Awhile ago, on the verge of Mo’s first Christmas, I wrote about whether or not to “do Santa.” It felt very pressing at the time to determine our stance on this because it would set the stage for future Christmases. A friend kindly pointed out that at 11 months, it kind of didn’t matter. Point taken.
So that Christmas we didn’t do anything Santa related. Santa made an appearance at her daycare Christmas party, but that was it.
The next Christmas, when she was almost 2, it was much the same. She was still too young to get it or to ask any questions, so we didn’t bring up Santa one way or the other. He came to the daycare party, he showed up in a storybook or two, he made an appearance in some Christmas songs. But we never told her one way or the other if Santa was real, not real, brought presents, didn’t bring presents. It was a non-issue.
A year later, when she was almost 3, things got a little more interesting.
In short, here’s what we learned: If you say and do nothing about Santa, the child will make up his or her own mind!
And that’s the approach we’ve taken, sort of accidentally. Mo hears about Santa from everywhere – school, stories, songs, TV – and we let her craft her own ideas about the whole thing. We don’t correct anything, nor do we assert anything. We don’t discourage, and we don’t encourage. We don’t confirm nor deny.
I figure it’s like any other imaginary figure. I don’t go around telling her that the Paw Patrol characters aren’t real. I think kids exist in a state where real and fake are not defined in the same way they are for adults (although with the rise of fake news stories being accepted as fact, or facts being described as subjective… but that’s for another post). It doesn’t occur to her to ask us if Marshall and Chase are real in real life, and it doesn’t occur to her to ask that about Santa either.
We don’t make a point to take the kids to have their picture taken with Santa, but he shows up every year at the daycare party and they sit on his lap. We don’t tell Mo that Santa brings presents on Christmas or lives in the North Pole or rides a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. We’re not writing the story for her – we’re letting her take the things she hears and piece together what makes sense to her.
I am curious to see how presents go this year. Leading up to last Christmas, she mentioned a couple times that Santa was bringing presents and we always just said some version of, “Oh yeah, you think so?” And then we might probe a little further. “Why do you think he brings presents? Does everyone get presents?” and so on. Rather than confirm or deny, and rather than correct or endorse, we just acknowledge her thoughts and maybe try to understand a little better what she believes. On Christmas morning, she didn’t say a thing about Santa so we didn’t have to figure out how to answer the question of what was from us and what was “from Santa.”
This year, however, she’s older, wiser, more aware. She hasn’t asked to make a list for Santa or directly acknowledged that she expects gifts from him, but she has expressed a general idea that he brings presents on Christmas morning. If she asks, I think we’ll handle it like anything else under the Santa umbrella: ask her what she thinks.
I’ve also thought ahead to the day she asks us directly if Santa is real, and though I can’t say for sure what I’ll do in that moment, I imagine it’ll be something like, “Do you believe Santa is real?” If she still does, then he can be real. If she doesn’t, then I can help her figure out what that means to her.
I completely respect other approaches to Santa, but I’ve found this to be a great approach for us. We’re not telling her what to believe and we’re not telling her she’s wrong for what she believes. We’re letting her take the lead and we’re following along to see where she goes.
It feels trite to write about this in light of what is happening in my country right now, but I needed something lighthearted to give me a mental break so I can dive back into the important work with new energy. Off I go!