This is why we “ruin” Santa for our kids…

‘Tis the season when adults start pestering my children with questions about Santa. The routine rarely varies: Adult asks question… child answers question… adult freaks out because I don’t teach my kids about Santa Claus.

I’ve been called a Grinch and a zealot. I’ve been accused of “ruining Christmas” and “taking the magic out of Christmas.” Everyone, from dearly loved friends to perfect strangers, seems to have an opinion about whether my children should be taught the Santa lie.

I realize that eschewing the whole Santa scene makes us something of an oddity. I understand that questions are inevitable and I certainly don’t mind explaining… I just dread the ridicule and scorn that inevitably happens when well-meaning strangers learn that we don’t engage in this holiday deceit.

We don’t judge other families for choosing to teach their children about Santa. We don’t condemn anyone else for their beliefs or traditions. As Jack wisely says, “”Everyone is different. They can believe their own thing.”

However, if you’re curious, here are the three biggest reasons we chose to skip the whole Santa scene:

Jesus is better than Santa.

As believing and practicing Christians, we revere Jesus Christ as our Savior and celebrate His birth at Christmastime. Nothing can compete with His infinite Grace and His Atoning Sacrifice for us. He is Almighty and Divine. Not even Santa’s magical reindeer and endless sack of presents can compare.

I like this explanation from blogger Matt Walsh:

“I’d like to specifically address only one point on the Santa platform. I hear it all the time, and it goes like this: Santa makes Christmas magical. If you take Santa away from your kid, you’ve taken all the fun out of the holiday…

“This is what I hate about the guy. He’s a Christmas-stealing glory hog. He’s a diva; everything has to be about him, doesn’t it?

We invite Santa to Jesus Christ’s birthday party, he brings his stupid elves and a bag full of cheap toys, next thing you know it’s his party. If he leaves, apparently the party’s over. How can we have fun without magic?

Well, you know, there’s still Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of Man. Jesus Christ is better than magical. He offers something far greater than toys. He doesn’t have flying deer, but he has armies of angels. He doesn’t live in a cabin up in the North Pole, but He does live in a dimension that transcends time and space, and He invites us to join Him there in unending bliss. He doesn’t visit every house on Christmas night, but He’s always present, everywhere, all the time, because He is an omniscient deity.

In other words, Jesus is WAY cooler than Santa. This is a message that is, I think, tragically lost on many children. Let’s be honest: Christmas ain’t big enough for the both of them. Santa, the fun fictional character? Sure. Santa, the silly game of make believe? Yeah, he can join the festivities without overshadowing the Man of the Hour. But Santa, the actual real person who gives out toys made by elves? THAT Santa, being a man of considerable girth, tends to crowd Jesus out of the hearts of many kids. Yeah, Jesus is the Messiah, but Santa has TOYS. Who comes out on top in that scenario when you’re 4 years old?”

My kids see the reality of the poor and the homeless, so they know Santa doesn’t visit everyone.

Our family is actively involved in serving the poor. We donate to food banks; sometimes we even feed the homeless ourselves. We doorbell ditch presents and shop for the Angel Tree every year. We study impoverished nations in our home-school unit studies. We dream of trips to Africa and South America and we plan trips to the Tent Cities in our local communities. My kids stand close by as I serve thousands of low income Americans every day atLow Income Relief.

Our kids understand poverty. They’ve seen it. They know it exists.

They’ve felt the spirit of the Lord as we’ve labored side-by-side in these areas… and they know all too well that Santa doesn’t go there.

There’s no middle-of-the-night drop of presents for the children who live on the streets or in the tents. There’s no magical milk-and-cookies, stuffed-stockings Christmas for those without the means.

As blogger Tara Samples says:

“Tradition teaches that St. Nicolas was a Christian man of privilege and wealth who was so moved by the poverty of his community that he gave away his inheritance and devoted his life to service. St. Nicolas took seriously the message of a savior who emptied himself of power and wealth and sought to replicate that message in his own lifestyle…

In contrast, his alter ego Santa has become the symbolic face of holiday excess and a reward-punishment cultural orientation. The mythical Santa is said “to find out who is naughty and nice” and reward accordingly. In a culture that worships wealth, celebrity, financial productivity this message is not subtle.

Children of privilege and wealth wake up to gifts, and children of economically struggling families are forced to either stop believing in the myth or grapple with the implication that they are somehow less worthy.”

The children of economically struggling families are NOT less worthy in the least. I refuse to raise children who might think they’re somehow better than these other children… so we acknowledge that Santa (the man in a red suit) is a myth and it’s our responsibility to give to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Trust is earned. I expect my kids to be truthful so I cannot lie to them.

I don’t want to give my children a reason not to trust me. It’s important that we trust each other… and I can’t justify lying to them over something like this. Even though it’s “just for fun,” I’m still lying if I convince them that Santa is real.

Of course, many children (myself included) grew up in households that taught the Santa myth and turned out just fine. For many of us, there’s no lasting damage.

However, for many children (including autistic children), the Santa lie can result in a traumatic discovery that can damage the parent-child relationship.

Consider this from Psychology Today:

“There is no shortage of stories in my inbox about the moment children learned that Santa wasn’t real. For many, it sticks; for some, it’s traumatic. As adults, many recall with vivid detail the moment they found out—and remember all too well the feeling of betrayal that accompanied it.

Most heartbreaking are the stories of children who defended Santa to the bitter end, to their friends and classmates, declaring “I know that Santa is real because my mom told me he was, and my mom would never lie to me.” The moment you realize the people you trust most in the world would, indeed, lie to you—for years—can permanently damage your view of them.

Indeed, I’ve encountered more than one person who is an atheist today because, they reasoned, “If they’re lying about Santa, they’re probably lying about God and Jesus too.”

Of course this doesn’t happen to everyone, but it is a risk—and it’s a risk that some parents are not willing to take. And hopefully you can understand why. You may not agree and take the risk yourself, but if it doesn’t actually have the benefits many profess, it’s not crazy to think the risk of lying about Santa isn’t worth it.

As author and parent educator Alyson Schafer put it to Allison Klein, little lies can cause big harm.

“Kids globalize and say, ‘My parent is a liar. Are they also lying about loving me?’ The security system of the child is undermined. Kids need a lot of stability…We’re modeling that lying is acceptable.”

Interestingly, the risk is likely higher in autistic children. Although I know of no study that looks at the effect of the Santa lie on autistic children specifically, studies do show that they have difficulty keeping track of their own lies. They also have notorious issues with trust and letting go of past betrayals, tend to take things literally, and of course have difficulty ascribing mentality to others. Would it be surprising, then, to find out that they have trouble understanding why your little white lie about Santa doesn’t entail that you are likely lying about a great many other things? Since autism is a spectrum disorder, and not always diagnosed, it makes sense for parents to want to avoid lying about Santa altogether. You just never know.”

Now that we are in the process of testing two of our children for Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’m more thankful than ever that we never taught our children that Santa was real.

That being said…

We’ve equipped our children with an arsenal of clever non-answers to ensure that they don’t spoil the Santa story for other believing children. We don’t want our preferences to impact anyone else’s holiday traditions. What you do is your choice.

Please, please respect our choice and refrain from ridiculing families who don’t teach their children to believe in the Santa story.

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