Field Guide to Families

Nurturing strong relationships—one issue at a time

The Case for Keeping Santa

A holiday story rich in important lessons worth teaching.

Pere Noel, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas--no matter what country you live in or what you call him, Santa is an icon of childhood. Every generation has had a relationship with this legendary man, but for some parents, the mythical story poses ethical dilemmas in parenting. "Am I lying to my child? "Will my child distrust other beliefs our family holds when the truth comes out?"

The story of Santa Claus is a special one and he need not cause you to fear the inevitable day when your child asks, "Is Santa real?" There's so much you can do to let the role Santa plays in your child's life be more memorable than miserable.

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This wonderful holiday story can be a virtual sleigh-filled opportunity to teach important lessons.

Joy

Is there anything better than seeing the face of a child holding a treasured gift? Today your child is expected to grow up very quickly. Let the sheer delight of anticipation, happiness and the fun that Santa brings be a Christmas memory for your child.

Generosity

Santa's biggest legacy is his desire to give without receiving. Use the Santa story to encourage your child to be a person who enjoys giving. This holiday season, include your child in the ways you give of your time and talents to others. Role-model generosity.

Wonder

How does he get around the world in one night? Do reindeer really fly? Learning to question and make sense of the unbelievable is an important skill for a child. Just thinking about this Christmas tale encourages critical thinking and reasoning skills. Join your child on the quest to understand.

Faith

Santa is your child's first experience believing in something he cannot see. Believing in Santa is a beginning step toward teaching your child about faith. Spirituality is based on learning to trust in a higher power, in God.

Hope

It's true we all want something to hope for. A word of caution here though--keep your child's expectations realistic. The flip side of hope is disappointment. Prepare your child the best you can for the reality of Christmas morning around your tree.

Are you worried you'll lose credibility with your child once he or she finds out about the mythical nature of this children's story? Here are some do's and don'ts for keeping the focus on the positive side of Santa.

Do

  • Talk about the joys of giving that Santa represents
  • Discuss ways your child can be like Santa by being generous to others
  • Let your child enjoy the magic and wonder that is born of faith
  • Focus on sharing your religious or spiritual traditions and beliefs with your child
  • Tell the truth once your child really asks you to tell him

Don't

  • Don't lie to your child just to keep the myth alive. Answering questions by saying, "what do you think?" is your best bet.
  • Don't force your child to sit on Santa's lap. He may be nice to think about, but a different story altogether when you have to meet or talk to him.
  • Don't tell your child until you are sure she is ready. Just because your child asks you doesn't mean she really wants to know. Without lying, buy time.
  • Don't focus on wish lists and what he'll bring your child. Instead turn the focus on to the key values he represents.

I think there's a strong case for keeping a child's belief in Mr. Claus alive. Santa is more of an asset than a liability for parents who want to keep the focus of Christmas on teaching values. It's all in how you incorporate this celebrated gift-giver into your holiday rituals. 

Remember, everything your child experiences is an opportunity for learning. If this man in a red suit is part of your beloved holiday traditions, be sure to use the best lessons Santa has to offer. Here are mine: Giving is truly better than receiving, and faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Lynne Griffin teaches family studies at the graduate level and she's the author of the parenting guide Negotiation Generation, and the family novels Sea Escape and Life Without Summer. You can find her online at www.LynneGriffin.com, at www.Twitter.com/Lynne_Griffin and at www.Facebook.com/LynneGriffin.

 

 

 

Lynne Griffin, R.N., M.Ed.researches family life and is a novelist.

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