Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why we decided not to "do Santa"

Image credit: LadyDragonflyCC on Flickr
Glenn and I have made the decision not to "do Santa" with the kids. When I told my mom her response was, "Why do some parents do that?!??!" as if it was the most horrible and awful thing you could do to a child. We actually have many reasons, which include:

We strive to raise our children in an environment where they learn to think critically, trust their parents, and be honest. Telling a story about a imaginary man who flies all the way around the world on his sleigh (with flying reindeer nonetheless), scoots his way down chimneys and rewards children who have been good (more on that in a minute) does not bode itself to critical thinking. The other day we were driving home from visiting our friend's new baby; Beanie was excited to see the sun, saying hello to it and waving. She commented that the sun wasn't waving back, to which I asked her if the sun had arms. "No!" she replied, laughing at my silliness. I then asked how the sun would wave if it didn't have arms and she replied, "Well, it doesn't!" It's with that same questioning spirit that we will approach the story of Santa.

Santa forces the good-bad dichotomy, of which I am not a fan. Much as I don't wish Beanie to be "good" at the grocery store to get a cookie when we're done, I don't want her to be "good" to get presents from Santa. I've never actually heard of a child getting coal from Santa, but we want to instill in Beanie the idea that we are "good" (I use that term begrudgingly) because those are the morals, values and standards we live by.

For us, Santa is just another story to tell in December. We aren't religious, so there are many holiday stories for us to tell. As I stated in an earlier post, we plan to teach the kids about multiple cultural and religious celebrations during the Winter. The history of Saint Nicholas is one we will be teaching and, from that, we can tell her how the story of Santa Claus came about. Santa is a character, much the same as Curious George, Clifford the Big Red Dog, or Frog and Toad.

To us, the idea of Santa puts more emphasis on getting than giving. For our family, the holidays are about being with family, enjoying good food, and giving gifts. Sure, Santa is big on giving but, for children, the big takeaway from the story is all about receiving. We really want to focus on the giving aspect of the holidays and feel that there are other ways, such as the compassion kit playdate we just attended, that more accurately describe the spirit of the holidays for us.

We plan to keep everything age appropriate. This year we are reading stories about Hanukkah, the Solstice, St. Nicholas and Christmas. She's three-and-a-half so we are following her lead and answering questions. We've told the grandparents that we aren't doing Santa; I'm not sure they understand, but maybe this post will help.

Glenn and I were both raised in families that "did Santa." Our traditions were quite different. In my family, Santa brought just a few small things for our stocking. The rest of the presents were from my parents and extended family. We did do the whole oh-look-at-that-light-it's-Santa-and-his-reindeer, the half-eaten cookies and on and on. I believed until I was nine when my mom mistook my smug grin and comment about the tooth fairy to mean that I knew she wasn't real. That wasn't the case and I was crushed when my mom said, "I guess you know we're the tooth fairy." Then it dawned on me that the Easter Bunny was also fake. And (oh my god!) Santa, too. I don't remember any of this really; my faulty memory instead had me thinking I believed until my sister's third grade teacher announced to the class that Santa was a fraud. Apparently, my sister finding out was more of a traumatic experience, even for me. In Glenn's family, Santa was a bigger deal; he brought the bulk of the presents to place under the tree. He found out when his parents asked him to take out the trash after Easter brunch and he found the milk jug bunny he had made. The realization quickly hit that Santa was fake, too.

I tell you all this because one reason that doesn't factor at all into our decision is the idea that our kids would be traumatized or distraught at the impending realization that Santa was a big charade. I'm sure that some children are traumatized at the realization that Santa was for not; apparently my sister, myself and Glenn all were, but none of us carry that trauma into adulthood. It's more so a decision based on the values and morals we want to teach our children and how we choose to parent.

I've read a few other great posts on Santa, so read up if you wish:

Anyone else not "do Santa?" I know a few friends that don't, but I'm sure we're in the minority. I'd love to hear others' thoughts on the topic.


  1. We don't do Santa either. Partly for the reasons you describe, partly because we teach that Jesus is the giver of all gifts and the other spiritual implications. We also don't believe it's right to lie to our kids, especially for years on end! I have a couple other friends who don't do Santa but our families don't get it. My brother thinks I'm horrible for denying the boys the Santa experience...

  2. you raise some interesting points. I am struggling with this decision a bit for similar reasons. I am very non religious but my husband does have his own beliefs so that is why we are still on the fence here.

  3. Thank you for this post! I've been thinking about this a lot lately, being holiday time. Luckily our son (being only 14 months old) isn't old enough to "get" santa or obviously to start asking questions! I was raised in a Christian family, and we did a lot of the typical Christian Christmas fesitivies.. so I've been kind of lost over what all to teach our son!

    But, I would like to say that I totally agree with everything you said in this post!!! I think "Santa" is a great story.. but that's it.. a STORY. I want my kids to be more focused on the GIVING aspect of the holiday season and being thankful for what we have!

  4. I understand the reasons why parents choose not to do Santa. We are planning on continuing the Santa tradition in our family. I think believing in make-believe is part of childhood. I plan to incorporate giving and service into our holiday traditions, also, as well as putting focus on the significance of Christmas for us spiritually. I don't really see Santa as a "bribe"--it's not as if children go around all year making their decisions based on whether or not Santa will give them gifts. I do agree that labeling children as "good" or "bad" is not a good thing to do--I would prefer it to be "children who have made good choices," which is something I do want to reward my children for.

  5. You are so lucky to have a husband who agrees with you on these things. I would not do gifts or anything if I had my way, but sadly we do it all and Z is already a total spoiled brat (partly due to grandparents).

  6. I decided this year not to do Santa. I was torn before this, because it's fun. But then I realized that I would have to shop by myself. If there's a Santa, she can't help me pick stuff for Daddy's stocking. We don't give very many presents, so stockings are most of the presents we get. Plus since I like to make things, it would be hard to hide my style in her hand crafted presents.

  7. We are Jewish and so don't have to make this decision. However Tristan did ask what the big house and tree were last time we went to Redmond Town Center. I told him it was Santa's house and he asked to go see. I explained to him that some people believe that Santa comes and puts presents under their trees. He has tons of question about everything and I try to give him honest answers so he doesn't feel confused or left out later. That said we light the candles for Chanukkah, I have not introduced presents for holidays yet. We buy him the toys and learning tools he needs and I feel that he can appreciate them more for no reason rather than expecting them because everyone else got something that day.

  8. I'm still torn about what I'll end up doing someday. And while I don't carry the trauma to this day, finding out in school like that is still something I can remember very clearly.

    Remember the first year that dad moved out and we remembered like super-late Christmas Eve night that we needed to get mom stuff for her stocking? And we got all of it from the mini mart down the street! lol!

  9. This can be such an emotionally-loaded subject and I think you addressed it beautifully! I grew up in a household that incorporated Santa. In fact, most of our Christmas gifts were "from Santa." We had planned to do Santa with our kids-- but just one big gift from Santa and the rest from family. We do plan to be honest about Santa being a fun game at Christmas time. For us, it's not the reason we celebrate and we will be completely honest when E asks us if Santa is real.

  10. Thanks for the semi-prompt since most of it I'd already written elsewhere!

    If you want to check out my perspective: http://howdidi.blogspot.com/2010/12/or-rather-we-decide-not-to-santa.html

  11. For us, the decision to leave Santa out of this time of the year was that it just didn't make any damn sense - we strive for honesty and integrity in our family. Why tell our children lies about anything? They're worth far more respect than that!


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