For many people who celebrate the holiday, Christmas without Santa would be unthinkable.
The jolly man who visits houses inhabited by good children every Dec. 24 and leaves presents under the Christmas tree has to be a part of the festivities. Right? Right?!
For many families, the answer is “No.”
Though their reasons may vary, some parents choose to leave Santa and his reindeer out of things while focusing instead on the truth and other more important aspects of Christmas.
There are people who don’t want to tell their children lies and disappoint them later in life; many parents also don’t want to take the focus away from the religious meaning of the holiday.
But some parents who deny Santa to their children may meet with ridicule from others.
Kevin Cuthbertson, father of six and a pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Atlanta, said he and his wife have occasionally been accused of “robbing the joy of Christmas.”
He said that although he loved receiving gifts from Santa as a child, he had issues balancing the Santa story with the truth of Jesus.
“We didn’t want to ride that line to where this thing they can’t see and can’t touch is true and this one is not truth. Let’s just play it safe and not do that.”
“I never uttered, ‘Santa isn’t real,'” shared another parent, Myndee Corkern, a mother of three. “We just leave it out. It’s just pretend.”
Corkern said she remembers being a little girl and waiting for Santa to arrive to a family Christmas party. She was devastated when her older brother told her the kindly man and his flying reindeer did not exist.
Corkern and her husband decided that they would not lie to their children, but they would also treat Santa like any other fictional character, and they do not talk about a naughty or nice list.
“I want them to be inherently good, not good because they might get something. Even if it’s less magical, I would rather that,” said Corkern. “I don’t think they’re missing out.”
Though some parents do keep Santa out of the holiday, many also try to be respectful of the fact that other parents make Santa a big part of the festivities.
Stefanie Bagby, a mother who lives near Atlanta, remembers her own parents telling her not to say anything about Santa’s lack of existence to other children, and she plans on having the same talk with her own baby.
But when it comes to the holiday, she will most likely tell her child the same thing her parents told her.
“Presents were more expression of joy and love, not because ‘You were good so you get this,'” she said. “You get presents whether you’re good or bad because we love you. That’s the Christmas story.”
Bagby said she fondly recalls visiting family in Montana one year and though there were no gifts ‘from Santa,’ there were jingle bells, Santa hats, hot cocoa and angels in the snow. For her, the focus was on joy, love and family.
“Magic,” she said.
Stephanie M. Wagner, a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, said that she thinks there is no harm going along with the Santa story OR skipping it.
She said that young children are very imaginative, and parents who are against the Santa story should know that he isn’t the only source of magic out there. Kids will find magic everywhere, from monsters under the bed to fairies in the garden.
“Pretend play explodes during this time. It’s really fun for them,” Wagner said. “What is harmful is going to great lengths to prove Santa exists, and coming up with elaborate stories once they start questioning.”
On the other hand, Wagner also said she does not think parents should set Santa up as the all-knowing arbiter of good behavior. The promise or threat of Santa coming or not coming is not going to lead to long-term behavior habits in kids.
“It sends the wrong message,” she advised. “Maybe you’re using it as a crutch during a hard month… you’re not going to see changes from that beyond Christmas.”
Following December, after all, most kids and parents alike tend to forget about Santa until the following year.
Wagner also suggested that families that celebrate Christmas start early with traditions that match their values. That way, regardless if Santa is a part of the holiday or not, the day won’t feel any less special.
For example, in the Cuthbertson household, the family will sing happy birthday to Jesus, share in freshly baked monkey bread, and open gifts. Each child receives a photo book of memories and moments from the past year, personally designed by their mother. These things help make the holiday special to them, no Santa necessary.
What do you think? Do you keep Santa central to Christmas or do you choose to focus on more important and meaningful truths behind the reasons for the season, such as Jesus, love and family?
Share your thoughts below!