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Why we don’t do Santa Claus

I’ve actually started this blog post three different times now, and can never seem to finish it. I know that I will anger a lot of people by what I am writing, yet this doesn’t really bother me. This is my blog with my thoughts, my feelings, and my words. If you don’t like that, you’re more than welcome to go away. However, I think what I am saying is important (obviously, that’s why I am saying it), and I want everyone to have the chance to read it, even if they don’t agree.

If you’re a frequent flyer, you should know by now that I’m an atheist. That has nothing to do with what will be said in this post. I want to head that off right here. Our beliefs about Santa honestly have nothing to do with religion.

We don’t do Santa. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Christmas is a little different at our house.

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I’ve been presented with many arguments upon explaining that we don’t do Santa. Aubrey heads off the Santa questions, but dad and I get death glares. This isn’t something that particularly bothers us, or that we didn’t expect, as similar responses occur when one finds out we don’t believe in a god.

Some share our commitment to forgo Santa… others don’t. To read another side, check out this Psychology Today article.

The most common argument I usually encounter is that I’m taking the fun out of Aubrey’s childhood. Santa is a fun thing for little kids, and when they’re old enough, they figure it out – no harm, no foul.

You’re taking the fun out of her childhood. She’s only 4!

My first rebuttal here is that she has plenty of fun in her life. She is a rock star at soccer and basketball, enjoys swim lessons, and takes after her mommy with her lack of gymnastics skills. But—she loves it. She stays busy, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She hates to miss practices or games for illness, and especially hates when there is a break in the schedule for holidays. She goes to daycare around 8 hours away, and is friends with every single person in her class. No, really. She is. She is quite the social butterfly, and befriends everyone. She’s also a teacher’s pet. She has a room decked out with toys… top to bottom (literally—we just bought her a Hot Wheels wall track that climbs UP her walls to clear floor space, because she has none). She earns rewards with her good behavior, and frequently celebrates at Chuck E Cheese or the movie theater. Most post-game evenings are filled with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

I’ve encountered other arguments too…

[Why would you give up your Santa bargaining chip? You could make her behave if you held Santa over her head.]

[Why would you want her to be different from her friends? That isn’t fair.]

[Don’t tell her he’s not real! She might ruin Santa for all of her friends.]

[Believing in Santa helps foster a child’s imagination. Why would you take that away?]

[Why does it matter? I believed in Santa and I turned out just fine.]

Then, I’ve seen some arguments against Santa, and even some of those I disagree with. Like this one:

{You shouldn’t reward children for good behavior—they should be expected to be good. You’re bribing them.}

Let’s field those now.

I will admit, it is nice to have a bargaining chip for my daughter’s behavior, and I do believe strongly in rewarding positive behavior. However, I don’t think we need an imaginary being to do so. Aubrey has a behavior chart that is monitored daily, keeping track of things like going to bed without a fight, getting dressed in the morning, listening to mommy and daddy, behaving at sports and activities, and being nice to friends at school. I tally the points and she gets tickets at the end of the week. These tickets can be traded for a trip to Chuck E Cheese, a Leappad game, or frozen yogurt. Mommy monitors the behavior chart, mommy adds the smiley faces, mommy tallies the good behavior at the end of the week, and mommy awards the tickets. Mommy cashes in the tickets, and mommy (or daddy) act on the reward. We do reward positive behavior constantly, and because of this, Christmas presents are a bargaining chip. We had a night of struggles last night, and the two things of contention were losing her TV for a week and not getting her Christmas presents. She doesn’t have to be on some ‘naughty’ list with some creepy old man in a red suit watching her every move. She needs to behave, consistently, in order to be rewarded. No, I will not withhold her Christmas presents indefinitely, but if she does not behave on Christmas Eve night, I can assure you her Christmas morning will be drab, until she is able to correct her behavior and earn her presents. I also want her to understand that she is to honestly report her behavior TO ME, even if I do not witness it with my own eyes. The concept of Santa is that he sees all, but in reality, no one sees all of my child’s actions but my own child. But, ‘Santa’ can only see as much as a parental figure sees, and that could be missing a big piece of the puzzle. Aubrey is held accountable for telling me honestly (like checking with her teachers), and this is important for her to understand that it is not what you do when people are watching that matters, but also what you do when they’re not.

