Is There Harm in Convincing Kids Santa Is Real?

Note: For some of our readers this post may touch a nerve. Please know we write in a spirit of deeply wanting to see the story of Jesus magnified far above all other stories.

For centuries societies have played out the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny stories. Now there’s even an Elf on the Shelf to add to the Santa story, and it’s helpful to consider…

Is this telling of tall tales really good for our kids?

For many families, these stories are an integral part of the holiday traditions that bring great, connective fun between parents and kids. (And at Connected Families we certainly do love connection between parents and kids!) Although many kids have believed the Santa ruse and then discarded those beliefs without detriment, it’s still helpful to be aware of potential downsides of these fun spoofs and what parents can do to avoid them.  

  1. Materialism in young people is on the rise, and Santa and his elf buddies can be complicit by keeping the focus at Christmas on copious amounts of glitzy, glowing stuff. What a distraction from the joy-filled arrival of a Savior to a spiritually impoverished world! In the same way at Easter, that fluffy, floppy-eared candy dispenser distracts us from the price that Jesus paid for our sin to offer us eternal life.
  2. These stories are usually perpetuated through some fairly clever deception. Unfortunately we live in a day and age where lying and manipulation is popularized and accepted in pop culture, and young people have never had such low levels of social trust.*

Because of these elements, we challenge parents to keep the fun and connection, but be carefully trustworthy as you talk about the most important remembrances of our faith that hold such beautiful, spiritual truths.

This may not be as hard as it seems….Parents can keep Jolly Old St. Nicholas part of Christmas without any hint of deception to do it. You see, St. Nicholas was a real person. He loved Jesus and gave gifts to the poor and needy. There was even a holiday in his honor on December 6th. The details are sketchy, but we tend to think that honoring St. Nick could be a good part of the story – with no need for deception.

If we make the St. Nick story part of the celebration, we err on the side of full honesty. The gift-giving bearded man dressed in red enhances rather than distracts from the Jesus part of the story, with no concern about how kids may one day interpret it all. In addition, St. Nick’s story is a “materialism buster” as we help kids focus on the joy of giving instead of just receiving. There are wonderful opportunities, such as Operation Christmas Child, for kids to be like St. Nicholas.

If your family has loved the Santa story, but you’d like to minimize the downsides and do more to honor the real spiritual value of the holidays, you can explain this to your kids: You’ve played a fun game but have decided to do it differently from now on. Highlight the importance of truth in a day and age when so many people are untruthful about so many things. If you want to keep your tradition of Santa, and Elf or Easter bunny, you can let them know it’s just really fun pretend. Keep making it fun. Then – tell them the Truth! Read Luke 2 with great wonder, or focus on the historical figure of St. Nicholas. For a fun explanation of where the story of Santa Claus came from, consider showing the videos made by Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer – especially number 4 & 5 in his series “12 Questions of Christmas.”

Then – promote Saint Nick as he really was. Celebrate this generous believer from the past, and make this a Christmas where more than ever you seek and humbly proclaim Truth, and delight in sharing this journey with your kids.

How do you address the story of Santa Claus in your home? Let us know in the comments!


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21 thoughts on “Is There Harm in Convincing Kids Santa Is Real?

  1. Thank you! We decided before our children were born that truth in all things is necessary. We wondered why would we lie about Santa but expect our children to trust us with the truth of Jesus? Our kids are 5&7

  2. I told my daughter about St. Nicholas and that we get presents because Jesus wants good children who believe in Himto have His birthday presents. I do have santa as multiple angels who help deliver Jesus’ birthday presents. But it is all about Jesus and less about Santa and gifts.

  3. What an encouragement and affirmation to us! Our decision to not celebrate Santa was cemented when we were deciding on particular punishments…lies carry the most significant punishment! How could we lie to our children about Santa and other ‘figures’ when we are working to teach them the importance of TRUTH. Our oldest (age 5) ‘gets it’ now and it is a joy to hear her talk about baby Jesus, the Star over Bethlehem, the Wise Men, etc. Her brother (age 4) still could be swayed either way 😀 but we just continue to remind him that Santa is only story. Simple, honest and true has been soooo refreshing!

  4. Thank you for bringing up this issue. I have very strong feelings about this.

    When I was in fourth grade, my friends started telling me that Santa wasn’t real. When I asked my parents, they did not tell me the truth, I think because they thought I would tell my younger brothers.

