A reader writes:
One of your long-time readers here. I know that the Santa Controversy has cropped up on the blog every so often, but so far I haven’t paid it much attention. Now that I’m approaching my first Christmas season with an almost-three-year-old, however, it’s a much less academic issue! It’s also complicated by the fact that, since my wife is German, the full range of potential players are not only Santa Claus, but also St. Nicholas, the Weihnachtsmann, and the Christkind. We definitely want to include at least some of this for the Christmas season, but at the same time, want to be mindful of some of the potential problems. The “theory” of all this is pretty well settled for me, but how to actually go about it (e.g. what exactly do I tell my daughter?) Is not very clear. So, what I’d really appreciate hearing from you is what your family has done regarding Santa through the years. Did you refer everything back to St. Nicholas, make it just a game, or…?
We basically handled it by telling our kids about the real Saint Nicholas, who as a “secret giver” taught us to be secret givers too. So when they got secret gifts, we could have fun with it, but not delude them into thinking Santa Claus was real, only to have them realize they’d been lied to (with all the attendant “Then how much of the rest of this is a fraud too?” baggage). In addition, this allows us to take the child into your own conspiratorial plans to be a secret giver to others, so they get to be St. Nicholas’ helper, which makes them feel very (tee hee!) gleeful.
That’s what we did. Your mileage may vary and ultimately it’s up to you how to handle it, of course. Our basic rule of thumb was that lying to our kids was not going to be conducive to engendering trust, so we skipped the whole “making them believe something false” part of the Christmas tradition and tried to focus on giving them the truth while keeping it fun. FWIW, it seems to have worked.