Why the Haefs don’t “Do” Santa… (It’s Not What You Think)

by Jonathan Haefs


That’s the word I would use to describe the general reaction of people when they find out that my family doesn’t “do” Santa Claus.

Now before you go and judge me or think that I am an extremely judgmental-grinch trying to steal the fun of Christmas for children everywhere…allow me to explain what led to the Saint Nicholas censorship in the Haefs household.

I grew up in a home that observed all the typical Santa traditions… stockings, chimneys, reindeer, letters, milk and cookies… you know how it goes. Holly’s family didn’t pay Santa much attention, but neither was he actively discounted. Now, both of us have wonderful childhood Christmas memories, and do not feel like “exposure” to Santa traumatized either of us. So, you would think we would naturally have no problems with continuing Santa traditions with our children. That was the original plan… at least for me.

santa-clausAs Holly and I became more serious in our relationship, we had more serious conversations about our future, including marriage and children. Believe it or not, our largest disagreement was over whether or not we would “do” Santa with our children. I was in favor of Papa Noel…she was not.

Now what was her concern and what won me over to her side? It was not anything you might have heard before…like the fact that “Santa” can be rearranged to spell “Satan,” or that we were worried that if we lied to our children about Santa they would think we lied about Jesus too…no…those things didn’t have any bearing on our decision. There was actually one central factor that changed my mind about Kris Kringle…


I only have so much time with my children…only so much time to invest in them…only so much time to show them what is important…only so much time to point them to Jesus.

The Christmas season gets so cluttered and crowded with things that do not matter. I already find it difficult to point my kids toward Christ when there are so many other things are begging for their attention. I simply did not want to add and promote another distraction. In the list of things that were important to me at Christmas time…Santa simply lost.

Now, this leads people to ask me a million questions and I want to try and address what are probably the top three most frequently asked. If you have additional questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section and I’ll do my best to answer.

1. How do you shield your kids from Santa?
We don’t. We want our kids to be knowledgeable about the culture in which they live, able to interpret it and engage it. So our kids are very aware of Santa…in fact they sat on his lap last night at the Brookwood mall. At this point, you might be confused. Here’s the deal…they know Santa is pretend (like a cartoon character), but they still enjoy him as much as they do any other character in a costume (think Mickey Mouse). We let them watch the same cartoons that we did growing up (claymation Rudolph, The Grinch, Frosty, etc) and they are welcome to sit on Santa’s lap…but, in their minds, he is merely on the periphery of the season and nowhere near the center.

For instance, if you ask my kids why they receive presents…Santa will be the furthest thing from their minds. They’d tell you that we give and receive gifts as a reminder that Christmas celebrates the giving and receiving of the greatest gift…God giving his only son Jesus to be received by the world.  I promise you, this makes Christmas morning no less “magical.” If anything…it is more “magical.” I mean…we are celebrating God taking on flesh! A man scooting down chimneys simply cannot compete with that. Santa, the pretend guy, gets to be on the outskirts of Christmas, but Jesus gets the center. This naturally leads to the next question.

2. What do you do in place of Santa?
st_nicholas_myra_500We technically still include Santa…just in his proper place…December 6th. That is the feast day of the real Saint Nicholas. On that day, we tell our children about Nicholas’ life and do a few small things to celebrate his feast day.

That still leaves people wondering what we do throughout the rest of December and especially on the 25th. Well, we observe Advent as a family. Each day, we try to set aside to time (usually at dinner) to light our Advent wreath, read Scripture, and talk about what it means that Jesus came and he will come again. Advent is a season of waiting and longing for the coming Messiah…the greatest gift. Thus, Christmas works as a perfect teaching analogy as your kids wait and long for the coming of gifts.

We still sing songs (primarily about Jesus), go look at Christmas lights (reminding us of the coming light of the world), decorate a tree (much like Jesus would make a cross/tree a beautiful symbol), etc.  We simply try to make Jesus the center of all these traditions.

On Christmas day, we read Luke 2 and open presents. We try to limit the amount of presents to stem the tide of materialism. Each child receives three plus small stocking items…yes we do stockings. How do we explain how they get filled? You know what’s funny?…our kids have never asked that question. Limiting the number of gifts also frees up funds to teach our children how to be generous by example. We spend the rest of the day celebrating, eating, laughing, praying, playing…it looks like a pretty normal Christmas day actually…we just talk about Jesus instead of Santa. It really isn’t complicated. Actually…I believe it is less complicated.

3. Do you think “doing” Santa is harmful and that other people should make the same decision you have?
This is always a fun question…because my answer is yes and no. I believe there is a way to “do” Santa that can be potentially harmful, but it doesn’t have to be. If people want to “do” Santa with their kids, I would NOT insist that they make the same decision that my family has or they’re wrong, but I would encourage them to “do” Santa in such a way that points their family toward Jesus.

Here’s what I mean. The traditional concept of Santa stands in direct contradiction to the gospel, which is the heart of Christmas. Santa keeps a checklist of who is naughty or nice…and so you need to work hard, behave right so that you can be rewarded with gifts. This is not the gospel…it is works based righteousness…legalism. Our kids are already hard-wired legalists…they don’t need us reinforcing their natural bent. Christmas…the gospel…grace is designed to counter and contradict legalism. God sent his son to an undeserving world to save us. We were given this gift freely. We could not earn it. We were all on the naughty list and Jesus took our lump of coal so that we could have an eternal gift…him!

If you are going to do Santa, then brainstorm/imagine/dream/think of ways to use him as a pointer to Jesus…a pointer to the gospel…a pointer to grace.