Christmas and Santa? Catholic options


Hi everyone,

My wife and I are expecting our first child this May. This Christmas, we realize it’s our last Christmas without actually having another member of our family. We were getting excited about buying presents, taking pictures, etc. Then we hit a snag: What do we do with this silly Santa Clause idea?

I mean we both grew up being taught about Santa and such. But we want our children (hopefully there will be several more down the line) to grow up not just keeping Christ in Christmas, but keeping Him as the FOCUS of Christmas. We know going to the Vigil and Morning Masses and telling the kids about Jesus will help.

But we don’t want to just leave our child without that special moment of joy that seems to pass once we grow up. There is just something about waking up Christmas morning and looking for those special gifts. When you’re older, joy is found in more long-term, spiritually important things and the special moments of outbursts of joy seem to kind of become more rare. While the children are still young it’s nice to capture those moments when we can.

The best idea we came up with was telling them that they get 3 gifts from the 3 Kings, because Jesus got 3 gifts on His birthday. But I thought I’d ask the other Catholic families on here how they balance this situation. Some make the argument that every other kid will know about Santa and if our kid doesn’t grow up learning about Santa, we could possibly “ruin it” for them. Of course, by the time our child is 20, every other person they’re around will probably think contraception is totally fine as well, and we don’t get too worried about “ruining” anything for them.

So, Catholic families…how do you do Christmas without Santa but still keep some sort of special mystery in it for the kids?


I feel your pain. ;) I can only tell you what we did and it seems to have worked out ok - the kids are teens now.

We do presents from both Santa and Nino Jesus for them to open on Christmas morning. They always just seemed to link them, which was fine with us. We also do a big "Happy Birthday Jesus" which, when they were little included birthday cards and candles. It is still a big deal to go around the house putting the baby Jesus into the nativity (we have one in almost every room) when we get back from midnight Mass.

We haven't tried to do without Santa and we still put the main focus on Jesus.

And congratulations on the upcoming new arrival!!!!!


First of all, we never took them to the Santa at the mall. I always hated that as a kid and, anyway, why on earth do I need pictures of my kids sitting on the lap of a total stranger? If you can do all of your shopping without the children in tow, so much the better, for everyone involved.

As for Santa, this is what we did, and it worked out very well. When the kids were still very small, we would get a tag from the giving tree at church for kids their age. I would take them to the toy store, and they would help me choose something that someone their age would like. They were allowed to comment on the things in the store they liked, but they weren't getting anything and they weren't to ask. (It gave me ideas, but I didn't feel bound to get what they had pointed to.)

This is what they learned about Santa: Santa, St. Nicholas, is the saint who is most famous for giving in secret and giving God the credit. So when anyone wants to give a Christmas gift in secret, they are allowed to put Santa's name on the tag, just as if St. Nicholas himself were giving it. You are never allowed to ask if a gift is really from Santa or from someone else, because whoever gave you the gift wants God to get the credit. That is all you need to know. You are strictly never allowed to tell if you find out that it was someone other than the real Santa who gave a gift, either! That person didn't want to be known, or they would have put their own name on the tag. They want Santa, and therefore God, to get the credit for the gift. That is what makes the gift magic, because there is nothing but love behind it. So we are never allowed to spoil that.

As for the giving tree gifts, I explained that they were as much for the parents as for the kids. When parents are having a hard time finding enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table, they still want to give their children a nice Christmas. So we get gifts so those parents will have a nice present to give their kids for Christmas. I would be very grateful if I could not give a gift to my boys if I were having a hard time, and so it is very important to me to do that for other parents who are in that situation this year. Who's name is on the tag? I don't know. Maybe Santa, maybe the parents, it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters for parents is that their children have a nice Christmas, and a little something to make it a special memory. We are being like St. Nicholas, though, who was like Jesus because he did nice things and didn't need to get the credit himself. (This was a common theme: How does each saint teach a special way to be like God?)

Their gift from Santa? It was always something they had never even thought to ask for. One year, for instance, it was head lamps, like mountain climbers use. They loved them. They never would have thought to ask for them, though. So the gift from Santa always had that little bit of "surprise magic" in it. I think that is a fun memory for them.


