What About Santa?

Do you teach your kids that Santa is real? Or do you worry that such tales might interfere with their understanding of the real meaning of Christmas?

I see this typical topic of debate has been making the rounds online as usual among Catholics this Advent season.

It has been my experience that intelligent, well-intentioned people fall on both sides of the Santa debate and in many places in between. I think that ultimately, how you feel about Santa Claus is largely determined by how you were raised.

If you were raised believing in Santa and it was a beautiful, magical experience for you, you are going to want to share that with your own kids. If you were raised not believing in Santa (as I was) you will likely find the very thought of telling your children Santa Claus is real to be absurd.

I once asked my mother why we didn’t “do” Santa in our family when I was growing up. I expected some kind of philosophical answer about the importance of not muddying religious holidays with secular traditions, but what I got instead was a sobering story of practical parenting.

“We tried to do Santa,” my mom told me, “But the day your brother came home and told me that his friend must have been a better boy than he was because he got more gifts at Christmas, that was the end of Santa.”

In my family today, we don’t teach our kids that Santa Claus is real, because … (spoiler alert!) he isn’t. But we “pretend to believe.”

We do teach our kids about Saint Nicholas and celebrate his feast day, but they know that we are the ones who fill their shoes with goodies on December 6. There are presents and stockings on December 25, but they know that we and their grandparents are the ones who make that happen.

But we don’t shun Santa Claus either. In fact, he’s a rather jolly fellow to have around this time of year. We read about him storybooks, watch him on television, and joke about how he might manage a midnight entrance at our house, where the chimney leads directly to our wood burning stove.

I can assure you that not believing in Santa Claus need not spoil anyone’s Christmas experience any more than believing in Santa necessarily secularizes it.

When I was growing up, I had a real sense of Christmas being about Christ’s birth and the gift of salvation. The fact that my parents saved their money to buy secret presents, baked special treats, and brought a tree into the house to cover with lights as a means of celebrating God’s great gift of love was all the magic I needed.

What about you? What role does the jolly old elf play in your family this time of year?