Parents Chime in on Whether or Not to Perpetuate the Santa Myth

“You better watch out,

You better not cry,

You better not pout,

I’m telling you why,

Santa Claus is coming to town.”

It’s Christmastime! People decorate their homes with twinkling lights and colorful displays. Stores mark down prices and stay open late. The celebratory feasts are prepared then eaten. Everyone hustles and bustles to check their lists, then check them twice. Gifts are exchanged (and sometimes exchanged again). Little boys and girls line up in shopping malls from coast to coast anxiously awaiting their turn to meet Santa. The Hallmark channel plays reel after reel of sentimental Christmas movies.

Children begin writing their wish lists and letters to Santa. Salvation Army volunteers dress as Santa and ring their bells outside every major store and supermarket gathering funds for the poor. News reports light up with tidings of Santas paying off random layaway tickets. Radio stations come alive with melodies of Santa Claus and Jesus. Christians gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, giving gifts in recognition of the greatest gift, God’s only son. As the countdown of Advent begins, so does the anticipation, excitement, preparations (and stress) of the Christmas season.

And what about this Santa fellow?

I love Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday. The gift-giving, the gift-getting, it’s all so magical! Now that my husband and I are parents, a realization occurred. It’s our turn to perpetuate the Santa myth. I’d never really given much thought to Santa Claus (the popular icon of today) until looking at our children and wondering how to go about this. How do we pretend this Santa fellow (or is he an elf) who comes down the chimney (breaks into homes) on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts to all the good little boys and girls while taking a timeout for endless milk and cookies breaks, is real?

In thinking of my childhood, I remember receiving gifts from Santa. There was always one gift left unwrapped that showed up during the night of Christmas Eve. I don’t recall giving much thought to Santa Claus, and don’t even remember a pivotal moment when I stopped believing in him – or if I ever really did. When asked about this, my mom said simply they didn’t make a big deal out of Santa. They left gifts from Santa, but never really pushed it. (By the way, I do still get Santa gifts from my parents and Grandmother.)

Naturally, curious as I am, I started asking friends and family how they do Santa in their home. Do they tell their children he’s real? Why or why not?

No, it feels like lying.

To be honest, this was my first reservation about perpetuating the Santa myth – it feels like lying which feels awkward and a bit yucky. We’re supposed to tell them this elaborate story we know to be untrue. Would this set a precedent that lying is okay and their most trustworthy protectors (us) lied to them?

And what happens when they find out Santa isn’t real? Is the magic of Christmas gone? If we help them believe Santa is real, telling them how he uses magic to deliver all the gifts in a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, and they believe us, what happens when they learn we lied? Not just lied, but in the words of my friend and fellow blogger over at CaveMomRising, “They realize — maybe for the first time — that we’re capable of lying to them…of lying insistently, convincingly, thoroughly.”

When the lie comes out – from us or other kids, do our children begin to question the other things we’ve told them? Does this set a precedent that we – the parents – are not to be trusted? That we lie when we want them to do something – such as exhibit good behavior through the year or simply because the truth can be more difficult?

As a Christian, I wondered if lying about Santa would make them think we’re lying about Jesus. According to my friend, Becky, “My parents always told me that Santa and the Easter bunny, tooth fairy, etc. were not real . . . my parents chose to do this because when they told me about Jesus and all the amazing miracles they wanted me to know it wasn’t just a myth. They wanted me to know they weren’t just telling me something that every kid was told.”

On the other hand, some parents don’t particularly encourage belief in Santa, but rather the Santa questions are answered with, “what do you think?” sparking conversation about thinking things through before deciding what to believe. Most of the time, kids will come to the logical conclusion on their own. And other times, kids will still believe the illogical – even when told the truth. Maybe this is the way to go?

Yes, we didn’t feel we had a choice.

Until I began speaking to other parents about Santa, I assumed we were supposed to help our kids believe in him. The pressure is real. Unless you are living under a rock in the wilderness without internet or a cell phone, you can’t do anything at Christmas time without seeing or hearing of Santa Claus. It is so assumed we’ll help perpetuate this myth, even strangers bring up Santa to our kids. I mean, why wouldn’t we, as parents, tell our kids the stories – that he’s watching to see if they’ve “been bad or good, so be good of goodness sake!”

Yes, Santa is magical and fun, and teaches kids how to believe in magic.

Many parents fully embrace it and enjoy creating the magic of the season. Having the kids write letters to Santa, get pictures with him at the local shopping mall, set out milk and cookies (and carrots for the reindeer) on Christmas Eve. If our parents did Santa in our home when we were children, and we had a good experience, why not do it again? I remember the excitement on Christmas Eve – waiting impatiently. Running to the tree on Christmas morning to find that gift from Santa. When kids are young is the only time to make-believe with them. A few short years and they’ll be too old to believe in magic. And hey, it helps keeps them in line when they’re warned Santa might leave coal instead of gifts if they don’t behave. Am I right?

Going a little deeper than the fun, I was enlightened to hear some parents feel that encouraging kids to believe in Santa teaches them how to harvest belief in real (intangible) magic such as faith, hope and love. When they understand and embrace the benefits of believing, it sets a precedent for them to have faith in other beliefs in the future, like Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.

I still wondered how do we pull this off without them thinking we lied to them in the end?

Some say the key is how the truth is delivered. When they discover Santa isn’t real in a way that doesn’t make them feel tricked or duped, it can encourage rather than hinder their propensity to believe.

Take for example, this letter. The mother, Martha Brockenbrough, writes a letter to her daughter in response to her daughter asking if she is Santa. She explains that no one person can be Santa, because the job of Santa is way too big for any one person to handle. She goes on to explain the importance of believing in things you can’t see, such as love.

“Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to believe in something they can’t see or touch. It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.” -Martha Brockenbrough

Last December, this video went viral about a mom teaching her son – now that he was old enough – it was now his turn to become a Santa, and taught him the power of selfless giving – giving a gift in a way the recipient doesn’t know who gave the gift. She framed it as rather than admitting to a lie, she was letting her son in on the secret of Santa.

No, we’d rather tell the story of the man behind the legend, Saint Nicholas.

We have Clement C. Moore, author of “The Night Before Christmas” to thank for the most popularized version of Santa, but all versions point back to Saint Nicholas and his practice of secret gifting. The popularized version of Santa Claus is a fairytale being capable of inhuman acts, denying the laws of time and space – one man whose “job” is to bring Christmas to everyone. Sure, he’s jolly and fun, but when you think about why this Santa Claus gives gifts, the answer is simply because he’s Santa and that’s what he does.

Some parents would rather tell the story of the real Santa Claus. The true magic of Santa is real men and women giving away their own money in secret to help those less fortunate and to bless the people they love. And the coolest part is real Santas give gifts regardless of “bad or good” and not out of obligation, but because they want to.

To quote another friend, “The story of real Santa, St Nicholas, is way more compelling. And you don’t have to worry about them finding out he isn’t real.” Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra, is the man whose story became legend – whose generosity and secretive giving inspired generations of Santas all over the world for greater than a millennium.

And why did he do this? As a Christian, Saint Nicholas believed giving should be done in secret as the Bible instructs in Matthew 6:2-4, so he would wait until nighttime to leave his gifts. Most known for secretly gifting the gold needed for the dowry of three poor sisters, he tossed the gold into an open window. The girls’ father discovered Nicholas’ identity, yet when confronted, Nicholas begged the father to keep his secret(Demi, 2003). (Obviously, he didn’t keep it a secret forever.)

Yes or No? What did we decide?

Every family is different, and every child is different. It’s not up to society. It’s not up to our friends, parents, neighbors or church. As parents, we must do what feels right in our hearts aligned with our beliefs. If you want to do the whole Santa thing with elves, reindeer, milk and cookies, and the north pole, go for it! Have a blast with it! If you’d rather not, then don’t. In the end, it is simply a matter of preference.

In our home at Christmastime, we’ll tell the story of the real Saint Nicholas and of Jesus Christ, because that’s what we believe. We’ll still give gifts “from Santa,” and when our children ask who they’re from we’ll explain that’s the point of Santa gifts is not to know. The only way to say thank you for a gift from Santa is to pay it forward in secret – to be a Santa for someone else.

To be a Santa Claus,
who exists because of Saint Nicholas,
who did what he did because of his belief in Jesus.

After all my conversations about Christmas and Santa, and in writing this post, I had this pivotal revelation. It all points back to Jesus, the greatest gift – a savior. Truthfully I can’t imagine anything better to believe in than a savior – one who can save us from ourselves.

Therein lies the magic of Christmas for all who believe.

Merry Christmas and God bless!

Thank you to all my friends who shared their thoughts and feelings on Santa. I thoroughly enjoyed the engaging conversations and reading everyone’s comments.

And thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this, please share.

I’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts about this post in the comments.

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Copyright © 2017 Katherine J. Wheeler. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Parents Chime in on Whether or Not to Perpetuate the Santa Myth”

  1. What a great post! I love Martha’s letter… it’s beautifully written and so true! I have actually tied the myth of Santa to God and other intangible beliefs as well because you can’t always see and touch the things that are important to believe. My ten year old just told me last week, “mom, my friend said she doesn’t believe in Santa, Elf on the Shelf and other things like that. I told my friend that it’s sometimes more fun to believe a lie than to believe nothing at all”. Every child is different and its okay for them to believe or not but for my kids 10 & 13, it works. And God is very present in our lives along with Santa.

  2. I appreciate this post and all the research you put into it so much! This was something we talked about last year a lot in our home. We never fully decided and so this has stirred up good discussion for us. We talk a lot about Jesus and try and keep the focus on him. But, we enjoy some of the Santa traditions like leaving cookies out, filling stockings with small gifts (like a toothbrush and toothpaste), and our daughter enjoy some of the books a lot like The Night Before Christmas and Rudolf the Rednose Reindeer. My husband and I had different experiences with Santa, or more accurately how we felt when we discovered he wasn’t real. My husband definitely felt lied to. I, on the other hand, felt clever that I figured out that it was a hoax and didn’t mind at all that it wasn’t true. I think for us the challenge we are facing is how to differentiate fairytale from the true stories of Jesus. Over the past six months our daughter has really fallen in love with fairytales and princesses and superheroes. Every night after we read books she asks to hear a story. Sometimes she asks for a story like Rapunzel, other times she asks for a “Jesus story”. I’ve grown a bit concerned that she is blending them all together as fantasy. She has her little nativity that she loves to play with and tell the story. (Which she knows quite well now. She corrected me last night when I accidentally said they went to Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem!) however, when I listen to her play with her nativity she starts to bring in some of her fairytale stories as well. So that is what we are trying to work on and focus on right now. And I think that is one of the dangers of how we sometimes teach children Bible stories. We teach them like fairytales sometimes. I don’t have a good answer for this yet, it is something we are talking about and working on currently. 😊

    1. Thank you, Nathana! I’m so glad this post helped in your discussions! I’d love to talk more about this when I see you next. My quick thoughts on the stories are at this age, differentiating fiction from non-fiction is so abstract that it all feels like fairytales, but she should grow out of that naturally. Great discussion!

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