Not Believing in Santa Claus is Like Not Believing in Jesus . . . or George Washington

by | Dec 5, 2014 | Advent, Christmas, December, Liturgical Living, Parenting, Parenting Advice | 60 comments

It’s the million-dollar Christmas question, right? And I’ve been asked it many times in the lead-up to Advent and Christmas: Do our children “believe” in Santa Claus? But . . . I don’t think it’s the right question. Hang in here with me. Seriously, let’s look at what we’re really asking. Not believing in Santa Claus is like not believing in Jesus . . . or George Washington. At least inasmuch as all three are actual historical persons who lived on earth.

Which brings me to the second part of the question, as I am sometimes asked, which is if we do St. Nicholas instead of Santa Claus. And, if you’ll forgive me, that’s an even odder question than the first. Asking if we do St. Nicholas OR Santa Claus is like asking if we prefer Saint John Paul II or Santo Juan Pablo II. It’s the same guy, his name is just translated into a different language.

“Santa Claus” is just the German version of Saint Nicolas’s name. Ni . . . claus.

Santa Claus was an actual historical, Catholic person. He was born in what is now Turkey in the third century. He became Bishop of Myra. He was real.

He continues to be real and to exist, because as Catholics we believe in an everlasting soul that never dies. The Catholic Church has recognized St. Nicholas as a canonized saint, which means we believe that he lives in heaven and can hear our prayers and intercede with God the Father for us.

Kids, and other people, are free to not believe in leprechauns or fairies (although I happen to want to believe in them, myself) since the evidence for the existence of those creatures is tenuous at best. But not believing in Santa isn’t like not believing in unicorns, it’s like not believing in Secretariat. I mean, you can not believe in Secretariat if you want, but I gotta say, I’d think it was weird if you didn’t.

So now that we have addressed the questionable questions, let’s address the question people really MEAN. Which is: do we and should we allow our children to believe that Santa brings them presents.

We do. I think we should.

When Santa brings gifts to my kids on December 6th for St. Nicholas Day and on Christmas, it allows ME to toil in secret, and to experience giving without receiving anything in return. Not even the thanks. I think that’s a good thing, “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:14)

I also think that getting gifts from St. Nicholas helps my kids to understand that the saints are real and that prayers to them are efficacious. Maybe not exactly in the “put chocolate in your shoes” way it might seem now. But it’s a good start.

Here’s the quick version of exactly how we talk to our kids about Santa Claus.


Santa and St. Nick (and Father Christmas) are all the same guy.


He is a saint, so, like all the saints, he lives in heaven with Jesus.


He has a workshop at the North Pole, where he makes toys. (Maybe he has elf helpers, we can’t know that part for sure.)


Some books and shows talk about a Mrs. Claus. Bishops can’t be married now, but when St. Nicholas lived, that was allowed, so it’s possible that there was a Mrs. Claus. But it’s also possible that whoever made that show just doesn’t know that he was really a bishop.


He brings birthday presents to all the good boys and girls on Christmas Eve (and probably the naughty ones too), to help us all to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Jesus is very generous, and, like hobbits, he likes other people to get the presents on his birthday.


Reports are that he has reindeer that fly. Saints are sometimes able to do miraculous things, with the help of God. St. Pio could bilocate. St. Francis could reason with murderous wolves. St. Joseph of Cupertino could fly all on his own for goodness sakes. It’s really not that big a stretch for us that Santa could have reindeer that fly and somehow manage to visit houses all over the world in one night. But, like St. George and the dragon, it’s possible that it all means something else somehow.


Santa visits most houses on Christmas Eve only, but, for kids who are waiting for Christmas and observing Advent, he also visits on his feast day on December 6th, and leaves some extra little treats as an attaboy.


Many countries, and many families, have different Christmas traditions, Santa is cool with that and abides by the customs and preferences of individuals. We are cool with that, too.

We feel like Santa makes our Christmas more fun and more reverent at the same time.

I guess it’s okay with me if you don’t. But, really, I can’t see what’s dangerous about believing in and loving Santa — and getting presents from him — as long as we are foremost a family that knows and loves God, and knows and loves the baby Jesus and the story of the first Christmas, and that understands the communion of the saints.

So, tonight, we are going to put out our shoes for Santa on his feast day. And on Christmas Eve, we’ll hang up our stockings. And we will be grateful to God and the Catholic Church for little treats that we don’t deserve, and for Christmas magic.

I’m going to let GK Chesterton have the last word here, from a letter he wrote to the Tablet of London:

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation.  I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking.  I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it.  I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them.  I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

Updated this year (2016) to add . . . 