A mom from Utah got a ton of backlash from cancelling Christmas for her kids. I think she has the right idea. The kids didn’t behave, so their efforts were NOT rewarded. Christmas presents are not an entitlement, but are something to be earned, just as money, toys, or rewards.

This one kind of goes hand in hand with the argument against Santa, too. Santa perpetuates the idea that if you behave well, you will be rewarded; some people think that rewarding good behavior is detrimental to the innate parental expectations of good behavior. I may differ from some on this one, but I strongly believe in positive reward, and do not confuse this concept with unconditional positive regard. I think that is often where some people trip up. There may not be a lot of science on Santa Claus, but there is definitely science on positive reward, so this argument is easily shut down no matter which side of the argument it’s on.

I don’t want her to be different. My god, I don’t want that. I struggled with low self-esteem and low self-image constantly through middle and high school. Unfortunately, people aren’t always sunshine and butterflies, and people are unfair, mean, and hurtful. This is something that Aubrey will have to learn to deal with as time passes. Josh and I are vegetarian, atheist, and liberally green. We do not fit into the molds of other parents around us, and don’t expect our daughter to either. We haven’t yet changed her diet to vegetarian at school because we want her to make the decision herself, and be able to support it if she so chooses, so that she understands that she may receive ridicule. This doesn’t mean that she won’t get ridiculed or picked on, but instead that she will be armed with knowledge and confidence in her beliefs so that she may adequately defend herself. The same with our atheism—she will be educated and confident in her own beliefs whenever she decides, and therefore she may defend herself eagerly and sufficiently. We don’t expect to buffer her from all things hard. That is unrealistic and doesn’t prepare her for a time when she might be without our assistance or backing. Instead, I plan to teach her through and through that her beliefs are her own to hold and no one can change that. Yes, teaching her that Santa isn’t real will set her apart from the crowd and this is something that I hate for her, but she is learning at an early age that it is okay to be different from friends and others. This is actually what set forth a holiday season of stress and worry for this momma. I got a message from her teacher that said she was a little put back when they started talking about Santa. Her teacher wanted to accommodate our traditions to make Aubrey feel comfortable. I realized at this point that I hadn’t adequately prepared Aubrey for dealing with others who did believe in Santa, and we had a very important heart to heart that night.

One of my fears for being honest with her was her ruining Santa for her friends. I understand that my parenting choices are not those of others, and are not any better or worse than anyone else’s. We all parent differently and that does not make us better or worse. But, I was terribly afraid that Aubrey would approach a friend and simply say “Santa isn’t real” and ruin the whole shindig for the child. Luckily, I haven’t gotten any negative feedback here, and I prepared Aubrey thoroughly by explaining that some people celebrate Santa and others don’t. We choose not to, but that doesn’t mean we need to talk to children about it. If we have questions about Santa, we can always ask an adult. So far, so good. Honestly, while this was a concern for me, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. I refuse to change the way I parent my child in order to cushion the falls of others. I think this is a more important lesson to teach her by way of my actions than any lesson of Santa.

Many believe that believing in Santa fosters imagination. Honestly, I thought that too, before I actually sat down to think things through and decide whether or not we would participate in the Santa lie. I thought that by making her believe in this imaginary being and flying reindeer and supersonic travel and a creepy old man who sees everything that her imagination would flourish, and that when she finally figured out that he wasn’t real, her critical thinking skills would benefit. It took some digging and hypothesizing to really sort this out for myself. I came to realize that there was a difference in letting her pretend to believe in Santa and actually expecting her to do so. Pretending to believe in magic, superheroes, and Santa is great—it fosters a healthy development of imagination, encourages pretend play, and helps accomplish developmentally-necessary milestones. But, actually expecting her to believe in Santa was different. It was not lending any imaginative precedence to my daughter. It was actually hurting her imagination because she would become unable to distinguish real and imaginary.

