In our place we don’t do Santa.
We have informed the children that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birthday and that Santa is a way people have of remembering the very nice man St Nicholas of Patara who would give presents to poor children for Jesus’s birthday because they had no one to give them presents.
Just The Facts
Objectively this is a factually historically sound precis of the identities of the major personages associated with Christmas and far closer to the truth than the western secular culturally approved Christmas story which is that Christmas is a day when the entirely mythical Santa Claus pilots a team of magic reindeer around the planet and distributes presents to children on the basis of good behaviour, completing his global mission in one night assisted by a team of magical elves.
So on a factual basis my family explanation of ‘Why Christmas?’ beats the objectivity index of the major alternative explanation by about 100-NIL.
Even if you think that Jesus is a myth Himself it is nevertheless true that Christmas Day came into being a celebration of Jesus’s birthday. Yes, yes I know, the actual day was appropriated from a pagan midwinter festival but it wasn’t called Christmas then.
Name That Stereotype
Now if you’re a hard core atheist you despise myths of all kinds so you wouldn’t be wanting to be feeding the children’s minds up with Santa nonsense. You’ll be telling them that Christmas (without the deliberate mis-spelling with ‘X’) is a celebration of a mythical person called Jesus’ birthday ’cause that’s factual, but that in your family Christmas is just about whatever you want to do at Christmas.
And if you’re an agnostic you’ll have no objection to Jesus as a putative historical personage or even putatively as God, so you would have at least no objection to be going with the basic facts about ‘Why Christmas?’, but you might decide to go with the Santa story because its fun for kids to play make-believe.
I guess the ‘Christmas is about Santa’ story would also be adopted to easy-going or less dogmatic atheists like Julia Gillard, Prime Minister Of Australia, who don’t believe in God but who don’t share the relentless atheist insistence on eliminating Jesus from public consciousness associated with, say, Richard Dawkins, and just like to see the kids get entranced in ‘the magic of Christmas’.
And from observation it would also apply to the general Australian public for whom neither Jesus nor atheism nor agnosticism registers at any meaningful resonance.
As far those who believe Jesus is God, such as myself, we obviously want to emphasize that Christmas is about Jesus’s birthday. Some Christian families also integrate Santa into their Christmas Family narrative but in my opinion this makes Christmas worse, not better.
Why Santa makes Christmas Worse
When our kids get a Christmas present they know that Mummy and Daddy have bought it for them, not Santa. So this is tangible evidence that M&D love giving them great stuff, and the greatest stuff that kids get, materially speaking, comes on Christmas Day. Pooh-pooh it if you like but gift-giving is a practical demonstration of love. Why should my kids think that Santa loves them more than M&D ? I think that its a positive for the children that they know that M&D bought them the big shiny bike or the Hot Wheels Trick Tracks Mega-Dino Challenge or the Dora The Explorer magnetic toothbrush with built in compass.
Secondly, the kids express their joy for the gift directly back to M&D and it goes like this WOW! THANKS DAD! THAT IS AWESOOOOMMME! Sorry Santa, you don’t deserve that gratitude since you don’t even exist anyway and I’m sure as eggs not letting you have it. So the M&D’s get to express the full volume of their children’s delight at the Christmas gifts, instead of vicariously filtered via Santa.
Third, we as M&D give Christmas presents to our children because we love them, not on the basis of whether or not they have been good. Our children get validated for who they are, not on the basis of their transitory behaviour. Our children know they do not have to earn the love of M&D unlike that fickle impostor Santa whose favour can at any time evaporate like summer mist.
Fourth, the children get facts not fiction. No matter how you slice it, Santa is made up. A truthful explanation of Why Do We Give Presents At Christmas must include some reference to Jesus, even if He is relegated to myth. Face it, Santa entered the Christmas narrative at some point many centuries after Jesus and doubly so the magic reindeer and elves.
Much as many hate it Jesus IS the ORIGINAL reason for the season and the reason why Christmas exists. Here’s a theoretical question your child may ask:
Child: ‘Mummy, Why DO people go around saying ‘Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill to all men’ ?
Incorrect Answer A: Because Christmas is a time when we get together as a family.
Correct Answer B: Its because that’s what the Angels said to the shepherds on Jesus’s birthday.
Quite simply, an integrated understanding of Christmas requires reference to Jesus.
Fifth, for those who are Jesus-friendly, awarding Christmas to Santa robs Jesus of richly deserved recognition. Americans have a thing called Martin Luther King Day. Contrary to current popular preferential meaning, this does not commemorate the day when Santa led a Freedom march on Washington DC to eloquently demand equal rights for African-Americans assisted by a team of magical elves. I think you get what I mean. Even if you think Jesus is just a man or even just a myth, why not let the kids admire and learn from His example ?
Santa Is Not All Bad
Ejecting Santa from Christmas is not without cost. My kids do miss out on the awestruck wonder of waiting for Santa to visit and some really great make-believe. And yes, my kids are almost the only ones at school who don’t think Santa is real, which can make them seem like Alien Life-Forms to the others who have been fed the 100% guaranteed Santa myth. Ironic that, but it doesn’t seem to lead to teasing.
But even without Jesus, Christmas is better without Santa (see reasons one, two and three above). Of course WITH Jesus there is another kind of awestuck wonder which happens to be based in historical truth, but even if you really wish to persist with Jesus is A Myth, at least you can tell tell the myth that is related to the actual origins of Christmas rather than the one that originated with Coca-Cola Inc.