We do have older kids who know who’s really bringing the presents, and that’s okay. In our home it has been a painless and trauma-free transition from team little kid to team-parents-and-big-kid-helpers. My biggest kids now get to stay up late on Christmas Eve and help wrap presents in the special Santa paper and help fill stockings, and help eat the cookies on the plate, etc. So, it’s fun for them too, and they get to share in the joy of secret giving!

In keeping with my general strategy of avoiding Big Important Conversations whenever possible, we just try to allow our kids to figure it out on their own by giving them knowing looks and whatnot. We try to protect their belief in Santa until seven or eight or nine (depending on the kid), then we get them over to the Santa’s Helpers team. Before eight or nine, we try to encourage their belief and keep the fun by answering their questions in an open-ended way with possible explanations, after that age if questions came up I’d just give them a kiss and a smile and say, “That’s a very good question. . . . What do YOU think?”

Every kid is different, but so far, each kid has taken it in stride and been excited to help keep the game going for little brothers and sisters.

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  1. Ali

    What a beautiful beautiful post! As you often do, you've captured my thoughts better than I ever could express them myself!
    I am a convert and my husband grew up Catholic, but because of my German heritage I've always celebrated St. Nicholas day and my husband did not (He thought I was making it up when I first told him.) Our children have always known that St. Nicholas and Santa and Father Christmas are the same person. On St. Nicholas Day eve our children leave their shoes out and they also leave a letter to St. Nicholas in their shoe. The next morning, along with goodies they have a letter from St. Nicholas helping them to focus on the purpose of advent and the meaning of Christmas.
    The one thing I'm struggling with is "Mrs. Claus." Somehow (maybe from books?) she has become part of my oldest daughter's understanding of Santa. I think we may have to take an approach like you do with the elves until she is a little older and then gradually remind her that as a bishop, St. Nicholas wasn't married. Not sure…

    • Kendra

      Ooo, good question. I had forgotten about this issue, but you're right, it has come up for us because of the stop motion Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer movie. I certainly don't think the Mrs. Santa character is based in historical fact. (I'm also pretty sure there's no King Moonracer) But, priestly celibacy wasn't the norm in the early centuries of the church. So it's possible that Santa COULD have been married.

    • Ali

      Good point! We'll let it just be a bit of a mystery and let her bring it up.

    • Ali

      Oh, and our parish also seems to blur the lines – St. Nicholas visited the preschool faith formation classes this past Sunday.
      Also, congratulations on your pregnancy! Such wonderful news!

    • Nicole Elizabeth

      Regarding St. Nicholas of Myra/Bari's wife, I remember reading about it in Raphael Brown's "Saints Who Saw Mary". If I remember correctly, St. Nick was a married man who's wife agreed to enter a convent so that they might pursue higher callings. According to traditions other married saints, such as Arthur and Gweneviere of Wales made similar arrangements.

  2. Sandra

    Yes Ali! I have the same issue with my daughter. She asks about "Mrs. Claus" all the time, and wonders why Santa is married… I don't have any real good answers, but I'd love to hear more…

  3. Kate

    Though I most usually agree with all Kendra write, I am on the No-Santa side this time.Knowing that Kendra appreciates polite and resonated discussion, I believe she won't get mad for writing why we don't roll the Santa train 🙂 I personally just can not get into the reasoning that Santa Claus = st. Nicholas. I do accept the idea of Santa Claus having originated from the christian tradition of st. Nicholas, but in my point of view Santa Claus has grown to be something st. Nicholas has little to do with. I think one really needs to stretch imagination and the real of "it is maybe somehow possible" to combine all the differences between the st. Nicholas and Santa (the North pole, the deers, the elfs, the toy making, the wife etc). They actually have nothing to do with christian tradiotion of st. Nicholas. Of course, as it is usually the case with everything in life, my point of view on this particular issue is largely influenced by my historical and cultural heritage i.d. I live in Croatia, mostly Catholic country whose Catholicism was in large forbidden during the time of the Communism. The Communist party introduced the Santa Claus instead of a baby Jesus who traditionally in our country is the one who brings presents under the tree during the night from 24th to 25th of December. Now, having lived in capitalism for the last 20 years, it seems that Santa Claus is even more present then in the times when forced on the people. Santa is everywhere and it's only meant to encourage people to spend more and more money. Santa and stuff like X-mas only take away from the holiday spirit and in my point of view, make Christmas a family holiday in which we share our good will and spirit while taking the birth of our Savior completely out of the "picture".
    But, this is just my opinion and I by no means think that families who have Santa=st. Nicholas should stop having it.

