I appreciate all of you who weighed in with your thoughts on doing the "Santa thing". Many of you talked about your own experience as a child. I think that's how we approach most aspects of parenting.
Both Joel and I grew up with Santa coming to visit. Joel figured out the truth when he was about 6 or 7 years old. He says he doesn't really remember it being good or bad. I figured out the truth when I got into our attic around age 7 and found all the presents hidden. I don't remember being mad; I had been doubting for probably a year or two anyway. While my family went to church and we focused on it being Christ's birth, Santa and gifts was still a very big focus. Joel's family didn't go to church so the focus was definitely on gifts and Santa.
Rylee came on the scene and neither Joel or I had any issues with Santa. Fun and innocent was our view. We planned to focus on Jesus and just let Santa come to bring gifts and that's it. Rylee's first Christmas was not an issue since she was 8 months old. Her second Christmas we talked to her about going downstairs to see what Santa left. "Santa" left one or two unwrapped toys by the tree and filled our stockings. We would see what "he" left and then read the Christmas story from the Bible, then open the gifts from family under the tree.
The following Christmas was much the same in format except Rylee was 2 1/2 and the twins had been added to our family. "Santa" wasn't ever the focus. The kids might take their picture with him at a mall, but they never made a list for him and never were told he was watching them to see if they were naughty or nice, etc. We wanted every emphasis to be on Jesus and His birth.
This year we will celebrate our 3rd Christmas in Texas. Last year we added in a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning. We have 5 nativity sets. One is specifically for the kids to play with. Jesus is touchable. We took Jesus from each set and hid Him. On Christmas morning after they checked out their stockings and the open gifts left for them, we said "Oh no, Jesus isn't in the manger! We can't have Christmas without Jesus. That's what Christmas is all about." Then, we read the clues and they found each baby Jesus. Once the final baby Jesus was in place, we could finally celebrate because Jesus had come! (I put together a video of it last year. Here it is if you want to see it.)
We read the Christmas story from the Bible (the Message translation; this year we will use their devo Bible "The Jesus Storybook Bible" b/c it's awesome!). We talk about why it's so important that Jesus was born. We talk about why we give presents. Then, we open them.
Last year we made a birthday cake for Jesus and sang Happy Birthday too.
We didn't really plan on this year being all that different. However, a certain question came up as we were watching a tree lighting ceremony. It was at a mall with an ice rink and a skating Santa entered to dance around then light the tree. Rylee turned around and said, very loudly, "Mom, is Santa real?" Uh-oh.... After shushing her, a few minutes later (Santa was still skating and doing flips) and Asa turned around and asked it too.
On the ride home, I told Joel we had to decide what we were going to do. I knew I would be asked the question at least a few more times throughout the week, and especially as we talked more about Christmas and went into stores where Santa was on display. Do we encourage the myth? Lying to them? Do we ignore their questions? Do we just explain everything?
After reading quite a few other opinions (and praying...but really I can't say I prayed about it a lot), I just felt like we needed to be honest.
So, the next time they asked, we answered. "No, Santa is not "real". That man who is dressed up as Santa is pretending. There isn't really a man who will come into our house on Christmas Eve. But, St. Nicholas was a real man who loved Jesus and gave gifts to those who had less. That's where the whole idea of Santa comes from. Jesus is God's most wonderful gift to us, so we give gifts to each other in celebration of Him coming." The conversations have been short and pretty sporadic.
Our kids will receive no fewer gifts. Their stockings will still be filled on Christmas morning. They continue to be just as excited about Christmas as they were before they asked the question. They just happen to know that it's Mommy and Daddy who put out all those presents.
We want Christmas to be about Christ. For our family, that has meant that we focused on Christ's birth and just let Santa be an afterthought. Now that we have been asked the question, we don't feel it would be right to not tell them the truth. Personally, I'm glad that we never made Santa a big deal. I think the truth is a lot easier for my kids to take and understand since Christmas has always been about Christ's birthday for us.
This is a neat video we found about Jesus and Santa.