The Santa Snafu


A big thanks for this blog idea goes out to Rose, who wrote to ask me my thoughts on an issue I have been trying very hard not to have any thoughts about. Santa Claus. The Big Guy. Mr. Ho-ho-ho. As a Christian, she wonders, how do I feel about the beloved old elf of Christmas myth, and do I have any reservations about embracing the idea of Santa Claus on a holiday that much of the world sets apart as a time to celebrate the birth of Christ?

That question is probably easier to answer than the one I actually struggle with. As a Christian, I think every day is a day to celebrate Christ—His birth, His sacrifice, His resurrection, His gift to humanity—so while I love that so many people turn their eyes and thoughts towards Bethlehem during the Christmas season, I have no trouble at all with the other delightful traditions that accompany the merry shouts of “Joy to the World” and “Sale at JCPenneys!”

No, my dilemma is this: I teach my children to tell the truth, no matter what. A six foot saint with a bottomless bag from Toys ‘R’ Us, who sucks down millions of plates of cookies and thousands of gallons of milk in a single night (and yet, miraculously, hasn’t landed in the cardiac unit of the North Pole E. R.), doesn’t exactly fit the definition of truth, per se. And though I love the magical allure of believing the impossible, there’s a little part of me that feels disingenuous about enthusiastically spinning out Santa yarns for my own children. Sure, the construction paper Santa with the cotton ball beard that Katie brings home from school gets a place of honor on the refrigerator, and letters to Santa are written and rewritten with spelling help from mom. We watch Christmas movies and I join in on the chorus of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with heartfelt gusto. Yet, like the government, I decline direct comment, neither confirming nor denying whatever assumptions the kids have made on the matter. Because, as hesitant as I am to deceive my children, I am also loathe to destroy the magic for them.

Katie’s A.S. complicates things a little, too. As I’ve mentioned, she has trouble with abstractions. She is such a concrete thinker that anything we tell her is etched in the Katie Lexicon as complete and exact truth. If we say that lying is wrong, all our later explanations of Santa Claus as an idea or a harmless allegory for the spirit of Christmas will fall on deaf ears. All she’ll remember is that we told her something that isn’t true.

I guess the way we handle the whole Santa Claus Conundrum hearkens back to a trick I learned in childhood: technical truth-telling. You know what I mean. It’s when your mom asks you if you snitched a cookie before dinner and you truthfully say “no”—because you know you actually snitched two. Likewise, when Katie asks me a question about Santa Claus, I artfully deflect:

“Mom, how does Santa Claus know if I’ve been good or not?”

“Well, what do you think, Katie?”

“Hmmm…maybe he has secret cameras all over the place and can see us all the time!”

“That’s an interesting guess.”

And so on.

I know it’s a little childish, but I’m straddling the fence for now. The day will come, I know, when Katie will ask me, directly and without equivocation, whether or not there’s a Santa Claus. And, because it’s what we’ve taught her, I’ll tell her the truth. But I see no need to hurry that day along—as we all know, it will come soon enough.


14 responses »

  1. I never really thought about Katie having an issue with Santa later on after learning he’s not real, but you have a valid point. I hate to lie but I guess I’ve rationalized it to be, WE are Santa. SO when the time comes for Jackson or Carson to know what the real deal with Santa is…I’ve always just thought we tell them WE were Santa. That’s why Santa knows if you’ve been good or naughty (although we don’t talk about THAT much b/c Jackson is so literal it’d scare him to death to think he was “bad”- a word we don’t use here) that’s why Santa knows what you want for Christmas presents & how Santa gets it here & eats the cookies.
    It’s what my parents told me & I never thought of them as liars, although my mother did almost strangle a kid at my school that told us all in FIRST GRADE that there was NO Santa.;)LOL
    Anyway, I guess our kids ARE different, but I stupidly assume that when that time comes, they’ll be old enough to understand that Mommy’s & Daddy’s are the Santa’s of the world & it wouldn’t be as much fun if you SAW us set everything out Christmas Eve.;)LOL
    But I totally get where you’re coming from with Katie, & I’ll try to watch what I say to her.
    PS Under our tree are presents from us, Nana/Papa, Papa Too, & Santa. The FEW from Santa are the ones they REALLY wanted badly. And everyone knows he fills your stocking too.;)

