Why Father Christmas Doesn’t Visit Our House

27

5 November 2014 by thaliakr

I grew up with Father Christmas visiting each December. We had a particularly awesome system, in fact, that involved pillowcases instead of stockings (primarily so a board game could fit, I think).

As I got older, I became aware that Father Christmas from the adult point of view was part of our family history, too. My parents’ first date was taking my cousin Philippa out on a special trip to the big smoke to see some Christmas Eve ice-skating show, two hours’ drive away. My Dad was already going to take her, and then he invited Mum along.

They had such a rockin’ good time – including going to a party and putting my six-year-old cousin to bed in a spare room – that they were home really late, and arrived to the ire of Auntie Sue who was still waiting up, not just to see them arrive home, but to do the flipping Father Christmas stocking deliveries after all her children were in bed!

All this is to say that I have happy memories of growing up in the Santa Claus/Father Christmas tradition and have no bitterness about it that has led me to do something different in my own family. It’s totally ok with me if Santa is a welcome guest at your place (not that you need care what I think!)

But in the spirit of my preferred tradition of questioning everything – and particularly for those who haven’t yet committed to a family practice – I thought it might worth explaining why our little ones won’t be getting presents from Father Christmas.

Why Father Christmas Doesn't Visit Our House | Sacraparental.com

We have other priorities

The basic reason is that there’s no reason for us to engage in this tradition. We do almost nothing in our house just because we were raised that way or most people do it – from surnames to beds to mealtimes. So we’d need a reason of some sort to introduce Santa, and we haven’t come across one that we’ve found compelling.

And we’d need a very good reason, we think, to include in our family life an imaginary world of such elaborate proportions.

We have nothing against the world of imagination, and delight in seeing our little boy blasting off to Pluto (‘don’t worry, I’ve got my oxygen just here!’) or giving his toys a sleepover (‘no, they’re not going to sleep, they’re just having a sleepover’ – little does he know that a sleepover usually involves zero sleep!).

But here’s the difference: kids who believe that Father Christmas comes down the chimney to leave them presents aren’t engaging in an act of imagination. They think it’s real – at least most do, at some stage. It still might be a worthwhile thing to do for some families, but it’s not primarily about fostering imaginary play.

So just to be clear: we’re not people who value tradition or nostalgia very highly, so Father Christmas isn’t a huge pull for us. Plenty of you will feel very strongly about such things, so including Santa in your family life will make sense for you. In both cases, we’re being consistent with our values, right?

It doesn’t fit with the rest of our parenting style

We are pretty conscious of giving age-appropriate, true information to our son. We try never to tell him something that is simply untrue, though of course we don’t give him all the facts in all circumstances. When we leave out important details for some reason, we want to be able to add them later without having to change our story.

So when telling him about the new baby who we’re expecting, and trying to answer his very many questions – this morning: ‘no, I don’t want to play right now, I want to talk about the baby’ – I have stopped short of words like vagina, sperm and labour (he’s two). But we certainly haven’t opted for the stork or fairies or magic from God or any other source.

Instead, we’ve talked about the baby coming out from the inside, through one of two special doors, and that it can be hard work, so I will be tired and Daddy will need to be with me and the new baby at the hospital, probably. And he knows all about the umbilical cord and that the little baby won’t do much except sleep and feed and have cuddles to start with – rather than being a handy playmate straight away. He’s fairly worried about the prospect of the baby weeing on him (hypocrite!), but otherwise excited.

So in this context of working hard to be honest and helpful in our conversations, we have no desire to weave a fiction for him about Father Christmas, one that will lead to (literally) endless questions about the practicalities of a man in a sleigh getting around the whole world in one night, the laws of physics and the heavy-duty surveillance required for making a list and checking it twice. We have too many questions to answer about the rest of life without creating a whole new set!

We don’t need the extra presents

Of course the other major reason for sidestepping Santa that many will relate to is the present problem. I am a keen present-giver-and-getter, on any occasion or none. My husband truly, honestly, couldn’t care less about presents. When it comes to our boy, we tend to buy or acquire things as needs arise and have trouble thinking of things for special occasions. He really does have everything he needs (we know we’re lucky.)

Certainly if any of his grandparents or aunts and uncles want to give him something at Christmas, that’ll be lovely and much appreciated. But we don’t have a long list of other things we want him to have and need to put in a stocking.

So don’t get me started on the appalling phrase ‘stocking filler’. Is there any more blatant example of marketing to encourage rampant, costly consumerism? Let’s invent a space that needs to be filled and then sell plastic crap to parents to fill it!