My girls get 3 gifts from Santa because there were 3 Wise Men. I think it is a special way to keep the focus on Jesus. They only believe in Santa for a little while and I when they no longer believe I will tell them that they get to be Santa. We also pick out tags off the giving tree at our parish that are the same ages as our girls. They like picking out the gifts.


We do keep Santa as part of the Christmas tradition. Childhood is so short, and there is so little innocent magic in life, that we would like our girls to experience it while it lasts. But at the same time, we make it very clear that gifts are not the focus of Christmas, and neither is a jolly old man that goes around the world handing out presents. As a matter of fact a few days ago I asked my five year old (while she was playing with their Little Tikes nativity scene):"So what's the most important thing about Christmas?" and she said:"The birth of baby Jesus!" without hesitation. I think that means we are getting our point across.
We also take them to church on Sundays, and talk about Jesus and God a lot. The two year old doesn't really process it yet, but the five year old loves talking about it and loves going to church. We keep the focus on Jesus year round, and we let them enjoy their belief in Santa for as long as it lasts.


That’s how we are too. I think Santa won’t become the focus of Christmas as long as you have Christ at the center of your home ALL year!


[quote="Luke_Arredondo, post:1, topic:222001"]
Hi everyone,

I So, Catholic do you do Christmas without Santa but still keep some sort of special mystery in it for the kids?


why not just ignore the whole santa mystique? as Catholic parents you teach about Nicholas as you do other saints, preferably by commemorating his feastday, and as part of that you can explain how devotion to him grew to popular legends in some cultures. Why does there have to be "some special mystery" in the fact that people choose to give gifts at this time of year? The mystery is that of Faith, the incarnation. Focus on that mystery.


In our family we made a point of talking about the meanings of our childrens’ names when they were very young. We talked about the saints they were named after. We have always been a family that likes to do funny voices so we would often call our children by non-English equivalents of their names or use non-English pronunciations of their names.

As a result it was a simple step to tell our children that “Santa Claus” was another way of saying “St. Nicholas”. When you live in California you are surrounded by cities, rivers, missions, etc that are named Santa Someone or San Someone so it was pretty easy to explain that “Santa” meant “Saint” (even if the gender was off.)

My house was full of Advent wreaths, nativity sets, and other religious symbols of Christmas. There was never a question as to the day being about Jesus’ birthday.

We had fun with Santa Claus. We taught our kids that “in some countries” Santa comes on a different day or by a different means of transportation. Sometimes Jesus brings the gifts himself or sometimes the Three Kings do. We explained that the stories in books and on TV were often poetic license as is so much else on TV. (But we were vague on what was made up for TV.)

When my children would ask if Santa “was real” I’d tell them what Jesus told the Sadducees when they came to Jesus with the hypothetical case of the woman who married the seven brothers: that God is the God of the Living and all are alive to him. So St. Nicholas is very much alive, even if not in the same way we are.

Was I being evasive? Yeah. But sometimes children need to learn that they are asking the wrong question. Maybe they needed to rethink what “alive” and “real” meant.


Thanks for asking the question OP, I'd been stewing about what to do myself with a 2 year old and 4 year old. The other answers here are brilliant. I would actually just love to ignore the Santa element entirely, St. Nicholas - yes, but this icon of consumerism and materialism we now know as Santa - no.

We've made our own crib, (just coloured in cardboard figures), and I've told them what Christmas is really about. Was thinking about some symbolic action that would stick with them, maybe on Christmas Eve - I think that would make Christmas memorable for them, if they associated a particular action with Christmas - maybe a candle-lit walk around our house with Baby Jesus, singing Away in a Manger. Not sure yet to be honest.

But do you know what de-rails all this, is people constantly asking the kids "What's Santa bringing you?" or "What do you want off Santa?" I know they mean well, but it's like they're sowing the seeds of consumerism in my kids, this "I want" mentality that if I'm honest about my own past, is very hard to shake off. When I was a kid, I remember the magic of Santa, but I also remember more vividly the HUGE anti-climax of Christmas Day - when it's made out to be all about the toys, there comes a point when kids are tired out and realise that the toy they'd been dreaming about for weeks isn't all that. What lasts more in my memory as being magical was trying to hear the angels singing in the sky on Christmas Eve. I still try...