  2. everyone has to do what works for them, but we don’t do Santa. LM knows who he is and the gist of the story, and always just thought he went to other kids’ homes (including his cousins) but not ours because we celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas. He’s always been very cool with that. We didn’t do it because of the materialistic side of Santa. Watching kids make a list (not jsut one thing, many) and read it to some strange man with the expectation of getting that, and then being thankful to this magical man and not their hard-working parents was something I couldn’t in good conscience teach. But, as I said, my sister does Santa in her home and we play along when we are there. It’s a tough call, but you have to do what you are comfortable with. I don’t want my son to lose sight of the real reason for the season. I had someone tell me once that their child asked if they were bad would God take away the trees? He confused God with Santa and that was the end of Santa in their house.

  3. I agree with Amy to an extent. The reason to me (since I don’t believe we know exactly WHEN Christ birth was for sure) for the season is giving. And sort of a continuation of Thanksgiving of remembering blessings we have.
    However, I have too many friends that I see that let their kids receive too many gifts each year.
    It’s absurd in my opinion. And I don’t say this because my kids wouldn’t know either way. Jackson doesn’t ask for something & know what it costs. Last year it was all about ONE thing & it was $20. This year, that ONE thing is $50. He has NO clue that is or is not a lot of money. I love that about him. His innocents. So we try every year (and when my kids are old enough to really GET IT we’ll do it every year before the list to Santa) to give some toys & pick an Angel Tree child to buy for. This is BEFORE our getting starts. I want them to know there are kids out there who don’t get anything & need us to help them. And that too is probably why we have presents under the tree from Santa & mommy/daddy etc. We tell Jackson that some mommy’s & daddy’s can’t buy Christmas presents for their kids so we have to help.
    I just think for US it helps instill (at least in my mind)that giving is part of Christmas too. I personally LOVE that part of Christmas. And if not constrained by money, I’d buy & buy the whole year for all family members for Christmas!:)LOL
    Anyway, I just wanted to throw in there too that giving IS part of the season of “Getting” as well.

  4. Very well put, Katrina. It is quite an interesting conundrum. I’m fascinated, not being a parent, how Christian parents deal with that. I know how my parents did…and I’ll possibly have to blog about it too. 🙂

  5. When my first born was young I went through this same dilemma.

    Because my personality is similar to your Katie, I was devastated finding out that Santa was made up and that my parents had deceived me for too many years. My husband, oddly enough, did not remember if he had believed in Santa or not.

    So…we went to the Christian bookstore and bought a book about St. Nicholas and read it to all three children when they began to ask questions about Santa. All three of my children knew that Santa was not real…but I’m still not convinced that it was the right decision.

    Good post.

  6. I think that’s a great approach – and as complicated as it is – that was also my thinking on it. My older son is 7 now and last year I just kind of mentioned (no big talk or anything), “Hey, you know Santa is just a fun story. It’s something we pretend, right?” – and he said “Yes” just because I never put much emphasis on this whole game. It wasn’t a big deal to him. The little one ( 4 years old) is kind of awe struck when he see’s a man dressed as Santa, but I haven’t even really told him anything either way. I figure he’ll just pick up on our casual attitude towards it.

    Great post!

  7. Well, I have to say that my kiddos are totally engrossed in the whole “Santa” story. As a child, I didn’t believe in Santa, but knew that many of my friends did, so I kept my mouth shut and played along with them. My parents never said anything one way or the other, they just kind of waited to see what I’d chose to believe, then went with it. My husband was a full-on Santa believer and was devestated by a friend in 1st grade that ruined that for him. I’m hoping to be the one to answer that faitful question for my kids someday, but am bracing for the worst, just in case!

