About Santa, Seriously

In the Santa Wars, of which we are casualties, children are often brought in as small foot soldiers, only there’s an interesting twist to that- the children of the non-Santa troops are asked to perform as defenders of the (admittedly charming) Santa myth for the other side. More on that in a moment.

Being the historically keen, nerdly minded folk that we are, what we tell our kids about Santa is that he is a charming Victorian frivolity concocted by combining several myths around the world, including one about Saint Nicholas, which is based on a real person. We tell them a bit about the real Nicholas, a kindly minded and generous believer who sometimes secretly put coins in the shoes of the poor, and explain that he lived and died a long time ago. Perhaps we should have foreseen where this would lead, but we didn’t.

Therefore, we have been on the receiving end of considerable parental ire when my historically keen, nerdly minded, well meaning but misguided small progeny have conceded to a friend who has refused to let the notion of there being a ‘real Santa Claus’ drop, “Well, there *was* a real Santa Claus, his name was Nicholas. But he’s dead, now,” and said friends burst into tears, running to their parents to sob that my child told them Santa died.

I understood why people were upset, and I always reprimanded my kids when they told, since they had been asked not to. But it was hard, since the children never did it maliciously, and it *always* began by the other kids bringing it up and then refusing to drop it, and starting an argument about it. Every year I would review with my children the fact that other parents did tell their kids Santa was real, and it was not our job to disabuse them of this notion, and they were not to bring up Santa at all (and after the second time a child did this, I also added, “And you must never, ever, tell kids that Santa died”). Even if it had not occurred to me, other parents would have made sure I knew my duty (as they perceived it) in this area as those from the ProSanta camp, whenever they found out that we didn’t do Santa, would earnestly instruct us that they hoped we understood how important it was for us to be sure to teach our kids not to tell their kids that there is no Santa.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to tell my kids what not to say about Santa, since the youngest is now 15. So I no longer have any personal stake at all in this, but this is what I wish I had told those parents who thought it was my kids’ job to protect their kids from learning about what my family believes about Santa: “That’s not really my responsibility, nor is it my child’s responsibility.”

Thinking about it, doesn’t it make more sense if we assume that if it is really that important to you that your kids continue to believe in Santa, then you, as the parent, have more responsibility than I do to protect that family tradition? Surely we can agree that you definitely have more responsibility than other people’s little kids? Why aren’t the Santa people having that same annual conversation from the other side?

I’ve heard (and practiced) all the time that if you don’t do Santa you have to tell your kids not to spill the beans, but I’ve never heard of a parent taking responsibility for this themselves and telling their kids, “Some people don’t believe in Santa, so Santa won’t/can’t visit them. We don’t argue about it, and we shouldn’t talk about Santa with those other kids because we don’t want to hurt their feelings in case Santa isn’t visiting them.”

And here is why it is doubly important that if you want your kids to believe in Santa, it’s your job to have this conversation more than it is the job of the non-Santa people- in every conversation where my kids spilled the beans, it was never my kids who brought it up. The Santa kids would generally ask a point-blank question which my children could not wriggle out of. Then they’d ask another one, and then, invariably, the other kids would tell mine that they were wrong, or their parents were wrong, or even more difficult for a child to wriggle tactfully out of answering, “Well, if there’s no Santa, how come….”

I know my family isn’t the only one this has happened to- the Santa kids refuse to allow the non-Santa kids to disengage. They are all just kids, I get that. But it’s really unfair to place this burden of protecting your family traditions which we don’t share on the shoulders of our kids, right?

I mean, if you think about it, it’s really much ruder for the Santa people to talk about Santa to non-Santa people- like talking about the parties you go to which your listeners aren’t invited to.

