The Problem of Santa Claus

This time of year brings with it all sorts of challenges — some serious and some not-so-much — but one question any family with kids has to decide this time of year is,  “Will Santa be coming to our house?”

You can get away with ignoring this question if it’s just you and your husband and possibly for the first few years after having a child.  But if you have kids, eventually this question will become an important one, because it will influence what Christmas will look like in your house for many years to come.

We’re talking important stuff here, and if you make the wrong decision, your children will be forever scarred — so don’t make the wrong decision! If you do, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!!  Okay — not really. 🙂  Don’t worry it’s all going to be okay!

Sometimes as parents we find ourselves losing sleep over questions like these or possibly in the midst of heated arguments on the topic.  And I don’t blame you if you do.  Early on, my husband and I had our own little arguments about whether or not Santa was going to show up at our house.

I leaned towards the “Never Santa” perspective and my husband sort of leaned towards the, “Santa, all the way”, perspective.  So what is a couple to do?  We just sat ourselves down and discussed the pro’s and con’s of having Santa come to our house.

It didn’t help my husbands case that every year around Christmas, you can usually find at least one “expert” speaking about the long-term damage of basing your relationships on a lie — a lie, for example, like Santa Claus is coming to visit. Oh the shame, the horror of it all —  how dare these parents?!

If loving Santa is wrong, I don't want to be right.
If loving Santa is wrong, maybe you don’t want to be right.

Listen, just because somebody has a few letters behind their name, doesn’t mean that they know everything — especially about kids — and especially when they don’t know your kids or what’s best for your family.  The most important thing is that you and your spouse are on the same page here and you come to a decision that respects both perspectives.

If you’re not united in your decision then take the time to talk it out and decide.  Believe me, this won’t be the last time you are going to need to seek out wisdom and compromise when deciding how you are going to raise your kids.  Just look at this as an opportunity to practice for the really hard discussions that will be coming your way as your kids grow older.

If you feel very strongly that you should never make up anything — not Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy — then that might be the right decision for your family.  But hear out your spouse’s opinion on the matter so that you can understand a different perspective on the matter.   Surprisingly you might come to a different conclusion after hearing them out.

Talking About Santa can be a scary thing.
Talking about Santa can be a scary thing.  By the way, don’t these street performers know they’re going to give this kid nightmares?  🙁

Maybe one spouse’s parents lied all the time and they feel like all these stories aren’t fun — they just bring up bad memories of lies that were told to them — by all means, they should share this with their spouse!

But maybe the other spouse has only the fondest memories of waiting for Santa and listening for the reindeer — maybe Christmas was the time of year when everybody gathered around the table and put arguments aside and just loved each other.  Maybe all those little traditions in their family — like Santa Claus and leaving out milk and cookies — brings back some of their fondest memories and they want that for their own family.

The point is that sitting down to take the time to discuss Santa Claus leaves a greater opportunity to discuss ultimately what you want your Advent and Christmas to look like.  Don’t just leave the discussion at Santa Claus — start to ask yourselves what little “t” traditions you want in your family and what things you don’t want.

Catholics have big “T” Traditions and little “t’ traditions — it’s part of what makes our Catholic culture so rich and amazing.  The Big “T” traditions are unchanging, but the little “t” traditions are entirely up to and you they could fill every day of Advent and the Christmas Season with amazingly rich traditions.  You just can’t do them all — so might as well choose the ones that are most meaningful for you.

What I think is so fruitful about these conversations is that they can start new traditions for your family — and your kids may adopt them as their own and continue those traditions with their families.  Not only do we have a unique Catholic culture, but we also have a unique family culture — and these traditions will help shape our own family culture.

Those few things you choose to do in your own home can provide your kids and future generations with some of their very best memories that will remain with them long after you have left this earth.

Christmas can be lovely with or without Santa Claus -- it's what you make of it.
Christmas can be lovely with or without Santa Claus — it’s what you decide to make of it.

No matter what you decide, please don’t be one of those people who squash everybody else’s traditions this time of year.    People who decide not to do Santa and then make everybody else feel guilty for doing it aren’t really acknowledging that there could be another valid perspective out there. So if you decide against Santa, please don’t make everybody else around you feel guilty for keeping the tradition alive — and please don’t be the scrooge who ruins Christmas for everybody else’s kids by telling them Santa isn’t real.  🙁

So what did we decide in our own family?  Well, I really wanted to throw out gifts from Santa and replace it with gifts from Baby Jesus.  I remember my husband looked at me and said “Baby Jesus?  Nobody gets gifts from Baby Jesus.” And he was right, but I persisted.  I honestly thought it would be better to have the kids get excited about Baby Jesus coming — rather than just Santa Claus — so why not?

