I grew up with Father Christmas visiting each December. We had a particularly awesome system, in fact, that involved pillowcases instead of stockings (primarily so a board game could fit, I think).
As I got older, I became aware that Father Christmas from the adult point of view was part of our family history, too. My parents’ first date was taking my cousin Philippa out on a special trip to the big smoke to see some Christmas Eve ice-skating show, two hours’ drive away. My Dad was already going to take her, and then he invited Mum along.
They had such a rockin’ good time – including going to a party and putting my six-year-old cousin to bed in a spare room – that they were home really late, and arrived to the ire of Auntie Sue who was still waiting up, not just to see them arrive home, but to do the flipping Father Christmas stocking deliveries after all her children were in bed!
All this is to say that I have happy memories of growing up in the Santa Claus/Father Christmas tradition and have no bitterness about it that has led me to do something different in my own family. It’s totally ok with me if Santa is a welcome guest at your place (not that you need care what I think!)
But in the spirit of my preferred tradition of questioning everything – and particularly for those who haven’t yet committed to a family practice – I thought it might worth explaining why our little ones won’t be getting presents from Father Christmas.
We have other priorities
The basic reason is that there’s no reason for us to engage in this tradition. We do almost nothing in our house just because we were raised that way or most people do it – from surnames to beds to mealtimes. So we’d need a reason of some sort to introduce Santa, and we haven’t come across one that we’ve found compelling.
And we’d need a very good reason, we think, to include in our family life an imaginary world of such elaborate proportions.
We have nothing against the world of imagination, and delight in seeing our little boy blasting off to Pluto (‘don’t worry, I’ve got my oxygen just here!’) or giving his toys a sleepover (‘no, they’re not going to sleep, they’re just having a sleepover’ – little does he know that a sleepover usually involves zero sleep!).
But here’s the difference: kids who believe that Father Christmas comes down the chimney to leave them presents aren’t engaging in an act of imagination. They think it’s real – at least most do, at some stage. It still might be a worthwhile thing to do for some families, but it’s not primarily about fostering imaginary play.
So just to be clear: we’re not people who value tradition or nostalgia very highly, so Father Christmas isn’t a huge pull for us. Plenty of you will feel very strongly about such things, so including Santa in your family life will make sense for you. In both cases, we’re being consistent with our values, right?
It doesn’t fit with the rest of our parenting style
We are pretty conscious of giving age-appropriate, true information to our son. We try never to tell him something that is simply untrue, though of course we don’t give him all the facts in all circumstances. When we leave out important details for some reason, we want to be able to add them later without having to change our story.
So when telling him about the new baby who we’re expecting, and trying to answer his very many questions – this morning: ‘no, I don’t want to play right now, I want to talk about the baby’ – I have stopped short of words like vagina, sperm and labour (he’s two). But we certainly haven’t opted for the stork or fairies or magic from God or any other source.
Instead, we’ve talked about the baby coming out from the inside, through one of two special doors, and that it can be hard work, so I will be tired and Daddy will need to be with me and the new baby at the hospital, probably. And he knows all about the umbilical cord and that the little baby won’t do much except sleep and feed and have cuddles to start with – rather than being a handy playmate straight away. He’s fairly worried about the prospect of the baby weeing on him (hypocrite!), but otherwise excited.
So in this context of working hard to be honest and helpful in our conversations, we have no desire to weave a fiction for him about Father Christmas, one that will lead to (literally) endless questions about the practicalities of a man in a sleigh getting around the whole world in one night, the laws of physics and the heavy-duty surveillance required for making a list and checking it twice. We have too many questions to answer about the rest of life without creating a whole new set!
We don’t need the extra presents
Of course the other major reason for sidestepping Santa that many will relate to is the present problem. I am a keen present-giver-and-getter, on any occasion or none. My husband truly, honestly, couldn’t care less about presents. When it comes to our boy, we tend to buy or acquire things as needs arise and have trouble thinking of things for special occasions. He really does have everything he needs (we know we’re lucky.)
Certainly if any of his grandparents or aunts and uncles want to give him something at Christmas, that’ll be lovely and much appreciated. But we don’t have a long list of other things we want him to have and need to put in a stocking.
So don’t get me started on the appalling phrase ‘stocking filler’. Is there any more blatant example of marketing to encourage rampant, costly consumerism? Let’s invent a space that needs to be filled and then sell plastic crap to parents to fill it!
If we’ve got things we want (and can afford) to give our kids at Christmas, then by all means we should give them – via stocking or otherwise. Generosity is a wonderful thing. But the idea that we should invent needs, wants and gaps and add them to a list of expenses – at a great cost to both the planet and our wallets – well, this seems absolutely mad to me.
We want to focus on Jesus
Also, you know, Jesus.
In our house, Christmas is a meaningful spiritual tradition as well as a cultural one. It’s hard for any of us to preserve the good messages – sacred or secular – of Christmas under the avalanche of modern consumerism and busyness.
Helping children think of Christmas as primarily about God giving fresh hope to the world in the form of a homeless newborn is a significant task and one we’re keen to tackle.
Atheists among you may smile at the idea that we eschew the imaginary Santa but promote an unseen God, and fair enough. But Christmas celebrates God becoming real and tangible: Jesus is an historical figure, clearly present in the world two thousand years ago. All Christian theology is based on his physical presence and experiences as representing the invisible God.
Certainly, given our family worldview that God is a reality and Jesus shows us what God is like, we don’t want to muddy the waters with the benevolent, magical figure of Father Christmas.
This is not an appeal to you to abandon Santa or stockings if they’re part of your family life. Please continue to do Whatever Works For You, right? And I certainly have lovely memories of Father Christmas leaving treats for me as a kid in a pillowcase, and no personal regrets about that. I don’t feel that strongly about the Father Christmas issue and I definitely want to keep being friends with all you FC fans!
But if, like me, you’re a bit lukewarm about it all and looking for company to walk another path, let me reassure you that we have a very happy little boy who will have a great time this December, and you should feel no pressure to engage in this cultural tradition except on your own terms.
I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this, as long as we can agree at the start that we should all just do What Works For Us and do our best not to be either defensive or importunate about the choices we have made. I guarantee there are wonderful parents doing opposite things in this area, reading right now (and reading your comments), so let’s make an extra effort to be civil and gracious as we explain our thoughts and practices.
Maybe think about these questions.
If you have a Santa tradition in your house:
- What’s awesome about it?
- What kinds of things do you recommend for stockings?
- How do limit consumerism at Christmas?
- How and when have your kids made the transition from full belief to going-along-with-the-fun?
If you don’t engage with any kind of Father Christmas or Santa Claus tradition:
- Why did you choose this path?
- How has it gone down with wider family and friends?
- How have you explained who Father Christmas is (when your kids encounter him at school, in shops, in books and so on)
- Have you ever had trouble with your kids bursting the bubble for other kids who believe in Santa?
- What’s Christmas like at your house?
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Lent with Kids (if you’re really planning ahead!)
Kids and Spirituality (more general posts)