UPDATE: A few days ago, we ran into the Carolina Place Mall Santa in the magazine section of Barnes & Noble. Though Cooper’s not exposed to much Santa stuff (see below!), the outfit alone was enough to get his attention. He stopped in his tracks and said with awe in his voice, “Mama, wook at dat man…” I said, “yeah, do you know who that is?” Cooper: “Who dat is?” Me: “That’s Santa.” Cooper: “Santa?” At this point, Santa overheard us and turned around. He waved at Cooper and came over to talk to us. He asked Cooper what toys he liked, referring to Thomas the Train and Lightning McQueen (smart Santa!). Santa was super nice and, thankfully, didn’t ask questions like “Have you been a good boy this year,” or “What would you like me to bring you for Christmas?” Cooper was awed by the “Christmas man” we met at the bookstore and it was a really, really sweet moment. I was so happy he had that experience, even though – as you’re about to read – we don’t “do” Santa.
Now that many of our friends have toddlers and Christmas is upon us, we’ve had lots of recent conversations about Santa. Paul grew up with Santa, I didn’t. I never felt gypped or like I was missing out on something. We knew the mythology and the story of Santa Claus, but we never believed he was a real man in a red suit who flew around delivering gifts on Christmas Eve. He was more like the mascot of the holiday. To this day, if my mom is going Christmas shopping, she says in a sing-song voice, “I’m going to see Santa today!” I’ve always enjoyed the stories and songs and movies about Santa Claus, but never for a moment believed he was a real person.
While I’ll probably use that same sing-song line with Cooper someday, here’s why we have chosen not to “do Santa”:
We don’t want to lie to Cooper. Ever. This is where the heat usually comes into the debate, so I figured I’d start here! Do Santa if you want, justify it however you like, but the fact is if your child asks, “Is Santa a real person?” and you say “Yes. Yes, he is,” you’re lying to them. We want Cooper to trust us and what we say and we want to respect him by always telling him the truth. So, even if there were no other reasons, this one would be enough. Yes, we’ll still watch Santa movies. Yes, we’ll still read Santa books. But we won’t ever say or insinuate that he’s a real person who brings the gifts on Christmas Eve.
We want to avoid an early crisis of faith. I know that may sound dramatic, but it’s happened before! Almost every person that believed in Santa at a young age has that moment they’ll never forget when they found out he wasn’t real and they’d been duped. Sure, most people laugh it off as a fun game for kids, but some of those kids develop a seed of mistrust of their parents. And for some that mistrust leads to questions like, “Well if they lied about Santa….are they lying about Jesus too?” Yes, Christmas is a super fun holiday for kids and a magical time of year. But we believe it’s magical because it’s a celebration of Jesus’ birth. We want to be very clear that Santa is myth, Jesus is Life. Crises of faith will creep in at various points in Cooper’s life, it’s part of growing up. But this one is avoidable.
We want Cooper to know the gifts are from us. This one’s the only one that borders on a selfish reason for not doing Santa! But I don’t want Santa to get the credit. I want Cooper to know that the gifts are from his parents and other people who love him, and I want to hear a “Thanks, Mom and Dad!” rather than “Santa knew just what I wanted!” on Christmas morning.
We want Cooper to know we give him gifts because we love him, not because he was good or bad this year. We want to teach Cooper that we give gifts at Christmas because we received the greatest gift of all — God’s son, Jesus. God’s gift to us was not based on behavior or a reward system. God gave us Jesus and Jesus gave his life because he loves us, not because we “deserved” it. To honor that gift, we want Cooper to know the gifts he’s getting are simply because we love him, not because he scraped by with enough good deeds to end up on the “nice” list.
Our parenting philosophy is that our goal is to produce a good adult, not a good kid. I understand why parents choose to do Santa with their kids. They want to keep the innocence and the magic that goes along with the myth, and it’s fun for them. I get that. But when you get right down to it, I think many also like having something to lord over their kid’s head. “You better not do that, you know Santa’s watching!” What a waste of a teachable moment!
No, teaching your child about Jesus and doing Santa are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. But why muddy the waters? Why start with a lie you’ll have to sort out later? Is the “fun” worth it? Is the gift of Jesus and the love your family shares not magical enough? Too many parents will go with the flow, never thinking about these questions. If you disagree with us or our decision, that’s fine. But please don’t be a thoughtless or “accidental” parent in the meantime. Think about the long-term effects of your parenting decisions and make the right ones for your family.
Oh, and Merry Christmas!!