Everywhere you look these days, you run into Santa Claus. He’s at the mall posing for pictures. He’s in the songs telling you he “is coming to town.” He’s in commercials, on posters, in parades, and in the heads of nearly every child across America.
But he’s not in our house.
My husband and I very deliberately made the decision not to introduce our children to Santa Claus.
Now, I want to make a quick disclaimer before I go any farther:
I don’t claim to have THE right answer that should be the norm for every family in America. I know many wonderful families (including my relatives!) who allow their children to believe in Santa Claus. So, I am writing this post with zero judgement on those who differ from me. I just want to share what our family does and why we do it.
Why We Don’t Do Santa Claus
1. We Don’t Want to Lie
We don’t want to lie to our kids. Ever. Period. And, in our opinion, telling them that something we know is untrue is actually real constitutes a lie.
Trust is a precious thing. We want our children to trust every word we say, to know that their parents will always be truthful with them–even when it’s hard. Saying that Santa Claus is real may seem harmless, but it is not true. And, if our children found out that we had told them a lie, it could undervalue the trust that we work so hard to build in our family.
2. We Don’t Want Them to Doubt the Real
One night in grad school I was talking with a group of friends. Somehow we began talking about when we discovered that Santa wasn’t real. During the conversation, three of my friends admitted that this discovery led them to seriously doubt the story of Jesus. If their parents hadn’t told the truth about Santa, could Jesus be a myth as well?!
We want our children to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that everything we celebrate at Christmas (and throughout the rest of the year) is real. Real with a capital R. More real that we can even understand. The Incarnation of Christ is the ultimate Reality that changed the world forever.
3. The Reality of Christmas is Just So Much More Amazing
The reality of Christmas is far more amazing that a jolly man who delivers presents on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. The reality of the Incarnation should cause us to pause in astonishment, to catch our breaths, to fall down upon our faces. When we can focus on that Reality, why would we want to sidetrack our children with a myth about Santa?
As St. John Chrysostom, a fourth century bishop and preacher, said in his famous Nativity homily:
“What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands.”
In the face of that reality, any other Christmas story is completely unnecessary.
What We Do Instead
So, if we don’t do Santa Claus, how do we celebrate Christmas?
1. We Fast in Preparation
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, we fast for the 40 days before Christmas. Fasting for us means abstaining from meat and dairy, among other things. We are basically vegan for a purpose. We fast from excess in our diet so that we can focus on prayer and almsgiving. The 40 days are days of deep stillness, of preparation, of waiting for the miracle that will unfold in the Nativity.
2. We Worship Christ on Christmas
All Orthodox Churches have Liturgy on Christmas Eve. Some of these take place in the early evening. However, most traditionally celebrate this Liturgy at midnight. We welcome Christ, we thank God for the miracle of his Incarnation by our worship. We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. We experience deep and true Communion with the One who became one of us for our salvation.
3. We Celebrate with Food and Church Family
One of my first impressions of the Orthodox Church was, “These people sure know how to party!” Because we have been fasting for 40 days, the joy of the feast is that much richer. Most churches celebrate with some sort of meal after Nativity Liturgy. We eat richly, laugh heartily, and raise our glasses in joy.
4. We Give Gifts as a Family
Finally, after all of the fasting, the worship, and the celebration, we give gifts to each other as reminders of the great gift of our Lord. Our children know that these gifts are from us–chosen especially for them by the people who love them most in the world. And, really, what is more magical than that?
In the end, our children don’t miss out on Santa Claus. They know that they have so much more.
How does your family celebrate Christmas?