The Santa Game

Santa Woodland

It’s that time again. Christmas!! Well…almost. We are of the breed of people who do not begin Christmas celebrations until after Thanksgiving. But, we certainly do a lot of planning before Thanksgiving. Our minds are definitely looking forward to Christmas with our family and planning how we will celebrate and honor Christ’s birth. Now, if you were to come in our house during Christmas time it would appear very similar to any other household…the tree, the lights, the stockings… We watch Christmas movies and we talk about Santa. Our children, ages 8, 4, and 3 love Christmas and are just as excited as any other child during this holiday season. The one main difference you might notice in our house is that our children know that the Santa Claus of today isn’t real because we tell them.

Yes, there…I said it! We’re just a bunch of Scrooges! So, just how did we come to this seemingly childhood wrecking conclusion of teaching our kids that the jolly old man with a button nose isn’t real? Quite simply actually. When Isaac was very little, we asked ourselves what we wanted to teach him about Christmas. We then looked at our list, and Santa was not on it. We want to be completely honest with our children and playing Santa without telling them the rules just didn’t seem to be honest to us.

Christmas is traditionally about two things: Jesus and Santa. Generally, we start our children believing that both are true and later we concede that actually only one is true. For us, mixing these two beliefs is playing a dangerous game with the delicate trust of our children during a time when trust is of utmost importance. Our job as parents is to train our children in the way they should go yet we start them off with a lie and then try to play catch up at a crucial age that some might call “the age of accountability”. In doing so, we set our child up for a huge let down and a more difficult choice to follow Christ.

All this is NOT to say that Santa Claus is gone from our house at Christmas time. The TRUTH is that St. Nick was a real guy who did some pretty neat things. He really embodies the spirit of the season. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning about the real St. Nick. In our house, it’s ok to play Santa Claus too. We still play Santa Claus every year, with much success, but we always begin the season by telling our children about Christmas. We tell them that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. This discussion has gotten deeper and richer as the years have progressed with our oldest and now our younger two. Last year, we discussed why Jesus had to be born of a virgin, about Jesus’ earthly lineage, how God was his true father, not Joseph, and we even talked about the different lineages in Matthew and Luke. We talked about how that if Jesus’ lineage and the whole Bible were made up, those passages would mirror each other for simplicity sake of the author and the reader. We even discussed that Jesus probably wasn’t born on Christmas Day. So we go through these discussions to be as honest and biblically accurate as we can be.

Santa 2

Here are our guidelines to dealing with Santa Claus:

  1. Santa isn’t real. This needs to be spoken.   When kids are young, it needs to be spoken each year. We don’t beat around the bush. St. Nick was real. Santa Claus is not.
  2. We will play Santa as long as our kids are interested. We can still put up stockings, we can leave cookies out, and yes, we still read The Night Before Christmas. These things are all fun, and in our family, it’s fine to pretend.
  3. We aren’t going to tell anyone that Santa isn’t real. We tell our children that everyone else is playing the same Santa game and everyone follows the #3 rule. We stress this so that our children don’t blow anyone else’s traditions and so that they don’t feel alienated by ours.

Every year when we sit our kids down, it’s nothing like you might expect. There are no tears, no dreams shattered. They are always remarkably cool with it. To them, Santa is a game.   We don’t mention the “rules” again. If they choose to get completely engrossed in the game that is part of the fun, all that we do is give them the “rules” of the game.

The surprising fact about all this is that because our Christmas is less about Santa Claus, it becomes more about Jesus. Every year, we go through an Advent Study as a family. Our kids love this. I’ll list some of the resources we use at the bottom of this post. We also focus a lot on serving and giving as a family. We visit nursing homes, we send cards, we participate in Samaritan’s purse Operation Christmas Shoebox. Some of these things we do year round, but at Christmas, it’s just a fact that it seems more special.

Let me say this…this is a post that has been on my heart for years and I’ve always been afraid to write it. I hate the thought that we are stepping on toes or that you might feel that we are judging you or your family. I want to assure you that we aren’t. We have been around a lot of children and have talked to a lot of children, and we can tell you first hand, believing in Santa Claus causes unnecessary confusion for a lot of children. Our purpose in this post is simply to offer an alternative. This is one of those very rare situations where you actually can “have your cake and eat it too”. You can be completely truthful and still hold on to the Santa Claus tradition. However, let me make it really clear that it is our desire to write about what we do to give others ideas and thoughts to chew on. It doesn’t mean that every family should be a carbon copy of us. We are not perfection. The appropriate response to this post is not to feel attacked or defensive, to feel judged or to be forever awkward around Christmas time if you’re with us. (Rest assured that we will still ask your kids what Santa brought them. We will still smile and laugh with them when they talk about hearing Santa’s sleigh bells and we will not think badly about you if you do something different.) But, keep in mind that the most appropriate response to this post is to do what you should do with any blog post: If it resonates with you, pray about it and what God would have you do with it. If it absolutely doesn’t resonate with you, completely forget about it. That’s fine too. Always remember that blog posts are simply regular people opening up their thoughts, opinions, convictions, and lives in a very vulnerable way.

Whatever your family does, we wish you a very Merry Christmas. It’s one of our favorite times of the year. And to help your family focus more on Christ this year, here are some great resources that we’ve tested and approved in our family (click the bold print to take you to the website):

1.  Truth in the Tinsel by Amanda White:  We used this for about 3 years in a row.  It’s a great study especially for younger kiddos.

2.  Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp:  This is a new study for us.  It’s a Jesse Tree Advent Study, so we will be going through the lineage of Jesus.  This will be our first year to do this, but I already have the book and it’s absolutely beautiful.  The pictures are breathtaking, and each day there is an ornament to go with the story that you can either make or buy.  I’ll let you know how we like it.

3.  The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel:  This is a really cool book that goes through how many of the Christmas traditions have Christian roots.  There are lots of great ideas for family activities and plenty of Bible references.




One thought on “The Santa Game

  1. Great thoughts! We were never taught to believe in Santa growing up and in a culture where that has become almost unheard of it has been interesting to decide how to respond with our children. Excited to check out some of the resources you listed!


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