Hello friends! As a new mama, a forever learning Christian and a passionate advocate of curating joyful childhood and learning, I’ve been asked before how our family plan to approach Santa. I just tell people ‘very quietly, with a sledgehammer’. I joke! It’s something that’s certainly crossed our minds and I think will likely have been agonised over by many a deep thinking parent regardless of their religious beliefs. Having chatted to lots of Church friends and had a good think ourselves, I thought I’d share our perspective and those of some of my fellow Church friends.
Firstly a bit of context. As a Christian, I celebrate Jesus’ birth all year round, and I also love that there is a time of year the world comes together to do so too. But Jesus doesn’t just come to mind when Mariah Carey starts blasting on the radio and Tesco starts stocking advent calendars, and I think the average Christian will probably agree. Equally, it’s important to remember that celebrating a winter based festival in December has also been celebrated by Pagan people to celebrate the Winter Solstice. In reality most theologians agree that realistically we haven’t got a clue when Jesus was born; just that it is an incredibly important event and one Christians focus on around December.
I say this as one thing my perspective definitely does not do is see Christmas (in its holistic, 2020, Christmas jumpers, crackers and stuffing sense) as something Christians have sole rights to, and anyone doing anything other than setting up their nativity and going to a Church service is doing something inherently wrong. That’s what the Bible, in my view, would describe as legalism, something the pharisees did, and something Jesus flipped tables over. Christmas, across the globe, has come to be an event that celebrates a lot of things to a lot of people, and the Christmas most people know and love focuses a lot more on gifts and family than it does the birth of Christ. I say all this because our decision is certainly grounded in the morals our faith teaches us and how we want G to grow up, but not because the story of Santa is utterly unbiblical or because Santa and Jesus have to be mutually exclusive.
On my quest to decide whether we were going to ‘Do Santa’ with G, I took to my Church friends and fellow Christians to ask them what their experiences were/are. For me, I grew up utterly obsessed with the guy, and I don’t actually recall giving Jesus a second thought at Christmas time having not been raised in a Christian home and coming to faith much later in life. Speaking to fellow Christians, I found that the answers were really diverse. Some definitely did believe in Santa as a kid, or go all out with their children to share the magic that make believe can offer. Some grew up with their parents being completely honest with them and telling them he wasn’t real from the get go, others just remember it not being much of a thing in their house, or plan to raise their children this way (@clairynew suggested they don’t put much focus on Santa in order to avoid their little ones getting confused at nursery). Our perspective has been informed by many of these ideas, as well as those of secular friends.
So. The big answer that you’ve been waiting for. We think we have our decision, though it may change as G gets bigger. We’re not going to do Santa. There are a few reasons we have chosen to do this, so here goes!
We want our kids to know we’ll always tell them the truth.
In our marriage, my hub and I try to focus as much as we can on effective communication. It often fails, and usually in relation to the washing that needs doing… but that’s our goal! This includes honesty, as being certain that your partner is going to tell you the truth is vital to trust. We extend this to G. I’m not saying that telling your kids Santa is real is going to forever ruin your relationship with them. Of course it isn’t - there’s certainly more families that do it than don’t, but for us we want to try and be truthful as much as we possibly can. This is something we have a choice over, so we intend to use it.
We want our children to know the difference between living faith (and the historical existence of Jesus) and fantasy
This one is an extension of always telling our kids the truth. Maria Montessori puts a focus on not sharing fantasy books with children until they are seven years old, because prior to this, it is very difficult for them to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This is also why, I think, most children start to question the existence of family favourites such as the tooth fairy, Santa, the Easter bunny, when they are around 7 or 8. They have begun to differentiate. Having spoken to and borrowed this thought process from a friend from Church and her lovely Mum (who was kind enough to talk me through this on the phone!) we feel that if children suddenly find out that someone they really believed in and got excited about (Santa) was complete fiction, they might extend this to the faith they’ve been brought up in. For a small child, while Jesus can be very much a part of their lives, I do think it is harder to conceptualise a tripartite God when you’re 7! God may still feel quite immaterial as you can’t physically ‘see’ Him, *just like* this Santa guy who leaves gifts but you never really see him (apart from at garden centres…). In addition to this, if you do Santa and Jesus, from my personal experience, a dude who brings you material gifts for no reason, has flying reindeers and a whole staff of elves is a lot more exciting than a baby in a manger, and can easily detract from the figure you’re trying to steer your kids towards. This isn't to say it's impossible by any means, it's just how we feel.
