Why we don’t “do” Santa

As moms, we make a lot of choices for our children. We are 100% responsible for so much in their lives, and the decisions we make can have life-long impacts on them.

With so much weight on our shoulders, it’s easy to second guess ourselves.  But the beauty of parenting is that each family is very different.  We school differently. We have different religious and political beliefs.  We even feed our children drastically different foods.  And that is all OK; there is not necessarily a right or a wrong way to parent as long as your children are safe, and nurtured, and in a loving environment.

What works for one family does not necessarily work for all families. And so I share with you my reasons for choosing not to “do” Santa in our family, not to convince those who do that they are wrong, but to share with you our choices and reasoning and perspective on the situation.

It Started with Me

My son was born in November, and was less than 6 weeks old for his first Christmas.  We spent that Christmas with my family, and my mother had already wrapped presents and put them under the tree for the baby, from “Santa”.  It was then that I first gave thought to the fact that whether we did or did not do Santa was a decision that I would personally be making for that little baby in my arms.  Obviously, at 6 weeks old, we had a few years to decide. But it got me thinking.

I found out when I was seven. An older neighbor told me. I remember thinking she was lying to me, and just being mean (which was odd, since she was otherwise a very nice girl).  I went to my mom to ask her, and she took me outside and said, “Yes, honey, she’s right. There is no such thing as Santa. But let’s not tell your sister. She still believes and it would be wrong to spoil her fun.  Let’s just keep this between us.”

I’m not sure how you felt when you found out about Santa. I know how I felt. I felt betrayed. I felt stupid, like everyone was playing some sort of cruel practical joke on me that I was too dumb to figure out. I felt humiliated. (And yes, as the years wore on, I got over it.) My sister, on the other-hand, believed until she was 11 and though disappointed in the truth, never felt the same way I did.

My first thought holding that newborn baby in my arms was that I really didn’t want him to go through those feelings I felt.  I didn’t want to hurt him that way later in life.

I’ve heard kids rib one another and use the term “he still believes in Santa” as an insult.  Maybe you have heard your kids, or neighborhood kids, say something similar. It stands to reason that there is a lot of emotional baggage to the issue.

Lying vs Using Your Imagination

One of the big arguments for Santa is that it encourages children to use their imagination.  I’ve never really understood this argument.  How does it help the imagination to be lied to? Do you need to be told that yes, fairies are 100% real and are, in fact, spying on you, in order to draw a picture of one or want to be one for Halloween?  Must children be told their favorite cartoon characters are real in order to want them on their bedsheets?  There is no logic in the argument.

When you stop to think about it, Santa is sort of intimidating.  I mean, here’s this big guy who is planning to sneak into your home in the middle of the night, and if you have been nice (remember, he’s watching you!) he will reward you. Otherwise, you get coal, a reminder of your failure as a child.

Oh, and you have to pay him with milk and cookies.

We’ve never told our children that Santa is real, but they have been able to use their imagination over the years.  We’ve built blanket tents as medieval fortresses. We’ve made fairy houses.  My son has created whole armies out of modeling clay that war with one another.  They’ve played house in pretend kitchens, and have dressed up as their favorite characters. My daughter went through a 3 year stretch where all she would wear were princess costumes.  She knew she wasn’t a real princess, but she used her imagination.  And she was happy.

My mother has always been very disappointed in me for my decision to not make my children believe that Santa exists.  But we’ve always stressed that if they wanted to pretend, they were more than welcome, and we’d do the whole milk and cookies thing, get some pictures on Santa’s lap, and make sure some presents are from him. Most years they didn’t see the point, but one year we went to visit my mother for Christmas.  She lives more than 2500 miles from us, so holidays together are rare.  My children were 8 & 10 at the time.  

She had expressed to me how sad she was that she was finally going to have children in the house, and no Santa.  So, I talked with the kids about it.  We decided it would be fun to pretend that year….but in a slightly different way. We decided to keep the spirit of Santa alive in Grandma.  

