I Don’t Make My Kids Believe in Santa… Here’s Why

4123836032_fa112b60a9_oI’ve written about numerous controversial parenting topics, but none gets parents quite so upset as the idea of a family not raising their children to believe in Santa.

Why would we want to ruin their childhood like that? Why must we squash all magic and imagination? Why can’t we just let kids be kids? Why in the world would we be uncomfortable going out of our way to convince our trusting children that Santa is a real human being who actually flies around the world in one night delivering toys to children, but only if they’ve been “good”?

The truth is that there are many reasons why a family might not try to convince their kids that Santa is real. For some people, it’s a religious issue: Their belief is that the reason for Christmas is solely Christ, and Santa isn’t needed.

My reasons are different. Before I get into them, I should probably add a disclaimer: my feelings about pretending that Santa is real are my feelings, for my family. My beliefs are not commentary on anyone else’s family; they are not a judgment of anyone else’s traditions.

I have a 7-year-old and a 20-month-old toddler, and my eldest has never believed that Santa is real. He pretends that dragons are real and fairies are all around us and one day he’s going to bring dinosaurs back to life by extracting their DNA. He doesn’t need me to create any kind of reality in which these things exist; they exist real enough in his mind.

His childhood is plenty magical. It’s magic and fun all year round, and when winter hits, we do the typical holiday family things and the stuff our community offers: Christmas craft classes, Santa’s Village, sleigh rides, hot chocolate, tour of the lights, snowmen, winter walks, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. We bake and decorate; we read books and sing songs about Christmas and Santa and elves. All sorts of good stuff.

None of our Christmas spirit has ever needed to revolve around me attempting to convince my son that Santa is real. He is free to write a letter to Santa if he wants, and to sit on Santa’s lap, although he generally politely requests to stand next to him. He receives gifts from family addressed from “Santa,” and his excitement for the holidays could rival anyone’s.

All of this, without believing that Santa is real. So why would I make this choice? Why not just do what so many other parents do, and do the work every December to convince my kids that Santa is indeed a real human being who sneaks into our house at night on Christmas Eve?

Well, because that’s a lie. It’s not true. The Santa story as it is told is a myth, not a truth.

I’ve made a commitment to myself as a parent to be honest with my kids if I am going to expect honesty in return. That means instead of lying and saying the TV is broken, I have to take the time to explain why we can’t watch Dino Trucks for the fifth time today. That means instead of concocting a story that might make my life easier, I figure out a way to tell the truth. That means when my child asks if reindeer really fly, I have to say no, because that is the truth. Reindeer can, however, run very long distances quickly, and their eyes change color depending on where they’re at in their migration. So that’s cool.

In short, I try to practice radical honesty, and that stops me from going out of my way to convince my kids that Santa is real.

It also has never felt right to me to pretend that the presents my kids get are somehow dependent upon their behavior. Along with the Santa story comes the notion that “good kids” get presents while “bad kids” might get a lump of coal, or nothing at all. But in reality, kids are good. They are.

Kids are working hard to learn our particular social customs while simultaneously dealing with a brain that is constantly changing and growing. They lack impulse control because of the development of their brain, and there’s nothing we can do to punish or threaten it out of them. When our children are learning, making mistakes and being “bad,” it is our job to patiently help them through it and model what we’d like to see from them.

Telling them that Santa is watching and he knows who’s being naughty and nice just isn’t enough. And my kids will get gifts from myself and others regardless of what phase of learning they’re in, or what mistakes they’ve made the past year. We all deserve such grace.

Another aspect is the classism implied in this part of the Santa myth. It’s palpable. The fact is that plenty of parents can’t afford to get their kids much of anything for Christmas. If the story goes that only bad kids get nothing for Christmas, what are we inherently teaching our kids about people who have less than us?

Some parents insist that it’s OK to make my kids think that Santa is real, because Santa IS real– he’s an abstract spirit of giving, and he’s alive in all of us. I usually just call that “generosity,” and we try to talk about it and live it all year round.

