Friday, December 16, 2016

Sorry in Advance (my kid might tell your kids the truth about Santa)

It looks like Winter Storm Bailey (or Barncat as the locals are calling it) is going to cause us to break some plans tonight. We had been invited to some friends’ house to surprise the kids with a visit from Santa Claus. It would have been a great time, for sure, but part of me is glad the party got cancelled. I was bracing myself for Louisa potentially throwing a wrench in the party.

She knows Santa isn’t real.

She knows because I flat. out. told. her.

(Sorry. I hadn’t entirely thought it through.)

It’s just that she was asking and asking and asking about Santa. Where is the North Pole? Does he really have elves? Why can’t we get an Elf on the Shelf? How nice do I have to be to get presents? If I hit Victor just a little, do I get on the naughty list, or is it only if I push him down the stairs or something?

I was frustrated. I put a lot of effort into emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas (Hint: it’s not spending time with family and friends as TV movies would have you believe.) We read a lot of stories about the birth of Christ. The kids play with their little plastic Nativity set. We sing hymns. We buy gifts for children in need. We have a limit on Christmas morning gifts under the tree (if three is enough for Jesus, it’s enough for you!) We talk about what kind of birthday party Jesus would want, and I’m planning to make a cake.
This is legit. Apparently Lou thinks Baby Jesus co-sleeps with Barbie.

But in the end, it’s hard for a tiny baby to compete with the massive, looming giant that is modern day Santa Claus.

So, in my frustration, I told her. “Louisa, Santa’s not real! All of this stuff is just a story we tell kids. Mom and Dad buy your gifts, and you’re going to get them no matter how naughty you are because it’s way too much of a pain in the ass to return things to Amazon. Just be good, or you’ll be in trouble!”

Then I waited dreadfully for the deadening of that twinkle in her eyes I had been warned about. Lucky for me, though, she’s three. She didn’t believe me. Her grasp on fact and fiction is pretty hazy to begin with, so she pretty much just thought mom had gone off the rails. The incessant questioning started up again a few minutes later.

A few days later, I tested her out by asking, “Louisa, is Elsa real?”

“Yeah Mom, duh! She talks in the movie!”

There you have it. We could just forget this whole snafu and move on. Somehow, I don’t want to, though. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that if we really want to focus on that teeny tiny baby, the big guy in red is going to have to step aside.

Many Christians have been rejecting Santa for years, mostly on the basis of Christmas being a co-opted pagan holiday. I myself have no big problem with the co-opting. I’m Catholic; it’s kind of our thing. In fact, most historians agree that Catholics initially did the co-opting of the Romans’ traditional Saturnalia.

Santa Claus was a combination of Father Christmas and Saint Nicolaus who arrived on the scene somewhere around the turn of the 19th Century. He’s GROWN and GROWN since then. Here’s why in our family we’re shoving him aside to make room:

1. The story has grown from harmless fantasy to all-out dishonesty

Initially, children learned of Santa through books such as The Night Before Christmas read by parents and grandparents who could put the fantastical poem in its proper place. Now children are bombarded with the jolly old elf. Countless movies, books, songs, activities, coloring books, mall Santa Claus’s, parades, interactive activities with Santa, letters to the North Pole, phone calls to Santa himself, Elf on the Shelf, treats left for Santa and his reindeer, it goes on and on. I recently saw an app where you can take a photo of your own Christmas tree that will show Santa crouched down in front of it. Or you can track his progress around the globe. To what lengths will we go to fool our own children?

We grew up with Santa in our household, but I myself stopped believing sometime in pre-school when one of my friends broke it to me that her parents bought all the gifts in their household. It made sense to me, and it wasn’t hard to accept.

My brother, on the other hand, was in fifth grade when we had to sit him down and gently tell him the news. He had been a huge fan of Tim Allen’s The Santa Claus, a movie that insisted that you didn’t have to see to believe. His innocent little heart was steadfast in its faith in Santa Claus, to the point that he was getting bullied at school. When we told him the truth, he was understandably heartbroken.

How does a child feel when he finds out that everyone he trusts has been carrying on such an elaborate lie for years? Does he question his faith in everything else he can’t see?

This Christmas, I want to make room for Truth.

2. Santa only plays the role of ‘just judge,’ not ‘merciful savior’

Santa’s criteria are black and white. Good kids get on the nice list; bad kids get on the naughty list. No chance for reconciliation. No one to advocate for your actions. For a child’s simplistic mind, it’s easy to jump from this legalistic concept of Christmas to a legalistic concept of Heaven and Hell.

But Christians have both just judge and merciful savior in the Holy Trinity. God’s only Son Jesus acts as an advocate for us. “But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.”  (1 John 2:1)

So for us, rather than warning that “Santa’s watching” or “you’ll be on the naughty list,” we emphasize that kids should behave because Jesus wants them to. And if they slip up, all they have to do is apologize and ask forgiveness, just as they forgive each other. The gifts we give are a sign of God’s unconditional love.

This Christmas, I want to make room for Mercy.

3. It’s simply too much of a distraction

There is so much rich symbolism we can explain through Christmas traditions. The star atop the tree represents the Star of Nazareth. The characters in the nativity set can be used to act out the story of Christ’s birth. Lighting advent candles bring us out of the darkness and closer to Christ, symbolizing faith, hope, joy and peace. Many advent calendars have scripture passages. There is so much beautiful music to be sung!

For children, this spiritual richness is easily lost under a heaping pile of wrapping paper, and their take-away memories are of Santa’s Workshop, Elf on the Shelf and gifts they’ll use for a couple months before losing interest.

This Christmas, I want to make room for Jesus.
Last year's library Christmas party. Nate seems to have a real connection with Santa.

 Our approach to Santa is a work in progress. There’s no ban in our home, and if Louisa or Victor choose one of the Santa books off our shelf, I’ll gladly read it. I told her that we’re going to keep the truth about Santa as our secret, because other kids might still like to believe in him.

But if she accidentally lets it slip, please have mercy on us. We don’t want to ruin your family traditions; we just want to pave our own.

….plus, they probably won’t believe her anyways!


  1. I love your thoughts and whole-heartedly agree. We never had Santa in our home either. In the beginning because all of my children were afraid of him and didn't want him in our house. That made it easier to push him out and make room for Jesus and put him front and center where He belonged. I recall Andrew telling one of his friends in 5k that Santa wasn't real. She didn't believe him.

    1. Thanks, Heidi! I can't remember who it was that told me about Santa in Kindergarten--maybe it was Sammi! In any case, I'm glad I figured it out young!


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