December babies tend to either love the holidays or hate them. Growing up, birthdays tend to blend into Christmas celebrations; presents are often combined, birthday parties are moved or sparsely attended thanks to the obligations of the invitees.
And yet, I have always loved the Christmas season as well as my birthday, even though there are less than two weeks between them. Christmastime is magic – I love the outdoor lights, tree lighting, time with family, the giving of the perfect gift, time to slow down and appreciate each other. As a child, I always looked forward to December with excitement, and that hasn’t changed as I’ve gotten older and now have a child of my own.
And there is something else that hasn’t changed since I was a child – we don’t celebrate Santa Claus on Christmas morning. We don’t make milk and cookies to leave out for him to snack on as he comes down our chimney. We don’t write wish lists of toys. We don’t (usually) go take pictures with him at the mall. And yet this lack of Santa does not take away the magic of our the holiday season.
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My husband and I spent our first Christmas together 3,000 miles away from family while we were living in South Carolina, and from that experience we forged our own Christmas traditions. We sleep in as much as possible. We make a fancy breakfast that we enjoy slowly to start the day. We do not give each other gifts other than what fits in a stocking (and most of those gifts are practical and/or consumable ones). And as long as it isn’t a complete downpour, we spend some time outside.
I wrote more about this tradition last year, but it hasn’t changed since having our son. Now that he’s gotten a bit older and can understand more of the season, Christmas is no longer simply one day of the year. We experience Wild Lights at the zoo. We attend The Nutcracker. We make gingerbread houses. We make homemade gifts together and pick out a few others. We listen to lots and lots of Christmas music. We read even more Christmas stories that we’ve checked out from the library. We experience the waiting of Advent at church. But we don’t count down the days until Santa arrives with his presents.
That isn’t to say that he doesn’t receive any Christmas presents. He absolutely does, and even then, more than I would prefer that he does. But every single present he receives comes from an actual person. From us, he receives his stocking filled with little toys and snacks (books, socks, temporary tattoos, a few pieces of candy). And this year, he will receive one big present from us as well. It’s been sitting under the tree since it arrived a couple weeks ago, and he’s very aware of where it came from. As a family, we carefully steward our money and we want him to understand from a young age that presents are given with love, from people who love him.
However, he is also the only grandchild on both sides of our family at this point, and he has numerous grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members and friends, who all can’t help themselves and each buy him a present or two at Christmastime. He is a cherished little boy, and they celebrate their love for him at the holidays, on his birthday, and really, all times throughout the year. But no matter what, he is well aware of where the presents come from so he can properly thank each of them. They just don’t arrive out of thin air from some stranger who pays attention whether he’s been a bad or good boy.
Our Love For Him Is Not Predicated On Behavior
A part of the Santa story that has always bothered me is that presents depend on if the child has been good or bad. Our love for him is not predicated on behavior – we love him no matter what. And especially for little children, and really, for adults as well, it is difficult to discern love versus gifts in terms of self worth and worth from others. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t expect him to be a “good” boy at least most of the time, but that behavior does not change how much we love him.
He may not get to watch his television show or go to a friend’s house if he isn’t behaving well, but the idea that a fictional character is watching him and passing judgement in order to bestow blessings of Christmas presents on him isn’t something I can get behind (and as a Christian, I follow the teachings of Jesus – which, above all, is to love God, and love people – no matter who they are and what they do).
Beyond my disinclination to teach him that love is based solely on good works, we are raising him under the premise of radical honesty. When a beloved pet has died, we have been honest with him that the animal is gone forever – not that they “ran away” or “went to live somewhere else.” With a very young child, these conversations are kept very simple, but I feel strongly that we will never lie to him, even if it seems small and insignificant and would be easier in the moment to do so. The same is true for when we pass along outgrown clothes and toys; he is present in the process and is aware of what is happening.
My hope is that through this process, he will grow and learn to be more mindful of things because of it. And as he gets older, he will know that his parents will always tell him the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
While I don’t begrudge anyone their years of enjoying Santa Claus with their children, this is the bedrock for why we don’t celebrate Santa in our home. How are we to pretend that an imaginary character is real while he is young, but then try and explain to him later on that that wasn’t the truth? How do we discern between what is a “fun” lie and one that is not? I know there are plenty of people who disagree on this point, that there are ways to reveal Santa as just the “spirit of Christmas” as well as other things. But if we are radically honest about where his pet ferret has gone, about where his old favorite shoes now live, why would we not be honest about Santa as well?
More Reasons Not To Believe
While what I’ve written thus far explain why we initially chose not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas traditions, as time has gone on and I’ve read more on the subject, I’ve found there are other compelling reasons why I’m glad we don’t.
1. The Santa story is told in such a way that the size and quality of the gifts equate with how good the child has been over the year. So many families struggle this time of year (even the employees at our son’s daycare), and their children are lucky to have very simple, practical gifts under the tree. Santa will not be bringing them a fancy new $300 bike, new video game controller, or other really expensive gift. Kids talk, especially at daycare or preschool, and sharing Santa gifts can be extremely hurtful.
My mother grew up in a family where she received socks and perhaps one simple gift from Santa, and even now, so many years later, there is hurt in recalling cousins and friends who got huge, fabulous gifts from him. If you do choose to gift from Santa, perhaps consider keeping the big, expensive gifts to be from you and something more simple from Santa.
2. There are plenty of children who don’t celebrate Christmas. If they are Jewish, or Muslim, or any other minority religion in the United States that has different traditions in winter, they will not receive presents from Santa. These children are then often expected to not to “spoil” the Santa myth for the children who do. It can be difficult enough to have different traditions that the majority of their friends and classmates, but this time of year make that difference even more glaring.
Perhaps my son, as a white, Christian boy from a traditional household, will be able to use some of that privilege as he grows to share how he celebrates the holiday a bit differently. I’m still working through this piece, so if anyone has something to share here, I would love to read more about what we can do to support other families who don’t celebrate Santa for any number of reasons.
We do celebrate Christmas though, and church and the Jesus story is a central tenant to what I believe is the “reason for the season.” While we definitely have plenty of traditions that come from a more secular Christmas holiday, the birth of Jesus and his hope for the world is a key part of it. When Santa is involved, it feels like he becomes the central story, not Jesus, not the spirit of love and giving that I feel is the spirit of the holiday.
3. Santa is ultimately a completely materialistic idea. While the story of Saint Nicholas may not have begun as something so rooted in stuff, he absolutely is now. Everywhere we go this time of the year, well meaning strangers ask my son what he’s asking Santa for Christmas – what stuff he hopes to get. There is no focus on what we are giving to others, or what special time we’ll have with family. Instead, it becomes all about the stuff. And I hope that’s not what we are raising our son to believe is most important.
On a lighter note to end this conversation, if you want a fun alternative story to Santa Claus, we checked out Big Bob And The Holiday Winter Potato from the library this year, and I am loving the little girl’s snark about Santa and all the problematic ideas that surround him. Once again, I know that the tradition of Santa Claus is one that is loved by many, and I do not mean to take away the joy away from the families who do; we just celebrate the holiday a bit differently.
Do you celebrate Santa Claus in your house? Have you considered why you celebrate the way you do?