    As for our approach, we go all the way with it – leaving out cookies & milk, and waiting until like 2AM to stuff stockings and leave out the presents. Last year, my son was in a quandry as to why Santa used our wrapping paper to wrap the presents. Me, being new at this whole Santa thing, I was at a total loss as to what to say, so my explaination went something like this, “Well, I guess Santa ran out of paper, so he borrowed some of ours!” That seemed to suffice, but I was later instructed by Michael to not wrap the Santa gifts next year! This year, the Santa gifts will be too big to wrap (bikes & scooters), so it’s not an issue anyway. But yesterday, my oldest found out that ‘you’re supposed to write a letter to Santa’ thanks to my sister, so that’s on the agenda for tonight. He was also informed that the deadline was last Saturday, so I promised that we’d FedEx the letter to the North Pole to be sure Santa got it in time! (yeah, like I’m going to spend the money on that!) Am I digging myself a whole that I’ll never be able to get out of? Probably! But it’s fun for now, and I love the sheer innocence and delight of the kids when they talk about Santa and Rudolph.

    But, as for the Santa VS Jesus dilemma, I see none. Jesus is a focal point in our house, year-round, so the fact that Santa brings gifts to our house so that we can open them on Jesus’ birthday seems to work for us for now. After all, doesn’t everybody get a gift on the birthday?!? And, don’t we have to discuss what we’d like for our birthday so that we get something we want? That’s why I allow my kids to talk with Santa every year, and now, write a letter to be sure he remembers. When the time comes, I don’t know what I’ll do, but my son seems to have a good grasp on real and imaginary things (even though he’s only 6 – yesterday), so I think (and hope) he’ll know that it was fun while it lasted 🙂

  8. We take the tact of Santa being an image, a representation of an idea of sharing. I tend to be rather honest which means when they as I say, “No, there is no such thing as Santa but he is a wonderful ideal.” When they are ready it gets discussed further. None of them seem traumatized, yet. 🙂

    BTW, I like the “About” in your profile. That is how we feel!

  9. I don’t think I ever believed in Santa Claus – he was presented to me much like a cartoon character. It explained why there was a different Santa in every mall. Just as people dress up like the cartoon character Mickey Mouse, people dressed up like Santa Claus. It satisfied me.

    Not having had kids yet, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll probably just leave it up to them to decide.

    I was a firm believer in the Tooth Fairy; however, and got quite the shock when I woke to find Dad trying to slyly slip a quarter under my pillow. He tried to get out of it with the “She couldn’t make it so she sent me instead.” But the game was up. I knew.


  10. Cantre–you can’t fool me! Beneath that grinchy exterior beats the warm, mushy heart of one of Santa’s Lil’ Helpers. 🙂

    Sri–I’m not quite sure where Harry Potter fits in, but I’m sure Santa will be bringing him a new striped scarf this year. 😉

    The rest of you gave me some real food for thought. Thanks! It’s fun to hear other people’s Christmas memories and traditions.

    I agree with those of you who said that the we should not lose sight of the giving nature of Christmas. I’m trying to instill that spirit in my kids, as well. Every year before the gimmes kick in, we choose ornaments off of the giving tree at church, and I think it’s been a good experience for the kids to help pick out toys for other children who don’t have the guarantee of being showered with gifts on Christmas. It not only turns their thoughts to helping others, it reminds them not to take their blessings for granted.

    And I’m sure that’s something even Santa himself could get behind. 🙂

    Love to all!

    p.s. It’s SEVEN degrees here today! Where can I get some of that lock de-icer?

  11. Brrrr, similar temperatures here too. Ditto to the de-icer question. I’m particularly interested in the one that fits on the key ring.

    But back to the topic:

    It’s a curious and baffling thing to see how Santa has become such a sacred cow. (*Giggle* Funny image popped into my head for a moment.)

    But really, is it fair to expect other children (and adults for that matter) to reinforce the elaborate tales we spin about Santa, sometimes to the point of being annoyed with them for telling the truth? What would be so wrong with kids knowing that the Santa story is fictitious? They know that about their other cartoon characters and heroes and it doesn’t seem to diminish their enjoyment one bit! Just asking.

    My Catholic co-worker celebrates St. Nicholas day on December 6th with her grandkids, complete with small gifts and lumps of coal (usually followed by gifts once the gag has been enjoyed) left in their shoes outside the door. Her descriptions of this family gathering, and the preparations for it sound like loads of fun and the pictures are wonderful.

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