Whether you’re curious about “scaling back” on Santa this year or if you think I’m a stick in the mud, here’s a little background on why we don’t do Santa in our family, as well as some ideas for making Christmas about Jesus.
I remember the first time I truly caught the joy of Christmas. My husband and I were driving around the neighborhood looking at lights, pre-kids. We were sipping gingerbread lattes and blasting my favorite Christmas album, Mariah Carey’s “Merry Christmas” (duh). Like any good millennial, this album has been a part of every Christmas for me since it was released in 1994.
We had gotten to the last song on the album, “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child”. A song that, if I’m being honest, I never really cared much for when I was a teenager. But this time, it sparked something in me.
I’ve always known that Christmas was the day we celebrated Jesus’ birth. But this time, when the song culminated in clapping and singing “Jesus!” like a good old church choir, I felt a surge of celebration over the hell-shattering event of Christ’s birth and what it means for me and for humanity.
I remember the depth of joy I felt in this experience. I remember turning to face the window to hide the cheesy tears that were welling up in my eyes. I remember how much better this joy was than what I was used to focusing on throughout my life. This was way more exciting than gifts. Sweeter than cookies. More beautiful than lights.
And way better than Santa.
I was changed by that moment in the car. It was somewhat of an awakening for me, this discovery of the collective celebration we can enjoy in this season. It was a gift.
Making Christmas About Jesus for Our Kids
Fast forward a few years later, and I still prefer this true joy of Christmas to the commercialized version. My heart is to pass this discovery on to our kids. Which means that Santa is seriously downplayed at our house.
We don’t talk much about Santa.
We don’t usually do pictures with Santa.
We don’t do Elf on a Shelf. (Thank You, Jesus.)
While my husband has been so go-with-the-flow about this approach, it was hard for me to start down this path. All my life, I enjoyed the mystery and magic of Santa. It’s what characterized the holiday for me. If we glossed over it, I kind of felt like we were cheating our kids out of the celebration. And I’d be lying if I told you I never questioned this choice — especially the first year we did Christmas as parents.
But with each year that has passed, I have become more certain that this approach to Christmas is the right one for us. I’ve watched my daughter enjoy the season without focusing all her attention on Santa. She’s still excited about presents, but it’s not an all-consuming frenzy.
That said, I do believe this approach will require us to have consistent intention every year. The world around us likes to emphasize the gifts, beginning the day after Thanksgiving. Advertisements bombard us with pressure to buy, suggesting that a new pair of Uggs or the latest toy will make this Christmas magical and memorable. But I’d rather have our spirits calibrated toward the ever-present joy of Jesus than try our darndest to top the glitz of our previous Christmas. I’d rather enjoy the beautiful rest that Jesus brings than stress about my performance as a gift-giver (or become obsessed with my own wish list).
Practical Steps to Making Christmas About Jesus
To be clear, we haven’t gone out and explicitly told our kids the truth about Santa. At this point, we’re just riding it out as long as we can until they ask. And we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I wouldn’t mind telling them now that he isn’t real, but I don’t want them to go and spoil it for their cousins and friends.
If you’re interested in heading down this path with us, here are a few practical steps to get you started:
- Read books with your family about the birth of Jesus, and start prioritizing them over the books about Santa.
- Turn your own heart toward Jesus this season. After all, we can’t expect our kids to go somewhere we haven’t gone ourselves.
- Start a tradition that emphasizes Jesus. Instead of Elf on a Shelf, this is what we’re doing.
- If you don’t already have one, add a nativity set to your Christmas decorations. You can check thrift stores or even make one together as a family out of construction paper.
- If you’re already neck-deep in Santa and want to scale back a bit, there are a few ways you can do this:
- Reduce the number of gifts he brings. The rest can come from you!
- Make the gift(s) he brings less exciting so the best ones come from you! (Added bonus to this approach: You get more gift credit!)
- Make Santa’s focus more on how loved your children are by Jesus, and less about how “good” they’ve been this year. (Maybe have him write a special letter to each child, telling them how much Jesus loves them and how He died just so He could be reunited with them. It’s the best love story there is.)
- Remember, it doesn’t have to be black-and-white and you don’t have to stop cold turkey. This transition can take a few years, and that’s OK.
If you have other ideas for celebrating Jesus during Christmas, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.