Does Santa Claus Have to Come to Town?

December 2021
Written By: 
Ashley Daniels
Photographs by: 
Tierney MJ and Jeanette Teare

Combatting the stress of keeping the holiday magic alive

We’re fast-approaching the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

For those who celebrate Christmas, that’s faster than you can say, “Merry Christmas!” (Or, “Bah humbug!”) And, with that, comes the formidable, compounded to-do list parents, our family and society loads onto us.

Let me first say that I absolutely love this time of year–the magic of it, the joy it gives me to see my children happy, the decorating, cookie baking, gathering, toasting… And that I’m blessed to even be able to check those things off the to-do list. It’s the keeping up with the “deceptions” that stresses me out. Two of my three sons have aged out of the Santa and Elf on a Shelf phase, but I still need to keep up the charade this season for my 5-year-old.

It never really bothered me before, until the two older boys (now 14 and 12 years old) realized what was going on about five years ago–whether from TV, the Internet, or some jerk friend who tattled about the secret–and the gig was up.

It was then that I realized how emotional that moment was for the boys and me–sad that they were growing up, relieved that I didn’t have to stay a step ahead of them discovering the truth, and upset that they were disappointed in me deceiving them over the years.

I’d set aside certain gifts under the tree “from Santa” and others from “Mom and Dad,” careful to use certain gift wrap for each and different handwriting on the gift labels. I’d plop them onto the laps of red-suited strangers and expect them to smile for the camera. I’d carefully answer their suspicious, yet impressive, questions about Santa, like, “Why is there a Santa at every festival and mall and they each look different?” or, “How will Santa deliver presents if we don’t have a chimney?” or, “How does he fly around the entire world and make all those stops at houses in one night?” (That one was from my mathematician son, who knew it didn’t add up).

Then there’s the Elf on a Shelf. We all know how it works; from Thanksgiving Eve to Christmas Eve, he and his pasted smile eerily watch how good the kids are during the day, flies back to report to Santa overnight and reappears somewhere else in the house the next morning in some creative elf scene that Moms post on social media in an effort to win “Best Mom.”

I know it’s all magical, and I bought into that when I was younger, but now it’s a relief that two-thirds of my sons have moved past this season of deceit and onto a focus on the true meaning of the holiday and other loving family traditions.

After all, historically, the story of Santa is the story of Saint Nicholas and his unconditional love to preserve that magic. It’s said that, as an early Christian, he secretly gave money to three sisters whose father didn’t have enough money for a dowry. He snuck the money into their stockings and asked the father to keep it a secret. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to protect children and to assist the sick and needy. It’s that same unconditional love we give our kids.

Because Christmas is about giving, right? Behavioral science reports that we all get more enjoyment from being kind and giving when we don’t expect anything in return or when we’re not bribed. Instead of rewarding our kids for good behavior, gifts can be unconditionally given, which allows them to focus on others, instead of “me, me, me!”

Don’t get me wrong, I still plan on having Santa in the picture for my 5-year-old. (How can I not?) But I may consider telling him the truth about Santa—without making the magic completely disappear.

Did You Know?

  • St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6, the anniversary of his death.
  • Someone that delivered presents to children in England was called “Father Christmas” or “Old Man Christmas.”
  • He was an old character from stories and plays during the middle ages in Britain and throughout Europe.
  • In early U.S. history, his name was “Kris Kringle” (from the Christkind).
  • Later, Dutch settlers in the U.S. took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became “Sinterklaas” or as we now say, “Santa Claus.”