Why I don’t do Santa

This Christmas my daughter is two years old, so she’s able to understand everything that’s going on around her. Last Christmas she was too young to grasp much about the holiday, but I thought hard about whether or not we were going to be a Santa-believing family. (My husband didn’t feel too strongly about it either way.) I decided against it. Here’s why I do not like Santa Claus:

I hate lying. I really hate lying, even little white lies, and I also think about everything way too seriously and have to follow my principles for everything. I just don’t see a good reason to present Santa as truth. I enjoy Santa as a fictional character, along with the myriad fictional characters of childhood. I don’t see why Santa Claus should be elevated above all the others (along with the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy, who will also remain purely fictional in our house).

Gifts should not be the focus of Christmas. This may sound strange coming from an atheist, but I really want to teach my daughter to appreciate the deeper meaning of Christmas. Even though my husband and I don’t believe in God, Christmas is still a meaningful and special holiday for us. For us it’s a celebration of family and traditions, a time to have fun together and be cozy in the darkness of winter, a time for special music and food, a time to be thankful for everything we have and remember those who are less fortunate. I want the Christmas season to be a time of enjoyment and celebration in itself, and not just a buildup of anticipation towards the opening of gifts.

Christmas lists teach bad values. I know Christmas lists aren’t solely the domain of Santa Claus, but it seems like every kid who believes in Santa writes him with a list of things they want. I think this practice teaches gluttony and selfishness. It causes kids to expect the things they asked for, and sets them up for disappointment if they don’t get it. Parents should have a dialogue with their kids about not only what the kids want for Christmas, but also what is reasonable and in line with their family’s values and ability– instead of making up excuses for why Santa might not fulfill their desires.

Santa is not fair. The above reasons alone might not have put me in the anti-Santa camp, but this one does. I don’t know why people want children to believe that everyone’s Christmas gifts come from the same person, or that they depend on how good they’ve been. What a child receives for Christmas depends on her family’s economic situation and her parents’ values regarding gift-giving, among other things. Kids ALWAYS compare their Christmas haul, and the Santa myth drastically underestimates their sense of equality. I would never want my daughter to think that she was better than someone whose parents couldn’t afford presents, or that she was not as good as someone who got better presents than she did. Jealousy is a normal childhood emotion, but I think it belittles that emotion to ignore or try to explain away the obvious inequality in the Santa myth.

When I was a young child, my parents were very poor. They couldn’t afford to buy me any real toys, and I only got one small gift for Christmas each year. (One year, it was a pencil box.) But they still pushed Santa on me, and I resented it. I never believed it, because I knew that Santa was supposed to bring awesome fun toys for good little boys and girls, and I had to beg and beg my parents and maybe Santa would get me a pencil box. I had an inherent sense of justice and I knew it wasn’t right when my friends got Lego sets and new dolls. I think I would have felt much better about the situation if my parents had just been honest with me about the fact that Santa wasn’t real and we were poor (both of which I knew anyway).

When my daughter is a little bit older, I want to talk to her about the reality that Christmas gifts are not fair, that some kids get fewer gifts than she does and some receive more. I want to talk to her about why this is, and about our family’s values when it comes to money and gifts. And for that matter, that life is not fair, and some people have more or less through no fault or effort of their own. These conversations would not be possible if I taught her to believe in Santa.

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