I recommend the Book... A place for Santa.

It's very sweet. Tells all about St. Nicholas, and how santa came to be "fat" & in a red suit, thanks to T'was the night before Christmas, and Coke!.

But it's all about how St. Nicholas gives gifts to honor Christ. It's a very sweet story. My kids are 5, this is the first year they rec'd a toy in their stocking on the Feast of St. Nicholas, and we read the story.

They will still get presents (way to many thanks to be the ONLY grandchildren to both sets of grandparents), and a Santa Gift.

It's a small part of the rest of the season!


[quote="puzzleannie, post:7, topic:222001"]
why not just ignore the whole santa mystique? as Catholic parents you teach about Nicholas as you do other saints, preferably by commemorating his feastday, and as part of that you can explain how devotion to him grew to popular legends in some cultures. Why does there have to be "some special mystery" in the fact that people choose to give gifts at this time of year? The mystery is that of Faith, the incarnation. Focus on that mystery.


Why Santa? In a nutshell, because it is fun to give and get surprises, to cook up secrets meant to delight, to have some expectation that there might be a delightful secret in store for you. Yes, because it's fun, that's why.

One thing we did not do, however, is lean on this whole "be good, Santa is watching" thing. We are good because God made it good to be good, that's why. We are good because being good is how we realize the wonderful gift of life God gave us. If you're not being good, you're not really living!

When the "Santa is watching" thing ever came up, it was as a joke, as teasing, when the kids were older. The gifts of Christmas are not rewards for good behavior. They are recognition that God made someone a special person, someone that it is delightful to delight, a person it is our privelege to love. That's all. After all, Jesus was a gift we needed, but certainly not a gift any of us had earned! I like our Christmas generosity to follow after that generosity of God.


To the OP, just an FYI - there's a similar thread going on here as well. :)


I've posted in the past what we did with our daughter, and have been flamed for it in the process by a couple of members here.

Santa was just as make believe as Big Bird, or Blue from Blue's Clues. If our daugther believed in Santa, we went along with it. But we didn't force the issue and if she asked where the presents came from, we told her exactly who bought the presents for her, me and her dad or any other loved one that gave her a present. If she asked, we told her why we exchanged gifts, for Jesus' birthday. We let her lead the conversation. We did stress that other children might believe in Santa and that she didn't need to correct them or tell them any different. Sometimes she believed and wanted to go see Santa, other times she didn't.

I just didn't want her to ever ask me why I lied about Santa being real and then ask me if I lied about Jesus being real. I never wanted to have that conversation. But I do think kids should have make believe and stories about characters and Santa was just another character in a story.


This is pretty much the tactic my parents took with me (and I was raised evangelical Protestant). They put the focus on Jesus, and simply didn’t mention Santa one way or the other unless my siblings or I brought it up. And then, if we asked, they told us the truth. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by never believing in Santa as a child.

I’ve followed my parents’ approach, pretty much, and our house is Santa-less.


What’s wrong with Santa Claus?

He is a genuine saint and one of my favorites. I paint him, collect figurines of him, et cetera.

The very word Santa means Saint.

Saint Nicholas is often depicted with Baby Jesus in some really nice Christmas figurines He is the spirit of generosity and worked some truly heroic deeds. So Santa Claus is not only Catholic, but a great opportunity to open up a whole world of saints.

Remember we’re Catholic, not Calvinist.


We did do Santa and the kids loved it. Santa only stuffed stockings though, he didn’t bring the presents. Heck **I **wanted the credit for the big stuff!!!

Santa left them letters (written by me) and there was glitter (Santa LOVES glitter!) scattered around. Some people really get into this and make reindeer tracks outside, ring sleighbells in the night, etc. We don’t have snow down here or I’d probably have done that! I got to eat the Oreos that the kids put out (because Santa likes Oreos too!).

