Posted by: Ken Brown | December 17, 2008

Telling Kids About Santa?

Over at Emergent Village, Jenell Williams Paris reflects on what to tell her kids about Santa, a subject that has also become an issue around our house this year (my daughter is two and a half):

Should we really encourage children to project their material aspirations onto an idealized white man? As a full-time working woman, I don’t want my own hard work, income generation, present-purchasing and gift-wrapping to not only be entirely discredited, but all attributed to a benevolent white man. And I also don’t want to encourage my children to associate material wealth, kindness and generosity, and feasting with whiteness and maleness….

If Santa were a refugee, or a woman of color, or a plant or animal, I could probably get on board. But theologically speaking, Santa is in direct competition with Jesus, and it seems that Jesus pales in comparison. They’re both bearded white men (in the American imagination), but Santa gives more hugs and lets you sit on his lap. They’re both invisible characters that appear from time to time, so how do you convince a child that though you once told them both were real, only Jesus is really real? They both listen to petitions, but Santa grants wishes in material, fun, lit-up ways. Jesus occasionally answers, but with much less reliability than Santa. Your odds are much better if you pray to Santa for a Wii than if you pray to Jesus for your fighting parents to not divorce.

I’m not sure what to make of Paris’ concerns about racism and sexism. If Santa is allowed to become the focus of Christmas, I suppose this could be a problem, but as long as Santa is just a character in certain stories, one among many others, I don’t see the big deal. In any case, my daughter is not really old enough to ask a question like “is Santa real?” To her, Santa is a character on TV, only as real to her as Dora the Explorer and Little Bear, and I’ve tried to keep it that way.

But this is one area where my wife and I don’t quite agree–her family always got gifts “from Santa,” whereas mine never did, so she is much more comfortable asking things like “what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” I just don’t see the value in transferring Santa from being a character in her books and on TV into an imaginary person in the real world. But what I really do not understand is why parents would continue to insist on Santa’s existence even after their kids start to question it. Shouldn’t they be glad their kids are thinking critically for themselves? Why lie? It isn’t as though they are protecting them from some dark secret. I just don’t get it.


  1. Are you going to tell the kids about God being an imaginary character?

  2. I’ll let my kids decide for themselves whether that character is real or imaginary, but I’ll gladly tell them the story.

  3. i’m nearer to your wife’s experience, heh. my husband and i have been really careful, though, when it comes to santa, letting the kids enjoy the story, but not insisting he’s real. when our oldest was five, she asked if santa was real and we asked her what she thought and why. (we like to teach our kids critical thinking when we can, heh.) when she said no and explained her reasons, we affirmed her choice yet also talked about the history of the story, what it represented to people and our culture as well as talking more about Jesus, his birth and what God was doing in all that (a teachable moment, i guess you could call it). interestingly, she wasn’t disappointed but felt good about figuring it out for herself. but then we encourage asking questions in our house, heh. our son is about the same age now and starting to pull at the edges of the whole santa thing and we’re taking the same path. i’ll let you know how it turns out, heh.

  4. Carmen,
    That sounds like a great approach, I hope we can do as well when our kids reach that age!

    There really is a great story to tell of the real man on whom the Santa myth is based; it’s just the insistence that there realy is a man in a red suit who lives at the North Pole that I don’t get.

  5. Ken,

    What Bible stories will you be terrifying your children with? Tales of the megalomaniac mass-murderer, the tribal god of Israel? The horrors of the torture and death of Jesus and frightening accounts of the living dead?

  6. All that and more! 😉 Plus, you know, maybe some of this

  7. I am choosing to tell my kids about the birth of Christ, and frame Christmas around this in my kids’ minds. I also choose to reveal the REAL Santa Claus to them, Saint Nicholas, upon whom the contemporary fantasy is based. I will also make sure to emphasize to my kids that Saint Nick was not a mystical magical elf, but a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and obtained the grace of the Holy Spirit through faith and obedience in Christ. I believe the real Saint Nick’s life is more wonderful than the fake one’s. Though a few people have expressed incredulous shack at my audacity to “take the magic of Santa away” from my kids (and was called a child abuser for this–go figure!), I often have to remind these people that I cannot possibly “take away” something from my kids which they have not yet been given. So, they won’t “miss” the current fantasy of Christmas if they don’t experience it first. I will be replacing the myth with the truth. And if my kids find themselves overwhelmed by the current myth’s propaganda effects from fellow classmates, teachers, etc., they will already have been taught which one is real and which is not. It may have to be enforced by constant gentle repetition against the wave and onslaught of everyone else’s taunting (from adults also, incredulous that we don’t follow lockstep into their commercialized mythology). Just thought I’d add my own two cents to the matter.

  8. I think the whole mythical cultural Santa Claus at Christmas time is good for kids. It makes them happy. It is also good for kids to root out the BS in stories, to think critically, and to do it in their own time.

    Hugh said…
    Are you going to tell the kids about God being an imaginary character?

    Hugh, which God are you referring to? 😉

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