Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Not Believing in Santa is Not Ruining Christmas for my Kids

At the risk of labeling myself a big fat Scrooge, I've got another post on why we don't maneuver Santa Claus into our family holiday traditions.  Humbug.    

But not so humbug, because I actually love Christmas, and gifts, and our family traditions.  And my kids really think Christmas is awesome.  What they may not possess in terms of holiday "magic," they make up for in joy, generosity, and excitement (food and presents can do that to a kid...)  

When Russ and I were engaged and spending long hours discussing "important" issues for our future family (ha, it's funny to look back on what we thought about having kids before we had kids...), the question of Santa came up.  Santa was never a part of my Christmas celebration growing up and I knew that he wouldn't be a factor in my own children's Christmas experience.  Russ had never heard tell of such a thing, but he heard me out.  In the end, he agreed with me.  I think no one was more surprised than he :)    

Here's what it boiled down to then and now.  

* Christmas is about Jesus.  Period.  And the gifts we get and the gifts we give are an extension of the gift of God made man - Jesus as a newborn baby 2000+ years ago and Jesus triumphant return at the end of time to close the deal (so to speak...)

* Spinning an elaborate tale about who Santa is and how he does what he's supposed to do is lying and manipulation I've never wanted to get into.   I can say with confidence that, in general, we refrain from telling intentional, sustained lies to our children.  It feels wrong to lead them down an untruthful path during their formative years, while there is so much real Truth that we're trying to instill at the same time.  The task of Catechises is already so monumental, I prefer to improve my chances at imparting the truths of the Faith by not confusing things like the birth of the savior with other non truths of the Faith.  (So, I'm really just trying to increase my success at parenting ;) )   I'm not comfortable with lying about something "big" and then shattering it as my kids get closer to their "difficult," "independent thinker" years, but at that same time asking them to deepen their beliefs in the other "big" - Christ, the Church, evil, salvation, etc...  I want my kids to trust me in the big things, and trust that the "big things" we've introduced to them are all real and unfading.    

* In addition to feeling wrong, lying can be exhausting!  I've seen friends burn out in the face of their kids' questions.  It's actually too much work (emotional, mental, and logistical!) for something that really has nothing to do with Christmas in the first place.  

* Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, you say?  Not really.  I addressed that here.  And even if he were, Christmas is not about St. Nicholas, so there'd be no need to be all "Santa is St. Nicholas is Santa" on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.  You could do that whole thing on December 6th if you wanted, but we don't.   

* The idea that Santa's watching and will only bring gifts to good children is often used as a behavioral management strategy by confused or lazy parents.  Please note: Not all parents that include Santa in their holiday traditions are confused and lazy!  I know children who believe in Santa and their parents don't use Santa Claus as a behavior management tool or idle threat.  However, Russ was in family mental health counseling for years and did see enough of this to know that there was something a little twisted in moms and dads dealing with rowdy or foolish kids by threatening that Santa wouldn't come on Christmas Eve if they didn't change their childish ways.   This is really hard for me to see, in the grocery store, parking lots, malls... kids being manipulated and threatened by the goings on of a fictional character.  

* I never want my children to think that gifts magically appear.  They don't.  We rarely deserve the gifts we're given, but they always come from someone who loves us enough to give them to us anyway (that's why Christmas is about Christ after all!)  Someone is behind every gift.  Someone made my children's happiness enough of a priority to choose something special, spend money on it, wrap it up, and deliver it.  That real life person deserves to be recognized and thanked.  Real people give gifts and my children will thank them personally and in writing for every gift they receive (though sometimes it may take us a couple weeks to get the thank you notes out...  ahem.) 

* Kids love presents.  (Um... so do I, actually...)  I spent our first few Christmases trying to downplay getting gifts with my kids, but that's a fool's errand, right?  As I mentioned before, the giving and receiving of gifts is one of the tangible, "incarnational" ways of spreading and sharing the true meaning of Christmas.  I try to let my kids enjoy the delight of receiving gifts, and hope that experiencing how good it feels will help motivate them to do the same for others.  God gives freely to us.  We should do the same to others.  And we can be comfortable in receiving joyfully and freely from those around us too!  

* Finally, even though we give and receive gifts as a celebration of, and witness to, the gift God gave us in his son, Christmas isn't just about the baby.  Christmas is also about the promise of his return!    And somehow, I don't think anyone ever looked at this....

.... and felt his heart swell with the true message of the season -- Unto us a child is born!! and Christ will come again!!  Or maybe they did.  I can't really judge what happens in the hearts of others.  What I do is keep the season in my preferred way -- the way that I think will best convey the message of the Messiah's birth and second coming in my home and with my family.  And believe me, my family and I wish you a very blessed Advent and Christmas season, regardless of how you keep the feast in your home and with your family!  

“God is here. This truth should fill our lives, and every Christmas should be for us a new and special meeting with God, when we allow his light and grace to enter deep into our soul.”

