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.
As 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?
We 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.
I really enjoyed this blog. I did the whole Santa thing. My children are older and no longer “believe” but if I had it to do over again, I would not do Santa. My son was very upset this past summer when he found out. He felt very deceived by me and I felt like a heel. We have always made sure that the children knew that “Jesus is the reason for the season” but Santa was a major part of Christmas. Hopefully Christmas will take on a new meaning now.
I’m with you. I did get a slight chuckle though at the part about explaining how the stockings are filled. You’d better believe I get credit for what I do, dang it! 🙂 They know the presents are from me or whomever the giver was. They even know where the stash of stockings stuffers that I collect throughout the year are hidden.
Lol! so funny… Ive had this conversation with my sister before in the past.. I feel exactly the same way… Our kids should know the dedication and sacrifice we make each year to give them a good Christmas… Im not letting a mythical holiday character take the credit for what the Lord has blessed us with or all the work I did!!! lol
I love this blog… I’m 26 years old now with two kids of my own and it has never been an issue to leave Santa out of Christmas… lol.. My mother didn’t “do” Santa with me growing up and I’m glad she didn’t… And I don’t with my kids either.. Im not condemning people who do… I don’t think its wrong… but it IS just another thing to get their minds off the true meaning of Christmas..
Just curious, do you allow your children to tell their peers that Santa isn’t real? Or do you tell them not to reveal that secret? I assume that eventually your child would run into this conversation with a peer at some point. And that you wouldn’t want to upset other parents.
A few other commenters have asked this same question. Here is the answer I’ve been giving everyone: Fortunately this is not too big of a risk for us as our kids are homeschooled. Still, they have very active social lives at church, playgroups, co-op, etc. We have only experienced this happening once so far and it was last year. Charis, my daughter, told one of her friends that Santa was not real. Her friend didn’t believe her, so I guess no “harm” was done. We simply reinforced with her what we had told her before, namely, that many parents play the “Santa game” with their children and they want to keep it a secret. We tell them that we have just chosen not to play the “Santa game” because different people celebrate Christmas differently. So, we tell them, lets do the other parents a favor and not spoil their game.
I’m not sure if this is the best answer to your question, but it is how we have approached this situation so far. Thanks for asking and I hope this is somewhat helpful!
Grace be with you,
I’m afraid we made the same mistake with our children and now I can’t help but feel the Christmas tree is really as wrong as santa,pagan.
Thanks for commenting. Please know that I’m not saying that “doing” Santa is a mistake. I think there is a redemptive way to do it (see #3), but my family has not chosen that route so that we may use our time in other ways. As far as the Christmas tree goes and other “pagan” rituals that are a part of Christmas…I’m actually writing a blog tomorrow about this issue and will do my best to answer questions then. Let’s just say that even if Christmas and various traditions do have their roots in paganism…I don’t think that means we cannot use them to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I’ll explain tomorrow. Thanks again for commenting!
Grace be with you,
This was a wonderful post. We also have chosen not to do Santa in our family. We want the focus to remain on Jesus. I have told people who question our choice or think our children will feel deprived that Jesus is what we need. If my kids feel deprived because all they had was Jesus, well then I did my job wrong. Jesus is enough! 😀
Our children know that other kids “do” Santa. We had to explain to our oldest, and I’m sure we will have to tell our other four eventually, that some kids believe Santa is real because that is what their parents have told them. It is not our job to correct someone else’s parents, so we need to be mindful not to tell them that Santa is not real. We also do not “do” the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny (yuck!!!).
We also teach our kids that it is NOT ok to lie. It’s one of the 10 commandments, so the Lord thought it was important enough to emphasize. If we “did” Santa, we would be lying to our children. How would we explain that one to them after we discipline them for lying? “Um, we lied to you so you could enjoy Christmas more.” I don’t think so! We try very hard to be mindful examples to our Children.
love it!!! we approach Christmas so much the same….our 3 gifts to our children are representative of the gold, frankincense and myrrh. We also tell our children the gifts are from us as the Lord has allowed. I am so glad that you all posted this for others that approach Christmas similarly to have a voice. Blessings!!!!
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Thank you so much for posting this.
What a great article.
I am so thankful my parents went this route as I was growing up and always gave us the gift of truth at Christmas. Following in their footsteps, my husband and I decided to do the same. We have been given dirty looks and criticized by several, but in the end, my children will never doubt the true meaning of Christmas.
Every year at this time , it never ceases to amaze me the amount of time that Christians (of all people) devote to this character, and the lengths they go to trying to make their children believe in him. Only to show up at Church on Sunday to sing, teach, and talk about the Birth of Christ. What are their kids supposed to think?
It’s heart-breaking to say the least.
I’ve never looked at it as a “time” issue until reading this. How true it is that the time we have with these gifts that God has given us (our children) is very limited, and we should use that time wisely and in a way that glorifies God.
Thanks again for posting, and may God richly bless you and your family this Christmas season!
This is wonderful, and the last two paragraphs summarize it beautifully!!
What about Halloween???? It’s obvious but I’d love to read your opinion and family practice
Gonna be honest. Was definitely judging you hardcore when I saw your family at the mall last week and had the conversation with your daughter about Santa. So I want to say that I apologize now that I understand where it all fits. This is an incredibly insightful post that I really appreciate as a future father (way way down the road) and a educator. Thanks for the honesty and truth with this post.
