Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why We Didn't "Do" Santa

As our oldest son and his wife near time for the birth of their first child, I wonder about what choices they’ll make as parents. You read books, you talk to other parents, but nothing really can prepare you for the out-of-the blue things to decide. Like perpetuating the Santa Claus myth in your family holiday tradition.

We chose, after our first son was born, truth. I had an easy transition as a child from the Santa myth to the Santa reality. That was made easier, I believe, because my earliest memories are of being told that Santa is the spirit of Christmas giving that we all should emulate. Giving is better than receiving. It’s the thought that counts not the cost. You know the lines.

DH, on the other hand, had a shocking and upsetting revelation about the Santa myth. He told me it took him years to get over it. And for a long time he wondered what else his parents had lied to him about. It eroded his basic trust in the two people he should always be able to count on.

Wow! That shocked me. In all the things I had been considering about parenting, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t do Christmas like my childhood Christmases. It never came into my consciousness--until he brought it up. We discussed it, and we decided to opt for honesty from the beginning.

Additionally, being Unitarian Universalists, we didn’t like all the threatening stuff around the Santa myth. Naughty or nice? List-making of deserving recipients? Watching you all the time? Yuck.  We were trying to give our children a moral core that said you are good and do good because that’s what people are supposed to do. You don’t do good to get a reward or for fear of punishment. Part of being human is making the world a better place because you walked here. That’s a responsibility you have.

In our holiday celebration we had stockings (and still do) and “Santa” gifts (unwrapped presents set out with the stockings), but we always told our kids that the gifts were from us. So give us a list, don’t keep anything secret. If you don’t tell us, it ain’t happening since there’s no man in a red suit who can read your mind. To this day, my adult children submit their lists.

Oh, and did we ever get criticized! “You’re taking all the joy out of Christmas.” “They need the magic of anticipation.” “Christmas should be fun.”

Excuse me?

Sure, I wanted the joyful season experience for my kids. And we got it. Shopping “angel trees” in the mall to get presents for less fortunate children. Making a gingerbread house each year that had to be different from any other we had done. Baking cookies and breads and taking them to neighbors and friends. Inviting friends over to make ornaments, cookies, and wrap presents for their own families. We had a super holiday each year. But Santa wasn’t a part of it.

Some families choose the no-Santa-myth route for religious reasons. Santa is an overblown commercialization of Christmas so far from the original Saint Nicholas as to unrecognizable. Others choose to go the truth route like us.

But I had to ask my friends who worried that their children were doubting the myth why they felt compelled to continue the lie when the kids had heard/figured out that Santa was not real. Who were they doing it for? My guess is that most parents who continue the myth beyond the time of ‘fessing up are doing it for themselves. Why else not just get it over with and back to the focus for the season?

And for us, having our children know that we would never lie to them was foundational to how our family functioned, and still does. Trust is worth so much more than participating in a charade.

And remembering the “reason for the season”, as the saying goes, was important to us as well. When they were little, and focused on how birthdays are done, we always had a birthday cake for Christmas dinner and sang “happy Birthday” ot Jesus. It was, after all, a world-wide birthday celebration.

What about my kids spilling the beans? Not a problem. I threatened death if they dared spoil how someone else celebrated the season. And since I don’t lie, they knew it would happen. (Okay, so maybe a little lie!) It never got tested. They were true to their word. Must be all that honesty modeling.

A quick family story:
Youngest son, Chicago, was a strong-willed child. And smart. He knew precisely the trigger to pull to get me going. One particularly trying day during the holidays, I was so frustrated I said to this kindergartener, “It’s a good thing there’s no Santa who gives gifts only to good children. You are being very naughty, but you’ll get gifts because we love you even when you’re not being good.” Not my finest moment, I agree, but it was in keeping with truth-telling.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone with family and friends.


  1. I like this blog because I was a child who figure out the truth at five by seeing a dumb Easter bunny. My mother admitted the truth when I told her my reasoning (if the Easter Bunny is a fake so is Santa) but warned me I'd be spanked if I told any of my friends what I thought.

    1. I believe that if you do the myth, you need to tell the truth when asked. Parents who lie to their kids should ask themselves why it is so important to them that they continue the story when they should say, "The End." Good for your mom!

  2. I don't know. I have early memories - How would Santa Claus visit us because we had no chimney - just a stove pipe. I was told he'd come in the front door. I recall worrying because Mother kept that door latched.

    Most of us, and our kids, get through this phase without any traumas,. Santa and Easter Bunny. How do we handle it? Wish I knew. In Sunday School we're told about this invisible spirit that looks after all children. Is HE another myth? Some of our children figure that one out, too.

    1. Thanks for coming by, Dac, and commenting. I would guess most kids get through without the trauma, but there is still the truth piece. We just couldn't bring ourselves to go down that slippery slope. But it is a decision all parents must make for their own families.