To Believe or Not to Believe? The Santa Claus Question

November 13, 2012

This blog post centers on a bit of controversy in our home. For the record, I grew up believing in Santa; Nate did not. Neither of us is certain one way is better than the other.

Now that I’m a mom, this time of year always causes me to question whether we want our kids to believe in Santa Claus.

For some, the dilemma is completely ridiculous. Of course kids should believe in Santa! Don’t deprive them of that innocent joy and magic! Let them be little! (This was my reaction when I first heard that some kids never believed in Santa Claus.)

Or perhaps it’s clear in the other direction: if you lie to kids about Santa, they’ll learn they can’t trust you!

But for me, it’s not that simple. And now that our oldest daughter is two, this could be the year she really gets into Santa. We could tell her she won’t get any toys if she doesn’t listen to Mommy and Daddy, and she would believe us. We could take her to the mall and persuade her that the jolly man in the red suit will be coming down her chimney on Christmas Eve, and she would get excited. We could help her listen for reindeer on the rooftop and tell her that Santa ate the plate of cookies, and she would be convinced.

I want to make a great decision now (while our kids are itty-bitty), because it’s hard to backtrack later in this situation.

And, as of now, I don’t think we’ll encourage our kids to believe in Santa. Here’s why:

1) Deceit

I think most kids recover from the Santa Claus lie. I think most kids eventually understand that their parents had good intentions. They realize that their parents wanted them to feel the magic of Christmas. In time, they appreciate that their parents loved them so much that they went to great lengths to make Christmas extraordinary and special.

And I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus because their parents told them that both Santa and Jesus were real; therefore, since Santa isn’t real, Jesus must not be either.

But I don’t want to lie to my kids. I want to always be honest with them in age-appropriate ways.

2.) Consumerism

Kids love Santa because Santa brings them gifts. Right? That’s at least part of the reason we’re crazy about that chubby old man.

Do I sound like a hypocrite if I say that we will definitely have Christmas gifts at our house? With our girls still so young, now it’s a great excuse for us to buy some of the random big things we, the parents, have had our eyes on all year–a balance bike, an easel, silly, impractical, adorable pettirompers. But I don’t want our kids to be obsessed with the stuff. And, to prevent that, I think we need to be extreme in our approach to Christmas. Our kids won’t be writing to Santa with ridiculous, out-of-the-question wish lists. If they have specific requests, they can direct them to Mom, Dad, or the grandparents.

(That’s also while we’ll be boycotting television with commercials most of the year–hello, Netflix!–but tv is another topic entirely.)

I don’t want Santa’s magic and unlimited resources to encourage greed and selfishness.

3.) Priorities

I don’t want to be cheesy on this blog or with my kids. But somehow, someway, I want to make sure we have our priorities straight at Christmastime. If parents don’t teach otherwise, our kids are going to learn from mainstream society that Christmas is about lights, lawn decorations, the Christmas tree, cookies, Santa, reindeer, Christmas carols, family, and gifts. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. But I want to make sure that we’re not trading things that are good  for that which is best. I recently read a blog post that was strongly against Santa.  While I’m not sure I agree with everything written in this particular post, this quote stuck with me:

“For a five-year-old, how can Jesus compete with Santa? Our children don’t have spiritual perspective; when faced with the choice of allegiance, they have a baby in a manger, or they can get a jolly, twinkling, flying character who will bring them presents. This is going to be an easy choice for them. My friend Andrew, who identifies himself as a member of the “non-believer corner” put it this way:

I always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me, but when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache.”

That’s some pretty deep food for thought.

Shouldn’t the “awesomely simple truth” of Jesus to be enough for my family? Isn’t that the “best” thing about Christmas?

A Happy Medium?

But….we’re not completely against Santa, tradition, innocent holiday fun.

So what will we do?

