How Our Family Handles Santa

Back in my early blogging days (2008!), I wrote a post about Santa and how I didn’t grow up believing in Santa and how I planned to do the same thing for my kids.

That post earned me my very first nasty anonymous comment (whee!) and I’ve basically steered away from the topic of Santa since then because I learned quickety-quick that people have FEELINGS about Santa and that many people can’t seem to manage their emotions when it comes to this topic.

But as I’ve gotten increasing questions about it over the years, I figured I was finally ready to write a post about how we handle Santa in our family.

we don't do santa

The most important thing to know is that I do not have strong feelings about Santa – I don’t care or judge one bit if your family is super into Santa. It’s just not personally something I’m excited about doing.

For me, the question of Santa feels easy because it’s how I grew up, so I don’t have any sense of leaving behind my own childhood traditions or that it’ll ruin the magic of Christmas for my children (more on that later).

Bart did believe in Santa until he was maybe five or six until an older cousin said something about Santa not being real and one look at his aunt’s furious face told Bart that his cousin was telling the truth. He had zero strong feelings about not pushing Santa Claus with our kids and it was never really an issue.

Of course, “not doing Santa” means a whole lot of different things to different families. For us, it means that we never tell our kids that Santa is real, we don’t label gifts as being from Santa, and there’s no “Santa is watching you” situation.

We still do stockings (one of my favorite parts of Christmas!) although none of my children think that they’re filled by Santa. When I was a kid, my dad made a set of black construction paper footprints that he’d set out from the fireplace to the tree and that was a fun little thing to spot on Christmas morning, but we never thought they were real.

We DO watch plenty of Santa movies (my personal favorites are Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Clause), have about one million Santa books in our personal Christmas book collection, and occasionally visit Santa (one year in Arizona, we went to Bass Pro Shop with some friends and the Santa had a ring of different baby pacifiers attached to his belt – I’m still wondering about that, six years later).

This is not something we sit down with our kids and have a long serious conversation about. There’s no “Santa is pretend” presentation – just when they’ve asked about Santa (usually around 3 or 4), we tell them it’s a fun game people play at Christmas and that he’s a character like Belle or Elsa or Moana.

I’m actually pretty sure that Star believed in Santa the Christmas she was 3.5 (she was SO wide-eyed and serious about telling Santa at a Christmas party that she wanted a stuffed mama polar bear for Christmas – it was the cutest thing ever) and we didn’t say anything to discourage her and by the next year, she’d figured it out.

Basically the long and short of it is that we make really no issue of it at all.

I always am quick to remind them that many kids their age DO believe in Santa and think he’s really bringing them gifts and that it’s not their job to tell other kids that he’s not real. (This is a great introductory conversation about respecting other people’s beliefs and recognizing that other families do things differently than our family and how that’s perfectly fine).

This “ruining it for other people” is the MOST frequent worry when I mention that we don’t do Santa and I totally get that – if Santa is a huge deal in your home and you’ve spent a great deal of time convincing your child that their presents really are coming from Santa, it’s super annoying if another kindergartener ruins it for your child.

And I definitely don’t want my child doing that for your child and we have a conversation every year reminding them not to tell their friends.

On the other hand, it’s a heavy burden to put on a small child to pretend in something they don’t believe. For many kids, truth is very black and white and so it’s hard for them to understand the concept of pretending for another child when it can feel to them like they’re being asked to lie, and when we’re trying to instill values of truth telling in our children at home, I would never pressure them to lie.

MANY kids find out the truth about Santa from a child who DID believe in Santa, including often from older siblings. My 2nd and 4th grader have both mentioned this fall that their classmates have been debating whether Santa is real or not endlessly during lunch and recess, so it’s not like the idea of Santa being a pretend game is going to be a huge shock to most kids.

Basically, I’ll do my best to not have my child ruin Santa for your child, but I can’t promise it won’t happen and I’m not going to guilt or shame my child for not being mature enough to navigate this tricky situation.

Santa is also not a topic I almost ever discuss in person with people I know. In fact, I’m not even certain what my two sisters do with their boys when it comes to Santa. Like many things, it feels like a big deal in the DMs and comment sections of Instagram, but in my real life, it almost never comes up.

