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Over-Thinking Christmas: What do you tell your kids about Santa Claus?

A

t the weekend, we took Max to meet Santa Claus at the Conifox Christmas Experience. It was a great day: before getting to the man himself, you go through a series of rooms staffed by actors dressed as elves/reindeer/Mrs Claus, etc, who do various different activities with the children, so, before he even got to Santa, Max was already living his best Christmas life, basically:

Max meets Santa Claus

From this, you will have correctly deduced that Terry and I are very much on Team Santa when it comes to Christmas, and what to tell kids about how their presents get under the tree. I know some parents don’t want to go along with the idea, as they feel it’s essentially “lying” to their children, but Terry and I both grew up believing in Santa, and it was one of the things that helped make Christmas magical for us, so we’re keen to allow Max to have that experience too, for as long as he’s young enough to still believe in it. (Also very keen to make sure he doesn’t end up doing what I did, though, whereby I realised Santa wasn’t real, but didn’t want to spoil it all for my parents, so I continued to pretend to believe in him until it basically got to the point where they’d started to think I was seriously slow on the uptake or something. I just… it’s the look on their little faces, you know? How could I ruin that for them when they were obviously getting so much joy out of it?)

(Also, as for lying, we’ve discovered that we’re quite comfortable with that, tbh. I mean, it’s not ACTUALLY “against the law” to go out without your hat on when it’s below freezing outside, and the park wasn’t REALLY closing that time we were in a hurry but he refused to get off the roundabout, so… yeah. It wasn’t THAT big a leap for us from those things to, “There’s an old man in a red suit who breaks into our house every year,” really…)

We have, however, thought long and hard (Because over-thinking is my jam, as you know…) about how we want to go about embroidering the myth for him, and, because it’s something we’ve obviously never had to consider before, it’s only just struck me how complicated it can be, especially given that everyone has different traditions, and approaches the idea of Father Christmas (If they do it at all) in such different ways that it could easily become just a little bit confusing for a small child.

I mean, what happens if you tell your kid that Santa brings aaaaallll the gifts, but then the child next door only gets one thing from him? What if FC brings one kid an iPad and another a mouldy apple or something? How do you even begin to explain that kind of thing? Also, do we HAVE to do Elf on the Shelf? Even although he’s kind of creepy, and I’m 100% likely to forget to move him, just like I forgot to put the treat inside Max’s advent calendar on Saturday night, and now I still can’t forgive myself?* What if we declare our house an Elf Free zone, but then Max starts school, and all his friends are like, “How come you don’t have an elf?” WHAT THEN, PEOPLE?

(*He has an advent calendar you fill up yourself, but because we’re putting little edible treats in it, I don’t want to just leave them there for a month, to go stale, so I’ve just been filling it up a couple of days at a time. It’s… not working out too well, thanks for asking…)

As we approached our first Christmas with a baby, this time last year, we started thinking about some of these things, and asking around to find out what other people do. From that, we realised there’s a ton of different approaches: some people say that all of the gifts come from Santa Claus, while others say only the contents of the Christmas stocking does; some don’t do stockings at all, while others ONLY do stockings, and so on, and so forth. Confusing? A little bit, yes. Like, could all of us parents not just get together at some point and make sure we’ve got our stories straight with this? Or do children actually just breeze into school after the holidays, and not even ask each other what their Christmas traditions are? (I don’t think I ever asked around about other people’s Christmases, now I come to think of it, but I was a bit of a weird kid, obviously, so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything…)

Anyway! We’ve talked it over, and our current decision is that we’ll probably tell Max that one or two of his gifts come from Santa Claus, while the rest come from us – partly to make it easier to explain why different children get different amounts/types of gifts at Christmas, but also because of the story my mum keeps repeating about the time she overheard me telling someone that it was really weird how I always got gifts from Santa, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even family friends, but NOTHING AT ALL from mummy and daddy. I mean, can you IMAGINE?!

(I’m also tempted to adopt the tradition from my own childhood whereby, while we were out visiting my grandparents, Santa would creep back into the house and leave a smaller gift in my bed. I found out later that my parents only did that one year because my mum discovered a present she’d forgotten to put under the tree on Christmas morning, and decided to just stick it in my bed, instead, but then they had to continue it forever more, or I’d have wanted answers. They do it to this day, actually.*)

(*No they don’t.)

(I mostly just want to do this because I’m thinking it could be a good way to persuade Max to go to bed on Christmas day, rather than just partying all night, which is exactly what I can tell will happen. He’s started practising already, in fact…)

(I’m also pretty adamant that, when he’s in our house, Santa will drink wine and maybe a nice cheese board, rather than the traditional milk and cookies.)

