Why I’m Still Not Doing Santa, and Still Not Ruining Christmas

Still Not Doing Santa, Still Not Ruining Christmas

Not everyone keeps a naughty or nice list. And not everyone chooses to tell their kids about Santa. One mom tells us why she doesn’t choose to do Santa Claus.

‘Tis the season! The season to destroy the holiday spirit by debating about whether or not to do Santa Claus.

Just kidding.

Kind of.

I’ve written about this issue almost every year, not in the interest of convincing anyone that my way is the right way, but simply to explain why a mother might choose not to do Santa. It seems to need a thorough explanation, according to the response this decision garners.

And the responses are intense. Out of all of the controversial parenting topics I discuss, the choice not to do Santa is often the most brutally criticized.

I’ve been told that I am destroying my children’s imaginations, that I have ruined Christmas, and that I have ruined their childhoods. This is not an exaggeration. When people learn that I don’t tell my children Santa is a real human who watches us and sneaks into our house to leave us presents, the accusations start flying wildly.

All of the accusations are untrue, but the part about stifling imagination is always extra perplexing. Children explore with imagination not because we tell them, “Bob the Builder is a real man who really builds real houses — in fact, he sneaks into our house at night!” but because they create fictional stories in their own minds, because they can stack blocks into cities for hours, and because they can love fairies, dragons, and elves without ever being told they are real.

The benefits of imagination play cannot be overstated. Imagination play is essential to childhood. However, imagination play does not take place when a parent watches over the kiddos, telling them that everything they’re playing with is really real in real life. Imagination play comes naturally to children, from absorbing the world around them. A parent does not need to convince the child that every aspect of their imagination is literally true in order for successful imagination play to happen.

My boys, a two-year-old and an eight-year-old, are both unschooled, and much of their day is spent immersed in imagination play. In order to facilitate such play, I don’t have to watch over their playroom insisting that their Lego creations are living beings. In fact, I usually don’t say anything at all unless asked. I watch, and I admire their brilliant imaginations running wild. Telling them that fake things are real does not inspire their imagination, and separating fact from fiction does not hinder it.

Some would argue that the spirit of St. Nick is real. Indeed, it is. I am a sentimental fool and I love the holiday season. I am merry and bright. I teach my kids about the history of the holiday, the religious meaning, and the stories of Father Christmas. Drawing from the St. Nicholas tradition of gift-giving, we embody the spirit of Santa and it adds an extra twinkle to the eye.

St. Nicholas was a real person. But Santa, as he is known today, is not a real person. We know that Santa does not, in reality, come into our houses and leave presents for our kids. It is a story told to children, but it is not a true story. It is false.

And that’s where things get complicated for me, and for many others who choose not to do Santa. I want my kids to tell me the truth, and I want to tell my kids the truth. I want to promote honesty in all ways. It may sound extreme to some, but this includes not convincing them that Santa Claus is a real human being.

I will tell the Santa story the same way I tell other fairytales, but I won’t tell my kids that Santa or his elves are watching them. I won’t tell them that Santa brings toys for “good” kids only. I won’t tell them that Santa sneaks into our house at night, because he doesn’t. And that won’t impair their imagination, nor will it destroy their Christmas.

I will tell my kids not to spill the beans, because some children believe Santa is real, and it’s up to their parents to tell the truth someday. However, implicating someone else’s children in your family’s ruse is a tall order that some will understandably be uncomfortable with. There are many people, religions, and traditions in our communities and around the world that do not celebrate Santa, so they might find out some other way. It comes with the territory.

There is some debate over whether or not the Santa story is a lie. To me, it is. To me, it feels like a lie. It feels dishonest. There are plenty of fantastic parents who choose to do Santa, and they do not feel like they are lying. That is a good choice for their family.

My choice for my family is not inherently judgmental of your choice. I can feel that something is wrong for my family, without also feeling that it is wrong for your family. You know yourself and your children. The issue is worth exploring, though. If we tell our children not to lie to us, if we expect and desire honesty from everyone in our lives, why is it acceptable for us to lie to our children?

A recent study published in the Lancet examined the morality and effects of lying to children about Santa. The study found that if the parent-child relationship is already vulnerable, the child’s discovery that they have been lied to about Santa can be damaging. Relationships are built on trust, and most of us would lose that trust if we found out that someone we love has fabricated a long-term story that isn’t true.

On a larger scale, telling children that Santa only brings toys to “good” kids has negative implications. Children will probably get their presents in the end, even if they misbehave, so it’s generally an empty threat and a poor behavior modification tool.

And, most importantly, if children grow up believing that Santa doesn’t bring toys to “bad” kids, what does that say about low-income families? When children show up at school after winter break with their new shoes and clothes, toys and gadgets, but low-income students have little or nothing, isn’t it implied that they are bad? They must have been bad, otherwise Santa would have brought them more stuff, right?

So, what will my family do to celebrate the holidays instead of telling our kids that Santa is real? We will bake cookies and give them away to people we love. We will buy extra bread and peanut butter to give to hungry people out in the cold, and we’ll make an extra donation to our local food bank. We’ll choose and wrap gifts with love and care. We’ll listen to Christmas music (which has been playing in our house since Halloween). We’ll go sledding and drink hot chocolate. We’ll craft homemade ornaments. We’ll spend time with family and friends.

We will even visit our local Santa’s village, where they have reindeer and crafts and sleigh rides, and even a man in a Santa costume. My kids know he’s not real, but they sit on his lap — or stand next to him if they so choose — and tell him what they want for Christmas. Not because he’s real, but because it’s fun, and telling the truth about Santa doesn’t ruin the holiday spirit.

