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I read once that the main benefit of Santa is that gifts from him are without requirement to pay him back in some way. They're a demonstration of generousity with altruism, and for a while at least, there's no sense that 'mom and dad spent money on this, and that's money they might not be able to spend on something else'. No residual guilt. You don't have to give Santa some presents next Christmas, if he gave you something this Christmas. The milk and cookies are a kindness, not a payoff.

However, if you stack a lot of 'behavior requirements' on the leading end, that negates the benefit of Santa on that point.

I liked that concept. For us, Santa brings one gift per child, and it something the kids have really wanted, often not a 'toy'. This year, Brendan decided that he didn't have anything to ask for, because the one thing he really wanted, he bought for himself with money he had saved up. He's 5, so that really impressed me. The Santas they visit pre-Christmas tend to look at me in shock, because my kids will ask for one thing, and only one thing, the thing they really want. No laundry list, even when prompted. They know that other people may choose to fill in the other things they'd like. Santa is reserved for the deep longings. (though he has to get approval from mom and dad for some items, so we discuss beforehand, so they don't have to go back and ask for something else later.)

We 'promote' a belief in fairies, too, so Santa isn't a big stretch. Magic and enchantment are a big deal in our extended family.

Moxie, I can still hear your emotional exhaustion. Take care of yourself. Life is hard, and precious, and painful, and beautiful beyond measure. I hope you find your heart re-filled, and recover some peace in the weeks ahead.


As a data point: personally atheist, culturally Christian, don't care much about Santa but boy does my daughter, aged 3! Interestingly the whole "watching, naughty/nice" vibe has never been an issue with Santa in my family.

Our Santa issue is that we'll be at my SIL's for Christmas this year, and I think their Santa traditions (as yet unknown; I have an email in to ask) may differ from mine (stockings are from Santa, and everyone gets one, not just kids; no other Santa gifts.) Also, if we're staying in a hotel, how do we handle Christmas morning and stockings at my SILs - dress speedily and race over at the crack of dawn (or in our pajamas, even)? Let Daughter sleep over with her cousins (but would she be lonely/scared)?

On another note, I kind of wish hedra were MY mother.


I want to second Hedra's comfort for Moxie in these sometimes frantic days. Hedra's (description in the earlier post about the James Kim tragedy)of the wonderful practice of lovingly comforting painful feelings, quieting them and rocking them to sleep can be used in any situation. I have used this for myself and shared it with others to great effect, with any strong emotions that take me away from the present moment.

Moxie, I hope you know you bring so much compassion to the world and relieve the suffering and confusion of your readers every single day. I don't know that cold cyber-space is the best place to powerfully re-fill your cup with love, but it is what we've got: We are your secret Santas--thinking of you during this beautiful, hectic time with love and gratitude!


Ethical? Tricky. I know some adoptive parents who feel strongly that they should never lie to their children, and so: Santa as game or pretend only.

What I discovered this year: It's not a continuous story. The kids are addressing Santa in a markedly different and more specific way this year than last year. They have almost no memories of last year's Santa stories and encounters. I can't explain it fully, but Santa this year is sui generis almost. This leads me to think that it might be similar next year -- a total transformation in what the kids look for out of Christmas. (This fits with what I remember of year-to-year Christmases in my own childhood -- twelve months is a LONG time and memories fade and alter as your brain develops.)

We're very observant of Advent, have three nativities under the tree, focus very much on Jesus as the reason for the season, and led the kids to believe Santa is real. For the last few years, we've stayed more and more quiet on the subject, partly because the intensity of the kids' enjoyment of the Santa story makes me uncomfortable. Until this year, I was very worried about the potential fall-out when they discovered the truth.

This year, all three kids seem fully committed to the idea and yet also periodically skeptical. Elba has asked, "is Santa real?" and just this morning, "is the Easter bunny real?" She's starting to get it, in other words.