    • Kendra

      Thank you Kate. I do appreciate your unique perspective. Baby Jesus bringing the presents sounds really sweet.

    • mary

      I agree with this SO much!! I understand celebrating St. Nick in his feast day, but the way society celebrates Santa with wish lists and commercialized greed, puts the focus on self instead of Christ’s birth. It doesn’t have to be that way to be beautifully celebrated! Thanks for that perspective, Kate!

  4. Ashley Sue

    Bravo! I grew up with the concept of La Befana as we got our gifts on Epiphany (my mom was byzantine catholic). But my husband brought me the magic of St. Nick by setting up a Christmas tree in my apartment with little presents on under it when we oh so poor college students. In fact even now Jeff's love of magic and wonder keeps my faith fresh.

    Our chickadees do believe in Santa more as St. Nick. I've never noticed them picking apart their legends when they watch Christmas movies. Jeff told them to think of it like a comic book where people sometime re-create a story to fit a need or explore s new topic.

    • Ashley Sue

      By "their legends" I mean St. Nicholas' story and miracles. Although Bella has a great attachment to the idea that St. Nick has flying horses on his feast because "baby jesus only likes flying food on his birthday".

  5. Loveisneverdefeated

    This is amazing and exactly how I am going to approach it. Also congrats on the pregnancy news! I don't think I have ever been so genuinely happy for someone that I have never met 🙂

  6. Elise

    This approach is so great, Kendra. I first heard you mention it on the This Inspired Life podcast, and appreciate this full explanation even more. Thanks so much for sharing how your family does it!

  7. Bethany Ann

    Wow, Kendra great job. I love the fact and feeling of this post. Bravo!

  8. annemcd

    We totally blur the lines between Santa and St. Nicholas. They know all about the saint, and when they ask how all these children all over the world can receive presents in one night, we chalk it up to a miracle. In terms of Santa being on the watch to see if they are being naughty or nice, we remind them that their guardian angels are always with them, and because they are also in Heaven with St. Nicholas, keep him abreast of their behavior. 😉

    When it comes to flying reindeer and elves, I shrug and say, "I just don't know!" While I don't outright lie to them, I let them come up with their own fantastical stories about "how it all works."

    A very devout priest in our diocese has a homily about St. Nicholas every year that is very similar to what you have said. While he points out that St. Nicholas wasn't married, he might have had a very kind housekeeper who kept him well fed, hence the big belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly. 😉

  9. Elizabeth@SuperSwellTimes

    This is so great and helps me get my head on straight about a lot of the thoughts I've had stirring around about children and Christmas. When I was a kid, Santa brought all of our presents on Christmas morning. In my husband's family — Santa brought a few things, but Mom and Dad gave "the good gifts" because "they wanted the credit." So I'm pretty pro-Santa, but he's on the fence.

  10. Anonymous

    I love this so much. As recent converts with a 5 year old son, it is hard to re-focus holidays to their religious origins for us.
    My son has had 5 Christmases, but only one Christmas Mass, and it is nice to know that since he already "knows about Santa" I don't have to tell him Santa isn't real. This is such a lovely, and logical why to tie the Christmas he is used to with the Real Christmas.
    And, going to Catholic School now, he knows about a lot of Saints and is especially excited about St Nick. I got a book on St Nicholas of Myra at the local Catholic book store when I picked up the Advent wreath and calendar this year. I am excited to read it tonight as we put out our shoes and tie Santa and St Nick together. If you don't mind, I am basically going to copy the Tierney strategy here.. 🙂

  11. Elizabeth

    Our family separates St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. We celebrate St. Nicholas' Day (and just recently, on being asked to convey the information that my daughter prefers dark chocolate, I informed her that she could certainly tell the saint this herself because he is in heaven and can hear her), and then we haul out L. Frank Baum' book, The Life and Times of Santa Claus, and have fun reading that. We've told our children that Santa is a fairy tale that developed out of the true story of St. Nicholas, and that some families have fun playing a game that Santa is real, which they should not spoil for their friends. We get to enjoy the feast of St. Nicholas and celebrate him and then have fun with the story of Santa too, and I never have to worry about explaining flying reindeer, elves, the North Pole workshop, or Mrs. Claus. 🙂 This works really well for our family.

    • Deltaflute

      That's basically what we do too. Right now my 5 year old is under the impression that Santa will visit him and bring him presents. I've been trying to explain that it's a game. Santa or St. Nick isn't really bringing him chocolate and books.