If we’ve got things we want (and can afford) to give our kids at Christmas, then by all means we should give them – via stocking or otherwise. Generosity is a wonderful thing. But the idea that we should invent needs, wants and gaps and add them to a list of expenses – at a great cost to both the planet and our wallets – well, this seems absolutely mad to me.

We want to focus on Jesus

Also, you know, Jesus.

In our house, Christmas is a meaningful spiritual tradition as well as a cultural one. It’s hard for any of us to preserve the good messages – sacred or secular – of Christmas under the avalanche of modern consumerism and busyness.

Helping children think of Christmas as primarily about God giving fresh hope to the world in the form of a homeless newborn is a significant task and one we’re keen to tackle.

Nativity scene | Sacraparental.com

Atheists among you may smile at the idea that we eschew the imaginary Santa but promote an unseen God, and fair enough. But Christmas celebrates God becoming real and tangible: Jesus is an historical figure, clearly present in the world two thousand years ago. All Christian theology is based on his physical presence and experiences as representing the invisible God.

Certainly, given our family worldview that God is a reality and Jesus shows us what God is like, we don’t want to muddy the waters with the benevolent, magical figure of Father Christmas.

+++

This is not an appeal to you to abandon Santa or stockings if they’re part of your family life. Please continue to do Whatever Works For You, right? And I certainly have lovely memories of Father Christmas leaving treats for me as a kid in a pillowcase, and no personal regrets about that. I don’t feel that strongly about the Father Christmas issue and I definitely want to keep being friends with all you FC fans!

But if, like me, you’re a bit lukewarm about it all and looking for company to walk another path, let me reassure you that we have a very happy little boy who will have a great time this December, and you should feel no pressure to engage in this cultural tradition except on your own terms.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this, as long as we can agree at the start that we should all just do What Works For Us and do our best not to be either defensive or importunate about the choices we have made. I guarantee there are wonderful parents doing opposite things in this area, reading right now (and reading your comments), so let’s make an extra effort to be civil and gracious as we explain our thoughts and practices.

Maybe think about these questions.

If you have a Santa tradition in your house:

  • What’s awesome about it?
  • What kinds of things do you recommend for stockings?
  • How do limit consumerism at Christmas?
  • How and when have your kids made the transition from full belief to going-along-with-the-fun?

If you don’t engage with any kind of Father Christmas or Santa Claus tradition:

  • Why did you choose this path?
  • How has it gone down with wider family and friends?
  • How have you explained who Father Christmas is (when your kids encounter him at school, in shops, in books and so on)
  • Have you ever had trouble with your kids bursting the bubble for other kids who believe in Santa?
  • What’s Christmas like at your house?

For more Sacraparental Christmas, Advent and kids’ spirituality resources, click any of the links below. And you can follow along for more stuff on Facebook (for daily extras), Pinterest (the Advent and Christmas boards especially, of course) and Twitter

Advent with Kids

Advent in Art

Lent with Kids (if you’re really planning ahead!)

Christmas

Kids and Spirituality (more general posts)

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27 thoughts on “Why Father Christmas Doesn’t Visit Our House

  1. Elisabeth says:

    This is a wonderful post, and one that makes me consider our own traditions. We’re an Austrian-Danish family living in Denmark. In Denmark Julemanden (Father Christmas) brings the gifts, in Austria the Christkind (originally a Christmas fairy that often is mistaken for baby Jesus) is responsible for this task. Additionally, in Denmark there are Nisser, elves, that move from the woods into the houses during advent. Challenging, to say the least, and to be quite honest I haven’t figured out what to do exactly in my four years of motherhood:
    I have beautiful memories of my four-year-old self praying in front of the glass door to my parents living room because I thought I’d seen a glimpse of Christkind, but obviously the Christkind tradition won’t cut it in Denmark.
    So here is what we do: A Nisse moves into our house the first of December and a little door appears somewhere in our house (if you’re curious, try google “nissedør” to see what other Danes are making out of these doors). We leave out milky rice for him/her on some days, sometimes s/he will colour the milk or hide the socks, and sometimes s/he will leave a little something: nuts, tangerines, chocolate (though it has not been beyond me to live a tiny LEGO figure to help my babysitter have an easier day with my twins, when I knew they were tired and cranky). We love our little house guest, and the boys refer to their Nisse oftentimes during the year.
    When it comes to Christkind/Julemand the boys like to write them letters, on their own accord, but know at the same time that presents are given by us. We involve them in gift giving and making, but they seem to like a bit of the magic too.
    And then there is faith, my most challenging area. I grew up in a catholic family and my parents’ faith is very strong, just as mine used to be. When the naive childhood beliefs began to crackle I had trouble rebuilding it – living in very much atheist Denmark doesn’t help! So I’m a bit at a loss here, trying to find a way that is true to myself but will allow the boys to develop their own faith. That’s also one of the reasons I read along here. Your approach speaks to me, the thought of Jesus giving fresh hope is something I think I can convey to my children too, without having my own doubts stand in the way.
    Thank you!

