How I Told My Kids the Truth About Santa Claus

A few weeks ago our 4 year old son Elijah asked a question that was profoundly insightful and forced an important conversation. Here is what he asked

“What did Santa Claus do to God? He knows everything about us…what did he do to God?”

Kids need plenty of room to have their imagination. At the same time they need to know that if my lips are moving that truth is being told. So here is what I told him,

“There are things in this world that we cannot see…God, Jesus, Santa…things like that. God and Jesus are not like Santa because God and Jesus are real but Santa is not. It is fun to play and pretend about Santa but you have to know that he isn’t real like God and Jesus are. It is important that you know that everything that I tell you is true, even when it isn’t easy to say.”

Right, wrong or indifferent…that is the best thing I knew to say. This isn’t a judgment on any other approach…just my own thinking on the matter. I probably would say it differently if I had a second shot at it but the principles are still the same. I want my kids to trust me 100%. In saying that I am not condemning anyone else or implying that if you do the Santa thing with your kids that you are being untrustworthy. This is just want I want to emphasize with our kids.

The ironic thing about it all is that the more you tell them Santa doesn’t exist, the more they want to believe it. But the bottom line is that they know I am being truthful and that if they ask a question I will always give them the real, truthful answer. That is a lesson that is more important for them to be taught than any fun we can have carrying on the Santa-myth.

What kinds of conversations have you had about this and how did it go? What lessons did you learn and what wisdom would you pass along to the rest of us?

8 Responses to How I Told My Kids the Truth About Santa Claus

  1. hank says:

    While walking our dig around and checking out the lights on all of the houses, I asked my 3.5 yr old son whether or not he thought elves were real. He said, “no”. I asked, how about Santa? He said “yeah”. When I asked why, he replied “cause we saw him in that house in our neighborhood!” (There is one house that has a projector in the front yard throwing up a life sized Santa which moves and talks and appears to be inside a room of the house – visible thru the front window.”

    Last year, when getting out tree from home depot, we saw the same guy dressed in red and my wife and I asked “look son, who is that?” To which, he replied “the frismas free man” (he couldn’t pronounce “c” as in Cat. Or “t” as in “tree”, lol.

    Anyways, we’ve just allowed him to pick up what he could about Santa without us leading him on. Its been kinda fun out and about when people hit him up about being ready for Santa and all, knowing he doesn’t even know that he’s the one that’s supposedly bringing all the toys. He’s never been told that he actually comes to our house or anything like that. We’ve just kinda left him hanging – allowing him to believe whatever he wants right now, and us believeing whatever we do 😉

    If/when he hits us up for more info, we’ll tell him what’s up. Meanwhile, he can have fun with whatever he picks up and believes, but its pretty weak and limited still. Which has left him kinda out of it I suppose, and people can tell he’s “behind”. But, I think its funny to just watch it all from the side.

    That’s where we’re at…

  2. I really can’t remember how we talked to our kids about Santa (after all, my youngest will be 45 in a couple of months). But I’ve come to see the Santa myth as the American counterpart to God. In this, I may be the Grinch that stole Christmas (to those who perpetuate the Santa myth), but I believe Santa is the one who stole Christmas – from a true realization and celebration of the incarnation to a commercial celebration of the consumer “me” lifestyle so common in the American Culture.

    IS Santa a harmless myth? Perhaps. I do not go so far as to say that it is quite idolatrous, I do see it tending in that direction. Should we flee from it? I don’t go that far in my questioning, BUT I do have warning bells going off about it. After all, in the first century, many could have felt that Jupiter and the entire Roman pantheon of Gods were harmless as well, as long as you realized that they are not really real. But I cannot help but remember that Paul called THEM “demons.”

    Am I an old Scrooge? Maybe – but I’d much rather celebrate God’s sending his Son than celebrate the Santa myth. And don’t let me get started on that other American Idol – the NFL….

  3. Jenni says:

    I have to add to Hank’s response. Right now, we treat Santa like we treat Spiderman, Mickey and a host of other characters. We do not feel it necessary to tell our son those guys aren’t real, but we aren’t telling him they are real either. Presents are from Mom, Dad, Sissy and occasionally from the family dog. It really makes him smile to get a present from the dog, but if he asks, I will tell him I picked it out and purchased it! Lol
    I like the way you handled it with Elijah. Our conversation with Javi will also be child lead and answered honestly. We did the whole Santa thing with Jocelyn and often wished we did it differently.
    Happy New Year!

  4. David Himes says:

    My view is probably skewed … because I’m a professional Santa Claus. I appeared about 40 times in 2014, between Thanksgiving & Christmas. This was my 10th season.

    When a person looks like I do, there are only two choices in life: shave, or become Santa Claus. Since I’ve had the beard for most of my adult life, I decided to become Santa Claus.

    There are many ways to handle Santa Claus. And I’m not going to criticize any parent’s choice.

    My view is that Santa Claus is a very positive fantasy for most children, and it is rooted in Christian history. The gift giving connection to Christmas may have more connection to the story of St Nicolas, than it does to the Three Wise Men. And for those who may not know it, the name Santa Claus is a linguistic descendent of St Nicolas (I won’t belabor you with the whole story).

    Everyone where I go, at almost anytime of year, children look at me (and this is true of most men with full white beards) and wonder if I’m Santa Claus. Many ask aloud. Many simply stare for extended periods of time. Some ask their parents. Some ask me.

