Note: This article is adopted from a article by the Eyres

Have you, as a parent or grandparent, ever worried that believing in Santa and then gradually growing out of that belief could prompt a similar belief-to-doubt sequence in your children?

Let’s face it, Christmas can be a confusing time for kids. When they are little, they believe in Santa and the North Pole and the elves; and they also believe in the Christ Child and the manger and the shepherds and the star.

As they grow older, they begin to understand that Santa is a myth. How do we be sure that they do not connect or confuse the two beliefs and begin to think that perhaps Christ might also be a myth?

And here is a second, connected Christmas dilemma for parents: We want our kids to be excited about making their list and writing their Santa letters and anticipating and getting their gifts; but we also want them to feel the spirit of giving, and to be equally excited about finding or making or buying gifts for others.

The best way we have ever come across to solve these two conundrums is to clearly separate the Santa myth and the Christ reality in the minds of your children and to also separate the getting part of Christmas from the giving part. Here’s how:

  1. When kids begin to ask about whether or not Santa is real, tell them that he is “real-imaginary.” In other words, he is a real and wonderful myth or story that helps us feel the spirit and mystery of Christmas. Santa represents happiness and goodness and sharing and helps us develop our imaginations even as he symbolizes the feeling of being good and deserving of gifts. Explain that Santa is “real-imaginary,” like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, and that it is fun to have those North Pole stories and to enjoy those myths.

Jesus Christ on the other hand, is very, very different than that because He is “real-real” in that He actually was born on earth to Mary and Joseph and gave us the greatest gift of all time. His story, with the innkeeper and the manger and with the star and the wise men is the truest and most important story of all time. Make sure your kids know that it is OK to think of both Santa and Jesus at Christmastime but that they are NOT the same—that one is a fun story in our imaginations and the other is the greatest true story of all time and the most real thing there ever was. (To see the results of this kind of discussion with a ten year old, watch the accompanying video.)

  1. Since it is so hard to integrate the very different Christmas joys of getting and of giving into the same Christmas morning ritual, separate them! On Christmas Eve, put all of the focus on giving and on the Christ story. Have a “Bethlehem Supper” where you dress as shepherds and wise men and have a Mary and a Joseph. Serve only fish and flatbread and figs and other things that Mary’s family might have had to eat on the night before she and Joseph left on their journey to Bethlehem. Turn off the lights and use only candles. Sit around a table and take the roles of Mary and her family as you eat together. With “Joseph” there as a guest, talk about the long journey. Will the donkey make it? Do they have reservations at a hotel or inn? How long will it take? Why do they have to go so far to pay taxes anyway? Then after dinner act out the manger scene, complete with angels and shepherds and wise men.

Then gather around the Christmas tree and open only the gifts from the children. Focus entirely on the giver. “Oh, just what I wanted, how did you know?” “Wow, did you make this?” “You found such perfect gifts.” Let each child have a turn where he or she gives out the gifts he or she made or chose and let the child feel and revel in the joy of giving.

Having focused entirely on Jesus and on the joy of giving during Christmas Eve, you can then shift to Santa and stockings and the joy of getting on Christmas morning!

There is indeed room for both Jesus and Santa at Christmastime, but parents have to be careful to separate the two in the minds of their children!