    • Thank you, Elisabeth, for your kind words and thoughtful contribution. Europe is full of distinct Christmas traditions, isn’t it – I hadn’t heard of most of what you describe. Thanks!

      How old are your boys? I think a lot of kids enjoy the in-between stage of not really believing in the magic but happily engaging with it. I wonder how long that stage is as a proportion of childhood?

      All the very best with navigating the waters of faith-and-family-and-reconstruction. I hope it turns out to be a rich season, as well as a challenging one.

  2. Mel says:

    We are very lucky in that we spend the whole month before during our school time learning the Christmas story from the bible, practising and discussing carols. we spend time making things to give to others, we help out at the local community cafe Christmas meal to teach service. we do lots of crafts to help illustrate the real meaning of Christmas. we read lots like story of the candy cane etc. They practice performing the nativity play and learning poems, baking etc

    Our favourite tradition is our book bag. Starting on the first of Dec we place a Christmas book in a special bag and in the evening we all sit and read the book. we have collected 24 books about various things, come classic, some Christian some just silly and fun. We put a different book on each day and build up over the month a collection that can be read whenever.

    we are similar in that we also don’t go in for Santa as we like you we try not to lie to our children. We do however have stockings but that is a personal choice because i love giving little gifts to the children. we however don’t buy plastic junk usually we buy a few little toys to add to their collections like another scheich animal- this time it’s an eagle for our giant bird enthusiast or another playmobil figure. We think of these as special added presents as they don’t need them, but something special.

    They also get an orange or peach to follow the tradition of Chris’ family. We then have the opportunity to talk about that others are not so fortunate to have so many things, we discuss that long ago fruit was a treat and even today for some fruit is very special.

    their stockings are all they get before church as we like to focus on Christ as being more important than gifts. We then share a special breakfast after which the kids love acting out the nativity story for us (always funny to see who gets to be the donkey- one of the most sought after parts). We then head to church where the children stay in and enjoy the story they have learnt and songs.

  3. Isabel says:

    This post has had a real impact on me – and has initiated a new view on the topic. This is going to be a work in progress for me – that thought – to see how it develops, and becomes part of my and my own tradition.
    Growing up we had stockings – and this, and one present from our parents – was what my siblings and I were given to open before church in the morning. The rest of the day was about church, and then family/community time. Then, each day after Christmas, we were “allowed” to choose one gift from under the tree to open that day (this lasted for as many days as there were presents). So for me, Christmas was less about presents, and more about church, Jesus, love, family , and community. The one present a day “rule” meant we appreciated and played with/used our present before ‘simply moving to the next’.

    • Oh, I really like the one present at a time idea!

      Growing up, we opened the stockings/pillowcases upon waking, and after their demise (when we were older) we had one ‘tree present’ before church, and the rest at whatever large family gathering was on the agenda.

      I think – for kids and adults – spacing out presents as much as possible puts the focus on the content of the present (and the gift of the giver) rather than the MORE PRESENTS FOR ME hysteria that is so easy to slip into. I’m going to keep thinking about this!

  4. Daina says:

    Another great read! We are somewhere in the middle I guess – we treat Father Christmas a bit like a ‘mascot’ of Christmas. I haven’t hesitated to tell the boys that he isn’t a real person and that some people have fun pretending he is real. I would rather focus on what believe to be the real reason for Christmas i.e. the birth of Jesus. We usually end up going to a Christmas party at some stage where Santa comes and gives them something so that is it for presents from him – any presents on the day are from family. Perhaps I just don’t want someone else taking credit for my hard work finding & buying presents! I am a little worried that my know-it-all 6-year old will spoil it for another child whose family choose to do things differently so we actually try and keep things fairly low-key and not spend months building up to the big event. Living in the country makes that a bit easier as the kids don’t get to town to see all the craziness. My biggest issue is controlling myself as I love to give presents, especially to my kids, and it is easy for that to get a bit OTT.