Then, there’s the across-the-board argument that we often hear, especially when it comes to parenting choices. Well, I did it and I turned out fine. That’s been an argument for spanking, unschooling, and other detrimental behaviors. Honestly, children’s worlds might not crumble upon finding out the truth about Santa and his elves. But, why take that risk? Why sacrifice a healthy imagination or parental trust or laziness when needing to provide for oneself?  It’s just really not a risk I want to take.

We don’t do Santa, like I said, for a multitude of reasons.

We want Aubrey to understand the market of buying and selling, earning, saving, and hard work. While some strongly disagree with me, and think a four-year-old is too young to be bombarded with the real-life consequences of money, I think learning at a young age how to manage her money will benefit her in the long-run. No, I don’t cry to my four-year-old if I maxed out a credit card and can’t afford to put gas in my car, but I do ensure that she understands that everything costs money. Her reward chart furthers this concept—she is able to physically see the tickets that she earns, and then she counts them out to cash them in. This helps her to understand how much of her money she is giving up for the reward she is purchasing, and she can identify the behaviors and time that it took her to earn that reward. Santa and his elves mask this concept and money is no longer thought about. Santa is just a magical being who magically makes toys out of nothing and magically delivers them without any cost for transportation. This is unrealistic, and I really don’t think it teaches her a healthy understanding of money management at all.

The biggest reason for forgoing Santa in our home is the development of irrevocable parental trust. I will always tell my daughter the truth—ALWAYS—no matter what her question. She knows the real names of all body parts, she knows where babies come from (in different senses—from the combination of parts of a post-pubescent woman and man, from the assistance of doctors, and other procedures), and she knows about death, as fully as a four-year-old could understand. She knows we don’t swim in the lake by the house because someone died there, and that is why we have to practice really hard at swim classes. I have no intention of lying to her, or even omitting the truth, because I think it is important for her to want to know more. I always want her to trust her father and I so that we will always be someone who she is comfortable seeking out. There are always times in a teenager’s life, no matter how drastic, where they need help. Often, they don’t feel comfortable going to their mother or father, especially if they have questions about drugs or sex. I don’t intend to be that parent that sits idly by while my daughter seeks out answers in potentially-wrong avenues. I intend to be the parent who sits down on the couch with her and answers her honestly. I hope that by being 100% honest from this early stage in her life, she will always feel that unconditional love and trust.

I actually wrote a book, because I was so overwhelmed with trying to do right by my daughter when her teacher reached out to me. Her teacher asked if we had a favorite book that we could send in to make Aubrey feel more comfortable. I searched for Santa-less books, but the niche was empty. So, I wrote one. I wrote the book and drew the picture outlines, hoping that Aubrey would color them in, but it seems she has lost interest for the moment. Right now, it’s being marketed as a coloring book. I’m totally going to plug myself here. Check it out: My Kind of Holiday, by Brittany Cloyd.

(FYI: NO WHERE does the book say that Santa isn’t real. It simply presents traditions from all different holidays, including Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukah, and explains that everyone can still be friends even if we celebrate differently.)

Aubrey colors pictures of Santa. She watches Santa movies on Netflix. She has a stocking and Christmas presents under the tree. She has a stuffed rabbit named ‘Easter Bunny’ and can’t decide if she’s going to be Curious George or Santa Claus next Halloween. All of this is okay, because she’s pretending. My daughter will never be a superhero, and for this I am grateful, because this old mother’s heart is not stable enough to handle her trying to learn to fly off rooftops. But, she can be Batman any day she’d like. I like him too.

We want the holiday season to be about giving, not receiving. Yes, Aubrey gets presents. But Aubrey fully understands that not every parent can afford presents, and some children go without. It is because of this that she willingly sorts through her toys and donates things regularly. With a magical Santa dropping down chimneys, this would be a little harder to reinforce.

Here are a couple other good books if you’re interested (and I don’t get royalty on these!! LOL):

The Peanut Butter Birthday Party, by Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein, is adorable. It introduces the idea of white elephant parties, and a selfless little boy forgoes potential gifts to help others instead.

A Solstice Tree for Jenny, by Karen Shragg, was also pretty relevant to us. We are not religious and often a lot of the Christmas goings-on are Christian. A Solstice Tree helps young Jenny understand that she can be different and make the most of her own holiday, celebrating however she’d like.

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