I don’t remember believing in Santa when I was growing up, but I do remember the day that I figured out (or should I say, confirmed) that he wasn’t real.
I was riding in the car with my mom after a long day of shopping. My brother and sister were sleeping, and it seemed like the perfect time to ask my mom how it was really possible that Santa could visit every house in the world in one night. Rather than try to explain it away, my mom replied that the truth was that every child’s mom and dad were “Santa” and they left the presents out on Christmas Eve.
You might think I would have been distraught over this news, but it was actually the opposite – it made total sense to me that parents played Santa Claus for their own kids. I was pretty happy to be in on the secret, and it almost made the Santa “game” more fun for me!
Now that I have my own kids, I have been thinking about how I want to handle Santa. To me, Santa Claus can be an added element of fun, and even a teaching tool, if handled properly.
The issue of lying to your kids about Santa Claus is a big reason why many families choose not to talk about Santa at all, and it’s a very valid concern. But I don’t think Santa automatically equates to lying to kids. One of the things my parents definitely did right was that they never lied to us about Santa Claus. When I asked questions, they told me the truth. They didn’t go to any extraordinary lengths to keep up the illusion of Santa. To me, it was always pretty obvious that Santa was a pretend sort of game. He was a Christmas character, like Frosty The Snowman. I have fond memories of leaving out cookies for “Santa” (aka. my dad), and pretending to look for Santa’s sleigh in the sky on Christmas Eve.
Beyond being an imaginative tradition, the history of Santa can be a way to teach kids about giving to others. The secular version of Santa that we know today is based on St. Nicholas, who was a Christian man that lived in the third century. When his parents died, they left him a large inheritance and rather than spend it on himself, he decided to give all his money away in an effort to obey Jesus’s words to take care of the poor and sick. Some of the traditions that we associate with Santa are based on the stories of St. Nicholas. For example, leaving stockings out for Santa came from tales of St. Nicholas throwing bags of gold through open windows (which apparently sometimes landed in socks and shoes that were left by the fire).
Have you ever seen those figurines or pictures showing Santa kneeling to Baby Jesus? I love those pictures. In a sense, “Santa” does bow to Jesus, because the real-life man who preceded the character of Santa did something very hard in giving up all his worldly treasures to serve Christ by providing for those in need. Serving Jesus by helping those who are less fortunate is a wonderful focus for Christmas time, and I want my kids to know that story.
There is also a bigger reason why I love my figurine of the man in the red suit kneeling before Jesus in His manger. It so accurately represents the focus of Christmas in our family growing up. Christmas was never really about Santa. Christmas was always about Jesus. We always kept Jesus in the center in our house and Santa was just a side character in the celebration of His birth.
My plan for Santa is to always be truthful with my kids, have fun with the Santa character, and find ways to make sure my family’s focus is on Jesus first during the Christmas season. There are so many great resources to help with reminding little ones of why we celebrate Christmas – for example, I am excited to watch the The Jesus Series Christmas DVD with my preschoolers, which is all about the birth of Jesus. We have one of the other Read and Share DVDs, and my kids are enamored with the simple and sweet illustrations, so I know they will love the watching the nativity story episode this year.
Christmas is always about Jesus before everything else, and even with our game of Santa, I want to bring my kids back around to Jesus. Whether you include the traditions of Santa in your celebration or not, keep Christ first when it comes to Christmas. Santa kneeling before Jesus represents the correct priorities, and that little figurine I bring out at Christmas time reminds our family that all the elements of Christmas today, including Santa, are secondary to the reason we celebrate in the first place. We are celebrating Jesus, God who was born to save us. His gift is so much better than any gift from Santa.
Do you celebrate Christmas with Santa in your home?