Here Comes Santa Claus?

I was raised on a healthy diet of the Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the rest of the gang, and I would say that am I a moderately well-adjusted person who doesn’t have any ill-will towards my parents for allowing me to believe in Santa until I was twelve. Yes, twelve. One year shy of being a teen. (Okay, there may be a twinge of bitterness there.)

Actually, I have some fond childhood memories of waiting for these mystical figures to arrive. Huddling with my sisters at the top of the stairs to see what Santa had shimmied down the chimney to bring us, finding half nibbled carrots in the yard that were remnants of the Easter Bunny’s snack—these are the things that happy childhoods are made of. Right?

Well, not necessarily. Because Santa and the rest aren’t real, so you have to lie to your kids in order for them to “believe” in their existence.

On one hand, I don’t want to lie to my kid. But am I robbing her of some of the magic of childhood by depriving her of these culturally-accepted lies? Is she going to feel left out when her friends and cousins are anxiously awaiting Santa’s triumphant annual return? Are my other family members going to be crushed or upset if/when Alexandra fills their kids in on the truth?

Part of the trouble is that holiday characters aren’t just characters. They are laden with meaning and power. Holiday magical figures have become some of the most tried and true tools of parental manipulation, and every commercial outfit in the nation capitalizes on parents’ willingness to manipulate and lie to their children. The racket is such a part of our cultural consciousness, it’s hard to tell which came first: the lie or the mass marketing.

If you don’t believe that holiday heroes like Santa are used to manipulate, consider the following song lyrics: “You better watch out/ You better not cry/ You better not pout/ I’m telling you why/ Santa Claus is coming to town.” Those words are against everything I believe in: hiding feelings, threats, bribes, manipulation, lying. It’s like the ultimate anti-gentle discipline message rolled into a mildly pleasing Barry Manilow diddy.

Jan Hunt argues that there could be a healthy middle ground between full-blown lying to your kids and abstaining from holiday magic altogether. She suggests telling children about magical figures in the context of the fictional world. “If we keep the magic fantasy, but hold it within the borders of the world of fiction and storytelling, we can foster imagination and delight today without worrying about the questions we will surely be asked tomorrow.” Further, Hunt recommends the book The Santa Story: Giving Your Children A Santa They Will Never Outgrow by A. Trahan, which is available from The Natural Child Project store.

How do you and yours handle holiday magical characters?

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Mary Michael Pontzer found her way to natural and attachment parenting by trusting her heart and instincts. As a first-time mama, she practices breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, gentle discipline, and she is learning all she can about unschooling and organic gardening, among other things. She is an educator by trade and currently teaches English part-time at a community college. When she isn’t spending time with her husband, Luke, and daughter, Alexandra, she is (in theory) working on her dissertation for a PhD in education. Mary blogs at The Accidental Natural Mama.

This article has been adapted from a previous version published at The Accidental Natural Mama.

9 Responses to Here Comes Santa Claus?

  1. Valerie @ Momma in Progress  

    Our oldest is five, and knows Santa as a character, but we do not “do” Santa nor use him as a manipulative discipline tool. (And don’t even get me started on the Elf.) My daughter lost her first tooth recently, and she asked if the tooth fairy is real.(We never brought it up; at 5 she is already inundated with cultural messages from friends/family/strangers.) I told her no. To which she replied, “so no tooth fairy, and no monsters, and no giants either, right? Good.”

  2. Melissa  

    Great article! Like you, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of telling my children deliberate untruths, regardless of how much fun they may be. I also agree with Jan Hunt, however, that the stories surrounding this fictional characters can be a joy to tell. I hope to enjoy them with my children as they grow, in the understanding that they’re just exactly what they are: great stories.

  3. Maggie

    Santa Clause exists in my house, not because I feel the need to lie to my children. I certainly do not. Nor do I wish to bribe them…though I have to be honest and say that I have stooped to that level, at times. No…he exists in our house because I know he is there.

    You don’t have to believe me, ‘though I’m almost sure I have seen him late at night when I’m wrapping gifts. And I know he gives me energy to finish all of the last minute details, cleaning the house, baking extra cookies, cooking for guests…I know because every other time of the year, it just wouldn’t come together with that same spark of magic.

