Should We Stop Lying to Our Kids About Santa Claus?

The pros and cons of the most wonderful lie of the year.

I have no idea what to do about Santa Claus, the man with more origin stories than Batman, the saint who outshines the savior of the universe on his own birthday.

I never really thought that much about Santa Claus before I had kids. He was jolly, he had some warm and fuzzy Coke commercials, and he seemed like he could help the good people at the Salvation Army raise some money. But when my kids first asked, “Dad, is Santa real?” I just stood there with my mouth open and my eyes wide. I was like a first-time criminal unsure how to deal with a seasoned interrogator.

A couple of months back, I wrote a passionate defense about why I celebrate Halloween with my kids. But as a Christian, my feelings about Santa are more complex.

Reasons for letting my kids believe in Santa

1. Santa is another way to make Christmas special.

Few things are more adorable than seeing my daughters get excited about Santa. They wave to him at the mall. They make milk and cookies for him. Grandma loves the pictures of the kids dressed in cute Christmas outfits sitting on Santa’s lap. It’s nearly impossible to get your kids to sleep with all the adrenaline of Christmas Eve, but tell them Santa won’t come until you’re in bed and my kids are asleep faster than you can say Buddy The Elf.

2. Santa teaches them about the power of belief.

As person of faith, I have to stretch my imagination to wrap my mind around the mystery of God. Believing God is living inside me is more of a stretch of the mind than thinking someone can deliver presents all around world in 24 hours. Thinking about Santa is good way for my kids to practice understanding that which they can’t see.

3. Santa helps them fit in.

This is probably my worst reason, but it is one of main reasons I allow my kids to believe in Santa. I know it’s okay for my kids to not fit in all of the time, but they already have enough strikes against them. Stennetts lack skills in athletic department and we have an unhealthy love for sci-fi. I don’t want my kids to also wander around the playground crushing other kids dreams by proclaiming Santa isn’t real.

4. Santa lets me know what they want for Christmas.

This year, we had our kids write letters to Santa. We asked them for weeks what they wanted for Christmas, but some of the items they asked Santa for were a complete surprise. Were they willing to ask for him for stuff they wouldn’t ask us for? Maybe they were just trying to milk the system. I’m not exactly sure, and I don’t want to spoil my kids, but I remember as kid there was something special about getting exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

Reasons against letting my kids believe in Santa

1. I have to lie to my kids.

Lying to my kids is easily the number one reason I feel conflicted about Santa. And so much of Christmas is about lying to your kids. Parents wake up every morning pretending to be amazed what The Elf On The Shelf did last night. And we create an almost decade-long tangled web as we lie to our kids year after year about Santa Claus. The better their detective skills get — Dad, is that the real Santa at the mall? — the more elaborate our lies become: He just works for a network of other Santas that reports to the real one at the North Pole.

It seems twisted to make my kids go through a Keyser Söze moment when they realize Santa’s not real. It could call everything else I’ve taught them into question: Are vegetables actually bad for you? Is it actually okay to run with scissors?

2. Santa gets all the credit.

There is a classic Seinfeld episode where George gets upset that his girlfriend Julie gets credit for bringing a big salad that he actually bought for Elaine. That’s how I feel about Santa Claus. We get my daughter exactly what she wants for Christmas, and Santa gets the credit.

This year, we told my oldest daughter that money is a little tight so we’re going to have to be very selective about what we ask for. She said, “That’s why I asked Santa for a Leap Pad 2. Because I knew we couldn’t afford it.”

3. Santa can turn God into a fairy tale.

In my family, Santa isn’t the centerpiece of Christmas. My kids know it’s a time where we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus. We do a reading from the storybook Bible every night.

I talked before about the good believing in Santa can bring, but many of my Christian friends don’t look at this way. They think teaching about Santa can damage your child when it comes to believing in God. It’s not a stretch to see why. We teach our kids to believe there is a bearded man in the sky who knows you by name and cares about how you act.

I think that’s why it’s so important to be careful about how I talk to my kids about Santa Claus. But I’m just never sure what to say. This year, I’ve decided to say nothing at all.

This morning, my daughter asked, “Dad, how does Santa get in our house when we don’t have a chimney?”

I was searching for the words when I decided I didn’t need to answer. I asked, “How do you think he comes in?” She gave me an elaborate answer, and I said, “That’s a very good theory.” It was a good theory. I didn’t lie to her — I just gave her room to discover the answers on her own.

Rob Stennett
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  • Gary

    How do we discuss the mythological Santa Claus and historical St Nicolaus with our children? This is the easy question. The hard question is this: How do we discuss the theological Christ and historical Jesus with our spouses, siblings, and parents. Never mind this: What would a healthy, open, nuanced, respectful multi-generational dialogue about the mystery and blurriness of historical fact, theological hope, and mythological fun look like. Instead, I think I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself this holiday season. You’re scratching a surface Rob.

  • Victoria Murdoch-Jeffs

    What is so hard about teaching kids the truth? Santa is pretend just like Barney or any other a Disney or Marvel character, which means we get to play pretend at Christmas to be Santa’s helpers and feed his reindeer. My daughter loved that as much as her pretending she was Jasmine or Belle.