(WTF with all the parentheses, Amber? I mean SERIOUSLY?)

There’s obviously no right or wrong answer to this one, as every family is so different, but I’m fascinated to know how Christmas works in other homes, so do tell: what are your traditions, and how do you deal with Santa Claus? And, as far as Elf on the Shelf goes, it’s OK to tell Max that we gave our Elf clothes by mistake, and now he’s a Free Elf, off living the free life, right? RIGHT?

 

What do you think?

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32 Comments
  • Jennifer
    December 10, 2019

    I don’t do elf on a shelf bc it’s too much pressure and I know I’ll forget or blow it.
    Santa brings a few gifts, the rest are from us.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      I would definitely forget!

  • Myra
    December 10, 2019

    Our Max still believes in Santa for two reasons 1) he saw Santa on his sleigh when the satellite (I still think it was a plane, lit at the rear, to look like Santa and his sleigh) went over on Christmas Eve when he turned 7, and 2) his mum is so poor she couldn’t afford those presents, so they must be from Santa (some are from Santa and some from her). On the other hand, as he is, like you, a very clever child, is he just pretending to believe in Santa for our sakes. Answers on a postcard lol

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      Haha, clever boy if he is! I believed for ages because my mum once told me a story about hearing ‘Santa’ moving around in the chimney when she was little: it didn’t even occur to me that she could’ve just made that up, too!

  • May
    December 10, 2019

    In my family all gifts came from Santa, but down here in Argentina and specially in my family there’s isn’t that big of a gift giving tradition so “all gifts” usually meant a grand total of two or three things, tops. Elf in the shelf isn’t a thing we do either, but we do celebrate Twelfth Night and the Three Wise Men brings gift for kids too, though those at least in my family were usually smaller things.
    The biggest difference in Christmas traditions I remember was friends of mine who had a family member dress up as Santa for Christmas Eve. No one did that in my family, but I don’t think I ever gave too much thought to that.
    I think whatever tradition you want to start is OK, and I highly doubt kids will overthink it as much as adults do. Just do whatever makes Christmas that much more magical for your family.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      We used to have someone who’d dress as Santa and come round all of the houses in our street on Christmas Eve, to give all of the children a gift – I think the residents all clubbed together to pay for it or something, which was really nice: and yes, you’re right about the over-thinking – it didn’t even occur to me to wonder how come Santa was happy to appear at my front door on Christmas Eve, only to come back in secret a few hours later!

  • Becky
    December 10, 2019

    Haven’t yet worked out our own traditions, think they will evolve naturally tbh, but I do remember telling my parents I still believed in Santa long after I didn’t as I didn’t want to not get presents anymore! My folks were also of the sort where all the presents came from Santa and none from them, so we got stuck in a bit of an awkward situation!

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      Haha, that’s fantastic!

  • Pip Lee
    December 10, 2019

    We used to wrap presents from us in 1 paper and then a few presents from Santa in another. My son didn’t like the idea of Santa coming into his room so we put them all downstairs.

    We used to watch NORAD Santa tracker on Christmas Eve, so we could see him getting closer. That helped with getting Aide to bed as Santa won’t come until he’s asleep. We did the whole thing, putting magic reindeer food up our garden path and then messing it up, so in the morning it looked as if the reindeer had eaten it.

    I am sure Aide knew Santa wasn’t real a couple of years before he told us but we all loved it and very sadly Christmas isn’t quite the same now he is 16, with no toys to make and play with. I may be 51 but I still really wish Santa is real.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      OOh, I forgot about the Santa tracker – I’ll have to look that up!

  • Fiona
    December 10, 2019

    Oooh, I love over-thinking this. I stupidly DIDN’T before mine were that age, and just went with Santa brought everything, but I wish I’d done the stocking and one gift from the big man and the rest from us. Always Christmas Eve jammies, I got those too, The Muppets Christmas Carol every year of course. Also, I would point out that while I did at least have some ill thought-out Christmas traditions, it became obvious that my kids actually believed in the Easter Bunny when they started asking for the kind of detailed back story Santa has, which I invented on the spot and completely half-assed the egg hunt every year, but still managed to fool them.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      Ha, that would SO be me! The Easter Bunny wasn’t really a thing when I was young (Or, of it was, I didn’t know about it), but it seems to be much more of a thing now, so this is a good reminder for me to start working on that backstory 😉

  • lalie
    December 10, 2019

    All the gifts come from Santa, apart from the ones coming from relatives : it means they say thank you to relatives, understand why WE buy gifts for relatives.
    Because of so many families where pretty much all gifts come from the parents, we have started to buy 1 (very) small gift from us too.