      My biggest beef with the whole Santa thing is when the child gets older. It's lying to not tell them that you are wrapping the presents when they ask you. Forcing a child to believe that a man in a red suit comes down the chimney and leaves physical things that they've asked for just so they can keep getting more stuff seems like the opposite of being a Christian. Putting St. Nicholas in his proper place during Advent and not having him outshine Jesus or perpetuate lies I think is the better option. (I'm not talking about pretending or make-believe either. I mean actually making it real that Santa eats the cookies and whatnot especially if they are old enough to understand the truth. Understand that it's a game and pretend I don't have a problem with).

    • Angel Gebeau

      Thanks for posting Deltaflute and Elizabeth as our family also has an issue with the lying to kids about Santa Claus/St. Nick. We're all for St. Nick and promoting his feast day. My husband dresses as him each year for events with white hair dye and all and he loves discussing St. Nick's life and strength of character. But we refuse to not be honest with the kids on who provides presents or that elves and reindeer are stories. Not because we want the praise or thanks, but because we don't want to ever be untruthful to our kids even on small things.

      We've had to be very careful that our kids don't spoil the magic for others. Our 4 year old wanted to tell her entire class that the flying reindeer was a story but St. Nick is real and caused quite a ruckus!

    • Kendra

      I have to say, I think the use of the words "lying" and "dishonest" here go too far.

      What we do in our home, is give our children part of the truth, and reveal things to them in an age appropriate way. It's how we handle most things in our home, from the birds and the bees on up. We give them truth as they can handle it. And it's never been traumatic.

      I'm all for families celebrating in the way that works best for them, and Santa clause certainly isn't a doctrinal issue. But here's hoping I don't run into you at a party and ask you how I look in this dress when I'm nine months pregnant. ;0)

    • ajcalis1

      Hi Kendra,

      I'm new to both your blog and to parenting, and I found this a very interesting article. I had one question, though. It's a pretty hefty one.

      You reveal truth to your children when it is age-appropriate. Fair. But how do you get from the story (or partial truth) to the full truth? How do you get from "Santa has a house in the North Pole" to "Actually, his intercession is spiritual, not physical"? Sure, you can reveal these things gradually, but then why undo what you already did before with the perpetuation of the story of Santa?

      I don't mean to sound accusational; let me try to clarify exactly what I mean. If a kid was taught that Santa was a story based on a true person that helps us grasp the Christmas spirit, there will never be a need to disabuse him of that. It remains true even to adulthood. That's not the same as having to go from "This is a story I am presenting as a truth" to "That story had elements of truth, but we made some stuff up." I don't imagine that switch is either easy or necessary.

      My biggest worry is that my kid will take that same mentality and apply it to any religious story I tell, from Padre Pio's bi-location to "Oh, so that Bread is the flesh of Jesus in the same way Santa brought gifts — symbolically." Since many Bible stories are meant to be understood for their theological truths and not factual truths, I imagine it would be more beneficial to just be consistent.

      Granted, I've never had to deal with this still my son is too young to know who the heck Santa is. Still, I'd be curious to hear what you think.

    • Kendra


      I appreciate your sincerity here. I know this is a hot topic on all the Catholic blogs right now. I've read a few of them that strongly disagree with my take, and their comments include people who had the experience that you fear. They "found out" and felt betrayed by their parents.

      All I can say to that is that it was not my personal experience and, so far, hasn't been the experience of my children. They GET it. They can tell the difference between lies and fun, between being maliciously mislead and being treated to some fun childhood memories. For me, the truth of the resurrection is strong enough to survive the discovery that the presents you got were actually given to you by someone else, who gave in secret out of love.

      It's not something that feels like a big deal to me. And, in my experience, when my husband and I don't treat something as a crisis, the kids don't experience it as a crisis.

      Obviously, other people do think it's a big deal. If it's not something a particular family feels comfortable with, then I guess they shouldn't do it. But I have found it to be, in our family, just so, so sweet and innocent and fun. Honestly, the idea of a childhood free of magic and secrets and wonder sounds so SAD to me. But this is something about which good Catholics are allowed to disagree.

      God bless us, every one. :0)

    • ajcalis1

      I've spend the time since my previous comment looking over your other posts (and procrastinating on a paper). Two thoughts. One, you are a delightful and clever writer. Two, I will certainly be back to read some more! Thanks for replying.

      My wife delights in the magic of things: Christmas, Disney World, etc. I've never found magic all that appealing — unless we're talking about the transportative magic of an amazing poem or a powerful book.