So, if you’re a Santa-is-real family,( and I have no quarrel with that, we’ve been there), and it’s important to you that kids from families who don’t believe in Santa do not share their view with their kids, you need to make sure your kids don’t bring up the subject. Tell your kids that some parents tell their kids that Santa isn’t real and don’t let Santa visit, if that’s what you feel comfortable with, so they must not embarrass or make to feel awkward those children by bringing up Santa or arguing about it. It’s not the job of somebody else’s five year old to protect your family traditions, it’s yours.Christmas amybarickmandotcom

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21 Comments

  1. Posted December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Amen! As a non-Santa family with many small children, it’s been an issue already – usually from the mouth of the three year old who doesn’t quite understand we don’t all giggle when we hear Santa Claus is coming to town. I like your approach much better! I do believe I’ll be speaking up next time I hear about it… and I guarantee there’ll be a next time. :(

  2. Tamara
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    As an aside…an interesting factoid (tradition) I learned recently: that “kindly minded and generous believer” St. Nicholas punched Arius in the face at the Council of Nicaea which concluded a debate about whether there was a time when the Word did not exist.. :-)

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      LOL!

      I can just see those arguments, “Yes, there was a real Santa. He punched people in the face. And he’s dead.”

      • B. Durbin
        Posted December 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        The relicts of St. Nicholas include a badly-broken nose, which may have been from brawling but is considered to have been from torture under Diocletian. My favorite new story about St. Nicholas is that he was basically a judge and detective for the time period, and would be good at figuring out what was going on in disputes… but he also patrolled the docks of Myra, in order to keep them safe, in full official robes… with chain sewn into the sleeves. “You’d better watch out,” indeed.

        My family is being vague about Santa—I’m not saying that he comes, or that he doesn’t, but I have brought up the concept that in families where people give each other big presents, Santa doesn’t bring big presents. This is because I want to make sure thanks go to the proper locations. That’s kind of how we played it when I was growing up—St. Nicholas was a separate character from Santa, and we only got presents from The Grinch (my Nana.) Everything else was labeled, but I think I assumed that Santa did the stockings.

      • Lady M
        Posted December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        Then there is the French evil twin of Santa Claus who spanks the naughty children, lol!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A8re_Fouettard

  3. Posted December 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    My children like to debate the possible reality of Santa endlessly, while we take a strictly neutral stance. Right now my 9yo daughter is in the pro-Santa camp, perhaps clinging stubbornly to fantasy in the face of impending adolescence. While my 5yo skeptical son proclaims, “You and Papa are just Santa Claus!” And when I asked, “Well, how do we go all around the world on Christmas eve?” he replied, “Their parents are Santa Claus for them.” Meanwhile I think my 8yo son may be just about old and geeky enough to appreciate the engineer’s calculation of Santa Claus . . .

  4. Posted December 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Love, love, love this! We have always been very honest with our children about Santa, elves, the easter bunny, leprechauns, cupid, the tooth fairy, and the like, so we are constantly talking to and trying to keep our kids from “spilling the beans” to kids whose parents choose to tell their children that these characters are real. I get tired of my kids having to walk on eggshells around other kids whose parents have these traditions. I agree that this would be a lot easier if the ProSanta (and the other characters) crowd would have the example conversation that you wrote in your post with their kids. It certainly would stop a lot of tears and upset children! :) Well written, my friend!

  5. Rachel
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m a Jew, so we don’t do Santa–by definition. I haven’t had problems between my kids and other kids yet, but I have had problems with other adults.

    A lot of well-meaning adults (mostly secular ones) assume that Santa is a universal tradition with no connection to anything religious whatsoever. So they ask my children about him, and my children are utterly befuddled by the line of questioning. Then the adults come and tell me that my children are being socially stunted by are not visiting Santa at the mall.

    Then there are the well-meaning adults who randomly ask questions of children they meet in public. Like the lady we met at a Chinese restaurant last 12/23. She completely baffled my 3yo, by asking him who was going to visit the next night. My husband was confused by it, too. So I was able to end the conversation with “no one, but grandma’s visiting next week.” Then we got to listen to her exclamations of confusion to her friend for the rest of our meal.

  6. Laura
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m probably not your intended audience, because I don’t really care if other kids spill the beans to my kids. Last year I thought my oldest was going to figure it out on her own, and that would have been fine with me. We may get “visits from Santa” in our house, but it’s a game of pretend, and I don’t consider that to be telling my kids that he’s real. We’ll keep pretending after they figure it out (just like my parents did), so it won’t ruin any fun for me if other kids tell them.