    I always give them a “wink and a nod”, and occasionally hand them one of my Santa Claus cards, which includes a photo of me in full Santa attire.

    My physical appearance has been a wonderful gift to me … because I can so easily put a smile on a child’s face, just because they wonder if I’m the real one!

    A couple of years back, my then-five-year-old granddaughter told her mother, that she was the luckiest person in the world, because her dad was Santa Claus. Now, eight and a half, she’s a little skeptical, but hasn’t fully rejected her grandfather as Santa Claus.

    Given the number of fantasies that come and go in the lives of our children, Santa Claus can bring a lot of happiness and delight. Can any of us tell stories of how our children were harmed by believing in Santa Claus?

    This is a much bigger deal to adults than it is to children.

    A couple of times a year, I attend a luncheon with 70-100 fellow professional Santa Clauses. The adults who witness this always wonder how this affects the kids. But the kids just seem to pick out the one guy who seems like the real Santa Claus to them … and ignore all the others, as “Santa’s helpers.”

    It seems to me the Text encourages us to be like little children!

  5. Mark says:

    Don’t knock belief in Santa Claus. Plenty of things happen that can’t be explained. Some will call it God acting, karma, or something else. While the only lump of coal I ever saw on Christmas was a dog toy at Petco, Santa tended to overlook the bad and still deliver a little gift even to kids who had pouted during the year. Perhaps if God had been portrayed like the forgiving Santa Claus, people would have gotten a different and better view.

    To the student whose grade is good enough by 0.1% to keep his/her scholarship, there is a Santa Claus. I could think of many others but this should suffice for an example.

  6. Kevin M. says:

    I realize that I will be viewed as sanctimonious, but please believe me that that is not the case. While we fail at many points, we genuinely seek to raise our children in a God-honoring, Gospel-focused way. We do not teach our kids about Santa Claus and I can I think of at least a few reasons:

    1.) To say that Santa exists is a lie. Matt already covered this. How can we teach our children not to lie when we lie to them. It’s basic hypocrisy. Our children need to see us model Jesus Christ and they need to know that we are implicitly trustworthy.

    2.) The message of the Gospel is that Jesus comes to a sinful, hell-bent world, and is led as a sheep to the slaughter in order to give us what we don’t deserve… His righteousness. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The message of Santa is do good all year and you will get a bunch of toys at Christmas. There is no correlation.

    3.) Christmas was a Catholic celebration of the birth of Jesus. While we are never told in the Bible to celebrate His birth, only His death, I will concede that any true celebration of Christ is a good thing. When teaching children about Santa Claus, they will not care one iota about God sending His only Son into the world to satisfy God’s wrath on their sinful souls (including sins of covetousness, greed, self-centeredness), they will only be thinking about the presents they are going to wake up to and how much fun they’re going to have, and believe that they came from a fictional character instead of their parents.

    4.) Why is it that children of poor families get less from Santa than children from rich families? At this point, it doesn’t matter how good the poor child is and how spoiled the rich child is, Santa always allots the greater spread to the rich children, who don’t need it as much, and who then tout their haul in front of everyone. This can even cause poorer families to feel like they have to spend a lot more than they can reasonably afford so that their kids don’t feel like Santa cheated them.

    5.) Children should be taught gratitude for gifts. However, if their own goodness has caused them to receive the gifts, and if the person who gives them the gifts does not exist, how are they to be grateful? Again, Christmas should be about the greatest Gift ever given, and the understanding of why God gave us that Gift, not about piling up toys that will likely get thrown out before next Christmas to make room for new stuff… and teaching our children that life is all about the accumulation of newer and better temporal things for a few decades before we die.

    We should instead teach them an eternal perspective, even from an early age. This life is fundamentally about Jesus Christ, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Him be glory forever and ever.

  7. I read all the responses and they all made good telling points that seem logical and right on the money. But, as David pointed out, what’s the harm in spreading around a bit of happiness, wonder and generosity in a world that can be staid, colourless and ruthlessly mean and pedantic at times… even some fantastical stuff, which will all too soon be snuffed out as children grow. I know that the Lord did miracles to prove he was the prophesied Messiah, but strolling across the Sea of Galilee? You don’t see that every day, and it’s strictly against the rules if you have a grass-roots upwards standard scientific education. Also, for folks who accept the Transfiguration hook line and sinker, as we do in the churches of Christ, how would we answer the questions, “Is there an Elijah or is there a Moses back in Jesus’s time?” We know that their physical bodies were gone,but their spiritual bodies, endowed with the properties they came to represent were apparently still on the go. So, I’m not so hasty as to say the spirit of generosity embodied in the life of Nikolaos of Myra (blame the Dutch for St. Nicholas –> Santa Claus) isn’t still on the go, somewhere. It’s a moot point, but there is a distinct difference between saying someone is a made-up person and someone is a legendary person. To borrow a line from John MacInroe, “You’re telling me there’s no Santa Claus? You can’t be serious, man!”

    • Profile photo of Matt Dabbs Matt Dabbs says:

      🙂 In the OP I basically said this was our position but I don’t think anyone else has to toe the line on this. In addition to that, if all the make believe my kids are allowed to do it just with Santa then we aren’t doing a very good job as parents…in other words, in our world, removing Santa in no way removes the fun and play of imagination and make believe…we still spread the wonder and cheer in our own way with our own kids. Hope that makes sense.

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