    Santa comes at midnight, so when they are old enough, everybody is still awake to open the gifts magically delivered whilst we are all in another room! Or children were (and still are) awaken to see the presents.

    The beauty of the system is that all adults can have a lie-in on Christmas Day after a big celebration on Christmas Eve.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      Good point about helping them understand why we give gifts to other people: we’ve been trying to explain to Max that he’ll get to give gifts to other people, too, but I think he’s a bit too young to really understand – we’re planning to get him involved in handing the gifts over, though, so hopefully he’ll find that fun, too 🙂

  • Alice
    December 10, 2019

    My daughter is 3 and is only just starting to learn about Santa …… and she is scared of him. (I’m impressed Max sat on his knee, J would have run a mile). So this year we are not doing Santa. By next year I suspect she will have a better understanding and there will be peer pressure. However I’m very much going down the line of it being a story that she can believe in if she wants to, that some other people do, but she doesn’t have to. And playing it by ear.

    Not sure what we will do re presents, we aren’t going to do a stocking this year but will next year I imagine. We will probably make it just a small thing – I can see the danger in having santa bring all the presents, as a magical being, when she says “will he bring me a castle and a dragon” what answer will I give?

    Definitely will not do the elf thing, it’s supposed to be spying on children and I just find that creepy and unkind.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      I was a bit surprised, too – he’s just at that age now where he’s started to be a bit shy around people he doesn’t know, but, for some reason, he seems quite comfortable with the ‘Santas’ he’s met so far! And, yes, while I’d have loved the idea of the elf being alive, and moving around the house, I think I’d have been pretty freaked out by the ‘spying’ element if we’d had one when I was a kid!

  • Ginger
    December 10, 2019

    I don’t have kids, but my parents handled it in a pretty unique double-think way from what I can tell. (There were four kids; I was the oldest.) They never made any secret of the fact that Santa didn’t exist… but Santa still did fill the stockings after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Santa occasionally walked around on the roof (and apparently shouted “Ho ho ho!” though I didn’t hear it). And sometimes the logs were knocked out of the fireplace. But if we were to dare to accuse the parents of filling the stockings, or to stay up and try to spy, Santa might not come next year! So basically, it was a gentlemen’s agreement to never mention who filled the stockings. I’m in my 30s, I still get a stocking, and we never discuss how they’re filled. (For that matter, my mother still gets a stocking at HER mother’s house, my 82-year-old grandmother!)

    Oh, and yes, Santa only fills the stockings. The presents under the tree are all properly labeled with a “To” as well as “From.” But Santa can be very generous with the stockings (which are large and knitted) as his budget dictates, and will leave gifts piled next to them on the hearth, too.

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      Aww, that’s so sweet that you still never discuss it – I really hope Max is willing to do that, too!

      • Ginger
        December 11, 2019

        It definitely keeps the fun alive! I look forward to it every year.

  • Nicole
    December 10, 2019

    When I was growing up my family usually had 1 or 2 presents “from Santa” (usually any big-ticket items) and the rest labeled from friends or family. We had stockings hanging on the mantel but I don’t remember ever actually getting anything *in* the stocking.

    One tradition I will NOT be carrying on is what my grandmother did for my dad and his siblings growing up…In their family Santa also brought the christmas tree! So my poor grandmother would somehow find and decorate an entire tree on christmas eve as well as set out the presents. I have no clue why she decided to put herself through that…

    • Amber
      December 10, 2019

      Oh wow – the woman must’ve been exhausted!

  • Michelle
    December 10, 2019

    I don’t remember what I told my daughter, but she got one present from Santa, and the rest came from us. I remember using one special wrapping paper for the Santa present too (I bought enough to last about a decade). At some point we realized she likely didn’t believe in Santa anymore, and then we had to have the “you don’t believe but other kids do, so don’t spoil it for them” talk.

    And then last year (when she was 16) she told me she actually NEVER believed in Santa, and just played along because it “seemed fun”. So she kind of turned the tables on us there…

    I also worried about kids comparing Santa notes, but it never was a problem. The tooth fairy, on the other hand………

    • Amber
      December 12, 2019

      That’s such a good point about using different wrapping paper: Max won’t notice now, but I’ll definitely have to bear that one in mind once he’s a bit older!