  12. Amanda

    You make some excellent points (and I love that YOU give in secret, sacrificially. That's something I never thought of, I'm always thinking about the kids).

    We don't "do" Santa. We do St Nicholas' Day, though my 6 year old is making claims that *I* do it. I don't have it in me to prepare their (and my) hearts for Christ through Advent and also make the American Santa seem real and part of the St Nicholas story. I don't mind them not thanking me for my genius gift ideas, but I want them to realize that their grandparents etc use real money and real time and effort selecting them gifts. That doesn't have to be contrary to Santa, I know, but this works better for us. So St Nick brings little gifts tomorrow and Mom fills stockings and we use some Christmas money to buy gifts for the poor as St Nicholas did and as we should do. I just tell them the true story of the saint was turned into a character we talk about at Christmas and some people believe he brings gifts at Christmas but St Nicholas brings us something on his feast day.

    Congratulations again on the baby. I'm ridiculously excited for you.

  13. Patty

    What I struggled with this topic before is I couldn't get over its lie because Santa is not real (I don't have children right now) but your post helped me when you talked about how Santa/St. Nick are the same person….I guess this has been hard for me at times because growing up my family never celebrated St. Nick and I remember being pretty upset whEN I found out about Santa. Thanks Kendra, much good thought to ponder!!

  14. Julie

    Hi Kendra. I really love this post for so many reasons. As a new Catholic this year, which has been an amazing journey, all of this is so new: Advent, St. Nicholas, Christmas that is about the birth of our Savior….it's a lot to take in…and lets not even talk about the Jesse Tree. So tonight when we put out our shoe and read about St. Nicholas and then talk about who he is, we will have that connection a few weeks later when we put that stocking out for Santa. Thank you again! You have been such a blessing to me this year.

    • Ali

      Congrats Julie! I'm a newbie Catholic too! The Jesse Tree comment made me laugh – it is just going to have to wait for a year or two in our house.

  15. Anna

    As one who grew up not believing in Santa (my parents just didn't make a big deal about it either way) I am glad that my kids do. We really stress St. Nick and the kids have basically come up with Santa Claus solely from the stories from their friends. It hasn't even occurred to our kids yet to ask if he's real. They just accept that he is and that he's Saint Nick.

    I love St Nick's Day. I remember being a child and kind of believing that he came on Dec 6, even though I just couldn't believe in the Santa with flying reindeer who came down a chimney I could totally believe in a saint who came to our door, rang the bell and left a box overflowing with goodies, which is how my parents did Saint Nick.

    Just curious, do your oldest ones still believe in Santa Claus?

    • Kendra

      Jack has been on to us for years I think, and finally caught me red handed at the store this year, and proceeded to suggest I get a different version of the thing in my basket, just as bold as you please. 😛

      But again, that's how we plan it to go. My oldest daughter is certainly old enough to know better, but she chooses to still believe. That's how I was when I was little too.

  16. Athena Carson

    By the way, Santa Claus's house is real and I have visited it. He maintains a residence (and some reindeer) in North Pole, Alaska. No word on whether or not he gets an annual Permanent Fund Dividend check, although if he does, I'm sure he uses it to pay for reindeer veterinary care. He also sells quite a few Russian ornaments there.

    He also seems to take an annual vacation sometime in May, presumably when the audit of his 501(c)(3) organization is finished and his Form 990 has been filed with the IRS.

    (Translation to English available upon request. 🙂 )

    • Kendra

      I happen to know that about him vacationing. When my husband was little, they ran into him at Disney World. Jim's little brother went up to him and he had an Alaska driver's license that said Santa Claus right on it!

  17. Anonymous

    To answer the "why do we get presents on Jesus' birthday?" We also say that Jesus is do living & generous that He wants to share with you but I also stress that when the kids were baptized Jesus came to live in their heart & so Santa/St Nick & family are giving gifts to Jesus within them.

  18. Dr Mom

    Thanks and congrats! We talk very little about Santa but hang up stockings and he always brings something for the kids. When the kids start asking questions about Santa we respond with questions and let them figure it out with their logic. Our oldest is 11 & figured it out last year. It was great private conversation for us and a good stage for exploring truth in the world. No negatives here- lots of positives!