Instead of the kids leaving cookies that mom and dad would eat after they went to bed, Grandma left the cookies and my 8 yr old daughter came downstairs to eat them.  She even left a note. Instead of presents to the kids from Santa, my 10 yr old son signed all gifts to Grandma and Grandpa “from Santa”.  My mother spent the days leading up to Christmas talking about how excited she was that Santa was coming. Each time one of the kids would make eye contact with me and give a little conspirator smile.

On Christmas Day, my mother reacted with the enthusiasm of a 5 year old, squealing in delight from the half eaten cookies and notes, and ecstatic about the gifts left for her.  My children had a blast too.  They were able to enjoy a fun, pretend character, and had a truly memorable holiday.  They are 12 & 14 now, and this Christmas is the first since that one that they will be with my parents.  They’ve already wrapped Grandmas gifts from Santa again.

You Must Income Qualify for Santa

It’s always bothered me that Santa brings more presents to wealthy kids than to poor or middle-class kids.  Do we think our children don’t notice this?  How is it “fair” (remember, we live in a society where everything must be fair) for one child to receive thousands of dollars in merchandise for Christmas, while the kid who sits across from him at school got one $50 gift? The wealthy child is told that Santa brought him this stuff, and believes it. So he tells the less fortunate child.  

How must that child feel? Does he think that he screwed up in Santa’s eyes?

How do parents explain this one?  I’m really interested.  Please tell me in the comments if this has happened to you, and what you told your child.

Through the years, we have had Christmases where we have had very little money to spare.  We talked about it as a family, and the kids knew that presents were going to be pretty light that year.  Other years, we had the ability to get them everything on their wish lists and more.  We’ve talked about these years of plenty making up for the harder years.

Children Pray to Santa

I don’t particularly like discussing religion (or politics) on my website.  I will call our family spiritual, but not very religious.  We’ve spent many Christmas Eve’s crashing one church or another for a Christmas candle ceremony, and we’ve had stints of a few months at a time getting to know one church or another through the years, but have generally spent our Sundays together as a family.   I’ve encouraged our children through the years to appreciate all religions and those who practice them for what they are, not to judge, and to realize that their own minds might change as they get older, so to keep them open.

I have a great deal of respect for religion; I think it is wonderful when parents can teach their children a code of morals and ethics that they will take with them throughout life – even if the religious message is not something I personally agree with.

When my son was about 4, he was enrolled in martial arts and during practice, the moms and the kids in the next class would wait in the chairs off to the side of the class waiting for it to end.  One day, a couple weeks prior to Christmas, I overheard an exchange made between two boys who were 7 or 8 years old.  One was describing how he was hoping for a video game system for Christmas.  The other boy got excited, and said to him, “When I get home tonight, I’m going to pray to Santa that he brings me one too!” Does that seem right to you?

If Christmas is supposed to be a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, does it make logical sense that we bypass that fact to teach children that some guy shows up at your house to deliver gifts, then years later, tell them that oh, he isn’t real, but remember the story about the baby?  Yeah, that was real. 

I guess if you celebrate Christmas not as a religious holiday (yes, I know it has Pagan roots) as many people do, it’s not that big of a deal, but really, it’s got to be terribly confusing to kids.

All these factors together made us decide that Santa just wasn’t for our family.  Right after the martial arts incident, we decided to talk openly with the kids.  Up until this point Santa simply hadn’t made an appearance in our lives at all.  We told them that some families tell their children that he is real, and that it isn’t nice to interfere with other families’ choices, so we must never be the one to inform another child that Santa is not real.  To my knowledge, they’ve always respected this.

But I don’t think I ever really discussed with them WHY I chose not to do Santa.  So, last night, in preparation of posting this, I asked my 12 year old daughter if she was disappointed that we didn’t do Santa through the years.  She looked at me and said, “No. Why would I be? I would have felt pretty stupid when I learned the truth.”  Yep. She’s just like me.

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