    The next day at school, I told my friends that Santa must be real because my parents said he was real, and “I know my parents would never lie to me!” When my parents finally did tell me the truth, I felt so betrayed and resentful!

    I vowed that day that if I ever had children, I would always tell them the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny, and I have kept that vow. My kids are now teenagers, and they haven’t missed anything. I hope they have gained a sense of confidence that I will always tell them the truth.

    • Wow, the same as my friend (posted above). I think parents meant well, but even a seemingly innocent untruth can bring negative results. I bet your story has helped many people Nina.

  5. We have always told our children the story of St. Nicholas – and it is a beautiful story. Our 6 and 12 year old have hearts for giving and really admire the true “santa” and what he stood for. The most amazing thing about St. Nicholas was that in all he did, he gave credit to our Lord and Savior, he was persecuted for his faith and sadly died the death of a Martyr.

    I think the problem with the “Be on the nice list and you get gifts” is that there are so many GOOD children who simply don’t get things because their parents can’t afford the hyped up hottest toys. The children who are “spoiled” on Christmas by Santa are often thinking of what they WANT and what they are going to be getting… not focused on the GIVING aspect which is the true story of St. Nicholas.

    Our Children still get gifts under the tree, stockings are hung, and our 6 year old still gets his photo with Santa at Macy’s each year – but they know that the reason we celebrate Christmas is the birth of Christ.

  6. Years ago a friend of ours told us that as as a child he boldly proclaimed to his classmates that Santa had to be real because his parents would never lie to him. He was devastated to find that his parents had, indeed, not been truthful about Santa. I know not every child would respond that way, but we decided to treat Santa as pretend and it was just as fun…with no inkle of guilt!

  7. We were foster parents, so the children in our care were given gifts from the community/agencies. We celebrated St. Nicholas day and they were able to open the gifts that day. Then on Christmas day we celebrated Jesus’ birthday and ways to experience His presence rather than exchanging presents.

  8. This is a great article. We decided to tell our kids that Santa is pretend- a game we play pretending that he’s real just for fun. We tried to focus more on what Christmas is really about- Jesus. We told them others think Santa is real and that we can just let them think that since families do things differently and that’s o.k. They did pretty well keeping it a secret. It’s tough doing that though especially when other parents work really hard to keep it a secret and if someone “tells” it’s the parents that feel the pain more than the kids sometimes! There was one time our daughter said “I wish Santa was real!” and we had our doubts if we did the right thing but now, we are very sure we did what was right for our family. Our kids think so too.

  9. Thank you!! I have been battling this for YEARS! I even kept thinking my 8 year old son would figure it out. He seemed so close, so I would wait. I came clean tonight during our dinner. It was beautiful. Now for his 1 year old baby brother we will no longer have this issue. I feel like a weight has been lifted. Thank you!

  10. I believe it is all in choice. My husband and I both grew up “believing” in Santa….and, when I discovered he was not the real deal, I felt, in no way, crushed or betrayed. My parents always did a phenomenal job of communicating the true meaning of Christmas, as did my husband’s parents. We are both very strong in our faith and try to raise our children in a Christian home. Seeing as how it had no negative effects on us, we have chosen to raise our children in the same way. I feel, with confidence, that I can raise my children in a way that is pleasing to my Lord and Savior and magnify His importance without taking Santa away from them. Although, I will note, if/when they ask, I will not lie to them. Just as I was never lied to. When they are at an age that they can distinguish real from imaginative, we will have that conversation. I have no problem with those who choose to tell their children that santa is not real……I just thought I would post to be an advocate for those who were not told that Santa was not real and turned out okay….who grew up to be the people God intended for them to be…..and who have great relationships with Him. Thanks. Merry Christmas to all.

    • We are glad you’re strong in your faith, and serious about passing it to your kids! Here’s a different way to think about this. We agree that there are many who are raised to believe in Santa as a real life story, and grow up strong in faith. But did the Santa story that he is real, watching, and awarding gifts based on behavior, encourage that faith? In a day when faith is dwindling among youth and young adults, while in some cases there may be no detriment, there is at best no advantage in the building of God’s kingdom by perpetuating the Santa lie (…that he is real, is watching you, and your gifts are tied to your behavior). At worst, where those unprecedented numbers leaving the faith cite hypocrisy as a primary reason, the Santa lie is just one piece of a bigger picture.

