My husband and I are probably in the minority of parents who don’t do Santa with our three-year-old. It’s not like we hold strong opinions about Santa; it’s just not something we mention. Sure, if we see Santa at the Christmas tree patch, we’ll say that that’s Santa, or when our kiddo asks about our neighbor’s Santa figurine, we’ll honestly say that it’s Santa. But as far as creating a story of Santa coming to our home on Christmas Eve, leaving him cookies and milk or presenting our son with toys that came from the big red guy, we haven’t done much of that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in its magic.

Santa and kids: balancing imagination with realityThis may seem strange coming from someone who grew up not only with Santa but with the Three Kings who kindly stopped by our house on New Year’s Eve and left money in our shoes as well as the Tooth Fairy who did the same in exchange for teeth under pillows. I watched all the Christmas movies and faithfully wrote to Santa, knowing—just knowing—that my letter would be whisked from my desk up to the north pole a lá Santa Claus The Movie. I truly believed all that.

Neither was I traumatized  when I gradually started putting the pieces together. When I found it odd that the toys resembled the same ones found in the stores. Or when my parents shushed my older brother as he teased about Santa. No, I just grew up and was grateful that I got that extra gift and realized that Santa was part of a childhood I was outgrowing.

And maybe it’s too early to decide on this whole Santa business, considering that my kid hasn’t asked any questions about him just yet. He isn’t holding playground conversations with friends about their Santa loot or whether they took pictures with him or not.

Yet I still don’t feel compelled to celebrate Santa in the typical way. I don’t give him the extra gift from Santa, or even explain the history of this white-bearded jolly man. Instead, I’ll do what seems to work best with my kid: follow his lead.

Because even though I’m not one to line up at the mall for Santa pictures or purchase that extra gift, I honor the magic—the imagination—that stems from Santa.

I liken Santa to anything else that my kid would want to create for himself. Just today, he balled up some pieces of play doh and declared that they were pancakes—delicious ones, too, according to him. He has also lined up geometric shapes in a line and ran a plastic chicken over them, claiming that this was a train running on train tracks. Or played with marbles, all the while saying that they were fountains.

His imagination is growing wild, and I’m not one to correct him and say that no, that’s play doh that can’t even be eaten, that those are actually shapes not train tracks, and that marbles are solid and aren’t anything close to water.

Instead I play along. I ask questions. And I let him imagine. Perhaps when the Santa conversation actually comes to fruition, I may do the same. Kids are at that great age where curiosity abounds and they are absorbing everything about their worlds, discerning what makes sense and what doesn’t. And so I’ll leave it up to him to determine what’s real, from Santa to pancakes, from what could be to what is.

After all, when Harry Potter meets Professor Dumbledore at King’s Cross (in the The Deathly Hallows), in what is supposed to have been an afterlife of sorts, he asks, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” To which Dumbledore wisely replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

What is your take on Santa? How do you answer your kids’ questions regarding Santa?

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