  19. Laura F

    We did Santa when I was a child, and never felt that it subtracted from Jesus' presence at Christmas. I had a very strong sense that Santa was working for Jesus, and sharing the wonder of God's gift to mankind in a way that was accessible to children.
    We did elfs and reindeer and Mrs. Claus, and the beautiful stop animation videos. I was sure Santa was real because of the way -other- adults handled it, not so much my parents. He's in movies, ads, books…why would adults waste so much time on something that's not real, I wondered.
    My thoughts on Santa are so in line with GK Chesterton's. I never felt lied to (the Easter Bunny was a different story). When I was old enough to understand that my parents did the gifts, I was old enough to understand that for a night, THEY were Santa; they are the embodiment of the the selfless giving Santa represents.
    As an American family rich with German tradition, we cherished St. Nick's day, though our gifts were small. 🙂

  20. Neely

    Love this! Half the fun (when you grow up as one of the oldest in a big family, anyway) is figuring the whole thing out and then helping to keep the magic alive for your younger siblings. I had fond memories of the whole Santa experience & I wanted them to experience the same thing. I have that same attitude with my own kids now. 🙂

  21. Emily

    Omg, thank you so much for this! You clarified exactly how I've been wanting to do things. (My oldest is 3.5 so this is the first year our explanations really matter.) I want to "do Santa," but I don't want to make it a completely "secular" thing separate from the real meaning of Christmas, and I want to make sure he's equated with the real St. Nicholas. I'd been starting to explain it as, "Well, the stories say…" and your 7 quick takes explain things so clearly and logically. Love it.

  22. Signora Anna

    So are you saying it's ok to break one of the 10 commandments (Ex. 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor) and tell them Santa brought the presents (and not you)? Does the end justify the means? John 14:15“If you love Me, keep My commandments." If we are to keep God's commandments, we will not deceive our children. I'm not saying we never told our children about Santa Claus. We did. We just didn't tell them lies.
    Let me tell you, it is HUMANLY impossible for us to PERFECTLY keep God's commandments. Hence, the whole reason Jesus came to earth. He had in mind a tree from the very beginning. It was the cross. He lived that absolutely perfect life, then offered it to God as a perfect sacrifice for my sins. When I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, His righteousness was credited to my account. He did not MAKE me perfect, but when God looks at me, He sees JESUS' righteousness. And when Jesus died on the cross, my sins were credited to Jesus' account. Jesus paid my dreadful debt. I know I still sin. But, praise God, I am saved by the blood of Jesus. When I die, God will accept me into heaven, not for anything I could EVER do, but all because of what Jesus already did.

    • Kendra

      For an act to be considered a mortal sin, three conditions must be met 1. Full knowledge that the act is a sin, 2. Deliberate consent to commit sin, 3. Grave matter. Allowing my children to believe that Santa brings them presents meets none of the three conditions.

      1. I do not believe that it is a sin. 2. I do not intend to deceive them. 3. It is in no way grave matter. We are talking about what amounts to a fun game between my kids and I that lasts a while, and then ends when the time is up. That's it. I'm very comfortable with the idea of giving an accounting for this.

      It sounds like this isn't something that would add to your family's celebration, but it does add to mine.

    • Molly Walter

      Some people might not be comfortable with "Santa Claus" in their Christmas traditions (which is all fine and good), but saying that a person sharing in the local folklore inspired by or Christianized by the life of a true, canonized Saint is a mortal sin… that's a bit of a stretch.

    • Jacob Menotti

      Kendra, you're completely right that those are the criteria needed to achieve a mortal sin. However, are you suggesting that the only way to break a commandment is by committing a mortal sin? I hope not! Remember, it is also possible to break a commandment via venial sin, so your point doesn't really hold weight. While I'm not going to go as far as the previous commenter and state that you are lying to your kids because I really don't know what you've told them, I think it's important for us all to remember that keeping the commandments is tough because of the various ways that they can be broken (extensions of them, etc).

    • Katie

      Who exactly is she bearing false witness against?

  23. Alex Leibowitz

    I had a philosophy professor who insisted (much to our incredulity) that he would not tell his kids about Santa Claus because it would make them believe something false (not exactly lying to them, I guess), and making people believe something false is wrong. I could see his point, but I wasn't exactly convinced. I think kids live in a world that's sort of half real and half imaginary — but they can't see the difference between the two quite, and it gives them a mystical sense of the world that makes them quite susceptible to religious as well as (for lack of a better word) mythical feelings. That pleasure is lost, for some of us, when we grow up. So I wouldn't want to spoil the fun.

