The Santa Debate and Honesty


Inherent in Mommyhood are soooo many debates. C’mon, you’ve heard them. You may have even participated in them from time to time. You just couldn’t help yourself out there on the soccer field or even in your own home. A  touchy subject comes up and your Mama Bear instincts and your defense mechanisms kick in.

Let’s see…there’s the stay-at-home vs. working mom thing, the breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding thing, the homeschool-all-the-way-to-college vs. ‘giving up’-and-putting-your-kids-in-school thing. And yup, at this time of year, the to-Santa vs. not-to-Santa thing.  Oh, it’s out there and it’s not the elephnat in the room. It’s addressed heatedly, even more by those who feel that kids will be damaged irreparably if <gasp> they are “lied to”  about Santa. Within the realm of our Catholic Christian community—in our churches, on blogs, on facebook, and at our kitchen tables—the debate is fresh, real, and has turned heated.

How did this develop? I believe that just as suddenly-well-meaning friends and acquaintances exhibit concern over homeschooled children ‘missing’ a grand social experience, as in some variation on the well worn and ever predictable: “So, you homeschool? Ah. Do your kids have any friends?” that non-Santa-ers among us feel compelled to address our outright Santa-ing. As if to fill us in on a great truth.

Um, thanks, but no thanks. I may need lotsa help in the Mommy Department in general. But on this, no.

The Santa Debate and Honesty

The fact is, the non-jolly-old-elf-believers say, as long as the Incarnation of our Lord is paramount within our family’s catechesis, Santa Claus is permissible.

Well, thank you for the green light, non-believers.  But I kinda think that’s preaching to the choir. Pun intended.

As a mom who absolutely, unequivocally, and whole-heartedly does the ‘Santa thing,’ AND was raised a believer AND married a believer, I can tell you that I am one of those who do the (considered by non Santa-ers) wretched-yet-required annual Santa events: waiting on line at a sometimes-cheesy-but-always-mood-setting temporary  ‘North Pole Workshop’ for the picture; setting out milk and  homemade cookies for the head elf and carrots for his reindeer on Christmas Eve; annual reveling in Clement C. Moore’s classic; leaving much thought-out thank you notes under the tree for gifts that graced our den last Christmas morn…well, yes, I am here to affirm that we actually and truly do place the birth of our Savior at the forefront of our celebrations, thank you very much.

Rest assured, non-believers: I can affirm with certainty, the following truths, as can any parent of believing children:

My children’s psyches will not be damaged because they are ‘deceived,’ resulting in hefty trust issues upon their adulthood.

My children’s cognitive development is not arrested because they have ‘fallen for’ the scientific inaccuracies that entail one rather heavy old man in an enormous gift-packed sled being pulled by eight gravity-defying reindeer to children the world over.

My children will not suffer a traumatic blow when met with news that Santa is not ‘real.’

My children will not have a distorted sense of the True Meaning of Christmas.

I don’t. Nor does my husband. Nor do any of the millions of Santa believers the world over. I know this with certainty.


Because year after year after year our belief in Santa continues to add depth and richness to our celebration of the birth of our Lord.

Because we recognize that Santa Claus is continuing the tradition made great in the fourth century by the much loved Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave humbly and generously to those in need. And to all.

Because we have come to embrace as part of our Catholic legacy that he was hell on heretics and took no grief from non believers in the One True Lord.

Because belief in Santa does not make Christmas commercial or secular or lessen the beauty and the awe that we feel when we truly ponder the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, and the Salvation into Eternal Life that we are offered as a result of the birth of this defenseless Babe in a dirty stable over two thousand years ago.

Parents of Santa believers and non-believers alike have instilled in their children a deep admiration for St Nicholas. He is a role model. He is a hero. He was The Enforcer and the Walker Texas Ranger of his time. All in the name of defense of his Faith. Our children may look to him as a moral barometer and a model of love for our Holy Mother Church as they grow to adulthood in our current culture of spiritual depravity.

What of the Santa-compared-to St. Nicholas debacle? Santa, too, gives without compensation. Only that the children to whom he gives, believe.