For me, the funniest question about not doing Santa is, “But how do you still make the holidays magical?” which has always struck me as truly odd.

Christmas has family parties and presents and beautiful decorations and lights and holiday surprise and special treats and seasonal books, music, and movies. We deliver neighbor gifts and pick out special presents for each other and sing Christmas songs and decorate gingerbread houses and spend time with cousins and decorate our home. How could that NOT be magical?

It doesn’t feel at all necessary to me to pretend someone is coming down the chimney with gifts to make it magical. (And if Santa feels like a crucial part of the holiday magic for you, go for it!).

Someone asked on Instagram what my “why” for not doing Santa was and I loved that question. The truth is that I really more don’t have a strong “why” compelling me TO do Santa and so we’ve just opted not to. It’s not that I’m deeply opposed to Santa – I just don’t see benefits to doing it in our family.

My mom used to joke that she wanted the credit for all the effort she spent preparing Christmas gifts for us and certainly didn’t want some imaginary guy getting the credit for it when she was the one paying attention all year to what we might enjoy on Christmas morning.  And that’s a compelling reason for me too – I’m so often the bad guy. I’m the one telling my kids to go to sleep or practice piano or clean their rooms. I want the relationship boost of also being the one who knows and loves them and gives them gifts on Christmas morning.

Truly, there are wonderful things about doing Santa or not doing Santa and there is a massive spectrum of how to manage Santa, from forbidding all Santa related things to going to extreme lengths to convince your kids that Santa is real and everything in between.

The thing I love about being a parent is getting to decide for our family how we want to handle different things, including Santa, and this has worked well for us.

(The other thing people always ask is if my kids believe in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter bunny and the answer is no – we joke in our family that we have a very lazy Tooth Fairy because I am truly terrible at remembering to put any money under their pillow).

I’d love to hear how you handle Santa in your home!

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  1. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post! I don’t have children yet but have always not loved the idea of believing in Santa, so it was great to read tangible ways that you navigate through the holiday season.

  2. We don’t necessarily push it, but don’t opt out either. Our elf brings us advent scriptures to read, not to spy, and my older kids move the elf around so I don’t have to remember. The smallest gift comes from Santa (I want the credit too for anything awesome) and 3/4 of my kids no longer believe and they find it fun to pretend for the youngest. But she’s already asking questions (she’s 7) so it’s likely not going to continue past this year in terms of anyone still believing. But I find the question about making it magical funny too…there’s lots of ways to make things magical and they don’t require a jolly old man. 😂

  3. I love this so much! I grew up with Santa and we “do Santa” for my kids (in that there are some unwrapped presents under the tree that we loosely say come from Santa) but I have never outright lied to them (about this or anything) and so when my then nearly 8yo asked me last year if he was real, I told him no. He was sad for a day or so, but then was over it. We asked him not to spoil it for his sister and he agreed.

    In short: it really is not a big deal any way you do it. Honesty & trust is a BIG THING for me, so I never feel right lying to my kids. I’m happy to pretend around something that’s a big cultural touchstone, but I won’t lie to them if they ask. I knew the wheels were about to come off last year because my oldest asked first about the Tooth Fairy…then the Easter Bunny… It was only a matter of time! LOL

    And yes–OMG–Christmas is so magical no matter what! My kids are already getting so excited for the return of our 2394082 advent calendars and other holiday traditions. Santa’s such a tiny part of the magic.

    Thanks Janssen for being open & straightforward & pragmatic (in this and all things)!

  4. I feel the same, and I think the fact that Santa was never a big deal in my childhood has meant that Christmas is still just as magical for me as an adult. I still get a thrill seeing presents under the tree on Christmas morning even though I know I’m the one who put them there 🙂

    1. So this was one reason I chose not to do Santa in my home. I was the oldest and my mom worked SO hard to convince me he a was real that I was way too old by the time I figured it out. 🤦🏻‍♀️ After that, Christmas never seemed as magical as when I was young and that made me so sad!

