How to Navigate the Santa and Jesus Struggle & Other Family Traditions
My husband and I both grew up believing in Santa.
He remembers it being a very happy thing, a fun part of Christmas but not really a huge deal in his house.
My memories of Santa are fairly big and magical.
So, I’d always just assumed that Santa would visit our house on Christmas Eve and that would be the end of the discussion. Honestly, it never even occurred to me that there was a potential discussion or debate to even be had over Santa and Jesus.
The Santa and Jesus Debate
However, much to my surprise, we had several friends who made the decision not to “do the Santa thing” with their kids for various reasons. Some felt it took the focus off of Jesus. Some felt it unnecessarily commercialized a celebration of their faith. And some felt it was simply wrong to lie to their children.
While I truly understood each of their reasons and wanted to be respectful to all of our dear friends, their opinions all fell on my Santa-loving soul like one big, wet blanket. Especially when some well-meaning friends would make comments to us like, “But you’re a pastor! Do you really think it’s okay to tell your kids that Santa is real? Why would you do that? You’re lying. How will your kids ever be able to trust you again? What about the gospel?”
Total Santa buzzkill.
In all seriousness, I do love Santa. But I absolutely love Jesus more.
All of these outside opinions (especially those from well-meaning people we truly loved and respected) caused me and Kevin to really think through how we wanted to celebrate Christmas with our little family. Preferably in a way that allowed Santa a small supporting role but more than anything else, made much of Jesus and his birth.
This is a heated debate for many Christian families. While we have friends who choose not to include Santa in their Christmas celebrations, I do not believe this is a black and white issue. Each family simply needs to decide what is best for them. And then the best thing we can do is respect the opinions and practices of others!
While our initial conversation about Santa has continued over the years, our family traditions at Christmastime have also grown and evolved.
Every year we spend each night of December (until Christmas day) celebrating advent in a few different ways with our kids. We also pick one night and make gingerbread houses with the kids (I’ve been seeing super cute ideas for Gingerbread Nativities on Pinterest this year so we may even try that!). We attend all of the Christmas events at our church. We drive around and look at Christmas lights virtually any night we have free during the month of December.
On Black Friday, we always go cut down a live Christmas tree and spend the rest of the day decorating the entire house for Christmas. We have family movie nights to watch Christmas movies together. Some years, we even book tickets to go to special Christmas events, like The Polar Express in Bryson City, NC or the Fantasy in Lights at Calloway Gardens in Georgia.
I cherish each of these traditions and look forward to them every December. But our biggest and most favorite family tradition was actually birthed out of this Santa struggle: “Birthday Week.”
“Birthday Week”: One of Our Favorite Family Traditions
Like I mentioned, this tradition is one of my absolute favorites. And it actually continues all throughout the year. To bring it full circle with the beginning of this post, we started our “Birthday Week” tradition as part of the Santa situation. Not only did we want to make much of Jesus at Christmas, but conversely, we wanted our kids to understand that Christmas was not about them (typing “making less of our kids” just felt wrong but that’s pretty much what it is).
To ease in this transition, we decided to institute the tradition of “Birthday Week” for each kid in our home. “Birthday Week” is their special week and it is a BIG deal! It consists of presents every day for the week leading up to their birthdays, picking family dinner each of these nights as well, and it all culminates in a big family birthday celebration with extended family and their final (typically biggest) birthday gift.
We decorate each child’s door or fill their rooms with balloons or other crazy ideas we’ve found on Pinterest for them to wake up to on their birthday, as well as making them a special birthday breakfast on the big day. “Birthday Week” is a GREAT time to be a kid in our house!
However, we try not to do as many gifts for our kids at Christmas. We remind them we are celebrating Jesus’ birthday at Christmas so it’s really not about them. We encourage them to think of the kinds of things Jesus might want to see going on during his birthday week/month: what gifts could we give him and how would he want us to honor him during his special time? Maybe acts of kindness, being generous to others with our time and money, or simply reading our Bibles and learning more about him.
We remind them of how AWESOME their birthday weeks always are and how we need to be sure to give Jesus a great birthday week each year too. It is amazingly helpful to have the context of “Birthday Week” to help our children understand how important is it to make much of Jesus at Christmas.
Before you begin to feel sorry for our children, we do give them presents at Christmastime. We just try to limit it to a reasonable amount. We also aim to give them gifts that aren’t all just “stuff”. This year, we plan to give them a new family pet (a hamster… we may have lost our minds with this one!), an experience for each of them (our goal is for these experiences to be things we can all enjoy together as a family, like going to the aquarium, zoo, etc.), and finally one fun present that they really want (a toy, video game, etc.).
We’re hoping to keep all of the “stuff” to a minimum this year, as I am still in decluttering mode.
Also, Santa comes and fills stockings in our house. We didn’t want to cut Santa out entirely, but we needed him to take a major backseat to everything else. So he got stocking patrol. He usually brings small toys, books, $5 gift cards and even treats to eat. If possible he brings consumable and/or practical items that we already need anyway. Like last year, Santa brought character bandaids to our two littlest because that is one of the most exciting things in the world to them. They were such a hit last year, he may just do it again this year…
To be completely transparent, there are many ways that I feel confident I am messing up as a parent. Prayerfully, I am not messing up in ways big enough to require professional counseling to undo, but neither my husband, nor I are perfect parents to say the least.
Without a doubt though, I can say this “Birthday Week” tradition is the opposite. This is one of our biggest parenting wins. Our kiddos LOVE birthday week and I believe (pray, hope, etc.) that it is giving them a clearer view of Jesus and why we celebrate him at Christmas. Even just in the aspect of anticipation.
We try hard to teach our kids what expectant waiting truly looks like through the Advent season every December, and their deep understanding of what it feels like to anticipate their own birthday week serves as such a tangible example for them.
Have you found a good way to incorporate both Santa and Jesus into your family Christmas traditions? Do you have any favorite family tradition ideas for Christmas? Or family traditions throughout the year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!