Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts for Parents and Children Who Don't Do Santa

With the re-post yesterday, a few folks have asked in one way or another, "How do we help our children talk about our focus on Jesus rather than Santa without being self-righteous?"

What a great question. First, let me say, if you want answers without pride and self-righteousness, I'm not your best teacher. I'm certain others have written more helpful stuff and lived more consistently than I have. Perhaps we could all benefit from reading a book like Humility just before the holidays.

But here are a few things I thought about in response to that excellent and practical question.

1. Prepare your children before they're in the situation. In general, I fall down on this way too much. Too much of my instruction comes after the fact. Consequently, it's damage control or re-directing rather than insulating equipping. So, I'd encourage us all who avoid Santa to talk with our children about why we choose not to, giving them a sense of the superior joy of focusing on Jesus. And talk with them about the fact that many, many others--both Christians and non-Christians--do include Santa Claus in their Christmas celebrations. Be sure to explain that doing Santa doesn't make a person a bad Christian, but that you think Jesus and the gospel are clearer without Santa. And part of our preparation, should be a little role play or instruction on how to respond when they're asked things like, "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" When I used to train people on interviewing techniques, we used to teach people to think of the questions they would like not to be asked and decide how they're going to answer them if they come up. That principle works here I think.

2. Don't leave your children hanging; model the response you're hoping for. Invariably, there will be that neighbor or friend who sees you in the grocery store and turns to ask that awkward question of your child. They'll mean well and will do a pretty good job of engaging the child directly... bending down to eye level, smiling, and giving all kinds of joyful non-verbal encouragements. (We should engage children like this all the time, really). Your child will look at this smiling giant and then look to mom and dad with a silent plea, What do I do now! You're the one leading this thing! Say something!

So, we should say something. Graciously, with a smile, bring the conversation back to adult-to-adult. And say something like, "At Christmas, we enjoy focusing on the birth of Jesus and what it means to the world?" Hopefully, that opens some opportunity to explain what it means. If your child is old enough and familiar with the gospel, you might even relieve the tension by turning to the child and asking, "Why did Jesus come? And what does that mean for the world?" But the point here is to encourage the parents to lead with a little modeling. We're not out for Santa fights in the produce aisle of the supermarket. So, aim for something short, winsome, and simple so your child can emulate it.

3. Teach children to take an interest in the traditions of others. We can go on the "offensive" here as well. We should teach our children not to be in a defensive posture about Christmas celebrations, but to be in that people-seeking, gospel-communicating, offensive posture of the Great Commission. So, it's good if we're the ones teaching our children that people celebrate differently--some of that is cultural and ethnic, some of it is just preference. Some of it is well thought-out and reasoned, some of it is just cultural response. We can show genuine interest in people by asking what kinds of things they do to celebrate Christmas, and by asking how they came to embrace those practices. We learn about others and we hopefully deepen a relationship.

4. Finally, we have to teach our children how to handle objections. Well-meaning people, after hearing that you don't do Santa Claus, will assume that means you don't do joy at Christmas. They'll assume you don't give gifts or that you're robbing the children. And they'll sometimes give voice to these objections by asking the child something like, "Aren't you gonna miss out on Santa and all the gifts?"

Here, we need to know two things. First, we need to know if our children are missing those things or longing for them. To what extent is materialism creeping into their hearts? Talking with them about this is helpful for us as parents apart from simply preparing for these kinds of conversations. And if they admit to struggling in this way, it's an opportunity to do a little heart work with our children.

Second, we need to know if our children are prepared to respond in situations like this. These kinds of questions are actually a lot of pressure to put on a 3-, 4-, or 5-year olds. Answering towering adults who obviously disagree with you can be intimidating. So, again, we should be ready to step in and model a response. But we should also teach children how to handle objections and disagreements. Learning short answers can be helpful:

Q: "Won't you miss all the presents?" Ans: "The best present comes from God in Jesus. That's what we enjoy most."

Q: "What will you do when the other children have lots of new toys?" Ans: "Share their joy with them, and continue to enjoy all the toys I already have."

Q: "What's wrong with believing in Santa?" Ans: "Others can. But I think it's better to believe in real things that are wonderful and beautiful, like Jesus."

Q: "Well, what do you do for Christmas then?" Ans: Fill in whatever your family does.

Whenever the child answers an objection graciously, joyfully, and honestly, affirm them. Join in by saying, "Yeah, that's right. We...." Again, don't leave them alone. Model how to respond and model that it's a family tradition. Lord willing, that'll pay off when they're one day defending the gospel itself and sticking together with the family of faith.

Just a few thoughts. I'd love to hear from others.

How do you teach your children to talk about why you do or don't include Santa in your Christmas celebrations?


Bryan Lopez said...

Great thoughts Thabiti. I was just thinking through this a few days ago when my three year old was overjoyed at the blown up Santa across the street.

