My son, who just turned one, will be celebrating his second Christmas this December, and my husband and I have been starting what will be our family traditions, like spending Christmas Eve at my parents’ house and Christmas Day at his. But there’s one tradition that I’m feeling a bit ambiguous about: Santa.
As the oldest of seven (yes, seven) kids, I upheld my responsibility as the eldest to not spoil the fun of Santa for any of my siblings once I found out “the truth.” I played along for all of my brothers and sisters and continue to follow the script for my niece.
A few years ago, well before starting my own family, I started to feel uncomfortable by Santa worship. In my house, clothes and books were from mom and dad, and toys (aka, the fun stuff) was from Santa. Santa coming/not coming loomed over our heads when sibling tiffs would come up in December, and when the big day came, we knew to look for Santa’s name when picking out which present we would open first.
So Santa became the cool, magical guy who rewarded us for good behavior, a figure we never saw and could never properly thank. Yeah, mom and dad got us presents, too, but pajamas are far less exciting than video games.
Then I started to think, how big of a role should Santa play in our Christmas celebration, if any at all? Is the idolization of Santa beneficial to our son? If Santa is bringing all of the presents, no matter how good or bad he is, does it affect his ability to show gratitude or understand consequences? Should Santa be held over his head as a threat for bad behavior? And how can I expect honesty for my son if I’m going to such great lengths to keep this lie going?
When I started to write this article, my initial question was whether Santa should play any role in our Christmas celebration. After deeper and more honest conversations than I ever thought I would have on the subject, I agreed that unless a national backlash to Santa emerges in the next few years, I don’t want to confuse my son by denying him what is, for better or worse, a major part of the holiday.
From conversations with friends, the overall feedback was that when you don’t celebrate Christmas at all, not having Santa isn’t a huge deal. And you can understand it and rationalize it even as a child: “We’re Jewish, and we don’t celebrate Christmas. Santa is a part of Christmas. We get our presents at Hanukkah.” But to be celebrating Christmas without Santa would probably be very confusing for my son and his peers to understand.
So now that I’ve eased on my concerns over involving Santa at all, my husband and I still need to figure out how important we want Santa to be to our Christmas. Maybe Santa just brings the big gift on his list, and all other presents are from Mommy and Daddy. Santa can be a cool guy who spreads joy without being a spying jerk keeping a tally on everyone. And let’s not get me started on the Elf on the Shelf (aka the North Pole Snitch).
Thankfully, we don’t need to figure this all out right now. At 15-months old, there’s a 95% chance our son will open one present, and get totally distracted by the box to care enough to even open the other packages.