Kids are naturally full of wonder and delight, and for many who celebrate Christmas, Santa is one of the most magical stories of all. For many grown-ups, believing in Santa Claus is a delightful childhood memory, and we wouldn't have had "politically correct" parents for all the sleigh bells in the world. However, others feel intuitively uncomfortable with telling their kids something untrue. The following are ideas to help you decide whether you want the "jolly old elf" to take up residence in your house...and how to handle the inevitable loss of belief.
Determine your own comfort zone with the Santa myth. If your kids pick up your ambiguity, then the image may be confusing. Be proactive, and decide early on if Santa is or isn't going to be part of your Christmas.
Don't feel you have to answer every Santa question. If your toddler wants to know how Santa gets down the chimney, you might respond, "It's magic" or "What do you think?"
Avoid using Santa to keep your children in line or as a punishment for bad behavior. There's something a little creepy about the verse "He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake."
If you are not comfortable perpetuating a lie, perhaps you could reframe Santa as the essence of Christmas, the spirit of giving. Or you could say, "Some people believe..."
Buying into the Santa story doesn't mean you can't also focus on the spiritual aspects of Christmas. In fact, I stress in my books that we make Christmas less materialistic and refocus on the simple wonder.
Some kids are frightened by the concept of Santa. Think about it...a strange white-bearded old man showing up in your house when you are asleep could be a little scary. And don't even think of forcing your frightened child to sit on Santa's lap...it's not worth a picture that only shows tear-stained cheeks.
The fourth-century bishop Nicholas of Myra's heroic acts of charity inspired the modern Santa legend. This story might be a good leap for the older child who is losing his/her belief in your version of Santa.
Santa can be a wonderful way to help your children focus on giving themselves. They too can extend the spirit of giving without expecting anything in return.
When kids start to become more logical, they lose some of their magic and wonder. By the third grade the logic is beginning to override the magic, so a child will discover the truth about Santa on his or her own.
I don't know an adult today who is angry that their parents perpetuated the Santa myth. But I do recall being about eight years old and seeing my mother paying bills after Christmas. "What are you doing?" I asked. "I'm paying Santa Claus," she answered. I was a bit surprised that we had to cover the costs of Santa's generosity...but it didn't squelch my beliefs.