Perspectives in Parenting :: The Santa Conundrum

Motherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child. We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them! We are continuing our series, Perspectives in Parenting, with a look at Santa Claus.

Make sure you check out out other perspectives on this topic from Katie A., who loves Santa and the spirit of Christmas he brings, and Inga, who has never pretended Santa was real.


Crying SantaAlthough we have not yet gotten through Thanksgiving, there is no denying that a whiff of Christmas is in the air. My daughter has come home singing songs that I suspect we’ll hear at her class Christmas concert. The first pictures of home decorations have started to trickle into my Facebook newsfeed, and the pop-up Hickory Farms stand is doing a brisk business in the mall.

Talk of Santa is not far off.

We mothers have developed a healthy debate over the merits of the Elf on the Shelf. Many, including some of my co-contributors, take pride and pleasure in setting up the little scamp in ever-more whimsical tableaux. Others, including myself, wish the pressure and the Pinterest would Just. Go. Away.

What’s rarely discussed is the advisability of establishing a robust Santa culture in the home. It’s a little odd that, during 11 months of the year, we caution our children not to talk to strangers, not to take candy or presents from people they don’t know, and that home invasion is to be prevented, not invited. And yet, during the weeks leading up to Christmas, we pull an about-face.

SantaOut of nowhere, we encourage our kids to snuggle in to some old dude’s lap and whisper their innermost desires in his ear. We take pictures of the interaction and, on occasion, even include this non-relative in the family Christmas card photograph. If our children are lucky, we tell them, this guy will enter our house under the cover of night to do his will. The whole thing is a little off-message from what we normally try to instill.

And yet, for the most part, we go along with the modern Santa tradition. We allow the Naughty-or-Nice list to serve as a source text for pre-holiday discipline, and we come up with ever-more pat responses to increasingly skeptical children’s questions about perceived holes in the Santa mythology. To do any different is to risk being seen as a kooky outlier or—worse—a killjoy. While I’m happy for my children to enjoy the fun and fantasy of secular Christmas, I’m finding that a measured approach to Santa is the right choice for us.

I’ve heard a number of reasons why parents choose not to “do” Santa. Some worry that “lying” to their children will destroy their trust. Others fear the confrontation: “You told me Santa was real, and he’s not. You tell me God is real. How do I know you’re not lying about that too?”

Ryan Santa

I lie to my kids all the time: “I *totally* saw the somersault you just did. I used the eyes in the back of my head.” And I don’t worry that suggesting that Santa is “real” will cause them to question their religious training. I believe they will be able to distinguish between the lighthearted, seasonal way people approach the Jolly Ol’ Soul and the reverent, perennial way people approach God. If they can tell the difference between grown adults on their knees in church and grown adults snapping pictures at the mall, they can discern that religion is about eternal truth and Santa is just for fun.

I do, however, worry that the worldly glamour of Santa can easily eclipse the true importance of Christmas, particularly in a child’s mind. Santa’s gifts are toys and games. They are advertised on television and presented in beautifully wrapped boxes. They are not the core and summit of Christmas. They are, at best, a pale facsimile of the Gift I want my family to focus on during the season. That Gift is a Redeemer, God among us. He was foretold by the prophets and presented wrapped in humble cloth. If our run-up to Christmas were spent enforcing the Santa myth, I think my family would be distracted from the more personal, spiritual preparation we should be doing during our Advent.

All of these were theoretical musings before I had children. The more I’ve gotten to know my children, though, the more I think soft-playing Kris Kringle is the right choice for our family. My older child (age four) is proving to be precise, rules-driven, and analytic. Those who know us well describe her as “Katy warmed over,” and I believe her little mind works a lot like my own. She’s not much for pretend games, and in the past two days alone, she’s given me three good indications that she prefers sussing out reality to enjoying fantasy.

In the first instance, she was going through her toys and set off one of those battery-operated baby dolls that cries for a bottle. I advised her to “feed [her] baby.” She responded that she did not have to feed it, because “it’s not a real baby.” True enough.

In the second instance, at a family gathering, her uncle was playfully scaring the children with a latex “old man” mask. My daughter and her cousin enjoyed running and shrieking when Pickle-Nose Willy entered the room. But, as she later confided, she knew he was not real because “his eyes didn’t blink and his mouth didn’t move.” Again, fair.

Finally, on the way home from the same event, we passed by a restaurant that had strings of white Christmas lights dangling from the trees. As the branches moved, the lights swayed from side to side. I pulled over and pointed out the “dancing” lights. Her response was “no, Mama, I think that’s just the wind.” What is she?—a meteorologist?

As time goes on, I become more convinced that, like me, she likes to get to the bottom of things. Knowing my own temperament and inferring hers, I think that if I were to build up Santa as “really real,” she would be too bothered by the improbability of and inconsistencies in the myth to enjoy the fantasy. If she’s not going to get pleasure out of my selling St. Nick, why would I do it, particularly when I recognize that toeing the traditional line carries some non-zero downsides?

Santa Family



In the end, we pay a little lip service to Mr. Claus, in no small part because I have to respect a grown man who’s not afraid of red velvet. But, for now, I’m leaving him as a bit player in our family holiday.[hr]

Leading up to Christmas, we don’t encourage the children to make lists of gifts they would like to receive, and we don’t lean on the “Santa’s watching” refrain. On Christmas morning, my children wake to a small but carefully-chosen collection of gifts. Their Fisher Price Nativity Scene (a gift from my bestie at my daughter’s first Christmas) is arrayed with their new toys and books. We let it drop that the haul came from Santa, but we do not dwell on it.

Santa Gifts

I know the day will come when my children start to question whether Santa is real. I have a strategy for handling that conversation that I feel good about, and that comports with my overall parenting style.

I’ll start by asking why my child thinks it’s a ruse. If the answer is anything along the lines of “because [Other Kid] said so,” I’ll point out that just because another person says something doesn’t make it true. That’s just straight life advice.

If my child’s reasoning is solid, I won’t dismiss her logic. I plan to explain that, yes, Santa is make-believe, and part of growing up is figuring that out. BUT, lots of other kids still believe in Santa, and they deserve a chance to figure it out for themselves. It’s never OK to tell another child that Santa isn’t real, and if you’ve seen behind the curtain, you can enjoy helping to keep the fiction alive for another child.

How do you present Santa to your children? Let us your know approach in the comments below.[hr]

Katy is a San Antonio native who spent seven years on the East Coast. She is back home now, married to her sweetheart, rearing her children Claudia (5) and Thomas (3), and practicing tax law.


  1. Love this specifically because the killing Santa for religious reasons seriously bums me out. Your kids’ faith should be able to hold water just because Santa isn’t real.

    Personally, I too hate elf on the shelf, but I do love Santa. We usually go get pictures with him. We do the free portable north pole video (so fun!). We do a little bit of Santa’s watching. What we do not do is claim all the gifts are from Santa. I worked my ass off to provide that bike/ipod/other main gift. Santa gets credit for the stocking and one smallish gift.

    Mine is finally at the age where he is starting to ask some fun questions about how does Santa… I don’t know how many years more I will get for this, but I will continue to savor them! I also try to tell the story of SAINT Nick, and also Santa Claus traditions from around the world is fun.

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