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?
34 thoughts on “No Santa: The Christmas Tradition We Don’t Celebrate”
We’re lucky that we haven’t had to make this decision yet. Though I fear that the world (and our family and friends) will make it for us. For now, Santa brings one present (and he did last year too). But HP has no concept of anything other than the fact that Christmas tree ornaments look like balls and he should throw them everywhere.
I do worry that if he doesn’t ever believe in Santa that he will spoil it for others who do believe. But I suppose you could make that argument about actual belief systems, too. It likely comes down to me figuring out how to teach him to respect others’ opinions and beliefs without imposing his own. (Where’s the book or course on how to do this?!)
The only thing I do know for sure is that I’m going to try my best to raise him to not focus on any gifts no matter who they come from. Because those families who can’t afford (or choose not) to give a bunch of gifts from Santa? Well, they probably aren’t giving very many with their own names on it either. I would much prefer HP to grow up to ask about traditions and things they did over break (or books they read! 😀 ha!) than things. Ditto for any holiday or celebration, really!
Yes!! It’s so much more than about Santa in particular. But as someone who grew up without Santa, know none of us kids ever spoiled it for anyone 🙂
And again, right after I wrote this post… another random stranger at the store asked little man what he was getting from Santa, because those beliefs get imposed on us allllll the time 😉
we embrace the different, as you might have guessed. y’all keep on rockin’ it your own way. as far as radical honesty goes, i was an adopted kid. that was explained to me as soon as i was able to understand language. he did the whole santa gig in our house when i was growing up and enjoyed it completely. it was a big deal to my folks who didn’t spend so much on stuff during the year but went crazy at xmas time. it was fun for us so the memories are fond. i mostly just go along with what everybody else wants to do these days as my opinions either way aren’t that strong. nice antlers!
So as an adult are you glad for the radical honesty you received as a kid?
yep. it has made me brutally honest in my dealings but nobody ever has to guess where i stand or where i’m coming from….and i’m still nice to my fellow humans.
Brutal honesty is where I’m at as well – with everyone, not just the kiddo. Time has tempered me to make sure I’m saying it nicely though, at least 😉
All very good reasons not to spread the Santa myth. I just hope you can teach him not to tell too many other kids that Santa isn’t real. Or that other kids’ tales don’t convince him that Santa does exist. It’s going to be a confusing time for him for a few Christmases, but it sounds like you guys are thinking this all through pretty well.
To be honest, it wasn’t as confusing as you’d think. We grew up with no Santa as well, and never spoiled it for other kids – even my cousin who celebrated many Christmases with us 😊
You’ve already read my post where I stoutly defend my love for Santa and how my boys grew up with him firmly at the start of every Christmas Day. 🙂 Your tweet prompted the post and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.
I have the advantage of time, I guess, because now my boys are adults I can ask them about what they remember. They’re all here with me for Christmas and read the post and their memories of Santa are very fond. But you just have to see what Tom26 said in his podcast, right off the cuff, to see that whether or not Santa is in the equation, kids still grow up and appreciate what Christmas is all about.
It’s Christmas morning here in Australia.
Your routine for Christmas morning sounds peaceful and beautiful – very like how ours will be seeing as we only have adults in the house. I’m the only one awake, so I have to keep the dogs asleep for as long as possible before I let them out and they jump al over Tom26, whois sleeping on the back couch.
It was interesting seeing your reasoning for the Santa-less Christmas. Like you, I can understand decisions based on deliberate thinking and reasoning. We’re the two sides of the same coin on this one.
Have a wonderful Christmas with your little boy. 🙂
Two sides of the same coin is exactly the way I would put it. It’s funny how similarly we can come to the holiday even though we’re staunchly opposite on the Santa piece. Merry Christmas to you and yours! I hope you have an absolutely lovely day.
I was a clever kid, I figured out the truth pretty early 😉
Now I want to know – how early??