  • Lila
    December 10, 2019

    Presents were always from Santa, no mummy and daddy presents, and the kids never asked why and I have never ever thought of that aspect; how strange ?

    No elf on shelf, is that an American thing? I’ve only heard of it in the past three years or so.

    Traditions when they were around pre-school age were leaving a carrot for the reindeer and a biscuit and milk for Santa, if I remembered. The reindeer food idea became popular when the kids were older and it was being sold at school fetes and Christmas fayres and don’t think we ever did the Santa’s footprints idea either, just early to bed or Santa will never come (and mum and dad won’t be able to bring the presents in their sacks down from the lofts ??)

    You pick up traditions new and old and adapt them to suit your family, no pressure, Max won’t mind and won’t really start asking questions about traditions and the like till primary school age and beyond, or might not if you are lucky ?

    Isn’t Max sitting nicely for Santa ??, see he knows his santa stuff already ?
    I did notice when my children were young quite a few girls disliked Santa and were scared and cried, I cannot remember much about my kids reactions, just a bit of reluctance to go near him when they were very young maybe, why is that not a surprise? ?

    • Amber
      December 12, 2019

      I’ve noticed quite a few children seem to be quite scared of him – you know Max, though, if he suspects someone might have “sweeties” for him, he has no fear!

  • dubliner in deutschland
    December 11, 2019

    It’s going to be even more confusing here in Germany because they celebrate on the 24th with the Christkind who sneaks in with presents during while they are in a different room eating lunch. I’d rather stick with Santa Claus leaving presents by Christmas morning scenario like I grew up with so we’ll have to come up with some story to explain that Santa Claus comes to our house because she has an Irish Mum but not to the other kids? But then should the German Christkind come too? So confusing! The thing is I never remember asking other children about their traditions growing up so maybe kids don’t.. hopefully..

    • Amber
      December 12, 2019

      Ooh yes, that sounds tricky – I think the consensus seems to be that children don’t really question it, though, so hopefully you’ll be fine for a few more years at least!

  • Anita
    December 12, 2019

    In our house, while I was growing up, Santa was more like the middle man. He brought the gifts, but the gifts always came from someone we knew – an acquaintance or family members. But then again, Santa came to our door Christmas Eve and not through the chimney the night before Christmas Day (I’m from Norway). So, I suppose it’s different. 🙂

    • Amber
      December 12, 2019

      Ha, I love the idea of Santa as a middle man!

  • Melissa
    December 12, 2019

    When I was little, my sister and I had a stocking each with little ppresents and our main presents came from family. We’d hang our stocking at theme end of our beds and wake up to discover them bulging. As I got older I became a bit of insomniac and had to pretend to be asleep when they filled my stocking… so I started hanging it on the landing. Apparently I felt the need to pretend too! As for explaining to children, I really like this: https://www.upworthy.com/theres-a-brilliant-heartfelt-way-to-tell-your-kids-the-truth-about-santa-take-notes

  • Sarah Rooftops
    December 12, 2019

    We tell them Santa fills the stocking but the gifts are from family and friends, however M’s already asking about the discrepancies between her Santa experience and some of her friends’ and it’s SO HARD to answer without either telling the truth or inadvertently shaming other families. I was the kid who got a stocking and some colouring pens for Christmas and who stopped believing early on because Lindy down the road got a VCR and a TV and a bike and a whole ton of other stuff, all from Santa; it would be so much easier if there was a “Santa” budget which almost all parents could afford and which was realistic for charities to provide to the families in need. I can rant about this at length, but I won’t.

    As for the elf, no, you absolutely don’t need to do it. You tell Max you don’t have an elf because Santa has absolutely no doubt that he’s a good kid and/or because you told Santa there was no need to send one because YOU have absolutely no doubt that he’s a good kid. Some of M’s friends have asked to get rid of the elves because they’re (rightly) creeped out by being spied on. Some of them have santa-cams IN THEIR BEDROOMS – I mean, getting three and four year olds used to “being a good girl” in their bedroom for some strange man at the end of a webcam? Not cool. I’m actually quite angry that M’s nursery has an elf because it’s introduced her to the idea that Christmas is provisional – she’s scared she won’t get presents and it’s taken a bit of the magic away for her. So: if you don’t want to do a specific tradition, you don’t. End of. Christmas is magical enough without them.

  • Alex
    January 2, 2020

    Growing up, we wrote letters to Santa to request one thing (usually a toy) that Santa would bring if we were good enough that year. He also did our stockings. Everything else was from our family