Thus far there is no compelling reason to treat Santa unlike any other fictional character in our lives: we can talk about him, read books about him, celebrate him, and get excited about him, but just like Bob the Builder or Lightening McQueen, the kiddos will know he’s not a real guy.

Literally, just now, with no prompting, my 7-year-old exclaimed, “What should I be most excited about?! About seeing my friends and family? About sleigh rides and skiing and snowboarding? Or Santa’s Village and hot chocolate?!” I think he’s going to be fine.

Image: Lady Dragonfly

20 thoughts on “I Don’t Make My Kids Believe in Santa… Here’s Why”

  1. YES! Exactly this; it’s a lie. I am loathe to lie to my kid, even if ti’s a fun lie. I have always had issues with lying…even for good reasons like surprise parties. I just don’t want to do it. I don’t judge people that do engage in the whole Santa mythos, and I’d thank them for the same courtesy. As she got to that age, I simply said nothing; I didn’t need to say anything. Other kids and adults did it all for me, talking about Santa this and Santa that. I neither confirm nor deny it, and when we talk about it, I basically play it off as another fun holiday fantasy to get in the spirit.

    1. Not to give children the joy of Santa Claus is to take the Magic out of Christmas. I had such a strong belief that in third grade, a classmate couldn’t believe I still believed. Instead of doubting, I thought he was weird to even say that. Thanks to my parents for making Christmas Magic. .Today, I can’t get enough of it. I decorate early, put on Christmas music and enjoy each day until Christmas. One day as a child though, I asked my Mom who was greater, Santa Claus or God. That’s when she felt she had to tell me. I was devastated. So when my children were little and would ask about Santa, I went straight to the encyclopedia (no computers) and looked up Santa Claus. We learned that he was a real person called Sinter Claus in Holland, and many other countries as well. He would leave presents in their wood shoes. So I explained that nobody lives forever, so now we continue what Santa Claus would do. And, even, better I would tell each child at that particular point in their lives, now you can be Santas with us and help to make Christmas Magic for their younger siblings. All of my kids remember this and remember it with happiness as Santa always made sense to them. So yes, I do believe in Santa Claus as well as my children, making a Magic Christmas.

      1. Mary Ann,
        Your thoughts were eloquent. It’s all about helping children stay children as long as they can and keeping that magic, sparkle, spirit in their hearts as long as we can. I believe in higher powers than humanly possible however I have a sense of reality and truth. Something I pass on to my children. I feel it’s robbery to steal any child’s childhood and hope. Knowing they will one day figure it all out for themselves. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think it’s very strange that you keep talking about “making” your kids believe in Santa. We never told my daughter that there’s a Santa. We did a tree with gifts in the morning because that’s my family tradition. No word of Santa. I avoided mentioning Santa. She noticed all the pictures of “that guy with the red hat” around town when she was going on 3. Then, when she was nearly 4 and Christmas came round she started talking about Santa coming. She never asked if Santa was real. She absolutely knew. Clearly she got this from kids, or perhaps even teachers, at nursery. To be honest, I consider it harmless. She’s now going on 6 and delights in the surprises from Santa under the tree. Why would I destroy that? I have a feeling that she won’t ask if he’s real until she suspects he is not, as most kids do. I don’t know why you think it’s fine for your kids to believe in fairies and bringing dinosaurs to life yet think it’s bad to believe in Santa. I don’t disagree with your policy of honesty, but why is Santa the bad guy??

    1. I don’t leave dragon foot prints or fairy dust all throughout the house in order to convince my child they’re real. I also don’t leave cookies for Santa or tell my child Santa is literally going to come into our house at night. Neither is true, so why would I lie? He can believe in dragons, or not, or believe in fairies, or not, and I will still tell him the truth about all of it because I expect the truth from him. His childhood is still plenty magical. There are many parents who clearly go far out of their way to make their kids believe Santa is real. Why lie?

