Several years ago I learned a youth pastor lesson the hard way. I was speaking to a room full of 7th and 8th graders on the topic of “How Do I Know Jesus Is Real?”; an important topic for young teenagers to wrestle through! Assuming that no 11-14-year-olds still believed in Santa Claus, I used him as my analogy; posing the question “After all, we were all taught to believe in Santa Claus and it turns out he isn’t real, how do we know it won’t be the same story with Jesus?” The next morning I received a fiery email from the mom of a 7th grader berating me for revealing the truth about Santa to her child…reminding me that it wasn’t my right to decide when children learn the truth about this magical Christmas tradition. Fair point. Lesson learned.
While most parents certainly don’t try to keep their children on the Santa train through their junior high years, most parents wrestle with coming up with a good Santa Strategy. So, in no particular order, I’d like to present four Santa Strategies for your consideration.
Go All In, For As Long As Possible
This would be the approach of the parent who sent me the email. Many parents want to prolong the fun and magic of Santa Claus as long as possible and will do whatever it takes to keep their children believing in Santa Claus. While this approach is certainly fun and keeps the magic alive, parents run the risk of overtly lying to their children when questions are asked and may end up losing a measure of their children’s trust along the way. And, your bone-headed youth pastor may accidentally let the cat out of the bag during a lesson.
Ignore Santa Completely
The opposite strategy is to avoid confusion and deception and to avoid mixing messages at Christmas (i.e. Jesus Vs Santa) and ignore Santa completely. This approach simply doesn’t include any level of Santa-related festivities in their Christmas celebrations. No pictures with Santa, no gifts or stockings from Santa, no Santa decorations etc.
Substitute with Saint Nicholas
Because the legend of Santa Claus started with the real-life person of Saint Nicholas, many parents opt to tell their children from the onset that Santa Claus isn’t real. Instead, they focus on the fun tradition that has grown and morphed over the years as a way to honor Saint Nicholas’ generosity towards others. This method would typically include all the Santa Claus traditions, but wouldn’t include any attempt to convince children that Santa is alive and well.
Santa For a “Season”
This strategy is probably the most popular one, even among Christian parents. This strategy celebrates the fun Santa myth and goes “all in”, for a season…until the child begins to get suspicious and ask questions about the validity of the idea. At this point (and it would be different for each child), the parents would admit that Santa isn’t real, but would probably keep the fun tradition alive (i.e. gifts from “Santa”, cookies and milk for “Santa”) as part of their Christmas festivities.
Developing a “Santa Strategy” probably isn’t super high on your list of parenting priorities, but as we head into the Christmas season, it might be a good time to consider what approach and response you want to have ready if questions from your children arise.