The Santa Conversation

My daughter is two years old and I’ve been fretting about the Santa conversation. I’m clear that I don’t want to lie to her. I remember feeling betrayed and angry when I realized that Santa is mythical. And I’d like to save my daughter from that same break of trust.

On the other hand, I do believe in magic. I love fantasy play and we already talk a lot about dragons, read stories in which animals speak and play imaginary games.

Since she’s just two, we’re just beginning to have conversations about what’s “real” and what’s “imaginary.” Julia will often ask if something is “real or dead” as the distinctions between alive, dead, real, and imaginary are tricky ones. Just last week we had a philosophical discussion about how a doll can’t get hurt because she’s not a “real” baby. But my husband was quick to point out that she is a real doll! It’s all very complex.

We have a lot of extended family here in Bend, OR, so as the holidays approached, I made sure to talk with my husband, parents, and in-laws about my concerns about the Santa story so that we could all get on the same page and create the least confusion for Julia.

We had some interesting conversations to say the least. My wonderful father-in-law reminded me of the mother in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” who refused to play along with the Santa story, always told her daughter the truth, and also robbed herself and her daughter the experience of believing in magic. Luckily, magic wins out in the end.

I know I’m not THAT mom. But I’m also not the mom who insists that Santa is going to come to our house jump through the chimney and leave extravagant gifts for us. We won’t be leaving milk and cookies out and we don’t even have a chimney. So how can I share the mythical story, the magic, and the wonder, without lying to my child?

I just read Dr. Laura Markham’s response to a similar inquiry and liked what she had to say on the topic. She shared the idea of answering a child’s questions with our own questions. “What do you think?” which I like to do in general. I really love hearing the interesting ideas and connections my daughter comes up with when I ask her open-ended questions like that.

But the part that really resonated with me was talking with children about the spirit of Santa. I have always loved the idea of sharing the story of Saint Nicholas and his generous spirit, and I do see modern day Santa as a reflection of those values.

So yes, we’ll talk about the story of Santa, the myth of Santa Claus, the real person Saint Nicholas who lived a long long time ago. Just like we’ll talk about the birth of Christ, the Maccabees and their oil, and lots of other historical, religious, and didactic stories during this holiday season.

We’ll sing about dreidels and jingle bells and snow. And whatever my daughter’s experience is, at least I’ll know that I’ve chosen what works for me, what feels right in my bones, and I can be certain that I can look her in the eye and say, I hear you, I love you, and I’ll always do my best to tell you the truth.

As for the things she hears from everybody else, ultimately I can’t control that, nor do I want to. A part of being human is realizing that sometimes people lie, sometimes their truths differ from yours, and sometimes believing in magic really is the best thing for all involved.

Have a great week!

Love and hugs, Shelly

10 comments
MollyMakesDo
MollyMakesDo

I just wanted to add my two cents - that there may also be a difference in "allowing" our children to believe in things like Santa Claus and actively encouraging it.  We do St. Nicks day, Advent, and Santa Stockings - while there's a lot more to our Christmas season than just Santa I never want to get my children's way of belief.  If they want to believe in fairies, dragons, aliens or any number of mythical, pretend or similar creatures I intend to let them, but it doesn't mean that I will encourage it. 

 

Personally, I'm looking forward to explaining that Santa is the name we give to the spirit of giving - something that the original St. Nicholas lived and something that we take away and celebrate in our faith.  While Santa might not be a flesh and blood mortal, that doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't exist at all.  I'm hoping that when my children realize that he doesn't exist as a real person they also realize that they have the opportunity to become a "santa" to others and why that is so important in our faith.

 

http://mollymakesdo.blogspot.com/2012/11/santa-sherlock-and-scientific-method.html

Groove dancer
Groove dancer

I have never encouraged Santa talk. My son was terrified of people in costumes and pulled away when he saw Santa his first Xmas at age 2 mos. A year later, he wasn't any more comfortable with it. We never made lists, wrote letters, went to the mall, etc. we only give one gift from each family member to each other. We focus on the excitement of giving, of seeing the person's face when they open our gift. We spend time shopping for thoughtful gifts and making homemade cards. We talk about the spirit of Santa, giving to those in need, and how the Santas we see ate people in costumes playing a character to celebrate the season. My daughter is now 8 and my son is 11. I feel so blessed for laying the foundation of non-materialism from the beginning.