    That being said (there's always a proviso), when people say "Santa Clause doesn't exist", they mean that there isn't a fat man in a red suit who has a workshop at the North Pole and delivers presents to children every year from a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, and that's quite true and unexceptionable. The Christmas spirit may exist, God may exist, but eventually children will grow up, and while they may continue to believe in the meaning of a myth, they will see the myth for what it is — a costume that while it may fit over a portion of reality, disguises it and presents it in a false aspect…

  24. Nanacamille

    Believing in Santa Claus is part of the magic of being a child and believing in him for adults lets us continue to enjoy the beauty and innocence of childhood. I still believe!!

  25. Hafsa

    I am always interested in how other Catholic families handle the whole Santa versus no Santa. Very well explained Kendra!

  26. Katie

    I love this post last year and now again reading it this year! Thanks for your perspective. This is only a somewhat related question but I have been wondering how you do gift giving from siblings to each other? My (2) kids are still young but I have 10 siblings and we grew up with a lot of emphasis on the giving to one another. I loved the excitement of picking out gifts for my siblings but with 10 of us it obviously got a little crazy and when we were young most of the cost obviously fell on my parents. We never really had a "system" down, which is fine! But now I'm just thinking ahead and I really enjoyed your other posts on toys and gifts so I'd love to hear your take on this. Thanks!

    • Kendra

      Oh my goodness, this is kind of killing me the last couple of years. Just when I had gotten myself and the grandparents under control . . . my oldest kids got old enough to save up all their money all year long to buy presents for each other. The toys won't stop coming into my house!

      The husband talked me out of disallowing the kids from giving each other presents. Which was PROBABLY the right call. Probably. He's very wise.

      So what I do instead is . . .
      1. Really stress not buying stuff just to buy stuff. I want them to learn to make wise purchasing decisions and choose things they think will be fun and useful for a long time.
      2. Insist that little kids without money of their own have to make presents, so I'm not buying them. That's also a good opportunity for older kids to practice the grateful acceptance of a paper cup decorated with noodles.
      3. Do a toy purge before Advent to make room and before Lent to get rid of stuff we got but don't use and love.

      So it's been working. But it means we end up with way too much under the tree again, despite all my concerted efforts! Christmas keeps coming no matter how grinchy I get. 😉

  27. Katie

    Thanks! And I saw your facebook post as well with lots of great ideas in the comments too!

  28. Kendra

    Gemma, you left your comment which I think was meant for this post in the comments of a post about NFP, so I deleted it over there. But it would be okay with me if George Washington wanted to bring me presents, or wanted me to bring them to my kids for him.

  29. Gigi Nugent

    I don't understand why people have the need to rationalize Santa Claus. If you feel this need, then maybe deep down, you know something just isn't right about it.
    Yes, Santa Claus is another name for St. Nicholas and this secular Santa has evolved from our beloved St. Nicholas, but I do not care for the secularized Santa that has been created where we create lie upon lie to explain things to our children.
    Fortunately, when our children were young, we had friends from Mexico who told us of their tradition. They don't have Santa there. Their Christmas presents come from Jesus because Jesus loves us so much that He wants to give US the presents on His birthday. We were truly blessed to have this tradition as opposed to Santa.
    We celebrate St. Nicholas but avoid the secular Santa stuff.

  30. Jacob Menotti

    Before saying what I'm going to say, I'd like to remind everyone that the subject that is being discussed is something that we as Catholics can disagree on. While it's obvious that St Nicholas was a real person, it is s bit of a stretch to say that Santa Claus is. Yes, I realize that is the way that one can say "St Nicholas" in another language. However, it is clear that a big fat bearded guy does not live at the North pole, nor can he fly through the air with his reindeer-equipped sleigh or travel across the world with pit stops at every house. Thus, the modern, pop-culture Santa of Western civilization is not necessarily the same as St Nicholas. You can say that he is until you're blue in the face, but if you ask the majority of people in our society, most of them will probably not know that the legend of Santa is originally based on a Catholic saint. Therefore, it's a bit snide and disingenuous to begin a blog discussion on this topic with the title and tone that the author used.

    Instead, let's be a bit more cordial and understanding of the reasons for why some of us may disagree: the Santa crowd think it's harmless and wish to continue with the tradition that's been passed down to them, and the Anti-Santa's want to avoid the eventual down fall when their children find out that mom and dad are the only ones that put the presents under the tree. Obviously, those are not exhaustive descriptions of each side in this debate, but they will suffice.

