No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus.

WARNING: YOU PROBABLY DON’T WANT YOUR CHILDREN UNDER 10 READING THIS IF THEY’RE STILL FANS OF THE MAN IN RED.

Image from MyLot.com

Image from MyLot.com

If there’s one thing I admire about parents, it’s their refusal to “parent by default.” That is, they take a stand for something, anything, and give it their best shot to not let society trample their beliefs. They avoid activities they deem inappropriate, educate their children about their beliefs, and oftentimes have to duck and dodge popular culture with its ever-present marketing messages. It’s tough. But they’re trying. They question popular toys or customs, and don’t automatically participate just because “all the other parents are doing it.”

A friend of mine is one such parent. She and her spouse want their children to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, Christ’s birth. And they don’t want them distracted with or manipulated by…Santa Claus. That’s right, they choose to inform their children right off the bat of Santa’s existence (or lack of existence). And right now, she’s frustrated. She wants her children to be proud of their beliefs, and not feel ashamed. But navigating these waters is very tricky. Think about how often Santa’s face appears in store windows, TV commercials, blow-up yard displays, etc. Just like Ray Stevens sings “He’s Everywhere.” (This song is kind of creepy, by the way.)

So what’s a parent to do? How can you teach your children to hold their beliefs sacred, when it flies in the face of popular culture? I think there are two main issues here, both of which can be “teachable moments.” I am not a therapist, or child development expert, so feel free to weigh in with any suggestions of your own.

1. If your child DOESN’T believe in Santa, teach them to be respectful of those who do. They shouldn’t have to lie about their beliefs, but they might not be the most popular kid on the playground if they’re yelling out, “You’re a bunch of fools! That fat man is a farce!” I know, I know, kids who believe in Santa get to be very vocal about their beliefs, so it hardly seems fair. But you have to recognize that you’re raising your child against the grain. You’re bucking a major societal custom, and there’s bound to be kick back. And if you want your child to be “loud and proud,” you’ve got to help them develop a thick skin. Chances are, there will be other times in their life when they stand up for what they believe in, and are laughed at, harassed, or worse. This could help prepare them for these times to come, and give them the courage to defend their convictions.

2. If your child DOES believe in Santa, teach them that not everyone shares their beliefs. I told my daughter just this morning, “You know, sweetie, not everyone believes in Santa.” She seemed a bit bewildered, but got over it very quickly. This way, if she does befriend a “nonbeliever” she won’t be shocked to learn they’ll be eating all the Christmas cookies for themselves, and not leaving out a plate for the jolly old man. And you know what? If you claim that another child “ruined” Christmas for your child by telling them they don’t believe in Santa, that’s just silly. If you’re Christian, then Santa doesn’t have much to do with the true meaning of Christmas, anyways. Sure, there once was a man named Saint Nick, but today’s version is a far cry from the original story. He’s commercialized. Coca-Cola and Sears had more to do with his current incarnation than anyone else.

For the record, I think it’s admirable for a parent to serve only complete honesty to their child (despite my posts months ago to the contrary). And besides, most of us parents only use the legend of Santa to manipulate our children. “You better behave or I’ll tell Santa!” Also, many of us parents fail at driving home the “reason for the season,” but we’ll go out of our way to ensure that our kids still “believe” in a fictitious character who started as a real man, but who has been grossly exaggerated by consumerism.

On the other hand, children play make-believe ALL THE TIME. How is this any different? Do you take the baby doll our of your daughter’s arms and say, “Honey, this baby isn’t real. You shouldn’t feed her and rock her and sing to her. She’s plastic!” Real life lessons can be learned in pretending that the unreal actually exists.

Well, there’s my advice. I’d like to know what you think. Does your child believe? Do you teach your children Santa’s not real? I’d love to know how you navigate these challenges at this time of year!

4 Responses to No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus.

  1. Kate in Kansas says:

    Cat,
    I think this post is very instructive to use for talking to people about non-Christians as well. We don’t believe in Jesus Christ. My child is ostracized by her own school leaders (she is at a Montessori school) because we won’t let her be in the Christmas program because they insist on it being Christian focused. I would prefer if they used this as an opportunity to teach about diversity and tolerance. That’s what we teach in our house.

    While we don’t believe in Jesus as a religious entity with special powers, I teach that we might like Jesus and what his values were just like we may feel about another leader. I also extend that approach to Santa Claus. For my little kid he is about a magical sense of possibility and kindness. To this day I still get Santa presents that I don’t know who they come from and how in the world they happened. We value the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus is the poster boy for that in our home.

    But my 5 year old knows that our beliefs are not the same as others (including the food we eat, if and what we watch on TV, what sorts of toys we play with) and she knows that other families make different choices and that is all ok.

    What I struggle with in this part of the world is that people just assume we are all the same. It doesn’t even occur to them that people might be making different choices. I get offended by that at times. And when that happens it is just an opportunity for me to practice my own patience and tolerance while also standing up for my family’s values.

    Great blog today!

    Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas!

    • cpoland says:

      Kate, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, you’re right, this lesson can apply to MANY other belief systems. I’ve also taught my daughter that “not everyone believes in Jesus.” She knows we should love anyways because that’s his greatest commandment. :-) We really are all different, even within our “own” groups. I sure hope Santa keeps delivering your mystery gifts this year. How fun!

    • Kirsten says:

      I agree–great comment, Kate! I think the key is diversity and respect, whether santa or a religious (or other) belief system.

  2. Amy says:

    In my house we emphasize the “St. Nicholas” part of the story as well as Santa Claus, but we spend a whole lot of time talking about the true meaning of Christmas (Christ’s birth). We have a birthday cake for Jesus and we celebrate His special day. We talk about why we give gifts and we emphasize giving rather than receiving (we buy gifts throughout the year for our kids rather than give them many Christmas presents in an effort to focus less on receiving at Christmastime). I don’t think believing in Santa takes away from that at all. Throughout the world you will find variations on Santa Claus and related traditions, and I think as a society it’s important for us to keep those traditions alive.

    At my son’s school (a public school) his class spent the past couple of weeks talking about Santa. He came home singing Santa songs and telling me all about Santa and his reindeer. They made a reindeer craft and played with a sleigh and learned all kinds of “Santa-based” ideas. I wonder how a child whose family doesn’t believe would make sense of that, and I’m guessing it would cause a lot of confusion for them.

    My children and I play make-believe every day, so I feel no guilt at all for adding one more bit of fun to this beautiful season! Thanks for posting something so thought-provoking and insightful today!

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