During the Holiday season I pondered on how to approach the idea of Santa Claus. One of my favorite things to do is to watch movies that tell the stories of how the “jolly old elf” came to be. Such classics as:
- Santa Claus is coming to Town
- Santa Claus the Movie
- Santa and Pete
- Christmas Story (the Finnish movie about Kris Kringle)
- Christmastime is Here Again
- Ernest Saves Christmas
- Prep and Landing
I enjoy watching these with my children, especially enjoy the ones with religious references though very, very mythological and apocryphal I enjoy the feeling that they give me during the yuletide.
When it came to telling my children about Santa Claus I was not sure what to do until I was praying about it one day, then it became all so clear. I needed to treat Santa like I treat Star Wars for my children. My little boy who is 5 knows that Star Wars is a fantasy, he knows that Luke Skywalker is just for pretend. I explained to him that Santa was also just for pretend and that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and that Santa Claus is just a story to help us understand giving to others.
His 3 year old sister heard these conversations and it did not quite sync in because she still has not grasped the idea of fantasy versus reality, but about 4-5 years old is when I have found that the distinction is made in children’s minds.
You may think that I am being like the mother on “Miracle on 34th Street” and not allowing my children any fantasy, however, that is actually inaccurate because the fantasy of Santa Claus still exists but as a fantasy. We as a family still play games, make Santa art, and tell Santa stories but with the understanding that these stories are just for fun. They also still wake up Christmas morning with gifts from us that are tagged with from Santa and love to pretend that they were given by man coming on his sleigh to their home.
This has been a big blessing in our family to teach Santa this way because:
- As Santa is a fantasy it allows us to enjoy stories, movies, and books about him without our children asking questions like, “how does Santa do that all in one night?” we no longer have to make up stories because if it is all a fantasy then it really does not matter.
- Our children don’t feel like we are hiding anything from them and when we are hiding things from them, they understand. We were wrapping presents in the other room and the children wanted to see, we told them that Santa was in his workshop and they understood and were able to go play. But they were pretending that Santa was working on his presents.
- We don’t destroy their faith in things that are true, when some children are older and the myth has been carried on until they are 10, 11, or 12 at that age they begin to see that the Santa Claus story does not make sense and so revealing the truth about Santa makes them wonder if the Story of the Birth of Jesus is fact or fiction or if there is a Heavenly Father. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have very unique beliefs that we don’t want to get confused with fantasy and this allows us to separate truth from fiction.
- The stories do not lose their luster. The story of Santa is pure fun, I love the story of Santa when we explain to our children that Santa is supposed to be fun and not a threat, separating the naughty from the nice children. They actually have fun and we can joke and play games pretending about the big fat jolly man and his elves. Because his story does not lose any luster the stories that matter such as the birth of Jesus don’t lose their luster either.
- Our children know that the presents come from us so they don’t ask for things as much. They just get excited to know that on Christmas morning we will have fun presents for them.
- They don’t feel threatened by the naughty and nice list.
The only challenge that I have found about teaching Santa in this way is other parents. Most parents still want their children to believe, I don’t think this is a problem but our children might try to explain how we do Santa to other children. The truth is that this can never ever be prevented especially when children start school class mates will eventually try to tell each other about the non-existence of the man in the red suit and how their parents bring the goodies and gifts. That is no excuse so we also explain to our children that other families will choose to teach their children that Santa is real and that they don’t need to tell their friends that he is not real. Our oldest child, really seems to understand and has not spoiled it for his cousin who is about 6 months younger than him.
Santa Claus is a treasured part of our family traditions but he is just one part the most important part is the birth of Jesus. James E. Talmage put it this way in regards to the birth of the Savior:
“In vivid contrast with the simplicity and brevity of the scriptural account and of its paucity of incidental details, is the mass of circumstance supplied by the imagination of men, much of which is wholly unsupported by authoritative record and in many respects is plainly inconsistent and untrue. It is the part of prudence and wisdom to segregate and keep distinctly separate the authenticated statements of fact, in so momentous a matter, from the fanciful commentaries of historians, theologians, and writers of fiction, as also from the emotional rhapsodies of poets and artistic extravaganzas wrought by chisel or brush.” (Jesus the Christ, Chapter 8)
He is not saying that we throw out all of the fun ideas; however our children need to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, and doing this makes it more fun for our children and us as parents. I still believe in Santa and he holds a place in my heart but as a fantasy not a reality.