      1. I have never tried to convince my daughter there was a Santa I didn’t rush out to get her picture taken with him if we were out and she wanted to talk to him I let her but just like you letting yours believe in faries and dragons I let her believe and at a very young age but when she became old enough to question I never lied to her I told her the truth!! I very much doubt a 2 yr old will ask if Santa is real
        My daughter is 22 now and going to school to become a Surgeon we are very close she is a very respectful adult so I don’t think letting your child believe in Santa at a young age teaches them not to be truthful with others

  3. I am confused. You talk about your child believing in dragons and bringing back dinosaurs. Why is that okay? Why don’t you insist on him knowing those things aren’t real. It seems like you have singled out Santa, but are making the case that he just gets thrown out with the bath water in your unwaivering sense of honesty. When in fact, I bet that there are lots of imaginary things you encourage.

    1. As explained in the article, Santa is problematic for a few reasons. One, the idea of Santa only bringing toys for “good kids” is sickening. Add in the classist aspect and I think it’s pretty self-explanatory how the Santa myth differentiates from a kid thinking, on their own accord, that dragons and fairies are real. I don’t go out of my way to sprinkle glitter around our house and convince my son that fairies visited us overnight, nor do I leave fake dragon eggs around to make him believe dragons are living in our home. Because going out of my way to convince my child that something is real when it’s not isn’t cool with me. If HE wants to believe it’s real, that’s fine. There’s a difference.

  4. One reason that I don’t perpetuate the Santa myth is the idea that if a child is naughty they will not receive and if they are nice they will. A society thinking in this manner propels the stereotypes and thinking that rich are better than poor even as children. If you are a poor child and do not receive as many expensive gifts as your richer friends, you are likely to subconsciously believe that you are not as good as they are. And vice versa.

  5. I totally agree with been honest with your child!!! Mine his 6 and never believed in Santa, I always told my child the truth and will always do… His teacher and employes at his school told me they have never meet a child so creative and curious !!! He love the truth and he’s sad for the kids who’ve been lied too!!!
    I am not judging anyone or telling anyone what they have to do… I am not telling you your are a bad parent if you telling your child sands exist, but please don’t tell people who do so right to they kids that they are terrible cause they’re not… And the relationship with our kids telling them the truth have a greater chance to grow on honesty later because it was the foundation of it.

  6. I differ with you, the author, on several points.

    One – in reference to all the “story” about Santa that you don’t like – don’t use that part of the story. Each family as you say can use what aspects of the tradition of Christmas they like depending on their views. In my case – I don’t tell my kids that Santa will only come if they are good. Instead of teaching kids that Santa is indeed a real human being who sneaks into our house at night on Christmas Eve – think that Santa is all the parents and caregivers/guardians of children who make a special occasion out of Christmas.

    Second – I truly believe in the magic of Santa. I know my parents made this real for me and I have done the same with my children. I have a 17 year old who still enjoys Santa coming and the wonderfulness that is Christmas – how we celebrate and the time we spend together.

    Believing in this “generosity” as you call it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done as you say through the rest of the year. In the same vein as you suggest, we shouldn’t celebrate birthdays then – you should be celebrating your children year round not on just one day! See how ridiculous that extrapolation is – of course we celebrate our children all year round even if we do make a special occasion of it as well on their birthday.

    Third – you say you are being radically honest. I doubt this is true. For in order to be radically honest you would have to let your children know that the things they believe in like fairies and dragons aren’t true. No tooth fairy either (I expect you don’t have a visit from her?). Also I think this term would also mean such things as letting them know about the dim future of the planet given climate change. That would be being radically honest – “sorry children we’ve left an awful mess and that’s the truth” instead of what we do which is pretend that everything is in good order. Sorry folks, too much scientific evidence that we aren’t in good shape. So how much radical honesty do you use for this subject?

    Go ahead, don’t have Santa – by all means. Each to their own for sure. But the reasoning you gave is flawed and you should have just said – I don’t like that particular magical story. The end. No problem. No one says you have to.

