other:

 Friend: “Santa is REAL!!!”

My kids: “NO HE’S NOT!!”

Friend: “Yes he IS! (to me) TELL HER!”

My kid: “No he ISN’T! MOOOOOM!!!!”

Me: *pretending not to hear*

Friend: “Santa is real just like JESUS is real!!”

 And, dear not-the-grinch-mama, here is my true confession on how I handled that moment of truth. Mustering all the excitement I could, I yelled and pointed out the window: “LOOK! DONUTS! Who wants donuts!!”

 I dropped our little friend off twenty minutes and two thousand calories later and whispered to her registered-dietician Mom: “I’m sorry: I know it’s lunch time, but I bought the girls donuts on the way home from school. I’ll explain the details later, but for now please believe me when I tell you that those donuts just saved Christmas.”

 So, warts and all, that’s how our story has been. I feel like we still have a whole lot of Christmas magic in our house, even if we don’t leave cookies and milk for Santa and his reindeers. There are snowmen and santa decorations around, but we also have stories around the fireplace, the nativity story, and a beautiful tradition of attending a Christmas eve service (they get to stay up late! bonus!) where they get to hold a candle (FIRE!!) while we sing Silent Night. Don’t underestimate the annual thrill of getting to hold an open flame in a building when you are three. And we may not have Santa, but we do have presents around a tree, and the kids are BEYOND thrilled to get to unwrap them.

 While you can’t know how this will all unfold for your own kids and whether you might also need a donut-distraction to avoid awkward questions one day, I hope you and your husband will be able to come to an agreement together on what you want Christmas to look like in your family. Know this, though: love and quality time are more than enough to make the season memorable for your kids… and anything else you add (christmas jammies, cinnamon rolls, carols about Jesus sung next to the fire and the magical mystery of gifts, for example) are all just extra bonuses.

 Merry Christmas,

Bronwyn

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley/Wanted: Santa Claus (Flickr Creative Commons)

6 thoughts on “Ask me: “Help, my husband and I disagree over Santa”

  1. Great advice, Bronwyn. We didn’t “do” Santa at our house, though of course both kids heard about it at school and from friends. Somehow, I don’t think they felt deprived of “Santa gifts” because my parents made up for Santa overlooking our chimney, big time.

    One quick thing to add: My older daughter, age 12–almost 13!–says that in the past few years there are several kids her age who claim to believe in Santa Claus. She couldn’t figure out why, especially when they were well past the age of blind belief. Then she realized that these kids said this so they’d receive gifts from Santa AND their parents; as long as Mom and Dad thought their dear kiddos were still true believers in the guy in the red suit, they felt obligated to buy presents from Santa, in addition to their own gift offerings. Seriously. (This was especially true if there were younger siblings at home, but that wasn’t always the case.) Talk about working the system. They “believed” just to get twice as many gifts.

    • Ha, my daughter recently confessed to me that she knows the tooth fairy isn’t real, but she doesn’t want to forfeit the money….. #bust. I think Christmas is a far more expensive delusion to finance, though.

  2. That was an excellent reply! I grew up knowing Christmas was about Jesus and that Santa was make believe. Though perhaps based on a real person of long ago, as far as modern ideas about him went, it was total fantasy. And I enjoyed the make-believe of it all, though my parents never said Santa brought the gifts, etc. Same for our children. We helped them learn the difference between fantasy and reality. I’ve begun to wonder, though, if some people haven’t figured that one out for themselves yet. And not just where Santa is concerned!

    • Yes… more and more I wonder how much people actually “choose” their truths, and how much truth/fiction/fact/evidence they feel is required to believe something (or disbelieve it!) 🙂

  3. We did “Santa Light.” We never did the whole list,photo, cookie thing…but Christmas morning a few gifts and stuffed stockings appeared. We had a phrase that we would say to any question or statement…”Santa is a fun tradition.” It let us keep the fun and surprise, but not have him override the significance of advent and Jesus’ birth.

  4. Our children had gifts with the understanding that Santa was a representation of the spirit of Christmas – the time that Jesus came into the world as the greatest gift of all to us. In celebrating His birthday and following His generosity, we sacrifice to provide birthday gifts in His name for others so that they may know the love Jesus has for all of us. We choose names from the tree, we shop together to pick out gifts for Jesus to give, and wrap before dropping off. Before gifts are opened at home, we have our traditional reading of the story of Jesus’ birth, hot apple cider, discussion about the meaning of all we do during this season and how it should be reflected throughout the year in our lives as it was in the life of Jesus. Santa does leave a gift for each child for a Christmas morning surprise but he is really more of a delivery man than the actual giver of the gift.

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