    Great memories and no collateral damage.

    The truth is amazing, not sure why it is necessary to dilute it because we think kids might be damaged from it.

    • JeffreyME

      Yes, she knows she is “pretending”; that is why she’s fine. There’s no problem engaging in creative play. But she doesn’t actually believe she’s Jasmine or Belle.

  • pss1

    I give the same answer about Santa, the tooth fairy, ghosts, fairies, wizards, leprechauns, and yes, even God:

    And that is, “I don’t know for sure. Some people believe, and some people don’t. You get to decide what to believe.”

    I think it is honest while still allowing some fantasy. It still allows kids to live in a world of imagination and magic with other kids.

    • Gary

      Great stuff. But… technically you don’t have to decide what to believe. The other option is to outsource it to somebody else and believe what they believe (or at least say they believe [or heard from somebody else {who likewise didn’t like an infinite regress}}). That avoidance does though, IMO, seem a bit dubious to call “faith.”

    • JeffreyME

      I’m really curious. Do you honestly not know for sure about Santa? I can understand this as an answer about God, but not about all of the others — with the possible exceptions of ghosts (which is a very vague term in my own mind).

      • Tom from North Carolina

        So why is God any more of a credible possibility than the others?

  • Dalaina May

    Just a thought… We completely participate in Christmas culture – Santa, elf on the shelf, cookies for the reindeer etc. – but our kids know that it is all fun games to help us enjoy the Christmas season more and for families to have fun with each other. I mean, what would Jesus like more for his birthday than to see his kids having a great time?! It’s still special – maybe even more so because they see how much effort mom and dad put into them having a magical December. They still fit in – really, we do it ALL! And they can keep separate God whom we never want them to doubt as real because they discovered the lie of Santa along the way. I don’t see why not lying has to also mean that you don’t enjoy the childishness and wonder of cultural Christmas celebrations. I think you can have your cake and eat it too.

  • FlyingFish67

    We wrestled with this too. In the end, we weren’t comfortable in telling our kids that the myth of Santa is real but we did want to have stockings full of goodies. What worked for us was to talk to the kids about the generosity of the historical St. Nicholas and about the idea of giving in secret. We told them that people use Santa Claus as a way to joyfully give in secret and that anyone can be a Santa Claus now. We told them that some families let their believe in Santa to enhance the fun of this secret giving with no expectation of thanks in return but that we thought they were old enough and smart enough to know….and that they can’t ruin the surprise for anyone else. Our kids liked being thought of as old enough and smart enough and they liked being in on a big secret. Some people have told my kids, “I think it is sad that you never believed in Santa” and they obnoxiously reply, “I think it is sad that your parents lied to you.” That wasn’t what I was going for but it is what it is. FYI, my kids are currently 17 – 29. Three of the four are out on their own but they all still expect stockings on Christmas morning.

  • Tom from North Carolina

    This column raises an interesting question. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy are all mythical creatures that we initially pretend exist, for the benefit of our children. While all along we know that eventually we will come clean and tell them the truth, that they are not real.

    And yet when it comes to god, we continue the myth, sometimes for the rest of our lives. In spite of the preposterous nature found in many of the most popular biblical stories, we continue to profess belief. Is it really less credible that an elf exists who gives toys to children one night each year than the story of an evil being who successfully has opposed an all powerful god for thousands of years?

    Is it more likely that there are human-like beings who are intrinsically good and can fly than there are 8 magical reindeer who can fly?

    Is it realistic to teach your children that an all loving god would bar you and you children from edan or paradise because of a single mistake one of them made thousands of years ago? This ignores god’s responsibility for looking after Adam and Eve to begin with. What else did he have to do, the universe was already created. He only had to keep track of two people and yet god let Satan have unfettered access to Eve. Does this story sound any more likely than Santa coming down a chimney?

    There is no harm in pretending when children are young. There is harm in continuing myths as they get older.

  • JeffreyME

    I’m very troubled by the #2 Reason For — “The Power of Belief”. I can’t think of a single positive outcome of fostering faith in something that your children will sooner than later learn is a complete falsehood. I see this approach having the potential effect of undermining faith and belief altogether. It’s one thing to be playing a game of fantasy, as one does with the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc. But once a child starts asking questions about reality, the time for fantasy ends. Santa at 4 or 5? Probably. Santa at 8 or 9 — dangerous.

    • nwcolorist

      When our children entered public school they were soon made aware of the controversy over Santa. A child would have to be raised in a monastery to avoid finding out the sad truth.

    • xmarisolx

      Yeah, that “power of belief” one had me scratching my head. The Santa myth teaches your kids to believe things that are false, incredulous, and based on lies. It also teaches them people will conspire to deceive them. If it anything, Santa is, for most kids, their first major experience with being duped by the people they trust the most. Which actually is more likely to make them just a bit more cynical and suspcious. And to correlate Santa with Christ…I’ll leave my feelings about that to myself.