If belief in Santa offers our children another avenue to the understanding the Lord’s depth of mercy, of His giving, and of His second chances whenever we really need them, than who are we to doubt?

Who are we to question others’ traditions?

When our houses are places of prayer, when we try to speak grace-filled words amongst each other, when our to-do list is comprised of all things unseen, isn’t that what the Lord asks?

Isn’t that what we all attempt despite our differing traditions?

The Lord’s ways are not our ways and, we all know, are not always explainable. The goodness and kindness that the Lord wants us to seek and emulate might just be found for any of us, at any age, in the form of a red-suited, white-bearded, jolly, old elf who resides at the top of the world.

I believe in him. And I believe in Him.

And really, why question that?

Copyright 2013 Christine Mooney


About Author

Christine Mooney loves her life as a homeschooling Mom! Chris resides in NY with her lively, lovable boys, who continuously color her life. Her essays are included in Bezalel Books’ Stories for a Homeschool Heart and Joseph Karl’s God Moments 2 as well as “Mater et Magistra” magazine. Please stop in and visit her for a bit at her blog, Campfires and Cleats .


  1. I’m not sure how to respond. I at first thought this was supposed to be why we do it this way but it doesnt sound that way. Instead it sounds condesceding. I get why people do Santa. My parents did it. I choose not to because I feel it wouldnt work for my family. In order to come to that conclusion I weighed both sides. There’s nothing wrong with that. Why do you care that I dont? Where’s the need to be aggressive? It begs the question why the need to Santa.

    • I don’t believe she was aggressive about it at all. Now, just about every blog post I’ve read that is against Santa is pretty intense, aggressive, and judgemental. Like there is some universal right or wrong regarding him…

      For the life of me I don’t understand why this is such a debate (speaking in general)! While my kids don’t believe St. Nick is alive, we do just about all the traditions surrounding his generosity and spirit. Just as we do the same with Jesus’ birth.

      I am considering next year, doing all the Santa stuff/big presents on December 6th. Then having Jesus’ birthday party on the 25th…

  2. Love this! As a child who grew up with foster siblings who came from horrific backgrounds, I totally laugh when I hear all the “dangers” and potential trauma of letting your kids believe in Santa! Utter nonsense. Believe in Santa or not… there really is no right or wrong.

  3. Love this! As a child who grew up with foster siblings who came from horrific backgrounds, I totally laugh when I hear all the “dangers” and potential trauma of letting your kids believe in Santa! Utter nonsense. Believe in Santa or not… there really is no right or wrong.

  4. So, hopefully without becoming polemical I would like to ask you a simple question.

    Is it all right to tell someone something that you know to be false? Lets call it bearing false witness.

    As Catholics and Christians we do not make moral judgement based on how they make us feel or even based on predicted consequences. We make them based on objective moral laws that can be discerned by ALL men and women of good will, but which are described in a “cliff notes” version in the Ten Commandments. Those moral norms, according to the tradition of the Church, makes no real exception to that whole false witness command. As I tell my penitents, what is white about a white lie?

    Anecdotes aside is it really IMPOSSIBLE for you to conceive that perhaps even just one child might be scandalized by their parent’s presentation of the Santa Clause Myth, often with as much force as the Gospel? And even if just one soul was hurt, ought we not take pause and really think about what exactly it is we are doing?

    You make the claim that: “as long as the Incarnation of our Lord is paramount within our family’s catechesis, Santa Claus is permissible.” Answer this, objectively speaking, what is the difference between the way you (or most American families) teach their kids about Santa Claus and the way you teach your kids about the incarnation? If you spend 8 years of their life trying to convince them of the reality (in this world) of Santa, what effect will the realization of that Charade have on their ability to believe in your presentation of the incarnation, or real presence? None? Really? Is it just a coincidence that atheists often liken belief in God to belief in Santa?