    But I am personally extremely uncomfortable with the lines you gave for what ProSanta families should tell their kids. Those things feel much more like lies to me than the Santa game we play. I truly don’t think we are lying the way we do Santa, but I would never tell my kids, “Some people don’t believe in Santa, but they’re wrong,” you know?

    I handle Santa the way I handle birds in our backyard. “Oh, look at that bird! I wonder what he’s singing about. Maybe he knows it’s almost Christmas and he’s so excited about the presents he’s going to get…” It’s silly and imaginary, but I think it goes into lying territory when you look at your kid and tell him with a straight face that it is Truth and you insist that he believe it.

    Personally, I think better advice to those intensely ProSanta parents is to lighten up. It’s still fun after they find out.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted December 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      WEll, I’m not really comfortable with what I said they could tell their kids, either, but I’m not comfortable with telling them anything other than the plain, unvarnished truth. Bottom line- it doesn’t really matter what they tell their kids, so long as they take ownership for that instead of making it my kid’s responsibility.

  7. Maygan
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this. The burden of upholding everyone else’s traditions on my 7 and 5 year old children isn’t fair. It leaves them feeling awkward and it’s even worse when adults within the family want to argue with me about it right in front of them. I respect another parents wishes to tell their children Santa is real, but it would be nice to receive the same respect for our choices. I don’t think it will happen, but I appreciate now having something in my arsenal to use if a situation ever rises again. I know it will.

  8. Posted December 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Well…theoretically I agree….but in a family where other’s have children who believe and mine don’t, I certainly do not think it’s a very good peace-on-earth method to have my kids letting the proverbial cat out of the bag.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted December 20, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Of course not, which is why I always told my children not to discuss it, and still would if my kids were little enough to need to ehar that. But…. it just cannot be that one-sided that it’s *only* my children’s responsibility. kids are kids. They will make mistakes.They will forget. They will find themselves pushed into a corner by the Santa believers. Which is why the ‘talk’ cannot just belong to the non-santa people. If it really matters, the Santa believers have to tell their kids not to be so pushy about it.

  9. Posted December 21, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We’ve tried to tell our kids the truth in all areas including this one, and everyone is always terrified we’ll burst their kids bubbles when our kids, who know the truth are around them. So far our oldest has only told her uncle that Santa is dead, and he laughed about it. However, our concern is that Christian parents are not only openly lying to their children about the Santa myth, but they are teaching them to give praise, thanksgiving, honor, and dare I say possibly worship to something other than God. If you tell your kids that all the presents under the tree on December 25 come from a man/myth, rather than saying mom and dad love you and God loves us and He has blessed us with the ability to give you these things (“Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”-James 1:17), than are you not teaching them to thank Santa for things and not God?
    Not to mention the whole being good is always rewarded while being bad means you don’t get what you want. That’s another gospel (*ahem* by faith alone through grace alone and persecution is a reality for the believer, or should be).
    I hate the focus on Santa instead of Christ in our country, and it saddens me more to know that Christians are leading their own children into this mess, not to mention trying to make my kids feel like freaks for being out of the loop on this one (don’t get me started on the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy). We, as Christians, of all people should shun this and cling only to Jesus. After all, we have something a whole lot better to celebrate than new toys, cause we think we’re good (*ahem* “There’s none doeth good, no not one.” Psalm 14:1,3; 53:1,3; Romans 3:12).
    We have started telling our children to “speak the truth in love”. They are not required to pretend Santa is real, but they should rather use it as an opportunity to tell others about Jesus Christ and the salvation that is only available through Him. Our oldest is six and does do this most of the time, but if she doesn’t say anything or it’s directed towards our younger kids (especially from adults) I will step in and try to bring the focus back to Christ.
    Our hope is that by focusing on Christ, always telling our children the truth, and trying to use it as an opportunity to witness to others amidst them despising our beliefs, our kids will learn Whom to worship and why, that truth matters, that others will sometimes persecute and despise us for our beliefs in Christ, but we can stand strong in Him, and that all people need Christ more than anything and it is our duty to warn them of the wrath to come, even if it offends them first.
    *Steps off soapbox.*