Well, though he couldn’t understand the logic of it all, he suggested a compromise:  Gifts under the tree from us, from Santa, and from Baby Jesus.  And that solved the problem right there.  It became our new family tradition.

But just as traditions developed in the Church, they also develop in our house.  We have slowly moved gifts from Santa on Christmas morning to gifts from Santa Claus on the Feast of St. Nicholas, on December 6th.  What I like about this tradition is that it helps to break up the time of actively “waiting” during Advent with a little fun and excitement.

It’s a simple affair where we leave out our shoes and Santa usually leaves some candy, maybe a few coins, and a little gift or book. That’s it.  It brings a little fun to the more somber Advent Season and it helps us to bring the focus back to Jesus on Christmas day.  It’s a win-win, in my opinion.

Will there be gifts from Santa under your tree?
Will there be gifts from Santa under your tree? By the way, those aren’t my hairy legs 🙁

You know what?  My attitude toward Santa Claus has changed throughout the years.  Honestly, I think that imagination and fun memories are so important for kids. Even if the world goes to hell in a hand basket, they can walk through those memories of better times with a smile on their faces.   No matter the darkness that surrounds them, I want them to have wonderful memories of time with family, of laughter, squeals of excitement, and joyful celebrations.

Do what you are comfortable with, but don’t forget that there is a difference between imaginative play and stories and telling your kids a big, fat lie!  There are times to be literal, and there are times to be creative and just take life a little less seriously.  If you lie to kids about other things –important things — yeah that’s a problem.  But if you want to have fun with stories of Santa, or St. Nicholas then go for it.

But what if your child actually asks you the question, “Is Santa Real?”  I recommend that you pivot a little bit on the question and answer by telling them about the real St. Nicholas — after all, the name Santa Claus comes directly from the words Saint (Santa) and Nicholas (Claus is shortened version of Nicholas).   Share with your kids age appropriate stories of St. Nicholas.  Probably sharing that St. Nicholas threw bags of money down the chimney of a poor man so that he wouldn’t sell his daughters into prostitution wouldn’t be the first story to share with the littles.  But he was a real man and bishop, and his generosity inspires us to this day.

Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) was a real, historical person and we believe the Saints live on in heaven, so yes –Santa Claus is real.  And if you share about the time he punched a heretic in the face for disrespecting the Blessed Mother, they are bound to drop all further questions on the matter and stand in awe of the man!

But you just might get one of those persistent kids who presses you further, “but does he come and actually give those gifts to us?” My oldest daughter once asked me this very question.  My answer was short but sweet.  “Well the Saints are alive in heaven and they inspire us to do things that are good and generous and St. Nicholas inspired us with his generosity to be generous to you“.  That was about it.  I told her the truth and let her draw her own conclusions.

And how do kids eventually transition from believing in Santa Claus to not? It’s actually quite natural … eventually, they just sort of figure it out and then they enjoy continuing the traditions and excitement with their little brothers and sisters.  It’s no big deal, really, and I think that I was just way over-thinking Santa Claus early on in our marriage.

Hope that helps somebody out there.  No matter what you decide about Santa Claus, I think we can all agree upon puppies in Santa hats, can’t we?  I’ll end on something we can  all agree upon.   🙂   Happy Advent!

We can all agree on puppies in Santa hats.
I think we can all agree on puppies in Santa hats.


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2 thoughts on “The Problem of Santa Claus

  1. We’re in “gifts on St. Nicholas Day” camp and no mention of Santa Claus. It works fine until every adult at the grocery store/doctor’s office/church (church!) asks questions like, “What are you asking Santa for this year?” Depending on the way the question is phrased and the adult, my kids either just look bewildered and sit in silence or say that we celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day. It’s awkward, but we’ve survived. And you’re right about starting Advent off with gifts on the 6th– it helps us focus on other things. My siblings do Santa–and that’s great if it works for them. As you said, every family is different.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Alicia,
      Yes those awkward questions in stores — there is also that side of the story where maybe some people are a little too persistent in making everybody believe in Santa, right? Ha, that’s a good one to think about too!

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