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To Santa or Not to Santa

By December 17, 20109 Comments

Last year I wrote a post that opened the debate about whether or not to tell your kids about Santa Claus. The topic was actually just a minor part of the post itself, but in that short paragraph I managed to totally scandalize my parents, who later left me sarcastic voicemails about how unfortunate my chidlhood must have been. Apparently my declaration that “When I was little and discovered that my parents had been lying to me my ENTIRE LIFE about Santa Claus, I felt very much betrayed” was a little dramatic. So, my apologies to my WONDERFUL parents who I love more than words can express! But, the problem nevertheless remains: To Santa or not to Santa?

Last year a number of readers posted some helpful comments, and feel free to post more of your family traditions here now. However the reason I am revisiting this topic is that I just read a great article by Mark Driscoll on this very issue. In it he describes his own family’s tradition, and his conclusions not only reflect a lot of my own feelings on the subject, but he also seems to reach a truly balanced solution. Here is one helpful excerpt:

Tis the season . . . for parents to decide if they will tell the truth about Santa.

When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it.

Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don’t feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story.

So, as the parents of five children, Grace and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories.

We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.

What we are concerned about, though, is lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa’s lap for a holiday photo if they so desire. For parents of younger children wanting them to learn the real story of Santa Claus the Veggie Tales movie Saint Nicholas is a good choice.

To read the whole article, which includes a brief history of the person of Saint Nicholas, click here.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts!


  • Liz says:

    I couldn’t agree more! When I was 6 and found out that Santa wasn’t real I was completely crushed. I was upset for days. In the past few years I too have wondered what I’ll tell my own children. I mean if you lie to your kids about Santa for years and years, then once they learn the truth, what will differentiate between Santa and Jesus in their young mind? Will they think that Jesus is just a mystical character that decided to perform a few good miracles for entertainment sake but isn’t actually real?

  • Courtney says:

    Hey Sharon! I am actually posting about this next week in order to give our families a kind of heads up about what we are thinking. I grew up believing in Santa, wasn’t crushed about finding out he wasn’t real, but Jesus wasn’t really the reason for the celebration at all. Spence grew up with both, but a much more major focus on Santa at Christmas than either of us want for our boys. We are planning to just emphasize Christ and deemphasize Santa. We aren’t telling them their presents came from Santa or leaving out cookies or anything like that. Next year (I think Zeke will be old enough to understand better) we will tell the story of Santa Claus and probably do some pretending.
    Our big thing isn’t the lying. I mean honestly as parents you lie all day long: “there aren’t any more cookies, the tv is broken, mommy is going to take a nap to everyone because everyone naps”. I know that these lies are different from one that you go to a great extent to carry out, but I think that is a bit of a cop out excuse. Anyway, you can read my post next week. And I have linked up to your blog from last year. Miss ya’ll!

  • GREAT article. Two thoughts:

    My little sisters (who are adopted and about 18 years younger than me) came to me one Christmas wanting to know if Santa was real. I told them, “He is real in your imagination.” This answer seem to please them. It gave them the truth about Santa, but to also gave them permission to continue “believing” in him a little longer if they wanted to. They still enjoy “make-believing” in Santa with their imagination and with this perspective, our family can still have some of the funny, silly traditions surrounding the jolly old elf.

    Secondly, my husband and I have been discussing how we would want to handle Santa when we have our own children. I have a problem telling our kids the myths about Santa as fact – especially that he delivers toys to children all in one night. I struggle with this because I hope that my kids will have a compassionate awareness towards the plight of the needy through Devin and my example. With that said, how do you reconcile the stories of Santa delivering toys with the fact that there are millions of children around the world who miss out? I’m not going to lie to my kids or “defend” Santa for not delivering toys to Africa. All this to say – Santa myths and social justice realities can’t be part of the same reality.

    I like the suggestions in the article you quoted – a very good balance that allows for the fun and imagination, but also tells the truth.

  • Felix says:

    Esther and I chose a similar path. We tell our children that Jesus is the one who really loves to give good gifts to us. Santa, on the other hand, is a person who dresses up as Santa, and is a fun and happy person.

  • As an older parent who bought into the “lie” of Santa, I am thankful to see that younger parents have laid before them the alternatives from which to choose about how they handle Santa and Christmas. I like the idea of telling the children that Santa is both real and myth, and wish I had the wisdom to think this way when we raised our children.

    I wonder, however, what we should teach our children about how to relate their understanding of Santa to other children who are taught and thoroughly believe he is real.

  • Since I have a young son, I have wondered what to do about this…especially this year because he is finally getting asking questions about Christmas and wanting to see Santa. So we decided to adopt what some friends of ours did with their children. Here it is…
    We celebrate Jesus’ birthday first and foremost, He is the reason for the season. We also look at Christmas in PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.

    Christmas past: Jesus’ birth. Starting next year we will set up a manger scene, but the wisemen, mary and joseph, and the animals won’t be there, they will be placed around the house slowly making their way to the manger throughout the month of Dec.

    Christmas present: Santa and his elves share the Christmas spirit. They help remind us to care for one another and spread the love that God has asked of us.

    Christmas future: the mice from Narnia that chew through the ropes to free Aslan rep the future of Christmas. They are the ones that help us take care of each other. When we know of someone who is in need of help (anytime, not just at Christmas time) the mice have a fund that we can dip into to help out those in need, another thing that God has asked us to do.

    We will also be only be giving each other 3 presents. 1 thing we need, 1 thing we want and 1 thing that will help with our walk with God.

    Let me know if this makes sense or not…

  • Kate Sherrard says:

    Thanks for this post, Sharon! What to do with Santa is definitely a hard question for parents (at least it has been for us). The article you included from Mark Driscoll is one of the best explanations we have heard so hard. Thanks for helping us answer the question of how to make Christmas about Jesus without completely ignoring Santa and the delight children find in imagining him and his story. As a parent, I will say that even though we have barely mentioned Santa this year, our two year old already knows who he is and what he does. We are realizing that it takes being intentional and thoughtful about the advent season to make sure we help him to focus more on Jesus’ birth than on Santa’s gifts.

    Thanks so much for doing this blog, Sharon! You have a gift for writing and for thinking about faith and modern day issues and I am always thankful for and encouraged by your words.

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks for al the wonderful feedback, everyone! (And thanks for the sweet encouragement, Kate!) I just remembered a great book that I once came across about the real story of Santa that is a great explanation for small children from a Christian perspective–let me know if anyone knows the name of that book!

  • Katie says:

    Sharon, was it one of these?

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