Here’s a rough idea of the alternative we’re working on: we’re going to encourage our kids to have fun pretending there is a Santa Claus. We’re going to tell them that Santa isn’t real, but they can pretend he is. We can go to bed early on Christmas Eve, because we’re pretending he’s going to come down our Chimney. We can go see him at the mall and read books about the elves in the North Pole (just like we read other fiction books). They can use their imaginations and dream up stories about Mrs. Claus or the other less-famous reindeer. We’ll encourage that fantastical fun.

But we won’t tell them Santa is real. They’ll know he’s pretend….at least as much as any young kid “knows” the difference between reality and fiction.

And I hope they love it! Because pretending is fun. Our two-year-old loves pretend play! She is thrilled to pretend to bake cookies and pancakes, and we often catch her having pretend phone calls with her grandparents or her baby friends.

I want Santa Claus to be really fun in a pretend way, too. There’s nothing sub par about pretending!

Here’s another quote I pulled from a relevant article about the wonderful possibilities that go along with pretending (italics mine):

“When parents tell their children about Santa Claus they encourage belief, not imagination. The features children suppose to characterize Santa Claus are not imagined to be true of him, they are believed to be. Children do go on to fill in further characteristics of Santa Claus not contained in the original story, but this is no more an exercise of their imagination than their efforts at filling in characteristics of China that are unknown to them. Evidently, insofar as increased imagination is supposed to be what is gained through the Santa Claus experience, this can be much more effectively pursued by having the child pretend that Santa is real, rather than believe he is.”

The Santa experience could be about imagination and pretend instead of belief.

And as for keeping our priorities straight? We’re working on that too. I’m ordering this preschool book (Getting Ready for Christmas) to help us during Advent. And our Christmas Bucket List (which we’ll share soon) has some ideas that direct our attention to things other than ourselves (and our wish lists).

We still have our doubts about how we want to deal with Santa in our home, but at least we’re having the conversation.



  1. I like Pastor Mark’s article on this, too:


  2. That’s a good one, Shawn! He says it so much better than I could, and I love his emphasis on the history of Santa Claus!

  3. Love this. Thanks for sharing. My friend & co-blogger, Amy, has an almost 7 month old & they’re keeping gifts simple from the get go with: something you want, something you need, something to wear & something to read. I love that too. Keeping a good perspective on receiving gifts & not letting parents go overboard with spoiling their kids. All good things 🙂

    • I’ve been keeping up with your blog, Sarah! Love that you’re writing (again?)! I’ve heard another little saying that goes: something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something to share (family gift). I like that, too! Thanks for commenting!

  4. […] « To Believe or Not to Believe? The Santa Claus Question […]

  5. Thank you for sharing. My son is 14 months old and i’ve been struggling with this from the get go. It’s not that i want to take away “the magic” but i dont want Luke to believe that we have to make something up for it to be good enough. I love the idea of pretending there is a santa but teaching them he is not real and the real meaning of Christmas is always number 1. It’s a tough subject to discuss and you’ve really hit it home. Thank you!

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sheena! It sounds like we share the same inner struggle. I would love to hear an update in the (distant?) future on how things go at your house!

  6. Oh thank you for this post! I needed this so desperately this year with my 5 yr old! The first three years of his life we never mentioned Santa and then last year his cousins got him believing in Santa. So, I fell into the pressure and got him a robot ($10) from Santa. This year I’ve felt so strongly that I should focus more on keeping Christ as the center of our Christmas. My son just flat out asked me the other day, “Is Santa real, Momma?” as he was getting out of the bathtub and I responded, “No, honey. He’s just pretend. It’s fun to pretend isn’t it?” My husband kind of flipped out because I just dropped the bomb on our 5 year old like that; and to be honest it wasn’t very thought out so then I got worried about what I did. Then, just tonight, my son walks in with his robot (from Santa) and said, “See, he IS real! He brought me this last Christmas!” To which I didn’t reply. . .. lol

    • Ha!Sounds like something that would happen at our house. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. It IS fun to pretend! (Right? Right!) 🙂

  7. […] my last weighty post about Santa Claus, I figured it was time for something fun and […]

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