Regarding your second question about respecting and making room for other traditions: this Jewish mother would LOVE for you to help your kid (and your community, if you can) understand that Hanukkah is a minor holiday and is NOT the Jewish Christmas. (I suspect Muslim holidays don’t get quite the same false equivalence because they float throughout the year.)
But Hanukkah celebrates a minor military victory, while Christmas celebrates the birth of Christianity’s Messiah. You can see that those things are in no way equivalent, and it’s only an accident of timing that makes Hanukkah the holiday that gentiles know about.
Please teach your child that Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach are the important holidays in the Jewish calendar and familiarize him with those traditions, as well as the traditions around Ramadan and Eid in Islam. That is the most inclusive thing I can think of when it comes to being in a religious minority: when a member of the religious majority recognizes and understands my tradition especially when it doesn’t happen to coincide with theirs.
Oh thank you for this response!! If you have some good kid books to recommend, I’d love to know. He’s really receptive to learning ideas from books right now, and I’d love to read related books for the correct time of the year.
Our kids are 6 and 3, and we tell them that Santa is not real. My wife and I both grew up in families that didn’t celebrate Santa, and I appreciate that I was raised that way. I still got plenty of gifts growing up, but my parents never pretended they were from Santa.
Glad to hear there are others like us out there! It really isn’t a bad way to grow up 🙂
Santa visits our house, but does not bring all presents. Most of the gifts the girls get are “fun educational” – books, art supplies, play-doh, building materials, etc. We got a couple age appropriate board games for the family to enjoy together this year. We describe Santa as the spirit of giving, which doesn’t always mean material gifts and is not restricted to Christmas. I believed in Santa as a kid, probably figured it out around 8yo, and was not traumatized or financially stunted by it. We do draw the line at elf on the shelf. I can see why you wouldn’t do Santa, but we enjoy playing along with the tradition.
I do love hearing about everyone’s different traditions. It’s interesting just how many variations there are. I agree though – I can understand the Santa thing, but the elf on the shelf…….
Great post! I enjoyed the “magic” of Santa when I was a kid and never really felt like it was a lie or like I was betrayed when I figured out there was a “man behind the curtain.” As a result, we kind of leave Santa a mystery figure, and we do talk about him at home specifically to de-emphasize the materialism. Santa is magical and hard working and unifying for us–not “bad or good” or other such stuff. We watch the tracker, leave out cookies (and carrots for the reindeer) and a thank you note, and Santa writes a thank you back.
Since kids do hear about it a lot at school from peers, having a stand is helpful. I like your approach that’s grounded in your values. For my kids who watch little television, Santa ends up being kind of like Marvel characters–other kids make a huge deal out of him, so they know he’s important, but they don’t really know what the hullabaloo is all about. They know grandma is the source of material gifts in our family. My son even said “Grandma’s kind of like Santa, isn’t she?” this year. Cracked me up. Yup, kid. Exactly.
Ha, sounds like a good balance for sure, and a smart kid 😉 Like I said, I have no issue with the idea of Santa by himself, but it’s not something we’ll do for our family. It CAN be done well within reason though, I think.
Loved this post! I also came from a “No Santa” house and firmly believe in telling my children the truth while still being able to enjoy imagination and fantasy for what it is: pretend!
My mom got a phone call home from a teacher about my brother telling all his classmates Santa wasn’t real and this year He got the same phone call about his daughter.
I think some kids will be able to “keep the secret” and others feel they have an obligation to tell the truth!
Anywho, we are currently telling our kids that Santa doesn’t bring presents, but is a made up story based on a man who was very generous in REAL life!
One of my kids so desperately wants to believe and asks to see Santa at the Mall all the time. I tell him that it’s ok to pretend that Santa really flies in a sleigh and goes all around the world giving presents, but at the end of the day he’s no different than the Berenstein Bears or Paw Patrol characters.