Bethany said...

Thanks for the new post. When my husband told me about it I couldn't wait to read. The comments about leading and modeling were a good reminder for me. I find myself waiting to see how my kids respond, even though we've prepared and talked about it at home. I think my ideal would be Q "What did you ask Santa for this year?" A "I didn't ask Santa for anything because I already have so much. But can I tell you what I got/get to do?" ...and then have the child talk about what our family was able to do to give to others during the season - and how we have celebrated Christ's birth and maybe talk about the books/Scripture we've read, the Jesse Tree we've assembled, etc. And maybe that would open further doors as well. These posts have helped rekindle and redirect some thinking on the topic for training our kids. Thank you! I can't wait to read thoughts from others as well.

Paul Nevergall said...

My wife and I have 2 children and we treat Santa Claus the same way we treat SpongeBob, Mickey Mouse, Oswald and other shows. He is simply a cartoon that serves no real or educational purpose. Personally, I hate the "omnipresent fat-man". For us, it came down to the simple fact that he is a lie and no lie can be of the truth - which is the reason we celebrate Christmas.

I've often wondered if one of the reasons God didn't leave instructions to celebrate the birth of Jesus is because He knew we would mess that up too!

As far as children responding to questions: our daughter is pretty shy and our son is only a year old, but we look forward to the day when the simply say..."Santa? He's not real!"

AKH said...

I'm still pondering all of this, but I do have a quick question. My young children go to "school" (church day care, really), where the children in their class all "celebrate Santa," for lack of a better term. How do you teach your children to respond to other children about Santa? Some of your points about engaging others about their traditions and not responding self-righteously would certainly apply here, but in a class of 2 year olds, the real question is, how do I communicate to my child that Santa is not real without spoiling other parents' traditions?

Thanks for the thoughtful posts.

JacqueB said...

I am right there with you, AKH! We are celebrating Christmas this year with my brother's family, believers who celebrate Santa, and we are trying our best to prepare our 3 year old that Santa isn't real (because he'll surely hear otherwise from his cousins), and hoping that he doesn't blurt out "Santa isn't real!" and ruin his cousins' anticipation of Christmas morning. I suppose that I'll just have to trust that if it happens, God means it to happen for my niece's and nephews' ultimate joy! :)

Lisa said...

Oh, if only we had been able to read this post when our children were young.... we did not do the Santa thing, but weren't really equipped to know how to handle questions, objections, etc. Still, our daughter Juli, when she was just about 5, said to a kind stranger at the dollar store who asked her if she was "excited about Santa Claus coming," "Well, what I'm REALLY excited about is Jesus' birthday." Hmm, not bad, especially since we had NOT prepared her beforehand, as you so wisely suggest. I think she handled it pretty diplomatically and graciously for a little kid! :-)
The only thing I can remember that we intentionally did in this area was to be in the habit of asking our children's friends (and friends' children), "So, what did you give for Christmas this year?" They usually opened their mouth, then did a double take, then proceeded to excitedly tell us what they had bought or made for Mommy, Daddy, etc. We thought it was a good way to keep the focus on the blessedness of giving.
Thanks so much for this insightful, wise, gracious post, Thabiti!

momofsons said...

When my sons were little people, my oldest age 4, I taught them Christmas is about God's gift to us. We talked about how some people like to pretend that Santa is real but that was based on the story of a guy named Saint Nicholas who lived a looong time ago. Then we went shopping. Of course someone asked -the question-, "What's Santa bringing you for Christmas?" My son answered, "Didn't you know? Santa is dead!"

We're still laughing 16 years later.

Bethany Taylor said...

momofsons: Your comment made me laugh out loud. It completely sounds like something my children might blurt out. As an adoptive mom, our children came to us this past January at the ages 6 and 5 from Ethiopia. So this is their first Christmas ever. I so appreciate the thoughtfulness of other parents in intentionally seeking to instruct your children in this area. We pray that we can emulate this counsel as we prepare our children for the inevitable "Santa" questions.


Hendrick Family said...

This was so helpful. I found your post through the Girl Talk Blog.

I was wondering if you had any advice for when our children will be around other children who do believe in Santa. Do we teach our kids to remove themselves from these conversations or engage (hopefully humbly) in them.

When other kids say that Santa is real, do we ask our children to remain silent, or is this an opportunity to share their beliefs about this holiday.

Since we're unsure, we have leaned more towards asking our kids to remain silent around friends who believe in Santa. It's just tricky, because if it was anything else, we'd definitely want them to feel free to humbly share what the Lord has taught them. Santa seems different, but we're not positive it should be. How can Jolly Old Saint Nicholas be such a scary topic?

Just wondering how to teach our kids to be people who speak the truth without being "those people" whose kids ruined someone's Christmas by mentioning they don't believe in Santa.