  7. Thank you for this. You hit the nail on the head. It’s a hard path in the USA where Christmas is so very commercialized. They only way to keep Santa real is to lay one lie on top of another throughout the season. We don’t do it for all the reasons you state but also for religious reasons. I will not lie to my kids or force them to lie in order to keep up the Santa myth.

  8. I’ve tried getting around this by introducing my daughter to the story of St Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. We read a short story about him the night before St Nicholas day (Dec 6 or 7th depending on the calendar). I am by no means religious, but since I was brought up Christian, it is hard to get away from tradition. So we just celebrate Christmas by being together, opening gifts from one another. I have a small nativity scene that I put out but don’t make a big deal of it. She thinks it is just a baby and mama and daddy that come out at this time of year. As, for the Easter Bunny, I have been calling him the Spring bunny. Technically, rabbits make an appearance during spring time. But, I admit it is hard to not call him the Easter bunny since there are no books that I found about Spring bunny. I think the world of parenting is changing, and I think some people might get offended or feel that their beliefs are wrong if we are not doing things the same as our parents. But everyone has their own parenting styles and thanks for being brave enough to share yours.

  9. My mom told me the truth. She was a single mom, and we had no money. She didn’t want me to believe there was some magic person who would bring me extravagant gifts if I only asked him, nor did she want me to believe I was a bad kid if I didn’t get as much as everybody else.

    So when I asked about him, she said he was a wonderful character, like Cookie Monster or Big Bird, and that some families had their kids believe he was real, so to not spoil the secret for the other kids. I seem ok…?

  10. Thank you SO much for sharing this. Our family does the same thing that you do with our daughter. We tried the lies with my step-kids because their mother was doing it at her house and we didn’t want to cause confusion for them since they spent equal time at each home. But it was horrible and we felt awful about it, for all of the reasons you listed. We vowed not to do it when we had a child together.

    Going against the mainstream will always threaten others, much like those who have commented negatively here. Just remember that plenty of us are behind you 100%. 🙂

  11. I agree 100%. It’s a lie. My husband and I agreed we would not perpetuate the myth of Santa, but my mother-in-law had “Santa” come visit one Christmas morning. It was a very difficult situation. Some people feel as if a childhood wouldn’t be complete without a belief in Santa. Just like your son, our children are having a perfectly normal childhood with just as much magic and fantasy as any other. Without lying.

  12. We’re Jewish so Santa isn’t relevant to my family. But with the tooth fairy I had a similar experience. It felt like “lying” to me. So with each of my kids, when we got near the age they would lose their first teeth, I said to them “So, there’s a tradition in our country that when kids lose their teeth they get to put them under their pillow and a ‘tooth fairy’, who is actually the parents, comes and leaves a little money. Would you like us to do that tradition?” And they both said, “YES!”, of course! At that point my conscious was cleared and we all got to then move together into the willing suspension of disbelief and do the tooth fairy thing.

  13. Thanks for sharing your story! I’ve been contemplating “undo-ing” the Santa myth. I definitely don’t give Santa all the credit for what I do on Christmas. Same as with the tooth fairy…I don’t go out of my way to tell my kids a lie, but I don’t sit them don’t and tell them the truth either. I’m stuck more than ever this past year with how to come out of what they know and have known. My boys are 7 and 4. With the way that I answer them when they ask how can Santa fit down the chimney or what about other kids who don’t have a chimney….I say i’m not sure or I don’t know, in a nutshell. My 4 year old doubts it all even more I think because he’s had more of my neutral answers and he questions it more. I don’t know how to go on from here though…

  14. I totally agree with the author about not wanting to lie to my children. We never made an issue either way and I don’t think my older child really believed but he still enjoyed Christmas. But when my then 7 yr old daughter came running in from play saying the neighbor children said there wasn’t a Santa Claus, I did not want to make take the “magic” of Christmas away from her so I told her Santa is when you want to give someone something but you don’t want them to have to say “Thank You”. So that year, she became Santa, by giving presents and saying they were from Santa. She learned to be generous that way without expecting anything in return. I gave her some excitement to take the place of the fantasy and she wasn’t disappointed.

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