It sounds like we are very much on the same page! It will definitely be interesting to see how our kiddo reacts in school as he gets a few years older. He’s in preschool part time now, but they’re young enough I don’t think it matters much what they tell each other anyway. Ha.
I was wondering about that , I’m a new auntie this christmas 2018 to two more little people,
Awww ain’t they sweet
My kids (now all grown up) wasn’t born at Christmas
A birthday and Christmas presents to open,. Hmm now my way of thinking is the little people must be awesomnly happy happy happy opening all those presents at birthdays and then Christmas
Although the parent/s blimey can imagine presents being wrapped with birthday paper and then Christmas paper
Getting sellotape tangled up everywhere
I guess it’s when the little people get to teenager-hood
And sibling rivalry if they have any has we know suddenly pours over the sweet little person’s nature
I guess that’s when the problem starts when the little person is older , and it must get bit boring for kid to open up birthday and Christmas presents at the same time.
That’s a difficult one and like most things has the kid grows the novelty wears off
Probably they might drop having presents wrapped with birthday and Christmas presents, and just have Christmas presents
Good luck with that
And happy Christmas 🎄🎅
I love this piece. We didn’t have Santa growing up either. Every year, we’d draw names in a hat (helpful since there were six of us), traipse to the dollar store with $5.50 (enough for a few gifts and tax), and buy our one person a gift. It was great fun, since it’s impossible to avoid your siblings entirely in such a small store and you don’t want your person knowing that you’re buying for them or what you’re buying for them, the whole experience felt a bit like espionage. Then, we’d come home, hide the presents and wait for Christmas eve. When that day came, we all piled into the boy’s room (it had the biggest floor space since there were bunk beds), and had a giant sleep over. Our parents would call us down one by one, and we’d stuff our person’s stocking.
The idea was that our parents wanted us to learn how to give in secret and watch the joy in another person without taking ownership of that joy. Because that’s what the story of St. Nicholas was more about. And, it helped my parents keep a smaller Christmas budget, because they didn’t have to fund 36 presents for all of us (since they’d be buying the presents we’d want to get for each other anyway). They could do one nicer present for each of us, which I’m sure kept Christmas MUCH cheaper, haha.
I adore the tradition. We still do it when we get together for Birthgivingmas (Birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all smashed into one week).
Awwwww, I love this story! What a fantastic way to do a big family Christmas.
I appreciate the things you’ve written. Can you tell me how you do Easter? This is our first Christmas as parents and I don’t want to do Santa. We’re figuring that one out now. But there’s less out there about easter without the bunny. Any leads? When we were dating, we started a 12 dates of Christmas that focus on serving others and spending time together. We also stick a chocolate in the bag to share that evening. We’re doing it as our family grows too. We enjoy the season so much and the opportunity it provides to focus more on the birth of our savior.
We do church Easter morning and then an Easter egg hunt at my parents complete with an Easter basket, but the bunny doesn’t factor in. Kiddo knows who sets up the hunt and basket. Simple.
I am very thankful for your insight as I have been trying for years to essentially “break up” with Santa. Everyone in my household and my children’s fathers households celebrate Santa. I am expected to keep my children from “spoiling” the secret yet I don’t get the same respect back. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse I am extremely protective of my children so I personally never found it appealing to let me children sit on some random mans lap. I have done it out of societal pressures but we have since stopped. The hard thing is trying to explain that to people who have no issue with it. I don’t want to come off any judge mental. Everyone does everything differently and that’s OK.
I hope this post might help explain to others why you feel the way you so. The childhood sexual abuse is a huge one – and one I didn’t include here, but should have. Lots of love to you ♥️
How do we do this if we are a split family? My son is 8 and my step daughters are 11. My sons dad wants to do the Santa thing and my step daughter mom wants to as well. But I’d prefer not to but I have this whole time to compromise and not over step.
Hmmm. That’s way more complicated…. Give yourself grace and go with your gut. The “No Santa” thing can be a spectrum, not just black and white. 🙂