We planted the seeds for this kind of questioning by saying that Santa's castle at the North Pole lives in Fairyland. It helps that I half-believe in Fairyland myself, but it opens the door for them to re-think Santa as they approach the edges of the Age of Magical Thinking.

We read about Tomtens and Elves and Fairies in other contexts, too.

I've answered every question about Santa's reality with "what do you think" and "What made you think of that." It's tricky for us because it's screamingly clear that some of our kids are more ready to probe the story than others.

We never, ever use Santa as a "he knows when you are bad or good" figure. Not Ever. Santa brings gifts at Christmas to celebrate Jesus' birth. End. Of. Story. (Santa is not omniscient like God. Santa is not a disciplinarian. Definitely NOT.)

Finally, we have labeled different people "Santa's helpers" in the past. The kids get very stubborn ideas about which Santas might be the REAL Santa, and don't seem at all bothered by potential problems with the stories they're telling themselves.

I confess, I used to feel 100% okay with Santa, and as the kids took it more and more seriously, I got worried. But I'm starting to see that they'll negotiate their way out of it and that it might be okay.

I'm sure you're right about my childhood affecting my approach, because I still remember my absolute delight when Santa came to my grandparents' on Christmas Eve when I was six, and my conflicted sense of "Ah-ha!" and "well, that doesn't prove there IS no Santa" when I found the Santa suit buried in my mom's hope chest when I was twelve -- years after I'd stopped believing in Santa.

I think of Santa as a denizon of Fairyland, and as I already said, I'm agnostic on the existence of Fairyland even now.


Oh, finally, Santa at our house brings a few small wooden gifts (hand-made tiny items for their woodland fairy sets, Haba pocket games -- the sorts of things you can imagine elves making in workshops) and ONE item the kids request. They think a lot about their "Santa gift" and never even had to be prompted about that. Although they aren't like Hedra's son, and still want something toy-like.

My childhood Santa always only gave small gifts that would fit inside a stocking, and while we've done a few larger gifts as exceptions to that (mostly so I could justify splurging on something, like the 1000-piece box of Kapla that's gotten so much use), I've more or less stuck to that rule. Santa brings stocking presents only.


My parents sidestepped the Santa conundrum by saying in a tone of wonder, "Well, we don't know, but there's this STORY..." and explaining the story of Santa that way. So when we found out he wasn't real it wasn't a betrayal -- it was fun, like the Tooth Fairy is fun. They did not (and neither will I) ever invoke Santa and naughty-nice as a way to get us to behave... I think that's destructive and kinda mean.

Talking about painful feelings -- when my 3yo is exhausted, weepy, anxious I rock her and say quietly, "Mama's safe. Pappa's safe. Nana's safe. Papaw's safe," etc., going through the whole litany of people (and pets, favorite stuffed animals, etc.) who love her, and how they are safe. Somehow this calms her, and me, when nothing else will.


My parents told me that Santa was real. Santa stuffed stockings and left a pile of presents. Santa did not wrap presents, they were piled for me under the tree. Something that my mom did that I have always thought was a good idea was, whenever I was overly unruly during the Santa season, she would say, "Theres another present off of Santas list." The reason she did this, it turns out, is, b/c like most children, I would submit an impossibly long gift list, and this method was deployed to avert tears on xmas morning over missing toys. If a toy I asked for was not under the tree, well, that must have been one of the toys Santa knocked off for my bad behaviour. It helped take the pressure off for her of the whole "I must get everything on my childs list for her" and I never felt slighted b/c, after all, I was the unruly one :)


I "believed" in Santa until I was way too old to believe in such things... 10, 11 maybe. I knew that everyone else said he was pretend, but I refused to accept it. My mother told me that as long as I believed, he was real. And I guess for me that was the essence of it. Believing in things makes them real, even if it's only real for you. Now, *why* I needed to believe in Santa at such a late age is a question for my therapist!

My kids are very into Santa this year. I know I will mourn the year that they figure it all out.