    • Lisa Beth W.
      Posted December 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      Love this! Thank you, Sarah. :)

  10. Elizabeth
    Posted December 21, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    My 5 yr old is going to tell his 5 yo cousin there is no Santa. We haven’t seen them since the boys were 3. We don’t do Santa. My SIL is very bent on social convention and scolded me that we won’t do a picture with Santa to send down to FL for them to see (the exchange expensive Santa pictures). I’ve been taking with him about this but he informed his well meaning Grandmother (my husbands stepmother) that Santa was real but died centuries ago. When my mother told my daughter that if she doesn’t believe in Santa then she can’t have presents my daughter said “fine, I don’t want stuff from a figment of your imagination”. My daughter was 10 at the time and long past believing. We’re working on not bursting any bubbles as not to cause family drama but my kids talk too much for me to monitor everything they say.

  11. Wilma
    Posted December 21, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Great post – I have an 11 year old and 9 year old and we have never done Santa. I grew up in a Christian family with Dutch immigrant parents and we always got our presents on Christmas Eve so I grew up without believing in Santa.

    I’ve always told my children each year that they mustn’t tell any children that Santa isn’t true . Until reading your post, it never occurred to me that Santa believing children should get their own warning! I love it – I’ve always held my breath whenever my children were asked what Santa gave them or was going to give them.

    Cheers,
    Wilma

  12. Liz
    Posted December 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Hm, this is interesting to me because this particular variety of dilemma really hasn’t come up in my life, ever. I know of two non-Jewish families who don’t do Santa and both tell their kids not to spill; but otherwise, perhaps it’s because I’ve always lived in a relatively heavily Jewish area that it’s really not a big deal. Santa has totally decoupled from the religious aspect of the celebration around here, and I don’t think Santa families vs. non Santa families (and kids) talk about it all that much because it’s understood that Santa’s itinerary is highly curated, and that’s not a reflection on how deserving one is. I’ve definitely never heard of anyone getting amped up because Kid A heard from Kid B that there’s no Santa. Maybe I’ve really lucked out with reasonable neighbors!

  13. Kim
    Posted December 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    One of the great benefits of being an Eastern Orthodox Christian is the understanding of the saints. We’ve missed the entire Santa issue, but now my [grown and almost grown] children expect gifts on St. Nicholas Day.

  14. Posted December 24, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Loved hearing this. Our oldest is 3.5 so this is the first year she’s really even noticed Santa and we handled it about the same way you seemed to talk about. Luckily, most of our friends don’t do Santa if they even do Christmas at all and mine are the only grandkids on either side yet so family is easy. But we did attend a large event with a Santa a few weeks ago where she was quite loudly talking around all the other kids “Oh, look, the PRETEND Santa! Mommy, there is the man who is PRETENDING to be a Santa!” and I was getting lots of dirty looks. I tried to remind her she didn’t need to say PRETEND each time but she really didn’t get the hint.

  15. Vic
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    We’ve never done Santa, but what we told our oldest kids when they were very young is that sometimes people want to give gifts anonymously, so they say that they came from “Santa”. I don’t remember ever hearing about any issues with that.

    We have our presents under the Christmas tree, and they get opened on Christmas Eve, so I don’t see how we would fit Santa into the picture anyway.

    Actually, now I remember one issue — my brother and sister-in-law did Santa with their kids, I think. I think what they did was spend Christmas Eve with us and our parents, where the kids got gifts from relatives, and then went home and discovered that “Santa” had brought them gifts the next morning. It didn’t work too well, as I remember, because they have only two kids, and in all the flurry of opening presents, it seemed like there were so many presents and only a few were for them.

    What I find interesting is that most of the kids find the most exciting part of the whole business is GIVING the presents. I think they enjoy the creativity of choosing something appropriate for each recipient. Of course, I’m not saying that they don’t like receiving presents, but it’s the giving that they seem to enjoy at least as much.

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  1. By The Santa dilemma « Oddly Said on December 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    [...] challenge: not spilling the beans to the believers. No wonder Christmas is a stressful time! The Deputy Headmistress has wisdom about that, [...]

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