By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Every family has their own set of Holiday traditions that have special meaning for their lives. We put up the tree, watch all the Christmas movies, attend Christmas Eve services, and for many of us we embrace the magic of Santa.
But… Santa’s magic comes with an expiration date. As our kids mature, they start to hear or piece together the impossibility of Santa and all his glorious gifts. As parents we need to be ready to talk through this tradition.
Santa is such an integral part of our culture that even if you don’t actively celebrate Santa in your home, you probably will need to be ready to talk about him. Here are some ideas to help you navigate that conversation.
1. Treat Santa like a Storybook Character
Santa, the Northpole, elves, and reindeer truly a huge part of the Holiday fun to be had. Don’t we all love singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and reading iconic books like “The Night Before Christmas.” Santa’s magic is akin to Disney’s magical stars or your favorite novel’s main character. It’s real and beloved in our imaginations.
A great approach to Santa is to treat him like another special and loved character we enjoy as a fun fairy tale. This allows your family to enjoy him and all the fun he offers the Holidays without selling your kids the lie that he is real.
My husband and I have decided to take this approach with our kids for Santa. We enjoy taking photos with Santa, we watch the Santa centered Holiday movies, and sing songs about him. The difference is that we’ve always explained to our kids that the Santa we see on TV and in the stores is make-believe.
We let our kids know Santa’s story was inspired by St.Nicholas who was a very generous man whose faith in Jesus led him to give graciously. The hope is that we as a family celebrate Santa’s generosity.
Letting our kids know that the culture of giving that Santa represents is all truly inspired by Jesus. Jesus’ birthday and the message he brought through His miraculous life and death is what hope all of our fun, traditions, and conversations around the holidays point back to.
For us Santa is an imaginative take on what it looks like to give the WHOLE world a beautiful gift.
Jesus is the real and true gift of the holidays, while Santa is fun pretend.
2. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day
One simple way to break the truth of Santa is to tell them the story of St.Nicholas. St. Nicholas Day is a fun way to celebrate the man that inspired our modern-day Santa. Read your kids the real story of Saint Nicholas so they can learn the truth behind the Santa we know and love today.
Most celebrate this day on December 6th by leaving gifts or treats in shoes or stockings. Start marking the day on your calendars and shift your tradition from Santa leaving gifts tagged for your kids under the tree to them expecting shoes and gifts in honor of St.Nicholas.
Your kids will love the added treats in December and this is a fun way to kick off the holiday season. It will also cut back on what your kids expect to see under the tree come Christmas morning.
This also gives you the chance to exchange the fun of Santa coming to deliver gifts for a new holiday tradition that is more grounded in truth.
3. Share the Fact that Santa Is Not Real before Your Kids Start School
You’ve all heard the horror stories of a child hearing from a friend that Santa is not real and being devastated. Once your kids hit school-aged there is a much bigger chance they will interact with kids whose families have traditions that differ from your own.
Pause to share the truth of Santa before another kid delivers this heartbreaking news.
By Kindergarten your kiddo is old enough to understand the difference between real-life and make-believe. Set aside some time to share with them that Santa is a part of what is make-believe.
It may feel hard to break the tradition of Santa at what feels like a young age but it’s better they hear this truth from you than from a peer at school.
In the long run they will appreciate the fact you were honest with them about this important holiday tradition. Most likely they will still be up for enjoying all the same traditions that involve Santa even with the knowledge that they are all a part of a fictional story.
4. Let Them Become “Santa” for the Family
A fun way to let your older kids into the know about Santa’s origins is the let them become Santa in your house! Talk with them about what Santa represents: generosity, love, grace, selfless giving, and sacrifice. All things that our Savior points us too as well.
Then let them know that you are the real Santa in your home. You take the time each year to think about how you can show BIG love your kids through gifts.
Invite them to take part in selections, wrapping, and doling out “Santa’s gifts” with you for the rest of the family.
This is a great chance to turn Santa into a teacher of what it can look like to give anonymously and thoughtfully.
5. Ask Your Kids What They Believe about Santa
Maybe rather than cutting right to the potentially hard truth of Santa’s identity, gently lead your kids there. Sit with them and ask them what do they believe about Santa? Do they have truly believe he comes in a sleigh to every home or are they having some doubts about the plausibility of this story?
Maybe they’ve noticed that the Santa they come to see at the store is different every year or maybe a friend spilled the beans that Santa is a sham?
Allow them the space to process their beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and questions about the Santa story they’ve grown up hearing.
After listening, clarify for them the truth about Santa and offer to answer any questions they may have. This allows them to grow into this new season as a “big kid” all on their own.
6. Follow Your Kids' Lead When It Comes to Santa
My three-year-old son went through one Christmas season entirely convinced Santa was real.
We graciously told him Santa is pretend, but he flat out wouldn’t believe us. He really just wanted Santa to be true. We decided not to push it and allow him to continue to talk about Santa without us reprimanding him.
The next year he still loved Santa but when we again explained that Santa is pretend and he was finally old enough to hear us.
If your kid is young and just is in love with the idea of Santa, it’s okay to let them believe. You can still offer them the tell them the truth you know but you don’t have to push it.
Your kids will soon enough be old enough to understand Santa isn’t real. Santa is everywhere in our culture and even if you don’t make him an integral part of your Christmas, he most likely plays some role in how your child sees Christmas.
Growing up Santa was banned from my house. No Santa decor, no talk about his sleigh, and we only talked about Jesus and his wonderful birth. Even so as a kid I loved Santa. He’s just a lovable character! Kinda like Winnie-the-Pooh but with GIFTS.
When I became a parent, I didn’t want to embrace Santa as a truth, but I knew he’d be a part of the holiday if I liked it or not. That is why my husband and I have tried to always be honest about the Santa story when talking to our kids and also talk about how Santa is a fun, made-up example of great generosity.
We try to tell them over and over that Christmas is about generosity because Jesus gave us the best gift this world has ever known.
Santa isn’t the main event for Christmas, Jesus is. For me acknowledging Santa rather than banning him allows us to control the narrative he has for our home. He’s one small detail in a season marked by taking extra time to display acts of love for others.
Whatever your holiday tradition you embrace as a family, it’s most important that there is thought put into the “why” of a certain activity. If you wholeheartedly embrace Santa in your family, then take a moment to explain why he is important to your home this time of year.
As Christ-followers we should make sure all our traditions reflect the message of Jesus in our homes. We need to let our kids into the “know” about Santa with kindness.
Christmas is a wonderful time for kids, let’s be careful not to let their hearts be broken by this larger-than-life character in our culture.
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for the Daily Bible Devotions App, she has work published with Her View from Home, is contributing to a couples devotional for Crosswalk, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda at rvahouseofjoy.com or follow her on Instagram at rvahouseofjoy.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/kiankhoon