  5. This is great! We also don’t want to do Santa in the same way. We want the Santa figure to be involved we just don’t want to push the idea he puts the presents under the tree. I wasn’t sure how to explain Santa to my 3yo, but a pretend game is a great way to do it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. We also didn’t believe in Santa when I was growing up, and it was specifically because of a conversation that my dad had with a friend of his who was so traumatized when he found out that his parents had been making it all up. My parents decided that they didn’t want that either for their kids. I appreciate it, because I also chose not to do Santa with my kids. My husband and I highly value the truth, and we have told our children that we will always be honest with them, and they can count on that.

  7. When my kids are finally old enough to ask me “is Santa real?” I love having this conversation with them… I tell them that no, there isn’t a jolly man with a big round belly jumping down chimneys, BUT the spirit of Santa and magic of Christmas IS REAL! It’s a time when the world comes together, and people are serving and giving to others, it’s a time of joy and peace and love!! This time of year IS magical! And I explain that even though we know and believe that this is the spirit of Christ bringing joy, peace and love to the world, the belief in Santa still helps bring love and happiness to the world. And right now, we can use all the love and happiness we can get. Even if it comes from something fake like Santa.
    I love all of these different ideas and to each their own.

  8. I also grew up without Santa being part of our traditions. When my husband and I started having kids I chose to incorporate stockings into our family tradition but they know Mommy fills the stockings and everyone is able to add an item to someone else’s stocking. We read books about Santa, but I found it easier to give him his own day…in some parts of Europe St Nicholas day is celebrated in early December. We read a book about the real man who is remembered as ST Nicholas then follow the tradition of putting shoes next to the front door the night before and there’s candy chocolate coins as well as a few real coins in them the morning of St Nicholas Day. The kids love it because it’s another chance to get chocolate. 😂

  9. Christmases were magical in our home, toys, and gifts galore.
    But In 1960, my dad, unemployed, dreaded the upcoming celebration.
    Depression fueled his commitment. Sequestered in his workshop, he created my gift.
    I had my own 8-year-old concerns– was Santa Claus even real?
    Christmas eve arrived with the gift incomplete. Dad felt desperate with disappointment.
    At 3:00am, my bladder awakened me. As I moved towards the bathroom, my dad and grandfather appeared from the basement, carrying a magnificent wooden dollhouse with no roof.
    Our eyes met. Dad’s tears of relief and love filled my heart.
    Yes, Santa Claus was real.

    Thank you for this subject which allowed me to share with you all this true-life story that forever will be imbedded in my mind and heart. I have always felt deeply loved by my earthly and Heavenly Father, shaping my life in wonderful ways.

  10. As a Jewish family, Santa is a non-issue for us. When our kids were very young, we simply said Santa does not come to our house because we do not celebrate Christmas. As they grew older and more inquisitive, we told our kids that Santa is something/someone other families believe in and it is neither our place to tell them what or who to believe in (you can see how this segues nicely into other important conversations) nor to ruin someone else’s fun. We entertained the Tooth Fairy for a very short while, agreeing that once our kids asked us directly, we would not lie to them. Once that jig was up, we reminded them that like we told them with Santa, it is not their place to ruin the fun or joy for other kids. Just this week, I explained to the kids what sex is (they new some of the basics of sperm fertilizes eggs, but not how the sperm gets there in the first place) and ended that conversation with “just like different families explain Santa and the Tooth Fairy at the age they think it is appropriate for their kids, parents teach their kids about sex at the age they believe is right for that information to be shared in their family.” I never realized we would use the same language for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and sex, but my kids understood the message each time!

  11. Thanks for a well written post! During my young childhood years my father worked at a hospital in Papua New Guinea in a poor village, so my parents felt it would be hard to explain why Santa brought us “fancy” gifts but all the other local kids got fewer or commonly no gifts, so they never endorsed or propitiated the Santa story, similar to you. As an adult I can appreciate their approach- socioeconomic differences and poverty make a huge difference in how families can approach gifts at holiday time, and it would be sad to think about a child feeling less loved by a Santa who didn’t bring them as much as their friends.

  12. “what do you think!?” has been plenty fine for all sorts of magical creatures. My 7 year old will answer sometimes with a realistic explanation for why it’s not possible due to time and the size of the earth and chimneys, to which I reply ‘huh, interesting!’ and sometimes the answer is affirmative and includes magic and elves, to which i reply ‘huh, interesting!’. I don’t see the point in replying ‘nope’ unless specifically asked ‘is that what happens?’ to which I would reply ‘i think you are on to something!’ or ‘I’m not so sure about that’ (respectively).

