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The Great Santa Claus Debate

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For those who celebrate Christmas, whether faith-based or secular, deciding whether or not to include Santa Claus in the festivities is often a struggle for parents. And, as we all have most likely personally experienced at one time or another, choosing a different path in parenting can stir up a lot of unwanted controversy and unsolicited advice. But the reality is that there is no single 'right' way to do anything, so here are two points of view on 'The Great Santa Claus Debate' from two happy, healthy families who simply choose different ways to celebrate Christmas...

Why one family celebrates a Merry Christmas without Santa:

“Santa is not real.”

I laughed. How could John Wesley, a boy at least one year older than me, be so foolish as to believe that Santa was, in fact, not real. Conveniently, my mother turned the corner into the hallway in the nick of time. I flagged her over to verify my rebuttal and prove to John Wesley that he was an idiot.

“Mom, John Wesley says Santa isn’t real.”

I waited, smiling smugly at John Wesley. There was no response, so I prompted her again

“Mom, tell him, isn’t Santa real?”

Doubt crept into my voice, I looked up into my Mother’s eyes and knew from her face—it was true. Santa was not real. I was crushed. When you’re six, Santa is the American Dream, and he was gone for me in that instant.

Now that I’m a parent of a young girl, I’m struggling with the idea of Santa. Believing in Santa is a fun part of being a kid, but at what cost? Likely one day my daughter will look into my eyes for verification that Santa is real just as I did so many years ago with my mother. All I will have to offer her in return will be a devastating truth.

Is it worth it? A few years of the magical existence of Santa captured in a handful of smiling pictures and happy memories in exchange for one day being the one to tell her that the Santa I encouraged her, or at least did not dissuade her from believing in, is a myth? 

Thinking back on my own experience, was it really the idea that a fat jolly old man from the North Pole bearing gifts once a year did not exist that bothered me, or something more? I placed all of my faith in my parents. I trusted them entirely, no questions asked, but I was wrong.

We are a society of cynics, hesitant to believe anything that cannot be explicitly proven. Could this aversion to faith have roots as far back as the revelation that Santa does not exist? I think it’s entirely possible.

I really want to be honest with my daughter and let her know that Santa is a fun story, but that it is only a story. Maybe I’m over thinking this, but to me her trust is the most precious of things and worth protecting. One day, she will face tough questions regarding faith, and hope: where to put it; what to believe in; how to live her life; and on what terms. As these things happen for her, I don’t want there to be any scars I could have prevented standing in the way of her decisions. Maybe she will still have enough trust in me at that point to ask my help sorting through the questions, knowing that while I may not have all the answers, I won’t be holding anything back.

Author: Nate Moore

Why another family celebrates a Santa Christmas:

Who does this describe?

  • A bearded, good-hearted man
  • A generous man known for giving to others
  • A gentle man who is often pictured welcoming smiling children
  • A man who, it is said, “sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake...”
  • A man many believe in without ever having to see
  • A man with amazing, awe-inspiring, magical powers

If you answered, "Santa Claus," you’re right! If you answered "Jesus," you’re right, too!

One is the symbol of the Christmas season. The other is the reason for it. One is the parable. The other is the reality.

Flights of fantasy, wonder, and awe are vehicles through which all of us, not only children, can grasp the inexplicable, understand the unimaginable, embrace the extraordinary.

I want my children to dance with excitement as the Christmas season begins with the ringing sound of carols and the glitter of decorations filling our home. I want them to wonder and imagine as we read Christmas stories and watch Christmas classics together under warm blankets with bowls of buttery popcorn and piping hot mugs of hot cocoa. I want them to gasp in awe at the brilliant abundance of presents under the Christmas tree as we gather on Christmas morning and sing ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus’ before the tumble-bumble, joyful chaos of gift opening begins.

I want these things for them so that as they grow up they’ll take these memories of joy and laughter and wonder and awe with them and always be able feel the beauty of the gift we were given in the Christ-Child instead of just having head knowledge of him.

That, to me, is the true reason for the season: sharing the truth of the most unimaginable, unattainable, unfathomable gift ever given. And the way we choose to do that in our family is to celebrate Jesus with a Santa Claus Christmas

St.Nicholas was just a man, but he was a man with a mission. Born in the third century, he grew up to be an intensely kind-hearted man who was especially devoted to children’s issues and helping the poor. He was a Greek Bishop who defied the established Church in order to go out among the ‘unwashed masses’ and live his life as the ‘heart and hands of Jesus.’ While many miracles and legends about him evolved through the centuries, his penchant for leaving secret gifts for children is the one that captured the hearts and imaginations of people world-wide, leading to the present-day legend of Santa Claus.

I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a false belief and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in stories. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur, and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.

When it comes to the breathtaking gift of the Christ-Child, the Eternal Creator born of a woman, God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes, the I AM in a manger, what better way to share such an absurd and immense truth than Jesus’ way...with a story? How else would my little ones be able to grasp the concept of such a gift? How would they embrace the wonder? How could I possibly break down the impossible into a lecture? Would the improbable make more sense in a dissertation?

And so I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of Jesus. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. Imagination is the language of childhood, and speaking their language is simply a part of parenting for me. And so when my small children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them, "Yes!" because it’s true. Every person who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary gift ever given to humankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.

I believe in Santa Claus because I am Santa Claus! And that's what I tell my children when they're old enough to understand. I say, "Santa Claus was a real man named St. Nicholas who loved children and wanted to make them happy. Just like we're the heart and hands of Jesus, who was and is as real as you and me, we celebrate Christmas by giving gifts like St. Nicholas did for children many, many years ago. Every time we give a gift to bring happiness to people, we are Santa Claus. And now it's your turn to be Santa, too!" My youngest still believe in Santa as a magical part of their Christmas celebration, and my older children enjoy the magic of being Santa every December. It may not be everyone's choice to celebrate a Santa Christmas, and that's perfectly okay, but it's ours and it's a beautiful tradition we love to embrace year after year. 

On a side note, I don’t ever use Santa Claus as a threat (i.e. “I’m calling Santa right now if you don’t...” or “Santa’s watching, and you won’t get any presents for Christmas if...”) first because a parable’s purpose is to teach, not to manipulate or control, and second because what I am teaching is the wonder and miracle of receiving a free gift, one that can’t be earned because it is freely given. Manipulating my children into compliance might work temporarily, but am I really trying to raise humans who conform for profit or am I trying to teach my little people about the incredible gift of grace?

Christmas, to me anyway, is about wonder and joy and imagination and believing in things that are bigger than myself. And believing in Santa, being Santa, is simply part of the wonder, for me and for my children. 

What about you, holistic friends? If you celebrate Christmas, do you celebrate a Merry Christmas without Santa or do you celebrate a Santa Christmas? Share in the comments!

About the Author
L.R. Knost
Author: L.R. KnostWebsite: http://www.littleheartsbooks.com
Author and activist, L.R.Knost, is an independent child development researcher; Founder and Director of the child advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources; and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. A mother of six, her children range from young adult down to preschool. Books by L.R.Knost include secular selections The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages; Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and faith-based Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting.

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