The Santa “Story”

I wasn’t going to do this this year, but I got a thought provoking inquiry in my facebook inbox and thought I would share my reasons as to why we don’t do Santa.

This is the message I got:

We do Santa just because it’s what was always done in our families and I didn’t even realize there were Christian homes that didn’t do Santa until I read your post. It is interesting to me, because, the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I am with the idea of Santa. I am just curious if you would mind sharing why your family does not observe the tradition. I think it might help me clarify why the practice is becoming problematic in my mind.

First, of all, let me state for the record: there is nothing wrong with having the Santa Claus tradition in your home. Nothing whatsoever. I grew up with Santa. So did my husband. We both turned out okay. We actually intended the Santa tradition in our own home, but it turned out, after a lot of thought and discussions, we both knew it wasn’t right for our family. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be right for your family. And I urge you all to please read (regardless of your choice about Santa) Holly’s post about why her family does include Santa as part of their tradition. 

As Katherine so eloquently put it in the comments section of a post I linked to on facebook:

We don’t “do” Santa either. He isn’t banned or anything. We just treat him like any other fictional character, like Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse. 

My kids know about the real Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra whom the tradition was created in honor of. They know their presents are bought and paid for by mom and dad and that is who they come from. They know all the stories about Santa living at the North Pole and having elves, but they understand it’s just a story like Winnie the Pooh is or Cars is or Harry Potter. And they understand that Saint Nicholas was a real man who did real things. Well, the boys do. We’ll get to Shelby later.

Jeff’s family are luke-warm Christians. By luke-warm, I mean they claim a denomination, but don’t attend any kind of services and might say grace before meals. I don’t doubt his mom has faith, but she doesn’t EVER talk about it. I really do not know where his brothers stand aside from seeing them say grace and identifying, when asked, with a particular Protestant denomination and knowing they don’t attend services or belong to a congregation from their own admissions. That being said, Santa, is the central focus of Christmas. I’m not telling you this to vilify them, just to explain part of Jeff’s reluctance toward Santa. See, Jeff remembers most of his Christmases of childhood being about sitting on Santa’s lap, writing lists of gifts to Santa and seeing what Santa brought them. All of those things wouldn’t be bad, but he also remembers Jesus didn’t seem to be the reason for the season. And when we decided to raise our children Catholic, he didn’t want them to think of Christmas as a time to focus on Santa and what they were going to get. It’s caused more than a few tense moments with his family. Last year, his mom and brother wanted to give our kids a “call from Santa” that  you purchased from a company. Jeff adamantly refused. And not just because of the fact that we didn’t do Santa. But also because he didn’t want our phone number, children’s names, identities and identifying factors sold to a company. His mom, particularly, didn’t understand either our security concerns but also why we might not include Santa in our traditions.

When Shelby was born, we were deluged with opportunities around her first Christmas to have her photographed with Santa. But something didn’t seem right about it. Holly talks about the uncomfortable aspects of that part of the tradition in her post. Jeff, in particular, was not happy about the idea of placing his daughter, his baby girl, on a strange man’s lap. For any reason.

Another reason we opted against the tradition has to do with an awakening we had a few years ago. Jeff was student-teaching first graders in a public school at the time around the holidays. This school was situated in a rough part of town. It also was the educational home of some of the poorest students in the district. The reality was, that many of these children woke up Christmas morning to find out there was no Santa. No presents. No new clothes. That same year, we had both lost our paying jobs and Christmas was going to be thin, even with the three gift rule, and we were blessed by the kindness of a stranger who picked Shelby’s info off an angel tree that we didn’t know she had been added to. We both shared tears that Christmas morning as she opened up gift after gift after gift that had been carefully picked out and wrapped for her by someone who would never know how their generosity would touch our hearts. We made the decision that day that rather than focus our children on what Santa would bring, that Christmas was a time to teach them of the generosity of Saint Nicholas toward the poor. We want our children to understand that they are fortunate but others are not so much. This can be done through the paradigm of Santa Claus but with all the cultural references our kids are bombarded with about “writing letters to Santa” expressing every wish and desire, we ultimately decided to use the real character of the real man to teach our children about giving back and loving “the least of these” in our society.

Finally, there is the paradox of our Shelby. Autism has many, many gifts and wonderful things associated with it. Santa provides some interesting challenges… Such as, how can Shelby, with her language delays fully participate if we do it? She can’t articulate her desires much less write them down. And how to explain that to the non-autistic children as to why her participation is limited or non-existent. I mean, if Santa is going to bring them presents for writing letters or whatever, how is he going to know what Shelby wants? Are we going to explain the ins and outs of autism to them at length or do we make something up about Santa knowing what she wants in her heart which, for me, borders unnecessarily close to Santa having “God-like” powers. Not to mention, the literal-mindedness associated with autism. Ellen Notbohm has a passage in her book, Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, where she describes an exchange with her autistic son in which she tells him she admires how he “sticks to his guns.” The expression is met with alarm by her son who responds by saying, “Guns! I don’t want to stick to a gun? Wait, did you mean gum?”  People with autism take things at face-value. So if you tell a child with autism that a man will be coming down the chimney with toys and flying deer will land on your roof…they very-well may take you at face-value and expect the real deal. After speaking with several moms and dads of autistic kids who both do and don’t do Santa…we decided we needed to keep things simple. We’ll deal with what is real, in this case.

My kids still view Christmas as a special, magical, holy time. Joey and Will love watching Christmas specials. Shelby adores the ornaments and lights on the trees. They love how we learn about holy people like St Nicholas, St Lucia, and the Holy Family around this time. The decisions we made are based upon the dynamics of our family and ours alone. We aren’t worried that our children would abandon their faith because of  Santa and that’s why he’s not banned. He’s just not “believed in” here the same way Spongebob and Lightning McQueen aren’t believed in. My kids still have tons of imagination as is evidenced by the way they create stories around their stuffed animals and Cars characters (incidentally. And we’re not opposed to “pretending” about Santa either. But don’t base your decision upon what I, or anyone else, says or thinks. Look at your own family. Understand what you all need and then decide.

We wish you all a blessed Advent, a Happy, holy, Saint Nicholas Day, and a very Merry Christmas season!



2 thoughts on “The Santa “Story”

  1. AWESOME! I just love how we can support one another in these types of things have have come through prayer to our families. I think sometimes people get so caught up in what THEY have come to in prayer that they act as if it is a moral choice and that everyone else has to come to that as well. This is why our Church is so very beautiful, it tells up what those things are, and the rest (like Santa) we just have to do the best we can with the tools we have.
    Its so great to read about why it doesn’t work for you family, and it makes total sense. Thanks so much for keeping this conversation going. I too wasn’t going to mention it this year, but people started asking. I’m going to link to this post on my FB link to mine. Blessed Advent to you!


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