Raising Richmond: Christmas without Santa FAQ

Answers to our most frequently-asked-questions about celebrating the season sans the Big Man in Red.

It seems that this time of year, no matter where we go, people only have one question for our son JR:

What do you want Santa to bring you this year?

Not a crazy question. I mean, he’s a five-year-old boy, so it’s reasonable to assume he’s got Ol’ St. Nick on the brain. It’s also reasonable that most people seem pretty taken aback when he responds with a noncommittal shrug or when (on the days he’s feeling bold) he laughs and says, “Nothing! Santa’s not real!”

It’s true. Our precious little poppet does not believe in Santa Claus–and not because he spotted us filling his stocking and tucking presents under the tree last year. The Catrow Family (at least this branch of it) doesn’t “do” Santa.1

Since this revelation often brings up a lot of questions–both from people completely appalled with this particular parenting choice and from those simply curious about our approach2–I thought it would be helpful to do a little FAQ on the subject. So please, allow me to shed a little light on how (and why) our family does Christmas without Santa…

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You don’t do Santa? Why the heck not?

It comes down to three things…

1) Just as we want JR to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, he also needs to understand that a present doesn’t just appear under your tree or in your stocking; someone either worked for the money to buy it or used his/her time and talents to make it. I believe that framing gifts in such a way is key in cultivating gratitude in our son. I also think it’s helped keep our family’s gift-giving relatively low-key. JR knows his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are the ones buying or making his gifts, so we don’t get presented with a long, outrageous wish list each year. He typically asks for one or two totally reasonable things and is thrilled with whatever ends up under the tree.

2) We prefer to be straight with JR–in age appropriate ways, of course, but straight nonetheless. When he asks hard or uncomfortable questions, we tell him the truth in a way that his five-year-old brain can grok (or try to, anyway). So it just doesn’t sit right with us to push honesty in any and all situations but then participate in a big made-up story that isn’t consistent with what we do and believe the rest of the year.

3) My husband and I are Christians. At just over five-years-old, JR hasn’t explicitly expressed his feelings on the matter either way, but he knows that Christmas is the time of year that we celebrate Jesus’s birth. As my husband explained a few years back, “The Christmas season is so steeped in symbols, and we want those symbols to jibe with what we do and believe the rest of the year. […] When presented with the choice of celebrating Jesus or celebrating a man who brings presents, I want to make sure we choose what best fits our beliefs. Similarly, I don’t want JR to learn that the amount of love he gets from us depends on his annual level of naughty/nice—we want him to learn that we’ll love him unconditionally even if he sucks. That’s not to say that you can’t do both, Jesus and Santa, successfully. We’ve just decided not to.”

How did you tell your son the truth about Santa?

There wasn’t a moment when we sat JR down and filled him in on the whole Santa situation. To be honest, we just don’t talk about Santa all that much at our house, so he’s sort of a non-issue. When JR picked up on that fact that this Santa guy was “a thing” with some of his friends and started asking questions from time to time, we’d just tell him that Santa was a tradition that some families “did” at Christmastime. And…that’s kind of it. It didn’t (or hasn’t) required further explanation.

Is your house a No Santa Zone?

Nope. We read books about Santa, watch movies with Santa in them, you name it. We just treat them as what they are: sweet stories that make people feel good.

So what does your son think about Santa?

JR loves Santa, just not in an “OMG! IT IS HIM!” kind of way. When we spot Santa in the mall or see him in a movie, JR reacts in the same way he does when he sees, say, Nutzy at a baseball game or someone dressed up as Spider-man at a birthday party: he points and waves like a crazy man and enjoys the excitement right along with everyone else. For him, Santa is just a fun character that is part of the holiday season.

Don’t you think he feels left out?

I did worry about that at first, but we’re seeing more and more families in our circle of friends3 opting to not do Santa–or to at least going with a more toned-down version of what a lot of us experienced growing up. Honestly, Santa is just not ubiquitous enough in our holiday traditions for it to be a big “me versus them” sort of situation.

But what about the magic?

Trust me, Santa is not the only way to make the holiday season magical and exciting for your kids. Right now, our family’s Christmas traditions seem to be enough for JR as he awaits the Big Day–going to Lewis Ginter to see the lights; decorating the tree; hanging up the ornaments on his Advent Jesse tree; watching Elf; eating donuts and singing Christmas carols with the sweet old ladies at Randolph Place Senior Housing Community.4 I promise you, he is properly and thoroughly stoked about Christmas from Thanksgiving Day and on to the New Year–just like any regular pre-kindergartener.

Is your kid going to ruin it for my kid?

This is, hands down, the question we get asked most often when people find out we don’t “do” Santa in our house. Which I totally get! They’re your kids, and if Santa is part of your Christmas thang, I do not judge you nor do I want my kid to muck things up for you and your little ones. So you can rest assured that my husband and I are doing our best to keep that from happening.5 After many, many, many conversations, JR understands that 1) some kids believe in Santa while other kids don’t, and 2) it is not his responsibility to break the news to those who do. If you ask him point-blank if Santa is real, he’ll usually6 say “no,” but it’s not like he’s going to run through the throngs of children waiting to see Santa at CMoR bellowing, “IT’S ALL FAKE, KIDS. SHUT IT DOWN.”

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  1. Or the Easter Bunny. We haven’t had to consider the Tooth Fairy yet. 
  2. The former tend to be way more vocal than the latter. 
  3. Religious and not. 
  4. Let’s be honest: it’s more about the donuts than the singing with the ladies. 
  5. There was one incident in preschool when JR told a couple kids that Santa wasn’t real–an incident of which I was informed of during a PTA meeting in front of several other parents from his class. I apologized and promised to speak to JR about it (which I did), but I’m still kinda pissed that I essentially got publicly called out for a parenting choice that is just as valid as everyone else’s. 
  6. Sometimes he’ll randomly announce that he thinks Santa is real. I usually just smile or respond with a simple, “OK, bud.” 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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