Parenting at Christmas: Teaching Children about the Difference Between Christmas and Santa

Article by Make The Days Count Contributor Judy Mosley


We had waited two hours to see the guy.  It was the annual “Picture with Santa” at my husbands’ work and we had brought the kids, prepared to take the perfect Christmas photo for the grandparents.  In addition, our kids would get a free gift afterwards, age appropriate, of course.


We sat down in the waiting area and ate the refreshments provided.  The kids wiggled in their seats, dropped cookies, smashed chips in the carpet, and even spilt some punch down the front of their shirts.  It had to be green.  I found some back-ups in the car.  Thank goodness for Hanes sweatshirts.


Finally, our number was called.  We walked to the front, and as we headed closer to Santa, I could feel my daughter gluing herself to my body.  By the time we came to Santa’s side, she refused to let go of me.  My son wasn’t excited about this, either.  We finally convinced them to stand in front of Santa.  While they obeyed their parents, we felt guilty.  My daughters’ lip quivered while my son looked to his daddy as if to say, “Why are you making me do this?” 


The perfect photo shot.  Merry Christmas.


On the way home, my husband and I both agreed that this would be the end of Santa, at least, in the way that we had been presenting him to our kids.


Many parents struggle with explaining Christmas to their children: what it means, who’s involved, how the entire season came about.  If it only were the simple, magical time of the year that we all long for.  But, it’s not.  Especially with the cultural and commercial pressures to buy gifts, gifts, gifts for everyone that has ever crossed our path.


But, it doesn’t have to be completely complicated.  The following are some lessons that I’ve learned.  I hope that, especially this year, these might help you explain to children how to separate the commercial holiday season from the true Christmas … and help your family in discovering and applying the true meaning of Christmas.


1. Find out what fits for your family.

Many parents, especially Christians, may feel confused about how to deal with the issue of Santa and Christ because they aren’t sure what they are really teaching their children.  I’ve discovered that this isn’t as life or death as we tend to make it.  Being Christians, my husband and I are teaching them that Jesus is the real reason that we have Christmas.  But, we are including Santa because we also believe in the magic, make-believe, creativity, and wonder of life.


After our Santa fiasco, my husband talked to a fellow co-worker who told him about St. Nicks’ day on December 6th that is often celebrated in Europe.  Children receive simple presents, like candy, nuts, and fruits in their shoes, left by St. Nicholas.  My husband and I were sold on the spot.  For us, this solved the problem of who was getting the real glory at Christmas time.  So, for our household, Santa has already come and the presents that will come on Christmas day are from us.  With that, we will tell them the story of Jesus and why He came to earth.  This is what fits for us.


2. Teach respect for others’ beliefs.

When you are making your own decisions, take care not to make your answers the only answer.  Often, we make things right or wrong, simply to validate what we believe.  Give other families the space to create their own traditions, even if it’s different from your own.  And teach your kids to respect the beliefs of others, as well.


3. Give your children the freedom to enjoy the opportunities presented to them.

Also known as, “don’t force your kids to do activities that they don’t want to do.”  Before we had children, my husband and I made the decision to instill in our kids the freedom to say “no” if they didn’t feel comfortable with something.  For example, kissing someone they didn’t want to kiss or to sit on someone’s lap.  Yet, there we were forcing our kids to sit on a complete stranger’s lap when they were clearly telling us no.


As a child, I loved Christmas but hated being in the Christmas plays.  Encourage your kids to get involved, but don’t make them do things simply because the culture says we should.  That will only build resentment and possibly mistrust between you and your child.  Give them the freedom to tell you when they feel uncomfortable doing something.  Often times, it’s not that big of a deal anyway.


4. Allow for maturity.

Kids grow up.  They grow older and start to see the world in a different light.  As parents, we need to encourage this maturity without forcing it or holding it back.  I’ve seen many parents fight to keep their children in the dark about Santa, even when the child was ready to let go.  Actually, it was the parents who didn’t want to let go … they couldn’t accept their children growing up and not “believing” anymore.  The parents didn’t want that part of childhood to die.


Teach kids about a different kind of magic.  The power of love, truth, adventure, hope, and honor.  Let them leave childish things behind at the right time and give them something that they will be able to hold onto for the rest of their lives.


5. Always teach kids the truth about the Christmas holiday.

Whatever or whomever you believe in, be sure to teach your children what Christmas is always about: Love, giving, helping each other, and taking care of our world.  If you are Christian, teach them about Jesus and the Christmas story in the Bible (see for example Luke 1:26 – 2:19).


Teach kids what the spirit of Christmas looks like.  Do age appropriate activities that will show them how much need there is in the world and that they can take part in fulfilling some of those needs.  Deliver food baskets.  Serve at a soup kitchen.  Invite people to your home who don’t have family close by or have no family at all.  Show your kids that money may not even be necessary to make a wish come true.


Make this Christmas the best ever, the one that’s right for your family, and one where you let go of the ideas that keep you from true life.  Show your family the little things that can make a big difference in this hurting world.  And most of all, love your kids.  They need you, more than anything else.


-Some great books to read to small children concerning Santa and Jesus are:


Santa, Are You for Real?” By Harold Myra and Jane Kurisu

This book, in poetry form, tells the real story of Santa Claus.  I grew up with this one and loved it.


God Gave Us Christmas” by Lisa T. Bergren and David Hohn

This is what we are currently reading to our son.  It tells about God and why Jesus came to earth, but doesn’t reveal that Santa isn’t real.


Both can be found on


“There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”
-Erma Bombeck


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Posted on 16 December, 2008 in Parenting, Spirituality
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Kevin
    December 17th, 2008 at 8:45 am #

    I was talking to my sister about this article yesterday evening, and she had what I thought was a good way to approach the subject of Santa. When he son asked about wether Santa was “real” (he was eight-ish), her response was “What do you think about Santa”? This was separate in many ways from Jesus and the Christmas story in the Bible as the kids learned that from when they they were very little and had it reinforced as they grew.

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