Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

The Great Santa Claus Debate

[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


St.Nicholas was just a man, but he was a man with a mission.  Born in the third century, he grew up to be an intensely kind-hearted man who was especially devoted to children’s issues and helping the poor. He was a Greek Bishop who defied the established Church in order to go out among the ‘unwashed masses’ and live his life as the ‘heart and hands of Jesus.’ While many miracles and legends about him evolved through the centuries, his penchant for leaving secret gifts is the one that captured the hearts and imaginations of people world-wide, leading to the present-day legend of Santa Claus.

I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a ‘false belief’ and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in stories. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn as a young parent. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.

When it comes to the breathtaking gift of the Christ-Child, the Eternal Creator born of a woman, God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes, the I AM in a manger, what better way to share such an absurd and immense truth than Jesus’ way…with a story? How else would my little ones be able to grasp the concept of such a gift? santa babyHow would they embrace the wonder? How could I possibly break down the impossible into a pedantic lecture? Would the improbable make more sense in a dissertation?

And so I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a Baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of a Savior. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. And when my children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them yes, because it’s true. Every parent who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary Gift ever given to mankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.

My children never outgrow their belief in Santa. When they’re ready we simply share the beautiful story of St. Nick and invite them to join us in the fun of becoming Santa for their younger siblings and for children in need in our community. They still get presents, of course, but they also get to experience a new facet of the wonder of Christmas through the excitement of secret-keeping and present-wrapping and plan-making and joy-giving. Becoming Santa is an exciting and wonder-filled experience for our children, a step toward adulthood that makes them feel like they’ve been entrusted with a wonderful secret and gives them an opportunity to experience the incredible joy of generosity.

Note: I don’t ever use Santa Claus as a threat (i.e. “I’m calling Santa right now if you don’t…” or “Santa’s watching, and you won’t get any presents for Christmas if…”) first because a parable’s purpose is to teach, not to manipulate or control, and second because what I am teaching is the wonder and miracle of receiving a free gift, one that can’t be earned because it is freely given. Manipulating my children into ‘performing’ might work temporarily, but am I really trying to raise works-driven Christians, or am I trying to teach my little people about the wonderful gift of grace?

Here are some of the ways we focus on Jesus for Christmas:

Children learn best and most happily through play, so letting my little people ‘play Santa’ (i.e. wrapping up their toys and ‘surprising’ each other, making ornaments and delivering them to a nursing home, shopping at the dollar store for Operation Christmas Child, etc.) is a very important part of our Christmas traditions. And the best part is…they’re playing Santa for Jesus!

Leading up to Christmas, we marvel about how Jesus loves us so much He wants us to get presents on His birthday (truly awe-inspiring to children and a lesson in sacrificial giving!) because all He wants for His birthday are smiles and happy hearts.

Then we brainstorm ways to give Jesus as many ‘birthday presents’ as possible (a lesson in generosity). We work together to share Christmas cheer with everyone we meet, but focus our best efforts on the grumpiest people because they don’t smile as often and so their smiles make really special gifts for Jesus (a lesson in unconditional love).

We have a 12 Days of Christmas tradition where everyone gets a small present (chocolate, a special pencil, etc), and we read Christmas picturebooks every evening, building excitement for the Christmas morning celebration of the BEST GIFT EVER!

On Christmas Eve, we go to a special church service and then, after celebrating Christmas with family, we go home and make a fire in the fireplace (in Florida weather!) and make s’mores and hot chocolate and read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke.

Then, on Christmas morning, we have a ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ party before opening presents, complete with a birthday cake and candles and singing ‘Happy birthday to  Jesus!’

Here are some other resources on making the meaning of Christmas central to your celebrations this year (I’ll be adding more as I find them):

Celebrating Jesus with a Santa Claus Christmas

24 Tips for a Safe, Stress-Free & Jolly Holiday… A Very Toddler Christmas

7 Tips and Traditions to Make Giving a Standard of Living


What traditions does your family have to keep Christ in Christmas? Share them in the comment section!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

19 Responses

  1. william

    Our children were raised with the notion of Santa as Saint Nick and that he was a dear kind man who gave His heart to Jesus and brought Joy to others. We embrace the saint nick version but my kids do know that Santa claus is a “character from a book based on a real person.”

    The only issues this has caused is that they are worried about telling anyone who ask them about santa that they don’t believe in santa claus, whether kids (they are really good at not exposing their friends to the truth behind santa,) or adults.
    Otherwise I feel it was the best choice for our kids and our family and i was raised with the whole santa Claus thing till we figured it out at age seven.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

    • L.R. Knost

      Finding what works best for our families is always a blessing 🙂 Merry Christmas!

      December 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

  2. As a child I believed fully in Santa Claus until I was in 7th grade. (My parents were very good!) It was a sad day when another seventh grader told me the truth on the bus. I didn’t even think about my parents as fibers in this equation. I thought the other kid was a spoil sport. I went home and told my mom and she told me about St. Nicholas and how she and my dad were Santa Claus and I totally got it. From then on I was in on the secret and helped be Santa for my other 8 siblings.

    I was also firmly versed in Jesus Christ and had a firm belief in him which has carried me through 61 years. I never found a conflict in the two. In my child mind and in my adult mind they were two different people doing two different jobs and I loved them both.

    Coming from an older time I think young people worry too much. : ) I say that with love. I think my children’s experience paralleled my own.

    Merry Christmas to you all however you choose to celebrate one of the most joyous, fun and holy holidays for Christians.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:11 pm

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  5. Yours is the only other family I’ve ever met (not that we’ve met, but you know what I mean…) who celebrates a birthday party for Jesus complete with cake and candles. We’ve been known to do a pinata as well. It started with my half brother P asking why, if it was Jesus’ birthday we were celebrating, Jesus didn’t get a birthday cake? Reasonable question. It was my half brother B who pointed out he always got a pinata, so why didn’t Jesus? One year we decorated with crepe paper and balloons. I think all these little touches help children really understand the point of Christmas is celebrating Jesus…not just getting presents

    July 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm

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  16. Mama Mo

    This is just about perfect! Thanks for putting into words what I’ve felt in my heart as I play Santa for my children.

    And I host a birthday party for Jesus in my preschool classroom, too 🙂

    November 25, 2013 at 11:51 pm

  17. Rebekah Nutter

    I love what you’ve written:) My daughter is 11 1/2, and she still believes in Santa. She debates it with other children. She is really, really holding on. And she’s homeschooled, so she doesn’t get the exposure to what other kids are saying as she would if she were going to public middle school. My husband really thinks it’s time to just tell her, and ‘bring her into the secret’ for her 7 year old brother, but we are struggling with the when and how. He wants to do it on Christmas Eve, whereas I think that may be too traumatic for my VERY sensitive daughter. We both thought she would have figured it out by now, but she hasn’t. Any advice?

    November 20, 2014 at 9:57 am

    • Often older children are aware of ‘how things really work’ but want to hold onto the magic just a bit longer. Only you can decide if you need to bring everything out into the open and discuss it or if you think your little girl is okay holding onto her littleness awhile longer. If you do decide to tell her, perhaps Christmas Eve isn’t the best time. After Christmas day when the magic for this year is settling down might be a better choice. Hope that helps! 🙂

      December 4, 2014 at 10:06 pm

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