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Santa Isn’t Real and I’m Not a Grinch

I told my two-year-old this morning that Santa is not real. I had just finished reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to both girls.

“What’s that?” Hazel asked, pointing to Santa Claus himself.

“That’s Santa Claus. This story is a myth, much like many of the other stories we read. Santa does not climb down the chimney to leave presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. Daddy and I climb up the basement stairs to leave the presents under the tree,” I replied.

In all fairness, neither of my daughters understand the concept of Santa in the first place. I did not shatter an illusion that has been built up in my children’s minds. My intention in telling them early that Santa is not real is to establish a sense of trust grounded in reality. I will share with them the historical background of Santa Claus, how he was originally Saint Nicholas, and how the real Saint Nicholas lived closer to today’s geographic Turkey than to the North Pole. The name Santa Claus originates from the Dutch derivation of Saint Nicholas. In Dutch, Saint is Santa. Claus is a Dutch abbreviation of Nicholas. It is when the story of Saint Nicholas reached the Netherlands, he became linked to many of the images we collectively associate with Christmas, including stockings, reindeer, and decorated trees.

I want my children to grow up loving holidays. I want each holiday to have a special memory and I want our family to maintain traditions as our children grow. I think this would help ground them emotionally as adults and if nothing else, they can savor sweet memories of our family experiences with each passing holiday.

I see no benefit in lying to my children for them to appreciate Christmas.

Besides, more than anything I want to instill in them that the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. I do not want the focus of Christmas to be material gifts, although I do want them to have some gifts, which they have already wrapped and stored in the basement, far away from grabby hands. Like all holidays, I want Christmas to be about faith and togetherness as a family.

For many children who are raised to believe that Santa is real, that there’s some far-away old man checking his list then checking it twice for good behavior, that we knowingly allow him to break-in and enter covertly in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve through a chimney even if the visit involves depositing gifts, I think the long-term consequence is that it creates an extrinsic motivator for good behavior. Instead of being “good” and otherwise making positive behavior choices for intrinsic reasons, good behavior becomes a transaction. If I’m good, I get lots of stuff. If I’m bad, I don’t. That is definitely not the mentality I want my children to associate with Christmas or their behavior choices. Certainly, I think that mentality can set young adults up for failure and disappointment when they realize that the real world does not work that way. Eventually, children discover that Santa isn’t real. What then? The parents who have instilled the myth of Santa for all of those years become suspect. If they lied about this, what else could have they lied about? Even worse, this train of thought could lead to a loss of faith, associating the tenets of our faith with fictional myths.

I find the consequences of carrying on this charade to be far worse than coming clean right from the start.

Santa Claus is not real.

I saw this post on FaceBook several years ago:

"In our family, we have a special way of transitioning the kids from receiving from Santa, to becoming a Santa. This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and the Christmas spirit.

When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready. I take them out "for coffee" at the local wherever. We get a booth, order our drinks, and the following pronouncement is made: “You sure have grown an awful lot this year. Not only are you taller, but I can see that your heart has grown, too. [Point out 2-3 examples of empathetic behavior, consideration of people's feelings, good deeds, etc, the kid has done in the past year]. In fact, your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus. You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that because they aren't ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE.

Tell me the best things about Santa. What does Santa get for all of his trouble? [lead the kid from "cookies" to the good feeling of having done something for someone else]. Well, now YOU are ready to do your first job as a Santa!" Make sure you maintain the proper conspiratorial tone.

We then have the child choose someone they know—a neighbor, usually. The child's mission is to secretly, deviously, find out something that the person needs, and then provide it, wrap it, deliver it—and never reveal to the target where it came from. Being a Santa isn't about getting credit, you see. It's unselfish giving.”

I think this strategy is brilliant, but I still want to skip over the lying about Santa Claus for a few years part. Instead, when my children demonstrate the wherewithal to understand and participate in this concept, Andy and I will share with them how they can be a Santa.

In the meanwhile, we’ll still enjoy our Christmas traditions. We have our tree decorated with kid-safe ornaments. Our stockings are hung with care. Hazel and I will bake Christmas cookies today (Maggie will skip this tradition this year because of her keto diet). We read a chapter from the Book of Luke every morning and talk about Jesus as a family. We watch a steady stream of Christmas movies and read stories featuring Christmas characters.


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