When Kids Don’t Believe

I never had much angst about the whole Santa thing. We did Santa when I was a kid, but not too extravagantly—no cookies by the fireplace or manufactured footprints outside. But there were always a few gifts (usually the exciting one!) from Santa. I think I was 6 or 7 when I figured out Santa wasn’t real. I tiptoed downstairs after I was supposed to be sleeping and saw my parents wrapping something big for my brother in a big black plastic trash bag (we were never into cool gift wrapping, either!). The next morning, when I saw the “To: Brad, From: Santa” label on the bag, I figured it out. I wasn’t upset about it at all—at least I don’t remember being upset.

I remember thinking it was dumb when I’d hear people at church say their family didn’t do Santa—because one day the kids would realize that Santa wasn’t real and then they’d be confused about Jesus (whah?). That concern always struck me as odd. I always figured that if my kids didn’t know the difference between Santa and Jesus, we were doing a few things wrong as parents.

Before we had kids, Brent and I never talked much about whether we would do the whole Santa thing. But it’s a good thing that neither of us was too committed to the tradition because our oldest daughter was a born skeptic. That girl could sniff out BS from a mile away—even as a toddler!

Right before her third birthday (in January), we took her to the mall for a Santa picture. She seemed okay with the idea. We paid our $8.99 for a 5 X 7 and waited in a long line (I confess that I don’t remember how long it was, but it seemed really long with an almost 3 year old). When there were only maybe 2-3 people in front of us, Kennedy turned around and announced emphatically: “I’m not doin’ this.” We were shocked—after all that money and time!—and asked her why on earth not. It was Santa, after all. She looked at us, stone faced, and said, “I am not gonna go sit on the lap of a big fat stranger.”

We were speechless. Of course she shouldn’t go sit on the lap of a big fat stranger—especially not one who would give her candy after the lap sit. We left without the photo.  She was not at all disappointed.

She did the same thing with the Easter bunny at 3 ½. We hid all sorts of eggs in the backyard and then ushered her out and acted all surprised and shocked: “Oh my goodness! What on earth happened out here?  Look at all those eggs!”  She stood in the doorway for a minute and then looked at us, stone faced, and said, “Y’all did this.” We protested (although not very enthusiastically), but she insisted. So we gave up and told her to stop worrying about who did it and to get out there and find the eggs.

So that was pretty much it for fun imaginary friends for our kids. We never pushed it after that. It seemed absurd to try to force her to believe in something that was so obviously false to her. One or another of the kids has since asked whether Santa is real. I’ve always just smiled and said, “Well what do you think?” They all pretty much thought it was bogus (flying deer, a fat guy in a red suit, elves making toys, jumping down the chimney, delivering gifts to every house, etc.) and we didn’t try to convince them otherwise.

We also never got into the whole “Santa’s watching you” bit. I cringe every time I’m out and about in November and December and I hear a parent threatening his/her kids that they won’t get any presents unless they stop or start doing XYZ. I mean, no one is serious with this threat (are they?). I actually tried this line once on Stuart and he raised one eyebrow and said, “Umm, cree-py, Mom . . .” And really, it is pretty creepy to tell your kids that a stranger is watching them and waiting to either withhold or bestow gifts . . . isn’t it?

So what about you? Were (are) you a believer? How have you handled the Santa issue with your kids? Are there any other semi-believers out there who have little skeptics as children? Did you feel like you were missing out on some parental-fun?