It was fun to watch them discover their stockings. I remember feeling so enthralled to figure out how Santa got into our house since we didn’t have a chimney. I think it’s harmless. But you can also teach about Saint Nicholas, who is the origin of the Santa figure.

And my mother did celebrate St. Nicholas day, and put little toys into our shoes.


We have a creche in the living room, family room, and kitchen. We even had a Little People Fisher-Price creche! One of ours is also a music box that plays O Little Town of Bethlehem. The kids love to wind it.

We have an Advent wreath on the kitchen table, which we light at meals and pray this prayer: “Jesus, you are the light of the world. As we prepare to receive you into our hearts this Christmas, help us share your light with one another, with everyone we meet, and with the whole world. Amen.”

We have an advent calendar which is a magnetic nativity scene (on the fridge), and another item is added every day.

Santa puts the baby Jesus into the crib, so we check it first thing in the morning, before opening presents.

We read “A Place for Santa”, “Santa’s Favorite Story” and many “First Christmas type stories” leading up to Christmas Day.

My kids also have made crafts, like a foamy nativity scene.

Basically, if you look around, there are TONS of items for kids out there which point the attention of Christmas in the right place. Load your house up with them!!

When I take my kids to NYC at Christmas, the first stop is always St. Patrick’s, to see the lovely, HUGE creche, to light candles and pray.

We also love Santa Claus and I never felt bad about the whole Santa thing. But we have always made a point to make a bigger deal about Jesus.


My wife and I were talking about the Santa thing ...

Our son is only 15 it has yet to come up.

But currently we are tending towards this approach:

Not telling him there is a Santa ....but rather while keeping Jesus and his birth as center and primary and absolutely reality.....

Making use of the "fairytale" aspect give him a childhood "magic" and "mystery" ..for his childhood...


By introducing the idea that in addition to gifts that we give each other....

That "some say" Santa brings gifts on Christmas eve ...and some say other fact in the city where Mommy grew up...many said "an Angel" brought the gifts....

(my wife is not American and in her area they do not use "Santa" but an Angel)

But on Christmas morning...all over the world...(good?) little children awake to find that under their tree...a great surprise....presents!

(in a way it makes it a sort of "mystery"....)

To keep the "magic" of childhood imagination.

Of course in this culture all sorts of people will then approach our kid and say "so what did Santa bring you?" or "What did you want him to bring?" this solves this...and the difficulty of our kid telling others that there is no santa etc...

And I can still read him the "Night before Christmas" (as a story) and my wife can read to him about the Angel....and it can be fun (akin to other childhood fantasy)

And tell him too about the real St. Nicholas...

So this I think can keep on the one hand from any question of lying....and also preserve for our kids "both" ideas...both cultures Protestant Family (I am a convert...) had Santa...and my wife's Catholic Family had an Angel in her area of her country....

It keeps the reality of Jesus! and his centrality...(this will be a big focus!) and also the playful fantasy of childhood...the wonder....(both that theological-reality wonder..and the wonder of childhood-imagination).

It seems a good via media.

Such is our current thinking....which is open to revision and it seems this can avoid any question of a lie... (certainly do not want to lie...I know this is a divided topic as to if it is a lie...) or appearance of it perhaps...and retain certain good things...and deal with the culture.....


This is a FABULOUS resource for this time of year!!!


Here is my opinion.

I wish I had never believed in Santa Claus. As silly as this sounds, I remembered wanting to move to the North Pole when I grew up and marry Santa and help him give toys to kids. Then I saw a Christmas specail and shock of shocks he had a wife. I remember being heart broken because I though he was single. I remember thinking 'May this is just for the movie and he really is still single' so I asked my mom if he had a wife. A strange look went over her face and she said 'I think so'

To this day, my mom still doesn't know why I asked. I was too shy to tell anyone about my secret dream but I will NEVER forget the pain I felt when I found out I could not marry Santa.

And then I see all these Christmass specials where children sit on Santa's lap and ask him to make their divorced parents get back together or worse bring a dead person back. I don't think Santa is a healthy thing to believe in at all.

Just my 2 cents


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