Through the years, my spouse and I have incorporated a few parenting practices that baffled friends and family. Homemade baby food. Limited kid photos on social media. Cloth diapers. Scientific conversations about anatomy. Reactions vary to each of these decisions, but one choiceby far receives the most pushback of all…
We don’t do Santa.
Yes, we celebrate Christmas. Yes, we both loved Santa growing up. No, we have no intention of pretending that Santa comes to our home.
We’ve seen shock, confusion, disappointment, dismay, and concern. I get it: this is probably a cherished tradition in your home, and you can’t figure out why anyone else would not want to enjoy it as well. And, most likely, you are terrified that my kid is going to ruin everything for yours.
What is so interesting to me is that if we were to tell you we are Jewish, or zealous Christians who want to focus on Jesus, the questions would likely stop. Instead, we are an agnostic/atheist family that just wants to enjoy a season of giving and light and warmth during the darkest and coldest time of the year, and our new holiday tradition has become watching synapses misfire as people try to understand this.
Don’t get me wrong, it took me some time to figure it out myself. Why do I love Christmas so much?
I parted ways with my Catholic upbringing in high school, and yet Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. A few years ago I took time to deliberately reflect on this. The fact is, I find the entire season to be filled with magic – the lights, the giving, the wrapping, the shopping, the food, the cold, the snow, the music, the movies, the hope.
I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t risky. My oldest is a particularly precocious and logical child, and I dread the day a parent calls to tell me that she destroyed poor Suzy Q’s Christmas.
Let’s get the FAQs out of the way:
- Our children get lots of presents, they just all come from people who they know in person.
- We watch plenty of movies with Santa in them, and we treat him as such: a well-loved, amazing, kind, and generous character in movies and stories.
- We do not get pictures with Santa. We tried when our first was 18 months, it wasn’t very fun for anyone, we haven’t forced it since.
- We have never said the words, “Santa is not real.” Our youngest has asked, “Is Santa for real life?” and we respond, “Well, what do you think?” And when a kid says, “I love Santa!” We agree: “Yes, Santa stories are really fun, aren’t they?”
- We talk about different beliefs and practices year-round in our home, and Santa is lumped in with religions: something we don’t practice at home, but we absolutely do not ruin anyone else’s experience.
This has gone well for us so far, with only a few hiccups:
- When our oldest was 3, we opened presents Christmas morning and then sat down to breakfast. Out of the blue, she asked, “Did Santa bring me anything?” And we replied, “No, but you got lots of presents from Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa.” And she moved on.
- Last year, we walked by an inflatable Santa in a chimney and my oldest suddenly pouted, “Santa never comes to my house.” We deflected with reiterations of all the great things that do come to her house, and all the fun things that have already happened at Christmas.
- In the middle of summer, my youngest asked, “Is Santa for real life?” (They were reading a lot of Calvin and Hobbes at the time). I asked, “What do you think?” She said, “Yes.” I asked her what made her think that, and she simply described all the things that stories say that he does. I asked a few more questions, to see if she would notice the…shall we say…lack of logic to it all. She did not, and I left it alone. I am not going to intentionally break her belief, but I am not going to actively indulge it either.
Our children are just now ages 4 and 6. I have no doubt more hiccups lie ahead. But plenty of non-Christian families have managed this for years. I believe we’ll figure it out, too.
There is something about Christmas that imbues magic into simple everyday moments. It is a season of making memories, of rediscovering the joy in little things like music and cooking. I want my children to grow up knowing that they are the ones who can create that magic, not some fictional man in a red suit. Because if they can create that magic during Christmas when the days are short and dark and cold and time is scarce and schedules are hectic and emotions run high, if they can find magic amidst all that, then surely they can find magic any day of the year. In essence, they can have Christmas the year-round.