    Both sides have decent points and each can rely on Catholic teaching to support their view. Some of you have forgotten that fact in your responses, because it is simply a disingenuous straw man argument to state that "if you don't talk about Santa then you clearly don't know your own faith"; the doctrine of Santa Claus is not in the Catechism of the Catholic Church afterall. Further, there may be some parents who allow their kids to believe in the mythical Santa who never actually tell them he is real. Thus, to say "you're lying to your kids if you let them believe in Santa" is also not completely accurate (cont. below)…

  31. Jacob Menotti

    (Cont. from above)

    Personally, my wife and I talk about St Nicholas, who he is, and who he isn't. We tell them that the elves and North pole stuff is just part of a fun legend that people like to perpetuate about him, similarly to the stories of St George slaying dragons. Thus, we seperate the historical and supernatural reality from the mythical legend. We do this because of the ever increasing hostility and secular opposition that supernatural truths face in modern civilization. Children will face enough militant atheistic and general secular poo-pooing about miracles, spirits, God, and supernatural realities as they grow up — probably more so than we ever faced when we were their age. Therefore, when my kids' faith is challenged and we have that conversation with them, they will at least know that we told them what was true and what was make-believe consistently in the past. While some may not see a danger in perpetuating the mythical side of the Santa story, the reality is that Western culture is no longer Christian and it is growing in hostility towards faith in general. I personally see more danger in mixing the truth and the myth of Santa together and knowing that eventually my children will know that I allowed them to think that it was real when I knew that it wasn't than worrying about them losing out on participating in a common childhood experience. I'd say the same about the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and other sorts of holiday childhood mythical characters as well. They can still have fun with a legend, even if they know it's fiction; one doesn't have to be hostile about it.

    If you disagree with this, good on you. Again, this is something we as Catholics can disagree about as long as we all understand that a saint is involved and what Christmas is truly about. Regardless if you reside in the Santa or Anti-Santa camp, we all know that the greatest gift the world has received has already been given to us, and therefore Santa and his presents are merely something that comes along for the ride. Let us all share the peace of Christ this Advent and Christmas (especially since this is the Year of Mercy) instead of attacking one another online about small "t" traditions that we choose to hold or not hold.

  32. Ana

    Ok, I'm never one for being argumentative, but I know you don't take things personally, Kendra, and I know you love a good debate, so I'm just going for it here: for us parents are very small children, trying desperately to fight through the exhaustion of raising them and at the same time do advent and Christmas well in such an overly secular, materialistic culture, keeping the focus squarely on the ONLY reason for the season– Christ–, I really feel like Saint Nick, Santa, list making of gobs of gifts they want, etc… Is just giving me extra work in terms of keep the focus on Christ. We opt to not intentionally make things harder on ourselves, we only give gifts on Saint Nicholas day so that there is no commercial/material focus/obsession over presents for our kids leading up to Christmas. We tell them the gifts are from us, and I do not think that it makes us any less Catholic to not tell our kids that Saint Nick is actually, physically coming to our home and entering it and eating cookies and setting presents out, I just don't think it's a question of whats the Catholic hing to do, at all– I truly don't. Now, I do think that some parents are just rock stars (you, Kendra) and do liturgical living exceptionally well and probably have no problem at all doing Santa Claus and gifts at Christmas without their kids being mainly focused on that, and really keep the focus still on Christ, but I'm not one of those rock stars. I know that as a child the only thing I focused on was the gifts, even though I grew up in a huge Catholic family who tried to make the Incarnation the focus. Once you introduce the whole elaborate concept of Santa Claus, and in a society and culture who claims Santa IS the reason for all the celebration, it seems that I'd be giving myself a lot of extra work in having the coming of our Lord be the major focus.

    • Ana

      Also, we make a huge deal over celebrating Nicholas, his life and his contributions to the Church, which were incidentally much more doctrinally focused than on bring people presents.

  33. Lucy

    Hi Kendra. Very pertinent post, as my 6-year old today pretty clearly demonstrated that she's wavering somewhere belief in Santa and disbelief. I've always emphasized to the kids that while Santa may bring presents, Mom and Dad do, too — which brings me to my question. How do you handle the fact that many kids in poor or borderline circumstances don't get any presents at all? My daughter has picked up on the Toys for Tots signs, as well as the toy drive at church, school, etc. (We also sponsor the family of a child with cancer every year by being "Santa" to them, and she's very aware of it.) She has asked – so if Santa brings presents, why doesn't he bring them to everyone? I have my own explanation, but I'm curious what yours is.

    • Kendra

      In our house Santa just brings one gift each, or sometimes one thing for ALL the kids. And we try to emphasize the joy in giving presents to others. So, when we are doing our toy clean out before Christmas, we focus on how donating our toys will help other moms and dads be able to give presents to their kids for Christmas. So even if Santa does bring them something, it would be nice to have some help from us.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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