My mom told me that as long as I believe in Santa, there will be a stocking for me at their house.

There is still a stocking...


I swore I wouldn't be one of those moms who used the naughty/nice list. But dang, that song talks about it, and it was in a Christmas special, and my son just picked it up on his own. "I don't wanna be on the naughty list!" he wails mid-tantrum now. As nothing else I am trying lately is working, I ask, "Do you think this behavior is naughty or nice?" And he knows, in his little heart of heart, which list he would belong on at that moment. Not a bad check of an evolving conscience. I'm just amazed that of all the Santa lore (flying reindeer! stuffed stockings!) this is what he's picked up on.
On another note, we did a "Secret Santa"/Adopt-a-Family at our church this year, and when he asked what we were doing, I explained that God likes us to share, and Santa has a big job, so we volunteered to help. So we got this family's list and told Santa that we would take care of it for him. My son loved that explanation and was very excited to be helping and sharing, even when it meant buying toys for someone else. So in some ways, I feel like that's as good as it gets for a 3 year old's understanding of Christmas.


Being raised Christian, Santa was never a huge deal in our home. My parents never told me he wasn't real, they just made Santa a non-issue. We ALWAYS received a stocking from him with little trinkets and candy/fruit and still do. :) That's what I am passing on to my children. I want them to know what we're celebrating is the birth of a king who would give his life for us, but at the same time - it's not fair to take the magic out of the season for them. The innocence of childhood is so short - it seems almost cruel to shorten it more.


I like the game idea - wish I'd heard of it earlier, as we've been pretty clear that Santa is just pretend, and now our daughter is confused as to why Grammy believes in him. I also remember being about four and not believing in Santa, but pretending that I did since my parents seemed to be so excited about it.


My son (5y) has started talking on his own about the "Santa Spirit". I'm planning to run with that idea for the years to come for him and his younger brother. Santa fills stockings and brings an unwrapped gift or two. This year he's getting a Darth Vadar toy that I don't particularly like, but he's heart set on one, so Santa can do it.

Growing up, the year I learned about Santa was the year I became Santa. Everyone who knew helped fill stockings for everyone else in the family. We took turns and all went to bed at the same time. I loved the tradition and we continue it now. My son doesn't seem confused that he's going to be allowed to pick out some special treats for the rest of our stockings. I think it will blend well into knowing the whole story. I also hope he's as thrilled as I was to learn that my mom had been giving me candy all those years (and Darth Vadar toys) even though she didn't approve of it!


I suggested the idea of Santa as a game to dh today, since we arent planning on doing the "Santa thing" in our home, and he flat out rejected it. He is adamantly opposed to lying to our kids, so he said he would explain it that Santa is a kind of fairytale that people like to tell because he spreads the message of goodwill and hope, but we have something better than that in Jesus. He said that a game is something that is willingly entered into by both parties, not one party being deceived, and I have to side with that. So, Santa as fairytale for us! I will add that he was one of those kids who felt offended when he learned that Santa wasnt real b/c his parents lied to him.


I grew up in a VERY religious Catholic family. We all still believe in Santa Claus. You know, he's based on St. Nicholas who was a real person, so why all this "he doesn't exist" stuff anyway? Why can't it just be a tradition done in recognition of this long ago person? It's the spirit that counts, not someone actualy existing or not up at the North Pole.

Sadly, my DH doesn't believe in Santa, so I believe my stocking will be empty on Christmas morning. oh well

To the person who will be in a hotel: Have Santa arrive there! You don't have to have the stockings hung where you will be all day, have them where you will wake up. that way, you also get to do your version, not your SILs.


Santa IS real. Celebrate without guilt. Each of us is Santa when we share the spirit of Christmas with those we love. When kids begin to question, parents can share the wonderful secret of Santa and use the conversation(s) as a teaching experience (the joys of giving; the historical tradition; the benefits and art of rationalization; etc.).


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  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
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