We choose not to do Santa in our home. And in no way does this imply that anyone else has got it wrong.
I’m writing about it to share our experience of Christmas and how our Santa-less family still manages to have fun! In fact we still have very magical Christmas.
There are many reasons we don’t do it. To begin with, it doesn’t sit well with me to pretend something is true, no matter how magical it may be. It’s not about being moral, it’s about being consistent. I’ve tried in my parenting gig to give my kids dignity, to respect them as human beings, and be authentic with them. So it feels totally incongruent to undo all this by telling them that something is true, when clearly it is not.
To be extra clear, this is not a higher moral ground thing. I am not suggesting that anyone who chooses to do Santa is a liar or stupid. I understand that there is a high social demand to create a Santa fantasy for kids. Many people who don’t approve of lying to their children or intend to mislead them, do comply with this ‘sanctioned’ untruth because it’s easy to go with the pervasive custom. And at the end of the day, what people decide is best for their family is entirely their business.
The hurdle for me is navigating my way between fantasy and charade. As I see it, the fantasy presents a little untruth which I can imagine could lead to another untruth, and before you realise it you’re in the thick of an elaborate charade. Suddenly you find yourself asking an older sibling to conspire with you to lie to their younger sibling. I just prefer not to go there.
As much as I believe in playing make-believe with our children, it is usually a game where all participants know it is make-believe. In the Santa fantasy, you’re the only one that knows it is not true, while the other participants (children) do not. In my book this doesn’t make it fantasy, it makes it lying. And again, for me it’s not about the morality of lying, it’s about the honesty of consistency.
But what about creating a magical childhood experience? Am I robbing my children of the magic? What about the fun?!
I believe that you can still have magical and special Christmases while telling children about the story of Santa. We enjoy the tradition of the story. We enjoy the myth for what it is (a myth). And we enjoy all the fun of presents from Mum & Dad and each other. I think it is very possible for children to get as much pleasure from knowing that their parents give them gifts, rather than receiving gifts from a mystical omnipresent stranger.
The story of the first Santa, St Nicholas, is historical. A generous man who is remembered for the kind things he did for other people. It reads like a fairytale. My 3 year old daughter loves hearing about it. And it remains in her imagination as a tale from times past that teaches us something. It teaches her about the spirit of giving at Christmas. It opens the opportunity to focus more about giving gifts to others at Christmas, rather than an expectation of receiving.
It’s STILL a magical story. Just as cartoons on TV are magical stories for her – she knows they’re not real, but she enjoys the story, and experiences the magic nonetheless. For us, the magic isn’t believing, the magic is experiencing the story.
We also find that there’s enough magic in the other Christmassy things we do that we don’t feel we’re missing out on something. We love singing carols, putting up the tree, doing craft, baking treats, and going to parties and spending time with extended family. It all weaves together to create a wondrous Christmas.
Besides the untruth aspect, there are other reasons why I’m not a Santa fan.
Materialism: I believe the Santa myth encourages materialism. There is nothing wrong with getting gifts, but when this becomes the entire focus of the tradition, then teaches them nothing about the spirit of giving to each other. The Santa thing is a myth kept alive by retailers because it persuades people to buy stuff. It drives the economy. Unfortunately it also sets up an unrealistic expectation on parents to buy more than they can afford just so they can ‘please’ their children. Again, it’s social pressure that seems way too accepted by the masses.
Perspective: The focus on Santa at Christmas is entirely a modern Western phenomenon. I think we have Hollywood, Hallmark and Coca-Cola to thank for it’s momentum in our culture. The story of St Nicholas has been around for awhile, but only in modern times has the character of ‘Santa’ (North Pole, reindeers etc) been the spotlight. Again, it seems to be an economic spin that encourages excess. I grew up in Indonesia where Santa was not prominent at all. In fact, it seemed insane to focus on Santa in the cold hard face of poverty. It just didn’t seem right, or necessary.
Naughty or Nice: Much of the time the Santa story comes hand in hand with the ‘naughty or nice’ weapon. I’m not comfortable with trying to control the behaviour of my children via a powerful (non-existent) figure. More significantly, I’m not comfortable with the setting up a conditional rewards and punishment system. I do not want them to think that their value to me is conditional to the way they behave. I do not want that to be the currency in our relationship.
Other Traditions: The focus on Santa takes away from other valuable traditions and rituals of Christmas in our home. We strive for some balance. We enjoy advent calendars, candles, and nativity scenes. We also appreciate all manner of traditions that are now associated with Christmas, as long as they are fair, ethical or meaningful to us.
What about other people’s kids? Do our kids spoil it for them? Well, we explain to our children that other parents tell their children that Santa is real and that some kids believe this and it’s important to them. We explain to our children that we respect other people’s ideas and choices. I would also hope that people respect our choice not to participate in it.
Which seems a good note to end on. I totally respect everybody’s choice to celebrate Christmas the way they want to. And I respect everybody’s choice to parent the way they want to. I wrote this to shed some light about another perspective of Santa. And about how our family finds it possible to have a magical Christmas without believing in him.