Have you ever questioned how to handle the topic of Santa Claus now that you’re on the ‘parent’ side? This discussion will make some people upset–which tells us we need to take a good, honest, serious look at it!
Many of us grew up receiving toys from Santa every year. How was it for you when you figured out that Santa wasn’t “real”? As an adult and a new parent, do you have any new perspectives? How will you raise your child?
If you’ve had any tinge of uncertainty, stay in touch with that gut feeling. The magic of childhood is often cited as a reason to do Santa, along with innocence, fun, and joy of the season.
But is it really?
This is not a judgment on any parents. But it is an examination of values, habits, thinking, and actions.
For some, the disappointment that Santa isn’t “real” can be debilitating for life.
For real? Yes, because there’s more to it than you might think.
Some children don’t appear to be bothered by it. But how do we know? Culturally, we’re usually taught to disguise—even disregard—our true feelings.
For any child, and especially if you have a highly sensitive child, this can be very serious. For me, figuring out Santa wasn’t real around age 8 sent me on a downward spiral. It was too good to be true. Anything, then, that’s that “good” can’t be true. Good cannot be true. Life is disappointing. The thing I hoped in did not even exist. I can’t trust life itself. Good and magical stuff doesn’t really happen. I was disappointed and disillusioned, and that process took many years to sort out.
This is not a judgment on my parents. It’s the way things were done, and my mom was honest when I asked. I’ve always appreciated that.
I’m not the only one—there are many of us out there, and many of today’s children are more aware and discerning than ever. It’s time we looked this issue in the face. Are we really doing what we think we’re doing—fostering love, magic, and innocence?
What’s Wrong With Santa (the way it’s usually done)?
Manipulation Do we want children to behave in certain ways in order to get toys from a figure who’s not even real? Or because of their own motivation and respect for others?
Creepiness “He sees you when you’re sleeping”? Please think seriously about this. How is Santa good and a ‘peeping tom’ (or worse) bad?
Disappointment and disillusionment early experiences set up lifelong habits in how we think and act. What foundations do you want to build for your child?
Potential distrust in parents and in people in general. Do you want to risk this?
Lying Your child will take you seriously—s/he trusts you. We want our kids to be honest with us, right? How can we sincerely ask them not to lie to us if we’re lying to them? And if we’ve lied to them, we really have no ground to be unhappy when they lie to us. If your child takes you seriously, then major repair may be needed later.
Dealing with being tricked. It’s a disturbing feeling. Let’s really put ourselves in their shoes. Young children depend on grown ups for safety, love, and basic needs. They believe what we say—only to find out later that they were intentionally deceived. What will their trust of the world be like after that? It’s not only being deceived by parents, it’s an entire society, complete with movies, advertising, and big (scary!) Santas at shopping centers. It’s not that a magical character is bad. It’s the messaging woven around him.
This can be confusing because the deception initially comes from the very people children depend on and from the society in which they live. They grow up in a world where, on one hand they’re encouraged to be “good,” honest, and “do the right thing”; yet the opposite message is all around them–that deception is okay, dishonesty is sometimes the way to go, and “right” is relative to what one wants.
Are we really preserving a sense of magic? Or is what gets preserved actually our grown-up sense of power?
As David Kyle Johnson says in his post, Say Goodbye to the Santa Claus Lie, “We need to pay attention to that twinge of guilt to steer us clear of immoral and potentially dangerous behavior. … I [suggest] the Santa Lie should be avoided for three reasons. (1) It’s an unjustified lie, (2) it risks damaging your parental trustworthiness and (3) it encourages credulity and ill-motivated behavior.
What’s the Deeper Meaning Behind Santa, Anyway?
Other than general “giving,” I didn’t know. So I looked it up. Check it out!
A sense of magic
I know many parents want to provide a sense of holiday magic and memories for their children. So what else can you do?
Babies are amazing, aren’t they? Toddlers can be so aware of what’s going on, it’s eery at times. Children sometimes say things that make us stop and think. They’re crazy-amazing learners, mastering language and a whole slew of milestones in very little time. When it’s fostered, they actually have innate compassion and want to be involved.
That’s magic! That is where holiday fun lives—within your amazing children and your own awesome parent selves. You and your children are beautiful, wonderful, fun, and loving. You have the resources within yourself and in your family to create meaningful times together. Creating holiday joy and meaningful traditions can be done in complete honesty, and I believe with more satisfying results in the long run.
Stories and imagination are wonderful. Keep those alive! Play-acting a Santa character (or Mickey Mouse, or Ella) and believing that he actually exists are very different. For centuries, problems have arisen when a symbol, story, or myth is believed to be “real,” instead of understood for its deeper meaning.
Ideas From Other Parents
Mom Ali: “My son is 2.5 and I decided last year that I was definitely not going to do “Santa.” I don’t want him to feel like he is missing out or feel like the odd one out when other kids are talking excitedly about Santa. I also don’t want him to feel or speak negatively about Santa to other kids who believe. So I’m going with the explanation that Santa is a character played by people who love you and who want to do something to bring you joy. You can also play Santa for other people. I will get him a Santa present and it will be a surprise, but he will know it was from me. I will also help him make presents for others and he can give them “from Santa.” So Santa can still be “real,” we have just changed the definition to suit ourselves!!”
Mom Kate: “…we tell our kids that Santa can be anyone dressed up in a red suit and a beard. They like to know this! They still ‘believe‘ in Santa. They still get a kick out of seeing Santa. Yet, they know that Santa is just another person.” (Have a Merry Honest Christmas)
Mom EW: “I’m so tired of seeing children have to deal with all these Santa lies! Once you give it up and understand how amazing your relationship with your children can be without it, the lying becomes even more repulsive. We don’t do Santa in any way, we just give each other gifts from ourselves.”
Mom Heather: “I do not believe in lying or in telling my kids to lie, but also don’t feel it’s my place to tell other kids there is no Santa.”
Here’s another post: “Thoughts on Santa: Tainting Trust and Magic”
How to get started
Begin with your favorite values: generosity, quality family time, whatever the “reason for the season” is to you. And then create activities from there that become yearly traditions.
Creating ritual can bring a sense of magic. To this day, I feel “magic” when I transform my living room with candlelight. How long did the ‘magic’ of Santa last? Relatively minuscule, and it came with a high price.
Back to the Story of Saint Nicholas
It’s lovely: giving to those in need, love for children, standing up for the innocent: that’s more like it. It’s one of those cases where a real person takes on mythological stature over time. Joseph Campbell’s definition of “myth” (or one of them) is: the experience of life.
Now we have: Christmas > Santa > St. Nicholas > generosity, protector of children, etc > application of this myth to current life > the experience of giving and loving.
That means: go do it! Go out into the world—or into your own living room—with your children, who are beautiful just as they are without manipulation–and make some magic!
© Eliza Parker 2014 and 2020, All Rights Reserved.