  13. Thank you for this! My daughter is only 1 year old, but we plan to do something similar. Personally, my parents heavily pushed Santa, and I was truly devastated when they told me the truth. (That’s not an exaggeration) I had defended Santa to other children and so strongly believed. It was so hard to wrap my head around something I believed so deeply and got so excited for wasn’t actually true. Aside from my own reaction, there was definitely an unhealthy emphasis on gifts that I would like to move away from as well. Thank you for sharing!!

  14. I loved reading this point of view! There’s a woman in my group of friends who doesn’t do Santa, and she is so judgy about it. I can’t count the number of times she’s brought it up, along with something about how she would NEVER lie to her kids. It’s so annoying. I was not allowed to believe in Santa growing up, and it was heartbreaking for me, but all Santa talk was forbidden, it was a huge thing, sounds nothing like the way you do it. So it was good for me to read this and see that not everyone who opts out of Santa is sanctimonious like my friend, or mean about it like my dad.
    We “do” Santa, but it isn’t a big deal. We don’t have an elf (because creepy! “Here’s a toy who’s going to spy on you!”) And Santa brings one gift and partly fills stocking. Kids know that I put things in their stocking too, because I am not organized enough for them to not figure that out.

  15. Thank you so much for this! My son is 2 and my husband and I feel like this is the year we would start Santa if we were going to. I love that we have a perspective to compare it to for this decision. I’m half Jewish and grew up celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas during the holidays. Santa wasn’t pushed really hard in my house but it was in my husband’s. We’re trying to design what holiday traditions we want for our family, which is fun but stressful on the Santa front!

  16. I grew up with Santa, although that was definitely not the primary focus of the holidays for us and I didn’t feel disappointed or deceived when I found out—when a cousin finally told me at age 12 assuming that I already knew 😂 I have kept the tradition with my kids, except when they have asked if Santa is real, I have said yes, he that he was— and then I tell them about the life original Nicolas who was sainted for the acts of service that he did in secret because he wanted people to thank God. We talk about how the tradition was carried on after he died but how the legends and stories about him grew and became quite exaggerated and giggle about how silly some of them became. I explain that know that they are old enough to understand where the traditions come from, they get to be a helper “elf” to continue the tradition of spreading Christmas joy. I take them out on a one on one shopping trip with me and they pick out surprises to put in the stockings. On Christmas Eve they get to sneak out and deliver their gifts. They feel so grown up and mature, but then on Christmas morning they are soooo excited to watch the others discover their gifts. I think it’s even more magical for them. And I love that they are learning to give so freely…. Just to make someone else happy with no expectation of receiving anything in return. I’ve also enjoyed the added bonus of starting to discover surprises in my stocking that I’m not entirely sure who they are coming from 😁 it’s definitely heart warming ❤️

  17. This is pretty much exactly how we handle it. I had many people tell me we’d be ruining it for other families but we also kept it as pretty much a non-issue that I don’t know that that ever happens? It helps that none of my sisters “do Santa” with their kids either (I think). There was a Christmas or two our oldest tried to convince us Santa was real and that Santa really bought the presents…we told him we were happy to not buy him anything and see if that was true. He wasn’t so sure that he took that chance. Hahaha.

  18. Thank you for this post! My husband and I don’t want to do Santa either but I felt pressure from the idea of taking it away from other kids knowing they’ll talk about it or it won’t be as “magical” for them, but this post is everything I needed to hear. It’s exactly how I feel about Santa. My initial reasoning was wanting the credit for all the thoughtful gifts and not pressuring our kids to believe in something that’s not real. I want Christmas to be about spending time with family, not gifts or a made up man bringing gift if they’re “good.” I feel so confident about our decision now.

  19. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this. When my oldest figured out Santa wasn’t real at the age of 5, he was seriously upset that we had lied to him. It really bothered him that we led him to believe something that wasn’t true. It kind of made me feel like a jerk! I love the approach you have taken.

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