JM_Cook
JM_Cook

For me it wasn't a traumatic experience discovering Santa wasn't real. There was a bit of sadness but also a bit of pride in being more "grown up." 

 

And, personally, I find something heartwarming about parents being able to give gifts to their children without claiming the credit. Maybe there's a better way of doing it than Santa but it works for a lot of folks.

LisaKathleen
LisaKathleen

As always, Shelly, we're on the same wavelength!  My daughter is now 7.  It seems sad to me that a child might experience a full-on grieving process, or anger, or a feeling of betrayal, at the "death" of Santa, as many do.  In my home, we've had the magic of Santa from the beginning, because I told the story of Saint Nicholas with passion and delight, then shared how, even today, everyone wants to be sure that every child is fed and happy, and has special things, so even today, we pretend about Santa Claus, remembering Saint Nicholas.  She loves it.  It IS magic - the magic of the human heart, the magic of love, the magic of a true story that stays with us for generations.  I love that "real" magic, and it's so much more powerful than the pretend kind.  The cool thing about this way of addressing the story is that my daughter has all the enthusiasm, and she is a part of the magic.  She whispers to me, when no one else is in the room: "Mama!  For Christmas, I'll be your Santa, and you be mine!!"  She loves the story of "The Polar Express".  I will wrap her up a bell and put it under the tree, "Signed, Mr. C."  We will wink at each other and share the real true magic of the season, with none of the trauma.  I also recommend the book "The Lion in the Meadow" to help children 3+ to process reality and fantasy.  It's really a perfect way of sharing the conversation.  I think it's out of print, but can probably be found on Amazon and in second-hand book stores these days.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

Yes @MollyMakesDo, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I like your notion of "allowing" but not "encouraging" the fantasy of Santa. To me, that gets at the heart of the matter. I don't want to take anything away from my daughter, and belief in magic is such a fun part of childhood. Bit I am also wary of building up and creating a false belief or story. I'm happy to hear that you've got a plan and are feeling good about it. Have a great day!

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @Groove dancer Yes, I love that! I'm struggling a little bit with the non-materialism thing myself because we are so fortunate and it's really fun to give my daughter new toys and fun educational items. Plus, we have four grandparents in town and two more out of town, so keeping gifts to a minimum is a real challenge! Thanks for the suggestions. I love the idea of involving my daughter in charitable giving and we're already making our own cards! Have a great week, Shelly

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @JM_Cook Well, I wouldn't use the word "traumatic" to describe my experience either, but I did feel let down and angry about having been misled. I hear what you're saying about giving gifts without taking credit. But I'm confused about what's so great about that. And why parents need someone fictional to take the credit. What purpose do you see that serving? Is it something about sharing a generosity of spirit without needing or getting a "thank you"? If so, then maybe anonymous donations to other families or charitable organizations could become a fun family tradition.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @LisaKathleen Oh! Thanks so much for sharing this Lisa Kathleen. I love it that your daughter whispers to you about being your Santa. What sweetness! And thanks for the referral for story books. I always love to find new great books! I'll see if my library has a copy. I hope you're having a lovely day!

JM_Cook
JM_Cook

 @AwakeShelly  @JM_Cook I think there is a real possibility to over-think this issue. But I'll try to answer.

 

I wasn't looking at gifts from Santa from the kids' perspective but from the perspective of the adult. Children tend to idealize their parents and, as parents we enjoy that and probably have a tendency to reinforce it.

 

Giving a big gift at Christmas is one way we reinforce it.

 

Santa allows those big gifts to happen outside the perceived parent/child relationship. From the parent's perspective it's "I'm buying this to make my child happy." not "I'm buying this to reinforce my child's love or bonding with me."

 

I see a healthy aspect to that. Of course it's not the only way to deal with that issue or even the best way but I think parents, grandparents and others should be aware of their motivations and feelings regarding gift giving not just their kids' feelings.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @JM_Cook Interesting. Maybe I'll start labeling mine "From: The Universe" ;)