As a kid, I never realized that the topic of a fictional character would be more and more controversial the older I got. I’ve had more conversations about Santa Claus as an adult than I did as a child. Anytime I mention to another parent that I don’t want my kids to believe in Santa, they’re completely flabbergasted. “But…why?!” Some people cannot understand how we could possibly observe this sacred holiday without including the rotund reindeer rider.
Truthfully, I don’t have any particular beef with the guy. I’m a big fan of holiday traditions and how they vary by culture, religion, and family. Everyone has their own thing they pass down through generations and that’s so special. We do the same—but without Santa. And it all started with my mom. Although her original reasonings aren’t exactly my own, they certainly influenced my adult decisions on the matter. So here’s why I wasn’t raised with Santa and why I’m doing the same with my kids.
As a Child: Religion and Culture
I’m from Puerto Rico and even though believing in Santa Claus is fairly common on the island, it’s not as intense as the U.S. Both of my parents knew about Santa when they were kids, but my mom specifically says that she always knew he wasn’t real. When I asked her why she stated, “I just didn’t believe it. I was one of those kids who told others Santa didn’t exist in class.” Jeez, Ma.
Despite being public enemy #1 in elementary school, she stuck to her guns all the way to adulthood. However, her disbelief didn’t go any deeper than that until she became more involved in church and eventually had me. Not only did the whole man-sliding-down-a-chimney thing make zero sense to her, but she also wanted me to understand the “true” meaning behind Christmas. For her, it became more about religion and my dad agreed with her as well. Looking back, she decided to put her faith in something that felt more tangible to her, and I can respect that.
I didn’t think much about Santa until we moved stateside and realized everyone else did. I remember asking her what the deal was and she said some families believe in Santa but ours doesn’t. It was a very matter-of-fact conversation to have with a 6-year-old, but I felt like I had insider adult knowledge, which was pretty cool. We still had our tree, presents on December 25, and Christmas decorations all over the house like everyone else. Plus, my parents were intentional about having our own unique, cultural traditions too. We made Italian cookies like my dad’s parents did and we celebrated Día de los Reyes (a Puerto Rican holiday) on January 6. Even without believing in Santa, I never felt like I was missing out on any of the holiday magic. We made our own magic.
As a Mom: Tradition and…Disinterest
Throughout childhood, I enjoyed the fun stories, movies, and pop culture references about Santa but he was just that to me—a story. However, I was not and still am not fond of the whole naughty and nice thing. Even my husband who was raised in a Santa-subscribing household didn’t agree with the concept of being “good” in order to receive gifts from a made-up character. I’ve seen families who do this aspect differently now, which is a nice alternative. But ultimately, I’ve never been captivated enough by the idea to introduce Santa to my kids as a fact.
I don’t have the exact same reasonings as my parents because I view religion differently than them (a story for another time). But my husband and I are continuing the tradition because we agree Santa isn’t the defining factor of the holiday season. We’d rather not spend time and effort cultivating a narrative we’re both apathetic about. We don’t ban Santa talk around our kids or anything—he’s a fun character to them like Lightning McQueen or Buzz Lightyear. But they know that mom, dad, and their relatives are the ones who lovingly pick their gifts and make Christmas wonderful. We prefer to give credit where credit is due.
I understand that I’m making this decision on their behalf and I have no way of knowing if they’ll wish I chose differently. Yet I feel confident that passing down our personal family traditions will be enough. We still make Italian cookies, celebrate Día de los Reyes, and have started new traditions. There’s no singular way to make the holidays special and memorable. Each family has their own unique ways they create holiday magic. That’s what kids remember the most anyway—not just what we do but how much love we put into it.