How Santa Fits In With Authentic Parenting

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My views regarding Santa have mellowed. I used to be pretty fixed in my anti-santa stance. These days I think I’m a little more balanced.

I once viewed the whole Santa thing as nothing short of deception and manipulation. A time where it’s suddenly ok to send weird and contradictory messages to children… “Yes, go sit on that unfamiliar, strange man’s lap even if you feel uncomfortable”.

Those messages that we potentially give our children still need to be considered. I acknowledge however, this isn’t how it is in every family. For some, Santa is fun, magical and innocent. Nothing more, nothing less. He is not used as a tool to manipulate children into being “good”. He is not the cause of huge deception where kids later feel betrayed and lead astray. He is simply another magical and whimsical aspect of childhood. In many ways no different to fairies, elves and dragons that are part of imagination, story telling and creativity.
This Santa is fun.
He may well end up an integral part of the magic of Christmas and special childhood memories.

Is there a degree of deception or is it just magical childhood imagination?
I want to maintain integrity and honesty with my children. I’m not comfortable playing the Santa game at all costs. To go to extremes to pretend that Santa is 100% real. I do play fairy games and fight monsters with my girls. We absolutely enter into those worlds of fantasy and make believe. As much as they become caught up in these make believe worlds, I think they know deep down, that they might just be pretend. Santa however, seems to be sold to kids in a different way. There is more talk and more hype. He carries more weight. He is everywhere at Christmas time. It is quite reasonable for our kids to conclude that he may just be real after all. 

So if and when our children ask us about his reality, we’ll be honest. He is a man dressed up in a Santa costume. He is based upon a real man called Saint Nicholas who gave to the poor. And so on.

I think it’s important not to go to crazy lengths to convince children that Santa is real. At some point the truth of the matter is certain to unravel. I don’t want to risk my kids feeling deceived or left questioning to what extent they can trust me. But sure, if they want to play along and they don’t ask those specific questions, I see no harm in entering into their magical world of pretend.

When Santa is used as tool for manipulation
The potential for manipulation isn’t ideal. I never feel ok about bribing kids or otherwise using external motivators to elicit certain behaviours. I want them to feel intrinsically motivated, by more value based convictions regarding their own behaviour – that’s a whole other topic though! I cringe when I hear “Ooh is Santa bringing you lots of presents? Have you been a good boy/girl?” Plus, it’s kind of a creepy concept – that this Santa man might be watching them and knows their heart, attitudes and behaviours. 

Their body, their choice – when it comes to sitting on Santa’s knee.
Finally, I’m not entirely comfortable with my kids sitting on some random stranger’s lap. Unless of course THEY want to. In which case it’s probably fine. I admit, I still feel a bit weird about encouraging them to be physically affectionate with a stranger. But when it’s in the context of this magical world of Christmas spirit and imagination, it’s a little different. It’s their call. 

What about photos with Santa?
If everyone enjoys the experience, great! They are a pretty awesome keepsake over the years. But if your children are screaming or terrified, that isn’t so magical. I wonder about the purpose of the photos when a child is clearly distressed. Obviously this isn’t an acceptable or fun experience.

So, as far as the whole Santa thing goes..it’s up to my children. I will follow their lead. Our contemplative, analytical and questioning five year old has asked, years ago, about his reality. She knows he is not real and that he is based upon Saint Nicholas. She still loves Christmas, stories about Santa, decorations that include Santa and is completely caught up in the magic and beauty of Christmas. Our two year old hasn’t gone there yet. She enjoys listening to the stories, just as she does about any other real or make believe character.

Whatever your family does when it comes to Santa and however you celebrate… enjoy! May our choices and traditions be based upon what fosters love, joy and celebration at Christmas time.

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