  5. Great post! I think I have such lovely memories of staying up all night trying to ”catch” Father Christmas out, the notes we left him, the brandy and the carrots for the reindeer, plus the notes we always got back in return (in writing suspiciously like my mother’s), that we have continued it more as a family tradition that reminds me and my siblings and my mum of our family bond and love more than anything. I am pretty sure the kids know there is no father xmas (bit of a scientist is the older one), but I think we all appreciate the fun we have with it. Having said that the consumerism involved in Christmas makes me feel vaguely ill (though I too love giving gifts so have to reign that in!). While we are not Christians, we do recognize we come from a Judeo Christian based culture so talk quite happily to the kids about Jesus and Christmas, but also Saint Nicolas as well as the pagan traditions that preceded and informed solstice based celebrations. Big believers in the information giving!

  6. Stacey says:

    Another ‘no Santa’ house here :) For us, it was a combination of things, none of which was a big deal, but like you, we decided there was no compelling reason to ‘opt-in’ to the Santa thing.

    We do have stockings that I fill for each child – I love stockings! – but *I* get the credit for filling them :) I figured that since I went to all the trouble of choosing and purchasing the gifts, I didn’t want them being all grateful to some imaginary fairy. After about the second Christmas, those stockings evolved into the only presents we give our kids, so we choose thoughtful, useful wee things that they’ll appreciate and use, as well as some food treats etc. We also choose one family game to give ourselves each year.

    We have a very generous extended family, so the kids get plenty of gifts, without us needing to go all out. And even if we didn’t, I’m not entirely comfortable with the conflation of the Christ-mass with a Present-orgy, so some small tokens of love and affection work for me.

    The no Santa thing caused some difficulty with a cousin who *did* believe in Santa, until our child roundly disabused them of the notion – putting paid to their parents’ desire to extend the magic for one more year. But it wasn’t a huge deal, thankfully, and we were forgiven by our sibling/in-laws, so all was well. (they figured if it wasn’t our kid, it would have been someone at kindy, so oh well).

  7. frogotter says:

    We do Father Christmas every year. But, we’ve always been very clear that it’s a special game that lots of people play together. We like being part of the game.
    But, I wanted to mention one other interesting problem with the whole Father Christmas thing. We take part in the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox appeal each year. When our Eldest was five, he asked why we were sending presents to children who were naughty. If these children had been good, surely Father Christmas would bring them something. I was very glad that I could just remind him that Father Christmas isn’t real and didn’t have to make up a bizarre explanation for why he doesn’t visit poor children!

  8. Alex says:

    I have been pondering how to respond to this without sounding defensive, but see that Jessica above has pretty much nailed it for me. Thanks for that! We do do Father Christmas here, largely for the same reasons of nostalgia and my own enjoyment if I’m honest. I try not to think of it as “lying” to my children (though I realise I’m on shaky intellectual ground here) – I don’t know of anybody who has discovered the truth about Father Christmas and has felt betrayed or lied to by their parents, so for now it’s ok by me.

    We largely use him as a glorified delivery service, and we don’t worry too much about having a coherent cover story for the whys and wherefores (maybe subconsciously I’m leaving enough holes for my children to figure it out for themselves gently?) – my stock response is usually along the lines of “well, what do you think?” As a consequence of which, my son has decided, for example, that the Father Christmasses we encounter at shops, pre-school parties, school fairs etc aren’t real, but he’s ok with the idea that some people like to think they’re real. (On a side note, this is what I find less enjoyable about Christmas these days – I don’t remember Father Christmas being such a visible presence when I was a child… it was kind of the point that you never saw him, surely?!)

    Presents largely come labelled as being from us or family or friends, but are in the stocking (if they fit) or under the tree if they don’t. (And by stocking I do mean an actual stocking – as seen here: http://www.blipfoto.com/entry/2577920) I have in the last couple of years put in a little something labelled as being from Father Christmas, but it’s just been something small that we would have bought them anyway (another Octonaut for the collection, for example, or a book). I don’t go out of my way to look for “stocking fillers”. I was brought up with the tradition of sending thank you letters and I generally think that is a good and valuable thing for my children to continue, so it is important to me that my children know who really bought them the gift, regardless of the mode of its delivery.

    My one thought that is slightly counter to that stems from the year I spent Christmas in Romania with my husband and his extended family and their friends (pre-kids). I had not been aware (my dear husband had neglected to inform me) that in Romania the tradition is that all presents are signed as being from Mos Craciun (Father Christmas), so I had diligently labelled all of ours as being from us, and grew increasingly embarrassed as the present opening went on that we appeared to be the only people who expected thanks, whereas the others were just delighted to see the joy of their loved ones receiving gifts. I started to feel as if I was being a bit churlish, and wished fervently that I had done things differently. I don’t know if this is the reason, but I suspect that in contexts where it is not expected that everyone buys a gift for everyone else it might be easier / more comfortable for all gifts to be exchanged anonymously – Father Christmas provides a convenient means for doing so.