    No, maybe I haven’t actually seen Santa…but there are a lot of things which I know exist without seeing them. Truth, beauty, and love…I do not have to see them to know that they are there nor would I lie to my children and tell them that they do not exist simply because we do not always see them.

    I think that there are two ways we can live our lives. We can live it with all of the art and music and love and beauty on the outside. We can go to music concerts to fill ourselves up, we can go to the art museum to see the bright colors, we can listen to others read poetry and tell stories…or we can choose to live with song, color, beauty, and joy, on the inside and be the one to give gifts to others all year long.

    Yes, Santa exists. And yes, my children still believe.

  4. Anjanette  

    An interesting perspective!! We’ve avoided the Easter bunny and Santa so we can focus on the Christian message behind the season, but we’ve made sure not to instill any animosity toward them. We talk about them like the fairy tales they are. We do say, “some people believe that…” and try not to make any allusion to it being an unintelligent or silly belief. We haven’t gotten to the tooth fairy yet, but I know we’ll do the same.

    Just today someone asked my almost 4 year old what Santa is bringing him for Christmas. His response was “nothing.” He didn’t say it with any particular emotion, and didn’t elaborate, so I just continued for him by saying, “but we’re excited to open the presents from grandma, aren’t we??” He smiled and the person gave me a funny look, but didn’t question so I didn’t explain.

    I’m glad to read of others who are choosing not to do santa the way most of us did as children. Oh, and I was 10 before I knew he didn’t exist, and for a while I WAS pretty bitter. :)

  5. Carissa  

    We’re doing this, too. It’s fun to pretend about Santa even as an adult! He was a real person (Saint Nicholas) with a generous heart who lived a long time ago. We make believe about him coming on Christmas morning…my husband and I even had fun pretending about santa before we had kids

  6. Rebecca B

    Good post! I wanted to read more of your ideas! True, I’m already being sucked into the culture of Christmas– the newest being The Elf of the Shelf. I had never heard of it until this year. Several bloggers write about and take pictures of their children’s elves. Then I watched the show on TV. It looks so cute and fun– until I realized that this is another strata of manipulation on top of Santa Claus’ gifts vs. a lump of coal. My husband is from Germany, so I do like to learn about the origins of Saint Nikolaus and other European traditions.

    My daughter is two, so we’re doing very little this year, but next year she’ll be more aware. I have a tendency to get wrapped up into cutesie-ness of things like The Elf on the Shelf (I may get my daughter that in a couple of years, or maybe not), but I need to remember my own parenting goals, some of which differ from society’s norm.

  7. Lauren  

    Really interesting perspective! I grew up believing in Santa and didn’t feel too traumatized when I found out he wasn’t real. But when it came time as a parent to choose to lie to my kid, it just felt off. So we told Mikko that Santa’s a nice pretend person, like Dora the Explorer. Our four-year-old’s response to that? “Dora the Explorer isn’t pretend!” Heh.

    Just recently, though, he’s corrected us if we use language that implies Santa’s real, so he gets it now. I even started second-guessing myself a little there, because was I making him miss out on something magical? But I had to come back to needing to feel that connection of honesty between us.

  8. Zoe

    My two sisters and I were raised knowing that Santa is a character- my parents weren’t comfortable with what they felt was lying to us. Having said that, we all have always played along with the notion and as older children we got right into all the traditions of leaving milk and cookies etc. We are an imaginative family so for us it was a fun, magical make believe world. I would like to carry this over with my daughter (now 8 months) but it will be tricky as she has young cousins that we spend Christmas with (4,2, baby) and my sister definitely “does” Santa with them (despite them being Muslim!!)
    At this stage we will just take each Christmas as it comes and let our own version of the magic of Christmas evolve.

  9. Carmen Van Deursen  

    Great read! Just speaking from my experience with my children, I just don’t think that they really believe it’s just for the fun and want of toys. My daughter now 22 never believed and always said that Santa was just pretend. My son is now three and he questions it by saying that Santa is just like his action figures a fun story, but when he is naughty and I tell him the elf on the shelf is watching this is fun and he starts to straighten up and behave.

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