How do we decide how to approach Father Christmas?
How we approach Father Christmas varies from home to home. Some of us embrace the white-bearded old fellow with enthusiasm, completely buying into the magic - posting letters to the North Pole, laying out mince pies and sherry on Christmas Eve, and staying up until 2am so we can carefully lift the weighty stocking onto the bottom of our children’s bed before tiptoeing away, hoping against hope for a reasonable number of hours sleep before squeals of excitement disturb us. Others find that Father Christmas and all he represents is incompatible with our values and so we choose to focus only on Jesus and his birth. Then a group in the middle kind of go along with it as part of Christmas, not particularly bothered either way. If you Google ‘Christian views of Father Christmas’ you can read a number of articles from people explaining their approach.
Key things that seem to come up in the conversations are:
- Does embracing Father Christmas take the focus off Jesus as the ‘reason for the season’?
- Can Father Christmas just be ‘pretend fun’ or are we deceiving our kids, lying to them if we go along with the idea of Father Christmas?
- If we include Father Christmas in our celebrations and later on our kids discover we were lying to them, will that mean they no longer trust us – particularly about the real Christmas story?
- Will my child be devastated to discover one day that Father Christmas isn’t real?
Firstly, there is no right or wrong answer to this question – like so much in parenting, the right way for your family to include (or not include) Father Christmas in your celebrations depends entirely on your family! As a parent, you are the expert in your kids, your family values and culture and your family is unique.
But, it’s probably a question we want to think about while our children are young and we’re figuring out our own Christmas traditions. Because inevitably, if we don’t decide what our family approach is, others will decide for us. Our pre-schooler will come home singing ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’, Father Christmas will come and visit the playgroup, handing out gifts, lovely ladies at church will lean tenderly towards our kid and ask, ‘And what’s Santa bringing you this year?’ or TV ads will tell us that Father Christmas is going to sweep across the skies on his sleigh...
So, how can we do this well? We hope some of the following might be helpful questions to ask or ideas to ponder:
- How comfortable am I with the idea of Father Christmas being part of my family’s Christmas? The answer to this will depend on our background and our views on truth and fantasy, as well as things like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. It’s important to listen to our own instincts as we work out our way forward.
- If I do go along with the idea of Father Christmas, would I want to put boundaries around that? For example, do all my presents come from our red-coated friend or just the stocking presents? Do I keep him low-key or embrace the magic, visiting his grotto, leaving snowy footprints down the hall, baking him special cookies and putting out ‘This Way Santa’ signs in the garden?
- If Father Christmas is going to visit my home, how can I keep Jesus as the highlight of Christmas – what could I do that is even more marvellous and magical than Father Christmas? For us, even with a toddler, it was Midnight Mass – being allowed to stay up so very late, the crisp, cold walk to church as the bells rang, entering the candlelit church, snuggling sleepily in the pew and then that marvellous moment as you realise that Christmas day has arrived and singing ‘Yea Lord we greet thee’ for the first time that year.
- Is my kid going to be affected by the notion that the all-seeing, all-knowing Father Christmas will only give them gifts if they’ve been good? What can I do to help discuss this with them?
- How will I answer the question, “Is Father Christmas real?” when my kid asks? What’s the difference for me between ‘pretend fun’ and prolonging an untruth?
- Some families find the link between St Nicholas and his famous kindness and generosity helpful in explaining the place of Father Christmas in their family’s celebrations. There are lots of stories and videos online, here’s one we enjoyed: The Story of Saint Nicholas - The Real Santa Claus
- Some children are really comfortable flitting between pretend and real, while others are very black and white about truth – so some will not be bothered by discovering Father Christmas isn’t real while others may be distraught. Where do my children sit within this spectrum?
- If I am choosing to tell my children that Father Christmas isn’t real, how can I frame that for them so that they understand that for other children, knowing that would be upsetting or spoil their Christmas? How can I give them the understanding and language to explain our family’s stance while still respecting other families’ views?
Whatever you choose to do, have a wonderful time figuring out your family’s unique values and traditions.