Christmas for our family is about the birth of Jesus. I was always taught that Santa Claus was a fictional story. He was not banned from our house, but we never had photos with Santa or expected presents from the sky. Our Christmas tree overflowed with presents for the entire month of December and we excitedly waited for our opportunity to open ours and pack our families’ presents to Grandma’s house.
I remember being around eight and rolling my eyes in my mom’s direction when my grandma told me Santa brought a present for me. Didn’t Grandma know Santa wasn’t real? However, when the same grandma banned me from on of her rooms because “the elves were working in there”, I was very confused and curious. Elves weren’t real. What was going on in there??
As I’ve grown up and come to work with children, I have adopted the disdain for teaching children that Santa is real, and we are now raising my nephew to know that is it just a story. I can see him trying to process this as his friends talk about Santa and he sees things on tv, but he also will verbalize that Santa is just a story.
Recently I shared this photo on Facebook: I love physical comedy and the visual I get from this meme looks something like this:
However, my reason for thinking this meme is mean is the same reason I do not believe in teaching children that Santa is real.
Santa Claus is a manipulation tool, not to mention a little creepy. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake”? Throughout my work in childcare I have regularly listened to parents try to goad their children into behaving because “Santa is watching”.
Is that really why children should behave? Because they won’t get any presents? Do we do the right thing so we can get something, or because it is the right thing to do?
Some people see Christmas as a holiday for children, but it isn’t. It’s not about presents or an individual person and I don’t believe we should be encouraging children to think it is. Christmas is about Jesus and should be a time of worship and learning that we are not the most important person in the world. As a matter of fact, we are flawed and undeserving. This is an opportunity to find the beauty and gratitude in realizing we are loved enough that the Creator of the Universe reached out to us.
I know Christmas has roots in pagan traditions and the date was chosen to offset winter solstice and other holidays. Many of the traditions are spin offs of pagan traditions or wives’ tales that have evolved into standard fare. If a person has a problem with these aspects of Christmas, by all means don’t include them in your celebration.
At its core, though, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ or, even if you don’t believe in Jesus, it can be about family. It is about giving – first God’s gift of Jesus, then the gifts of the wisemen to Jesus, and finally about giving to those we love. Receiving is involved, but a selfless person should not be focused on that.
Santa Claus began with the gifts of St Nicholas, who bestowed money on a family who could not afford a dowry for their daughters. His gifts prevented those girls from being sold into slavery. It is a story about selfless giving. However, the modern Santa and his elves, reindeer, and sleigh originated with Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” poem, and Santa’s suit was conceptualized by a cartoonist. Why did this become standard fodder for Christmas?
Because parents want to capitalize on it. It’s an easy way to convince children to obey and behave… so they can get STUFF.
Children should be taught to obey because they are under authority. Parents are charged with their children to teach them how to live. Parents know more about life than children can understand and so children must be taught to respect and obey their parents so the parents can guide children in learning how to think for themselves. Obedience is not for the purpose of getting rewarded, though that has its place in motivational charts and such. Ultimately obedience is for safety, learning to live, and learning to obey God and other authority like government. It is the right thing to do. I do believe we will be rewarded by God for our good deeds, but sometimes right is right and we do it because it is right.
In addition, there will come a day when a child learns that Santa Claus is just a story. I have never experienced this realization for myself or anyone I was close to, but if tv and movies are any indication, it can be quite a shock. Imagine learning that your parents have been lying to you your whole life, particularly if you have ever poignantly asked if Santa was real and had the parents said yes. It is important to me to be honest with the children in my life. There are definitely times when pretend is fun or a child isn’t old enough to understand that cartoons only exist in tv or they may not be old enough to know about certain things, but I want to always be able to say that I was honest, even if just to tell a child “I’ll tell you when you are older”.
I did not miss out on anything by not believing in Santa. If anything, I think it did me good. I adore Christmas, so much that I had a Christmas-in-July wedding! I put up my Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving (my sister put hers up on November 2), I have an Elf party every year, and drive around to look at Christmas lights. There was never a time when Christmas lost its magic and came to a screeching halt because I learned it was all a lie. It has always been the one day a year my whole family gets together, the time when I got to see my cousins and do fun activities with friends.
Most of all, the heart of Christmas is not magic, but miracle. It is a celebration of when God loved us so much that He sent His only son in such a humble way. It’s most likely not Jesus’ real birthday, but that does not mean it’s not an opportunity for us to develop wonder that heaven could touch our world and to gain perspective of what is important.
Santa is still around, of course. I love movies like Elf, The Santa Clause, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We even have several decorations depicting Santa Claus bowing down to baby Jesus. I wear a Santa hat on Christmas when I pass presents to my family. As a preschool teacher, I don’t assume it is my place to burst a child’s bubble by telling them Santa is fiction. Mostly I simply acknowledge when a child tells me a story. I do, however, share the nativity story whenever appropriate and avoid the topic of Santa. I hope my students will always know they can trust me to bring real magic and miracle to Christmas and to train them to obey and make good choices because it is the right thing to do in response to the gift we have already been given.