What do you think? To do Santa, or not to do Santa? That is the question.

Image credit: Bambe1964


9 thoughts on “Why I’m Still Not Doing Santa, and Still Not Ruining Christmas”

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I have a 3 month old daughter, my first and probably only child, and this sums up exactly how my husband and I feel about the concept of Santa! I assume people will criticize us too as she gets older, but the “good” and “bad” kid labels are what really stick out to us as unfair and unhealthy. If she really wants to go and meet Santa we will take her but we will be approaching the concept as a fairy tale, like you suggest. Thank you again!

  2. Believing in Santa Claus is one of the last standing rites of passage that we go through as a community. It’s something that brings us together–that we believed the story innocently, and eventually grew wise and realized it was a myth. For me, experiencing that pain of growing up (because it is painful when one realizes it was all a story) was hard, but important.

  3. I tried to imagine how the conversation would go where I have to tell my kids that Santa wasn’t real and I’d just been telling them to believe in him all along even though I knew the truth; and I decided I never wanted to have that conversation with my kids. Instead, we have always talked about “pretending” that Santa delivers presents to us. They know it’s just a game that we play, they can choose to stop playing make believe whenever they want and we can have just as much magic and joy in our home without the threats, bribes and coercion that I feel comes with trying to convince children that Santa is real. My kids also like to visit Santa at the mall and still love leaving cookies out for him (knowing that part of the fun is mommy making it look like Santa ate some). I don’t have to deceive them for them to have a magical and fun Christmas.

  4. Thanks for writing such a great post! I will never forget the Christmas I was standing in Walmart talking to my niece about how we do not teach our girls Santa Claus is real, and the lady on the opposite isle overherd us and rushed over just to tell me how wrong I was, and how I was hurting my children!
    I was taken completely off guard. I felt like I was being attacked for my believes! When the lady finally left even my niece agreed that she was a complete jerk poking her nose into other people’s business.
    I don’t mind if my kids want to make believe Santa, and watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but I want them to know the true meaning of Christmas…
    and if I lied to them about Santa Claus maybe they will start believing I lied to them about a lot of things. To me it’s simply not worth the compromise.

  5. Hi, thanks so much for writing about this. I also am not telling my kids Santa is real, mainly for the honesty issue. When they started asking about Santa when they were younger, I hijacked the conversation by telling them that Santa is an adaptation of St. Nicholas. I then told the story of St. Nicholas and how much he loves children. So they felt the love of the season; it just wasn’t coming from Santa. I marvel that there are so many people in the U.S. who go to such lengths to perpetuate a lie.

  6. I was one of the kids denied Santa. It was a horrible experience! As a very young child I wanted to pretend be was real, but was not allowed. All so my parents could claim credit for every gift (their words not mine). It was hard being surrounded by every other child believing and being left out.
    I started when my children were young telling them about Santa. Now I ask them what they think if they voice a question. We don’t teach that Santa or their elves watch them. Or that only good children get presents. We do teach them that not everyone celebrates the same and parents decide how many gifts Santa can bring and if he can bring any. We also teach them not to brag about gifts or how many they get. So far they are kind and considerate when they’ve discussed in the past what they have received. I couldn’t imagine keeping such a strong cultural Christmas tradition from my kids. When I hear others debate it I like to tell my story so they know there can be a downside to their choice.

  7. I had to do some serious soul-searching when debating whether or not to tell my children to believe in Santa. Like the author, I believe in telling my kids the truth. In the case of sensitive subjects, I may not tell them the entire truth, or I may sugar-coat it a bit, but I do not lie to my kids.

    Except, in the case of Santa, since I ultimately decided to tell them he was real. I still have reservations; it was not an easy choice to make. I remember feeling deceived when, at the age of seven, I was told by my brother that Santa was not real. I tried to weigh the cost of that deception against the joy of believing, and I made my choice. Someday when my children are older I’ll explain to them why I did what I did. I can only hope that they’ll understand.

    As for the issue of children possibly believing that low-income children are not as well behaved, this is exactly why I’m an advocate for allowing only one present per child to be from “Santa.” Not just because it helps level the playing field but because my husband and I work incredibly hard for the money to buy Christmas presents, and I want my children to know it. I want them to know that we put in the effort because we love them, and because they are well-behaved children who deserve a few nice presents for Christmas.

  8. To the points raised by “Child denied Santa”: I was also raised without a belief in Santa. I was not however “denied Santa.” I obviously don’t know the whole experience of “Child denied Santa”, but my experience was much like what is described in this article; Santa was a game we liked to play. I was, I guess unlike “Child denied Santa,” fully allowed to pretend Santa was real. Thus, the only thing I was left out of that my peers had was that instead of acting under the understanding that Santa would really bring presents, I pretended Santa would bring presents. I have never wished anything different nor understood why people often react to my confession of never being taught he was real as if I was deprived.

    My children don’t believe in Santa either. My just barely 4-year-old, got so excited in the middle of a meeting when it was announced that Santa would be at the upcoming Christmas party that he exclaimed very loudly “Mommy, Santa’s going to be at this party!” before adding more quietly “who is dressing up as Santa, Mommy?”

    I guess what I am saying is that it is entirely possible to be included in the positive parts of the Santa Claus cultural tradition without the lie. And like the author said and was illustrated to me by my 4-year-old that day, kids have got this imagination thing all on their own; they don’t need us to make it happen.

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