Thank you for this wonderful example of keeping Jesus as the center of Christmas! We did this same thing with our children and I hope that they will carry on the tradition. Our boys are 27 and 28 and one is married and we still do some of the same things that we did when they were children and they still enjoy all of the little things that make Christmas ( the birth of our Savior) so special.
Wow, it was an interesting read, but if the argument for Santa is -TIME- I think that is just an excuse. We are responsible to raise our kids in the Lord every day, not just when Christmas is approaching for us to take up the cross. I enjoy the spirit of giving and joy people have based around a “pagan” holiday. Simply put every day of the week is named after a pagan. Including Easer not to sound like a radical or anything but its true.
I believe Christmas brings in Christ with the spirit of Giving, Joy and Love! The issue of Santa Clause, like your childhood did not mess me up today, but helped me to imagine what heaven must be like! If Christmas bring this much Joy and God will give us gifts even greater! WOW!
By the time a child is 9 or 10 they know that Santa is a figment of the imagination. Like the Tooth Fairy, Mickey Mouse or some other character. The truth is no one is building tooth fairy castles or Churches for Santa. I don’t see it harming by any means our children.
Now with that being stated, I agree time is of the essences and we need to make sure we as parents are being diligent with the time we have to raise our children 365 days a year and should be just as boisterous for Christ everyday not only at Christmas time. Don’t make the argument as an adult with a religious mind set, because I see more people being imitators of Christ at Christmas with cheerful hearts that are giving, loving and making memories.
At the end of this letter, I am glad that you are so interested in leading people to Christ. We are on the same team and so my the Lord continue to bless your work and all that you do. See you in Heaven 😉
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Another commenter made some of the same observations as you concerning my “time” argument. Here is the response/reasoning I gave him: I agree with you that every moment is in competition with all other moments. Yet, I wouldn’t divide things into strict “secular” and “spiritual” categories. Even through “secular” things I am always trying to point my children to Jesus. I want to maximize the time I have with them…all the time. That doesn’t mean we are doing Bible study 24/7, but it does mean that I am trying to help them see the world through the lens of Jesus.
I don’t think you disagree with my “time” argument…it sounds like you just want to expand it…and with that I totally agree. I think we have to examine how we use all of our time. However, the point of this blog was not to address the use of our time in general, but specifically the way my family has chosen to use our time during Advent. There are special seasons, celebrations, and days of focus where we set aside time to focus on something specifically and intensely. For instance, everyday I am trying to better my marriage with my wife, but we do set aside specific time to go away together and really try to invest in one another. We also have special days of celebration within our marriage…like our anniversary. For me, this is how I think about Advent and Christmas. Yes, I want to be helping my children use every moment to see the glory of Jesus more and more, but Advent is a special season in which my children’s senses are heightened and they are paying special attention to what is going on within our home due to the festive atmosphere that surrounds them. Thus, I want to take special care to use this time in a special way. I want to help them focus on the greatness of Jesus’ first Advent via the incarnation…and help them see that as a demonstration of God’s faithfulness which serves as an anchor for our hope in Christ’s second Advent. This is a special season with that focus. This is why I have chosen to use that time, not for Santa, but for these reasons.
Thanks again for commenting. I pray you have a very blessed, merry Christmas.
Grace be with you,
[…] what this blogger and this one have to say about Kris Kringle, and if you need a slightly sarcastic take on the […]
[…] to hear about parenting strategies that contradict their own). Then I came across a wonderful blog, Why the Haefs Don’t “Do” Santa… (It’s Not What You Think), that explained our view so well. But I have seen several comments (none of which had biblical […]
I believe that you can have Santa and still teach children the true meaning of Christmas. I am an older adult and I still believe in Santa. Oh I know he is not a real man in a red suit that comes down my chimney. But his spirit of giving and doing good and putting himself in harms way to give to other people…does that not exemplify Jesus’s love for us. We go to church on Christmas eve….and we have a birthday cake for Jesus. But Santa can fill our stockings and eat the cookies we leave out. My children were not upset when they found out the truth because….Mom still believes in Santa. But she worships Jesus Christ out Lord and Savior.
Thanks for the post! I know that as a child I was deeply hurt when I found out that my parents tricked and lied to me. It sounds silly, but I had a lot of healing I needed to do after that. I trusted my parents and knew they would not lie to me. I also think if my children want to have healthy conversations with other kids about who Santa really is, I would not discourage it. I want my kids to tell the truth in a resectful way about all things, not just Santa.
[…] That being said, I think I’m about to jump into a larger mess than I did with my blog about jolly ol’ St. Nick. That’s right…for better or for worse…let’s talk about the elf on the […]
[…] thejoyofglory.com – This one is about Santa. It’s how I grew up and I hope to focus the same way with my children. https://thejoyofglory.com/2013/12/03/why-the-haefs-dont-do-santa-its-not-what-you-think/ […]
Thank you so much for a complete, reasonable, explanation for leaving Santa out of Christmas. We tried this past year just “Not emphasizing” him with our 3-yr-old. (He still brought him one gift on Christmas day) It was the first year he partially understood Santa. Our son gave us no problem, but man, the grandparents DID. NOT. UNDERSTAND. (since both my husband and me had amazing, lavishly generous Santa’s visit our house as kiddos) Hopefully I can use your article next year to help explain our family’s traditions, and why we are choosing a little different route. Again, thank you for such a well-written article.
[…] stumbled upon this interesting blog post about a Christian couple who decided together to not teach their children to believe in Santa. […]