Inside: Explaining Santa Claus and telling your kids about St. Nicholas can be tricky. Each family has unique values, traditions, and convictions and must decide for themselves how to explain Santa Claus to their children. Our family has taken a unique approach to explaining Santa–one that is laced with Christian traditions that are important to us. In this post, we tell how our family has gone about explaining Santa to our kids.
Note: Before reading this piece, I want everyone to understand that this is how our family has chosen to approach Santa Claus and other mythical holiday figures. This is in no way a judgment on what other families do or how they handle Santa Claus. I hate that I have to even say this, but our current cultural climate appears to think someone is inadvertently judging you if they have a different way of doing things. This post is simply to give an account of how our family of six has handled this cultural topic. If you’re a young family, perhaps this post will give you some ideas on how to handle the Santa Claus question!
By Will and Erin Odom
My husband and I both grew up with Santa Claus visiting our houses on Christmas Eve.
Granted, he did things a little differently for both of us. Santa always wrapped my presents and placed them under he tree. As well, he filled stockings with all kinds of trinkets. Santa left my husband’s presents unwrapped and piled in front of the tree.
We both have good memories of believing in Santa Claus and were not traumatized when we realized that he is not real.
We never felt lied to or duped. Neither of us ever doubted the existence of Jesus because our parents had told us that Santa was real. We never felt our parents were being dishonest.
However, when we had our own children, we decided to do things differently when it came to explaining Santa.
We weren’t comfortable with how commercialized Christmas had become and where the focus was going in our culture. I don’t remember it necessarily being that way when we were kids. Maybe it was, and we were just oblivious to it.
We couldn’t figure out how to tell our children about Santa that would not require us to make up things and create more stories to cover those things.
(We know plenty of parents have been able to do this successfully, though! If you’re one of those parents, please share how you do Santa in the comments! We do not judge you!! Each family is different and has unique family traditions, including the way they explain Santa!)
Related: 5 Alternatives to Elf on the Shelf
That being said, we still have fun with Santa. We take pictures with Santa. My dad dresses up like Santa for his 10 grandchildren. We watch Rudolph and other Santa moviesother Santa movies. We do fun activities related to Santa.
So how do we go about explaining Santa to our kids?
First and foremost, we want our kids to focus on Christ’s birth as the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Yes, we do tell our kids that Jesus probably wasn’t born around this time and that He was more likely born in the spring, but this is the time that people celebrate His birth.
We don’t want them to get caught up in all the commercialism of the holiday. That’s also the reason that we give them three gifts each.
Is this still a struggle? Yes, they are kids and human beings, so avoiding all of the commercialism and entitlement is most definitely a struggle at times. We always want to direct our kids to the idea that we are celebrating the best gift ever given.
We explain to our kids that Santa is fun to pretend and that some families pretend he is real.
They know that there are some kids in their classes and in our extended family who think that Santa really does exist, and that it’s just fun to make believe.
We also make it very clear to them that they are not to tell other kids that Santa is not “real.” It would spoil their fun, and we don’t want to do that.
At this writing (in an update of this original post), our older children are teenagers. As far as we know, none of our four children have spoiled the Santa secret for anyone.
When people ask them what Santa is going to bring them, they politely respond with the things that they want for Christmas. They just go with the flow and have fun with it.
Related: Non-Junk Stocking Stuffers for Kids
Who Was the Real St. Nicholas?
Instead of telling our children that Santa brings them gifts at Christmas, we have decided to focus on the story of the real person behind the Santa Claus legend–Saint Nicholas.
We tell them that there really was a man named Nicholas who loved Jesus and loved to serve others.
They know that Nicholas was alive many, many years ago, and he liked to help other people who were in need by giving them gifts or money.
(At one point in time–when she was around five years old, my youngest daughter would telI adults who asked about Santa that he was dead. She has always been a very matter-of-fact child with most things!)
Nicholas gave gifts and aid in Jesus’ name, but he died a long time ago. Now, he is in Heaven with Jesus.
Santa Claus is a way to carry on his memory.
Many European countries actually celebrate St. Nicholas Day during the first couple of weeks of December (the date depends on the country) in memory of his service and sacrifice. My friend Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, a Catholic blogger, has a fun recipe for St. Nicholas Spice Cookies that her family makes to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. You can find her recipe here.
In the United States, it’s typically Catholics or Orthodox Christians who observe Saint Nicholas Day. However, after being really impressed with the fun of this day and the meaning behind it, our family (evangelical Christians) began creating traditions and memories around Saint Nicholas Day several years ago.
On the morning of December 6 (the day Saint Nicholas Day is observed in the United States), our children find small gifts in their shoes in front of the Christmas tree. Sometimes, we include chocolate “gold” coins (a common Saint Nicholas Day candy) in their shoes as well!
Observing Saint Nicholas Day has become another fun memory we’ve created with our children around the holidays. We also observe a very similar holiday–Three Kings’ Day–on January 6!
Resources for Helping Children Learn About The Real Saint Nicholas
There are several good resources that we’ve used to explain Santa Claus to our children. The following are ones that are highly recommend:
- Buck Denver Asks: Why Do We Call It Christmas
- The Legend of St. Nicholas
- Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas, A Story of Joyful Giving
What Can St. Nicholas Teach Us?
St. Nicholas is a story about loving and serving others.
The story goes that he secretly helped three sisters on three different occasions. When the father caught him, Nicholas begged him to keep it a secret.
He gave to this family without expecting anything in return.
Nicholas can teach us that it is better to give than to receive and that we get more joy from giving when we don’t get anything in return.
Loving and giving unconditionally don’t come with strings attached. This includes the gifts what we give our children.
The gifts that Nicholas gave were not based on the girls’ behavior, and the gifts that we give our kids are not based on their behavior either.
We don’t want to raise entitled kids, but we do want them to know that we give them gifts because we love them, not because they earn them. We do not give because we expect anything in return.
God doesn’t give us His love because we earn it or deserve it, but He gives it unconditionally. The same goes for our gift giving.
Related: 5 Tips for a Stress-Free Christmas
The Magic of Christmas
When people find out our kids know about Santa, we often get comments like, “Oh, how sad.”
But, in reality, we are happy with the way our kids have learned about St. Nick.
It doesn’t mean that Christmas is any less “magical” for them.
As I mentioned, we still have fun with Santa and all that it entails.
They write letters and make lists. We will make cookies “for Santa.” They will leave out reindeer food. We still watch Polar Express and Elf andThe Santa Claus. We laugh and enjoy the fun and magic of it all.
We still have a great time while keeping our focus on the most important aspects of the season.
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How do you explain Santa Claus in your home?