St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By

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  1. You make a lot of really good points here. I know that different parents go into different degrees of deception while playing the Santa game, but telling our kids that something that isn't real actually is is not something we care to do. We do like fantasy though, and pretending, so I'm in an interesting position in that what we hoped for our family (minor fun Santa stuff, like leaving cookies under an empty tree and waking up to unwrapped presents, all the while never suggesting that this really is Santa) has, combined with their little friends insistence that Santa is REAL, been enough to give our children a pretty strong faith in his existence. I never anticipated this. And when they ask us how he gets in, and we say "it's really Mom and Dad, Santa is something we pretend" they just laugh it off. So while I totally and completely stand behind what we were attempting to do, I also don't care to force them not to believe, because I have seen that where we've ended up is okay for now too. It's not something we talk about much (if it was I don't think they would still believe it) so it really doesn't seem like a big deal. I guess I see our situation as first hand proof that there is no one right way after all.

    I will need to think more on your points about learning to give and receive gifts from people. I have liked the whole unseen benefactor thing. My kids don't ask for certain things for Christmas. They talk to each other about what they are hoping for, but it's knowing that in the end Santa brings what he wants to bring (we don't do letters). It totally takes the pressure off me and in a way, it feels more like 'gifts from Jesus' then presents from parents do. But I like what you've said about it as well.

    1. Love your perspective! I think it's so cute that your kiddos enjoy Santa even though you've told them it's pretend!! I feel like they have might have the best of both worlds!
      Also, seems like a wise idea to stick with the "Santa brings what he wants!" I'm always so curious how it plays out on Christmas morning when a child is let down by Santa if he didn't get what he asked for :(
      Thanks for your comments, Anna! They're much appreciated!

  2. So,I admit I take a bit of issue with calling Santa lying ... I think there is a difference between make-believe and lying. I say this as someone who doesn't do Santa with our kids, although I grew up with Santa. :) I can understand someone being uncomfortable with that level of make-believe, but to say Santa is a "lie" is to say that parents who "do" Santa are liars, and I find that to be, at the very least, too harsh to be true. (Although I certainly think Santa can be done in a way that is untruthful--especially once you get into the "Santa is watching" thing.)

    However, I've really enjoyed reading these posts, and like all the other points that you make! :)

    1. Thanks! Such a good distinction to make, Rosemary! It would be wise for me to be more careful with my words :) I attribute it to my personality, but I'm not much into make believe stuff either, so I guess maybe it didn't occur to me to make a distinction? I definitely agree with you.

  3. Yup - I'm in the "I'm playing make believe camp too" If I thought I was lying, I wouldn't do it, but I don't so I do. In my mind this is game and when the kids are old enough (and remember there will be no tween believers in my house, I think that's rediculous) they get to join in. We always had "Santa stockings" even after the game was revealed - this is wearing surprises and items that didn't need recognition went.

    I also don't think my goal is in regards to gift giving is the same. I do hope to produce thankful children who say thank you and write notes when they know who gave them something. Even now with my four year old we talk about how "santa doesn't bring everything you want" and I've told him once already that something he's asked for isn't going to happen. But I think it's contrary to my family goals to insist that all gifts must come from a known giver. In fact that I want my children to help us "play santa" or preferably "play st. nick" and discover that the joy is in the giving, not the recognition.

    Some of the best things I've done and given in my life have been on the sly - helping someone, namelessly, at store. Leaving donations without a name attached, etc.

    Every year we've been doing this in fact, we reinforce that a someone gives the gifts (parents, grandparents, and yes even Santa) but it's the reason why we give the gifts - Jesus - that's the important part to me.

    p.s. we don't do the "watching you thing" with Santa - Santa just comes, leaves some little things because it's Jesus' birthday and goes away for another year. In fact the only behavior thing we do over Advent is doing good deeds to fill the manger with straw.

    I'm still learning just how crazy some peoples Santa traditions are. So many times I read these articles and I spend half of it saying "but we don't do that, or that, or that".

    1. See my above comment about lying and make believe - I'm totally on board with a distinction between the two and think that you and Rosemary are right. I definitely can't accuse other parents of lying, only can relate what it feels like for me, and there's a difference :)
      Also, I love that your comments, and the comments of others, make it clear that many families' "keeping" of the Santa tradition augment (instead of detract from) their discussion of Christ and generous giving!
      Thanks again, Molly!

  4. I love what you've said here, Molly. Of course there is a benefit to anonymous giving. It is certainly good for the giver, but also for the receiver to acknowledge that ultimately, all good gifts are from God and anyone else, be it a parent or Santa, is just the middle man.

  5. Wow! Johns family did Santa, mine did not. While dating we had the exact.same.discussion. Hit every one of those points. :). OK, here's the thing about lying and make- believe.... Everyone involved in make-believe should know they're involved in make-believe, right? My kids are passionate, committed pretenders. But ultimately, if asked, they're aware that they're pretending. Lying is one party willfully deceiving an unaware other party. For most families I encounter, Santa falls into the second category. And I'm really uncomfortable with that.

  6. Would you believe a lady at Paula's doughnuts today, told Rosie to eat the whole doughnut and not just the sprinkles on top or else Santa would be mad?!?! Crazy!! I didn't even have to get involved- Ro dished out the most epicly smoldering stink-eye, as only a grouchy four-year old can.


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