    • Caroline says:

      I’m with Alex! Father Christmas is not a big part of our Christmas here, but he’s definitely part of it. It’s fun and I like the magic (which I take to be imagination that you believe in), which teaches kids that there are some things that you can’t see that you just have to believe – whether they are religious things or not. In my experience, scepticism starts pretty young anyway!

      Maybe the whole Santa thing makes more sense in the middle of the cold winter months in the Northern Hemisphere though – he’s part of the midwinter festival of light, family and love that brightens the dark months and brings us closer together – rather than being part of the religious festival of Christmas (despite his saintly origins). I can see why that is less necessary in the Southern Hemisphere!

      Would be nice if he kept himself to Christmas though – my facebook feed is already full of pictures of friends visiting Santa in his grotto. Has he not got better things to do in November?!

      • That’s a really interesting point re winter cheer. We’re overloaded here, between the sunshine/barbecues/beach trips and the end-of-year celebrations/prizegivings/Christmas break-up parties.

    • I love your ACTUAL stockings!

  9. I wrote a very similar post to this last year (http://gagatg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-claus-controversy.html) and it’s great to read of other families who are of the same opinion! I have to admit I’m a bit anxious about this year, as I suspect Eleanor may let slip in front of some ‘believers’ – she’s nearly 3 so old enough for other people to actually understand what she’s saying but not old enough to understand that some things shouldn’t be blurted out in public! Ah well, I’m sure I’ll find some way of navigating the season without incurring the ire of other parents!

  10. Christina says:

    oh thanks for sharing it’s so encouraging to know that their are other families out there who don’t do Father Christmas/Santa. I was begining to feel like the only one. Would love to hear from others about what you say about Father Christmas when you see pictures etc – at the moment I say something vague like other people pretend that there is a Father Christmas because they don’t have Jesus to celebrate, but we love Jesus so we want to focus on him. I am also worried about my son (almost 5) making negative comments about FC to other kids who do believe – would love to hear how others have negotiated that? I don’t want Christmas to be about presents so we only give one big present (e.g. bike). Have tried to renegotiate how we give presents at our family functions as they just get overwhelmed, and don’t know who to thank. I love JC’s idea of opening one gift every hour – will try that and see how the family recieves it!

    • Stacey says:

      A stock phrase in our house is “well, different families do things differently”.

      So in the context of a Santa question, when they were really little, I just said something along the lines of “some families like to pretend that Santa comes and brings them presents at Christmas. It’s like a fun game for them. But it’s just not something that we do – we do other things at Christmas. Different families do things differently and have different traditions”, In a shrug the shoulders, no big deal kind of voice.

      As they got a bit older, I read a version of the Saint Nicholas story to them (as part of our Christmas stories I think), and so I drew the connection then about Saint Nick and Santa Claus, and a brief cultural history of the Santa tradition.

      It’s the sort of discussion that can grow and evolve as the children get older and more able to understand.

  11. So many great, thoughtful comments, guys, thanks! It’s so good to hear how people’s various Christmas practices fit in with the rest of their family values. Keep telling us your stories!

  12. Frank says:

    I have two questions, for those who don’t do Santa, how do you manage all the people asking what Santa brought etc? And for those who do, do your children notice the differences in what Santa brings them and their friends? If so, how do you manage that?

    • Caroline says:

      I’m not sure mine are old enough yet to compare their Christmas gifts with those of their friends & Santa himself just brings bits of things to go in the stocking anyway, rather than taking responsibility for the “main” present.

      Good question about other people though – I have a Muslim friend whose kids get a present from Santa each year otherwise their (predominantly Christian) friends in the playground would ask why he hadn’t brought them anything and they would feel left out.

  13. Lulastic says:

    Hmmmmm.very compelling reading!! I am almost convinced….I always thought we wouldnt do Santa (because we always do the oppostte thing pfft!) but now I’m remembering just how much I loved the joy of Santa. So i need to navigate keeping the magic whilst being truthful….
    Ps I don’t think 2 is too young for proper body names though… xx

  14. Ben says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. We don’t have Father Christmas either, although we both grew up with the tradition as children. For us it’s partly about avoiding lying to our children, and because we do try and keep some focus at Christmas on the birth of Jesus! We do have a lot of the traditions though, filling up stockings for each other and sometimes dressing up as Father Christmas to do the deliveries – it’s just the children are in on the game too.

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