Last year I mentioned that we wouldn’t be “doing santa” in our house. I was tweeting back and forth with some people yesterday and enjoyed the interaction so much I thought I’d turn it into a post. This topic, as I’ve found, is very controversial. First, because people say that Christmas isn’t magic without Santa, which we’ll get to in a moment.
The other reason seems to be that people don’t like when I say that we won’t implant a belief in Santa, because doing so means telling a lie to our child. This is not a popular thing to say out loud, but I can’t think of any other way to boil it down. It’s really important to me that my kids know when I tell them something, it’s what I really believe to be true. And there is no way to get around the fact that because I believe me telling my kid Santa is real is a lie, I thus think you are lying to your child when you tell them Santa lives at the North Pole and will physically come into your home and leave presents one night every year. We have two options, to agree to disagree or fight it out. We all get to parent our own children however we please, which I really value because one of my favorite parts about parenting is looking at an approach and deciding if I want to duplicate, alter, or throw it out altogether.
This doesn’t mean our children won’t even know who Santa is. The story of the real Saint Nicholas is so inspiring, and I would like our children to know about this man who put such an emphasis on giving to those in need. They’ll know that the popular figure we know as Santa today is make-believe fun, just like dressing up in our living room and pretending to be pirates is make-believe fun. There will certainly be a difficult questions to answer, and likely different ones with each child, but we’ll face them as they come, just like we will face all the difficult questions that come with parenthood. And we’ll let our kids know that Santa is a fun game that other kids play with their parents, and the best way to play is to keep it a secret and let the other kids have fun playing the game.
If you’re wondering, my parents did the Santa thing. I found out he wasn’t real when I was 5 years old. I was standing in the lunch line at the old Red Rock elementary school building, the last year it would ever be in use in our small town. I think my dad was behind me, and my best friend Breinne told me that Santa wasn’t real. I turned around and asked my dad if it was true. That’s all I can remember, I wasn’t traumatized, wasn’t devastated. It was a pretty normal way for a kid to find out, and I still woke up every morning afterward absolutely thrilled to open up the presents my mom bought for us.
There are so many other things I’d love to get into, including what kids learn about money and budgeting from being told they can possibly have anything they put down on a piece of paper, but I’ll save that for next year.
For now, let’s get back to the magic. The question here is, can Christmas be magical even without Santa?
I think it can. To prove my point, I shall list the things about Christmas (past and present) that I find magical:
Bringing out the Christmas music after Thanksgiving
Belting out “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at the top of my lungs while dancing around the house
Driving around to see how people have decorated their houses
The strip of interstate near our house filled with light displays that feature characters like Mr. Potatohead and run off power from the circles
Buying a fresh Christmas tree
Getting out the ornaments and laughing about the memories we have surrounding them
Scary tree elf
Drinking Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider
Grandma’s green goop
The way people around town speak up to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”
Talking to other people about their Christmas plans
Brainstorming a family to buy presents and be Secret Santa for
Reading the story of the Six to Eight Black Men
Gathering with my dad’s family on Christmas Eve, my immediate family on Christmas morning, and my mom’s family on Christmas day
The greedy gift exchange game that they parent’s played, laughing about someone ending up with the dud gifts
The year my aunt gave me a small gift wrapped in a box, inside another box, inside another box, inside another box, inside another box
The way my mom wraps presents, writing the name of the recipient in code on them and sometimes forgetting the code she used
The Christmas sock
The first snowfall
Snowmobiling up to the top of a mountain and looking down
Scarves and hats made by grandma
Caroling on a flatbed with the young men and young women at church
Watching other people open gifts I’ve so carefully chosen for them
The church Christmas program, with narrators and music numbers
The church Christmas party, with nativity performances and a paper bag for each child filled with peanuts, old-time style candy, and an orange (every year the same thing!)
Setting out the Polish nativities we’ve collected over the years
Wrapping up gifts
Drafting our Christmas letter
The new book my grandma Spence gave me each year
Christmas crafts, at home or at school
Finding out what ornament mom bought for us each year
Opening up a pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve
Receiving Christmas cards from other families in the mail
Boxes of apples from our neighbors
Suzy’s tray of cookies!
Grandma’s fluffy rolls
Watching the home movies that Grandma shot over the years, including the video of Colten opening a stuffed cat and being terrified of it
The talent shows we used to put on, believing that we were nothing but adorable (thanks for sitting through all of those off-key performances family members!)
A new Marilyn Monroe calendar from my mom
The Christmas concert at our elementary school
Rudolph the Reindeer, Elf, The Santa Clause, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life, and other favorite Christmas movies
Decorating gingerbread houses
Exchanging wishes and wafers a la the Polish tradition
Reading the story of Christ’s birth from the New Testament
Looking at this list, for me magic is about family, and happiness, and traditions and love. Someday I hope our kids will be able to make a similar list. I look forward to writing over the years to tell you how it’s going, but this year T1 is so young that it still isn’t an issue. A reader sent me this link that shows how one family has made it work with two young boys in the house (it looks like the older boy is about 4 and the other is 1) so you can read how another santa-free house is doing things.