      Because our kids are being raised in a different age where the influences of culture are more powerful than ever, it is more important than ever to build a strong foundation of integrity and truth. It sounds like you would agree with that.

      What we’re not comfortable with is your saying you will not lie to your kids when in fact you are deceiving them already.

      So we want to encourage parents to think, seek the scriptures and leading of the Holy Spirit. If you are doing that work and remain confident your treatment of Santa is an important part of your plan to raise kids to know and love and passionately follow Christ, we would be interested to hear more about the story. What scriptural principles inform you? How will you talk about it when they ask or discover Santa is not real. What spiritual advantage will have been gained?

  11. There are more important things to write about than if Santa is real. Like teaching children that the importance of Christmas is also about giving and not just receiving. Plus it is still unknown if that was then actual day of Jesus birth……

  12. Both my husband and I grew up in homes that celebrated Santa. We were told the truth about Christmas and Jesus birth but it was HIGHLY overshadowed by the excitement of Santa. As a grown woman now, I realize the Santa fantasy in no way whatsoever encouraged or helped to build my faith, and in fact sort of hindered where my focus should have been. I am a Christ follower now and firmly believe that Santa has no place during the celebration of our Lord.
    Of course, Christmas isn’t the “true” birth of Christ, but we teach our children that it is a celebration of His birth, whenever it was. I have a young one adopted from overseas who doesn’t know his true birthday either (was a guestimate), so he relates to this fact about Christmas and Christ’s birth.
    Our children know about Santa, but they know he is a character, like Mickey Mouse, Elmo, Clifford, etc and NOT real. They will tell you “Santa is a game people play, but we don’t play the game. We celebrate Jesus.” I have however introduced St Nik to them and will tell his story as it relates to our faith and loving/giving to others.
    It is very hard for my in-laws to understand and tell us quite often how deprived our children are and that they are missing out. It’s ridiculous that they can see how much our children are missing, but they can see how much they are gaining by focusing our celebrations where it belongs.
    Thank you for a well thought out article!

  13. My mom was devastated at age five to find out Santa wasn’t real and that her parents had lied to her and she decided she wasn’t going to do that to her kids. So I grew up without Santa, but they taught us about the real Saint Nicholas, and as a family we bought small gifts for each other’s stockings and we got a chance to be “St. Nick.” We did family Christmas gifts on epiphany (Jan 6) and I loved having gifts more disconnected from the Christmas Day celebrations. Now, with our kids, we just don’t make a big deal about Santa. We talk about St. Nick, we do stockings on Dec. 6 (St. Nicholas Day) and family gifts on epiphany. Gifts with extended family are whenever we see them, usually Christmas Day for my in-laws. Our 5 year old has expressed so e desires to have Santa be real, but we just remind her that there was a real person who inspired the stories. I let her talk with Santa at the mall or wherever if she wants to but I don’t go out of my way to either make it happen or avoid it. I don’t feel like I missed out as a kid nor do I feel like our kids are missing out. I do think they have a lot of other opportunities for imagination, made up stories, and fun…and this way we are not setting them up to question what we tell them like another 5 year old we know who figured out Santa wasn’t real, then questioned the Easter Bunny and tooth fairy and then concluded that Jesus was probably fake, too. The fun and wonder of the season can come in lots of ways that don’t have the potential of calling the reality of God into question. – Keturah

    • My family never did Santa Claus, but my husband’s family did. We agreed before we were ever married that we would not lie to our children about these things. Christmas is about Jesus, regardless of whether or not it is His actual birthday. However, I had never thought about doing stockings on St. Nicholas Day and family gifts on Epiphany. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful idea. I think I’ll talk that over with my hubby and consider a change.

  14. Nice article, but I think one has to be careful about linking belief in Santa Claus to the trend that “kids growing up in church homes are leaving the church in unprecedented numbers.” The evangelical tradition has to come to terms with the fact that many of its own clergy have a “Santa Claus approach” to preaching the Gospel. Fewer and fewer ministers go to seminary these days and have little intellectual grounding of their own faith. So we should not be surprised that our kids have very shallow roots in the Christian faith, and then fall away when they encounter a more rigorously defended worldview at a secular university.