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How to Santa Without the Lies

Every year a brand new crop of parents have to make and commit to the decision on whether they celebrate the winter holidays with or without Santa Claus. Some don't have a moment of debate. They are committed to one side of the coin or the other and there's no second-guessing it. But for many, it's an undecided issue. Is Santa a part of childhood magic? Is Santa just a fanciful, holiday-themed version of lying to your kids?

As with many of my parenting takes, I found myself a nice, comfy middle ground. Here's how we do Santa without lying to the kids. They get the magic AND the truth.

Check out the audio version of this article \/

"I won't do Santa because I won't lie to my kids." Honestly, it's an admirable take. I get it. I can't say that I've never lied to my kid. Before I had kids I definitely swore I wouldn't. And I'm not bragging about the lies. But in moments of weakness or desperation, at times when my emotional regulation was spent and I was just trying to survive til bedtime, yeah. I lied.

"No, honey, the park is closed on Tuesday," said the mom whose immune system was fighting and losing against a germ her little Pre-K Petri dish brought home. Could I have simply said I was not feeling well and we couldn't go to the park? Absolutely. Arguably I should have. But this lie was going to illicit far less arguing that I already didn't have the energy to navigate. So, I lied.

"Ope, looks like Starbucks is out of cake pops," said the mom who really didn't have it in her to deal with a sugar crash in two hours. Could I have explained that cake pops are sometimes treats and now is not one of those sometimes? Yep. Absolutely. Very much a possibility. But I didn't do that. I didn't have it in me to navigate that discussion with its nuances and adult brain logic broken down for a developing brain understanding. So, I lied.

While I'm not fine with lying to my little sex trophies, I'm also not immune to the temptation nor innocent of the practice. And Santa is one of those big big ones. As adults, we know how much Santa's North Pole Toy Shop looks like an Amazon warehouse. We know how hard Santa's elves work every year on Christmas cookies and holiday feasts and tree trimming and memory making. We know. We fucking know. Intimately.

So anything short of telling our kids, yeah your grown-ups are out here busting their asses out here so you can make holiday memories, could be considered a lie. But here is where our big, developed adult brains are useful. We can find the truths and use those to explain, even if we have to get creative.

And if you're about to bristle about using creativity to avoid a lie, you mean to tell me you've never once celebrated your kids' mediocre green elephant drawing like it was a goddamn Picasso because their confidence was more important than the quality of the work? You've never looked at your kids' fascinating outfit construction of rain boots, a tutu, a three-sizes too small Christmas sweater, and a Minecraft fanny pack and said "Well, you made some creative choices, there," and then opted out of picking that battle? Okay, then, you've used creativity to navigate a space wherein lying was an option that you were able to avoid.

Moving on.

Here's how we explain Santa without lying to our kids:

Santa is a representation of the spirit of giving. That's that little voice inside that encourages us to be kind for the sake of being kind. It's what makes us feel good when we pick up a fallen can from the grocery store floor, even though we didn't knock it down. The spirit of giving is why we hold doors for others and give strangers compliments. Every time we do a nice thing, we put a little good into the world. And the more good we pour into the world, the more good the world has give out.

All that good, all that kindness, all those moments we chose to be sweet, that's the little bit of Santa inside us, peaking out, just for a moment. And once a year, all the good we poured into others, every choice we made to be helpful culminates in one big expression of giving. We spend weeks or even months finding thoughtful to give to our family and friends. We decorate so everyone has a lovely, cheerful space to enjoy. We participate in traditions and focus on all the good and the love that surrounds us.

And Santa is the embodiment of all that. When Santa brings a gift, it's just a little "Thank you" for every time you chose to be kind, for every time you gave back, even if what you had to give was just a little. This isn't a tit for tat. We are all good people, even if we are caught up in a series of bad choices. So if you get a gift from Santa, it's because you were kind, even if it was just for a moment. The size of the gift is not connected to how much good you were able to give this year. It's always something wonderful that you'll love. Maybe it's something you wanted. Maybe it's something you could never have dreamed. But it's something small and meaningful. And that's enough.


There is no naughty or nice list. The spirit of giving doesn't care how many mistakes you made or how many choices you struggled with. The spirit of giving isn't in the business of punishing folks for learning. There are consequences for mistakes and guidance for choices. Those have nothing to do with giving. No, the spirit of giving, Santa, isn't watching over you to make you behave. It's just a celebration of all the nice things you did all year.

As the kids grow, we'll explore the history of the legends of Santa, the real guy and all the stories we've told throughout the ages. From St. Nicholas all the way to Krampus, Jack Frost to Snegurochka, we will explore how cultures through history approached winter, yule, Christmas and the solstice celebrations. We will see how the spirit of giving is woven through those tales.

They'll have the opportunity to serve others as well as our family traditions expand to include age appropriate community service and volunteering. We give because it's nice to give. We give because there is a little bit of Santa in us. The man fades to myth and one day, when the ask the question, is Santa real? I'll be able to say yes, he's you. He's me. He's always been and always will be. Santa, as a man, helped us learn how to give but the lessons are learned. Now, who shall we be Santa for this year?

I'm not lying. I'm leading. I'm introducing some pretty heady topics like the goodness of man and the motivation for helpfulness quietly while maintaining the magic of childhood. We are all Santa. So when it comes to light that Mom & Dad were buying their presents from Santa and tucking them under the tree, its because Mom & Dad are just as much Santa as every man in a red suit in the mall.

Will this work for every family? No. Is there one right way to handle this? No.

To be fair, are there some wrong ways? Yeah. It feels like an overstep to use Santa or a creepy little elf or the threat of losing Christmas to mitigate behavior. Yes, we've had historical tales of Krampus and Belsnickel that would punish the naughty children. But these originated in the days when folks could be killed for really stupid shit like having a neighbor's cow die. (Lookin at you, witchcraft) Times are a little different and we don't have to rest in the old ways.

Instead, we can use positive reinforcement. Do good for the sake of doing it, not for the reward. Choose kindness for the sake of being kind, not cuz some old guy may or may not break into your house and leave some nebulously good treats behind. These are difficult concepts for adults to grasp; leaving behind reciprocity of action, much less for tiny beta-version brains to follow. Santa, as a person, as an entity is essentially Baby's First Philosophy Class. Concrete examples of abstract concepts. I'm okay with it.



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