We want to minimise materialism in our home
This is a pretty obvious one. I remember teaching in an early years classroom, where one of the ‘activities’ (don’t get me started on adult led learning, that’s for another blog post altogether) was to cut out pictures from toy catalogues to stick onto a pre cut out stocking. Just an FYI that this was definitely not my idea! In a world where there are millionaire 5 year olds making their income from unboxing toys on YouTube, it’s very difficult to avoid materialism altogether for kids. They are bound to be given plastic branded stuff at some point; and they are bound to see advertisements and toy shops. But to promote the idea that once a year there’s this super cool guy who turns up at your house and provides you with all your heart desires, for us, devalues hard work and actively encourages kids to come up with random material things they want to own, especially in a bountiful Western culture. Plus, we want our kids to know that if there’s something they really need/would really like all year round, they can ask for it, and if we have the finances and we think it’s a good choice, we’ll think about getting it. Additionally, I don’t know if this is just a little selfish but we kind of want our kids to know that we worked hard to earn the money with which to buy the gifts they do receive. Biblically this extends to recognising that the best gifts of all aren’t seen, and that real fulfilment can never come from money or ownership alone.
We want G to recognise her privilege
This is an extension of the reason above, but does it really seem fair that this Santa guy who claims to love children and care for others brings an iPad to little Timmy but Rosie down the street got a colouring book? We think that telling children their gifts came from a magical person means that income disparities between families aren’t addressed, and there’s no easy to understand explanation for why some people get more gifts than others. I think in particular about Operation Christmas Child, which encourages kiddos to fill a shoebox with essentials and small gifts for a child in need. Why doesn’t Santa bring those children gifts? Answering this question with Santa in mind inevitably leads to more lies, and it feels wrong to us. We want G to know she has privilege living in a Western country with two parents, a stable income and a home and this begins my exploring disparities in an age appropriate way, even when children are tiny.
We want to avoid using tangible gifts to reward behaviour
There are lots of theories to approach this but we generally follow the Montessori concept, for more on that I’d suggest looking at The Montessori Notebook as Simone has great summaries of behaviour in Montessori. Essentially, studies show that being rewarded/praised for wanted behaviours generally put children off and reduce intrinsic motivation. So telling children they get gifts for being ‘good’, a concept which is hard to gage and practice for small people anyway, isn’t something we want to join in if we can. Also the thought of Santa Cams, naughty/nice lists just sit really weirdly with us.
So what will we do instead?
Talk about how Christmas is celebrated across the world in different ways, with a focus on connections to the Nativity
As I said earlier, while we don’t think Christmas in its 21st century context is only for Christians, we do intend to use this time of year to encourage a conversation around faith. After all, it’s one of the few times of year where Jesus is talked about everywhere, not just in our home and at Church. We have a few different nativity sets, and we’ll try and read a bible verse on each day of advent. I spoke to Natassja from @booksandlittles, who told me that in Germany there is a tradition of the Christkind (Baby Jesus in the form of an angel) who comes on the evening of Christmas Eve and brings gifts. Equally in Spain Three Kings Day (6th January) celebrates the gifting to Jesus in the nativity, and it is on this day children receive presents to remember this. We like these traditions and will probably include them somehow, as well as the usual carol services, Christingle etc.
Explain that Santa is a nice story akin to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and while we know he’s not real, we have to respect the views of others and be kind
Santa in his current jovial form has a couple of different roots. St Nicholas certainly inspired the figure to some extent, so we’ll definitely explain that, and we’ll probably explain how Santa as we know him pretty much stemmed from Coca Cola adverts! We're not averse to G reading books about Santa/having decorations with him on etc. It's more about knowing he's not a real person. My lovely friend and her Mum mentioned earlier pointed out that teaching children to respect the views of others can begin with Christmas traditions. We want to teach our kids that we must remember some children do believe in Santa, and it’s not our job to tell them otherwise as it might upset them. We fundamentally believe that if we raise our kids in a culture of truth and respect they’ll know that this is the right way to respond. As we want to raise our kids in Church, they’re bound to come across people, the media, etc, that disagree with what we believe to be true. Preparing them for this can begin by being on the other side of the coin and learning we can be friends with someone without holding the same beliefs they do.
Follow the ‘Want/Need/Wear/Read’ model and use this to explore why some have more than others
Without being excessive we think the tradition of gift giving can open up conversations around income disparities. As Christians we believe we live in a broken world, one which is beautiful in its creation but broken through human action. We want, in an age appropriate way, to talk about why some children have more than others, how this can be made sense of in a Christian context, and how we can help. To avoid being excessively materialistic we plan to ideally give a gift or a few gifts from each of these categories. As we said, we don’t like the thought of ramming all the gift giving into a few days a year, as it’s certainly not what we do as adults. We think if we model getting new things when they are needed, justified and financially possible for us all year round will reduce the desperate materialism that can come round in December (as well as the sheer waste that happens around this time of year!).
So there we go! A run down of our thoughts on Santa (no sledgehammers required) and our reasoning. I absolutely love hearing alternative perspectives so please let me know what you do/plan to do/did as a child and why. We completely respect the feelings and views of others!