    I have no problem with faerie taIes, in fact I think good Christian mythology, in the form of faerie tales is really important to the moral education and development of a sacramental imagination in a young Catholic mind. That being said, while JRR Tolkien inokes magical lands where eagles and trees can talk, or for that matter C.S. Lewis introduces us to Fr. Christmas himself in Narnia, they do so in far away worlds, that clearly are not this world. I think somewhere in the past 100 years, perhaps when coke got involved and started marketing the usually green clad Bishop, St. Nick, in coca cola red, we stopped treating this wonderful faerie tale as just that, and started treating Santa as the ancient Canaanites treated Baal. Our desire to be “like unto the nations” is a perpetual temptation, but we must remember that to those of us to whom much is given (the truth), much more will be expected. I don’t think we need to begin a stalinist purge of jolly St. Nick, but to put Santa back in the realm of the imagination, and to rescue St. Nicholas and the story of Christmas from equivalency to a reality that exists only in the mind, is really our duty to God. Let your kids imaginations run wild with faerie tales, but don’t kill their imaginations by trying to prove their faerie tales real.

    “Who are we to question others’ traditions?” We are our brothers keeper, brothers and sisters in Christ. If you have a tradition, like slavery, that is immoral then yes we ought to question it. Now, granted encouraging the Santa Claus myth is different from selling people into bondage, or is it? What greater form of bondage is there than being unable to trust, unable to make the act of faith, but isn’t that the separation that lies create. The devil, a liar and the father of lies, convinced mankind long ago that God could not be trusted with a half truth, a distortion of reality, ought we really take this lightly? This is why a contemporary to St. Nicholas, St. Augustine of Hippo, in his seminal work on lies, a work quoted by all the Doctors after him, notes that there really is no case morally in which we can communicate something we believe to be false to another with the intention of deceiving. Physical bondage is destroyed at death, but the spiritual bondage of being unable to believe is a sickness unto death. Its a sickness I see in many young people, who have a health dose of Santa in their lives, but grow into adulthood unable to live supernaturally.

    I know it is perhaps hard to hear this, this is not a judgement on what you have done in good conscience before, rather it is a challenge not to think about this in terms of feelings or consequence but the way the Christian must approach any moral question, in terms of fidelity to God’s plan and as a way of responding in love to it.

  5. Padre,

    Clearly you are coming from a place of genuine concern. But I would say to you, Be not afraid!

    Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the like are myths that we as a culture have shared with our kids for generations, to brighten and enrich their childhoods with magic and wonder. There is no real intent to deceive since all parents, sooner or later, come clean about Santa. You could equally accuse me of intending to deceive my children when I pretend not to know that my four year old is in that same spot behind the couch when we play hide and seek.

    All children eventually learn that really it was their parents who brought the gifts, anonymously giving, as St. Nicholas did. Giving the credit to Santa. So that their children could experience the joy of receiving the gift and the magic that brought it.

    But the Santa stories don’t stand up to close examination by older kids, so they fall away. Of course, we don’t have to worry about that with the gospels. When my children ask tough questions about our faith, I can give them answers. Answers from our rich deposit of Catholic doctrine, from not only the gospels but the saints and the traditions of our faith as well.

    The gospel has little to fear from the tooth fairy. One is True. One is a game, fun for a time, then put away when that time is over.

    Ours is a faithful Catholic home in which Santa is welcome, in his proper place below the true reason for celebrating Christmas, for as long as he brings joy to our children.

    • In fact its not the same as pretending not to see a child hiding behind w couch… that is play, and children take play seriously but also understand that it is imaginative.

      I have no problem with the tales, as I said, but with the lenghts people go to convince their children that what ought to be a matter of play and imagination is in fact real.

      Attempting to decieve a child in this way is in fact a lie, and its a lie that often gets in the way of the Gospel.

      Augustine makes only one exception for trying to convince someone of something you know not to be true, a joke, and if its a joke, which you perpetrate against your child for ten years, I contend it a cruel one. Children don’t need the help of adults to use their imaginations…and so my advice is that let a child’s mind run away with faerie tales, but don’t provide false proof, like one of so many medieval hoax relics which stir up fevor in the moment but cause scandel when revealed.

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