St. Nicholas

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 Talking with Children about Santa Claus

We are frequently asked about talking with children about Santa. Some what to know if it is "okay" to have Santa. Others are concerned and want their children to always be able to trust them to tell the truth. And some are just exploring how to structure their own particular family life in this season. Here are several ideas for talking about Santa Claus.

Our family experience
Become a Santa Updated!one family's special way
The Flint Journal's response to such a question
A book: The True History of Santa Claus
How to Talk to Your Child About Santa Claus from an experienced teacher

Our family experience

It makes a big difference what a family chooses to emphasize during the holiday season. We always talked about how many days until Christmas—how many days until we celebrate Jesus' birth—not how many days until Santa comes. Most Christmas gifts were from family and friends—the people who love us, rather than Santa. Santa did fill stockings, of course. There might also be some small presents under the tree whose tags said, "from Santa."

Our tree usually went up about a week before Christmas and presents would appear over the next days, making time to shake and speculate. Gifts did not "magically appear" on Christmas morning, having been left by Santa during the night. Santa did, however, come and fill the stockings.

Children developmentally come to an age where they try to work out what is real and what is fantasy (or pretend). With my own children I responded to such questions by asking, "What do you think?" or "How do you think it happens?" This would usually deflect the question and the children would then do their own wondering and thinking and come out in a place that was right for them at that time.

If most of the seasonal emphasis and talk isn't about Santa, then Santa Claus doesn't become such a big issue. If a child believes "everything" comes from Santa it must be very threatening to think that maybe Santa isn't "real" and if you don't "believe" there won't be any gifts.

Children and parents both love the magical feeling of both St. Nicholas and Santa. Celebrating St. Nicholas Day, we did say that St. Nicholas was the real person of faith behind Santa Claus; the idea of Santa came from St. Nicholas—the real and original Santa. St. Nicholas helps move focus to giving and caring for others, rather than on what we will be getting.

We had the fun of both St. Nicholas, early in December, and Santa Claus, at Christmas, without losing the center of Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child.

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The Flint Journal's response to such a question

Two 8-year-old girls sent the following letter, asking a very serious question, to the Flint Journal in 1975:

Dear Flint Journal,
Me and my best friend are writing to you to ask if there really is a Santa Claus. . . . We watched "Yes, Virginia" and we would like to know if it is true. . . . We know you are busy but we are determined to find out. . . . Please don't turn us down. . . .
Sincerely, Gretchen Gehl and Stacy Fulcher.

Columnist Alan N. MacLeese published this reply:

Dear Gretchen and Stacy:

It would be very easy for me to start this letter by simply saying, "Yes, Gretchen and Stacy, there is a Santa Claus." But I am not going to do that.

I probably would do that if you were "little kids" and weren't beginning to understand things. But you have shown that you are not "little kids" by writing that letter to The Journal.

Your letter shows that you have taken the first step toward being "grown-ups" or adults. You did that by asking a question about something that was important to you. A lot of people just believe anything that is told them and don't bother to ask questions. People like that aren't gown-ups, not really.

But people like you, people who are "determined" to get at the truth, don't deserve to be put off with an "easy" answer. Especially about something as important as whether there is a Santa Claus.

Because you are acting like adults, I am going to treat you like adults and answer the way I would any grown-up. And if you are not satisfied with my answer, I think you should keep asking questions until you have the facts.

Let's go back in history, 1,600 years ago, to a man—a real man—named Nicholas. He was bishop of a church in a place called Asia Minor.

This man, this real man, did many good things for people. He didn't give Christmas presents to children, but he was so loved by the people that, after his death, they made him a "saint." Many special persons have been honored in this way.

Saint Nicholas meant something important to people. And even though he was dead, the people wanted to keep what he stood for alive. What he stood for was the spirit of giving and making others happy.

The people began observing Saint Nicholas' [day] by doing the kind of things he did. Making other people happy, especially children.

In one place in Europe, people began giving their children gifts on this saint's [day] and telling the children the gifts were from Saint Nicholas. Now that was both true and untrue. Remember, I told you this wasn't an easy question.

It was true because the exchanging of Christmas gifts can be traced to Saint Nicholas. It was untrue because Saint Nicholas was dead.

As the years passed, Saint Nicholas was given many names in many countries. In our country, as you know, he is called Santa Claus.

Parents nowadays tell their little children that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole and visits them every Christmas with a sleigh full of toys drawn by eight reindeer.

You'll notice, Gretchen and Stacy, that I said parents tell this to their "little children." By this I mean children who haven't started to read and write and think about things in a grown-up manner.

Which is why I hope you'll keep this letter among those of us who can be considered as grown-up. Or, at least, starting to grow up.

Here's why:

Question: Is there a real man named Santa Claus who lives at the North Pole and visits children on Christmas Eve with a sleigh full of toys?

No, Gretchen and Stacy, there is no such man.

Does that answer hurt? Make you angry at those who have told you this is true? Make you feel that Christmas is spoiled?

If it does, maybe you had better stop and think. The way you did when you wrote to The Journal.

Ask yourselves why would anybody—your parents, perhaps—tell you that such a man was real and coming this Christmas if it weren't true.

Could it be that this was their way of showing their love for you by telling you a beautiful story and making it come true? Of showing you the joy of giving? Could it be that they remember when they lived, ever-so briefly, in that world? Before they, too, started asking questions and going about the business of growing up?

Now let's ask your questions again. Is there a Santa Claus?

Yes, Gretchen and Stacy, there is, at least for the more fortunate children in our world. This Santa has a lot of names. Mother. Father. Uncle. Friend. Grandmother. Grandfather.

And fortunate children can prove this Santa is real. They can just reach out and touch.

One more thing. Soon, Gretchen and Stacy, there should be two more Santas. Real ones. Their names are Gretchen and Stacy.

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Book: The True History of Santa Claus
by Nury Vittachi

" . . . the best by far to explain the interwoven history from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus. The story is a little quirky, but what a great framework for the message . . . it is very cleverly written; this is one skilled author who knows how to think like a kid."
Book cover

This is a very helpful book for children asking questions about Santa Claus. The delightful story is set on Christmas Eve and tells of a ten-year-old boy who is looking after his little sister. Adventure takes them to "Christmas College" with its departments of Christmas Past (tells of historical St. Nicholas), Christmas Present (a scientist tells of limitations, evidence, and that "saints are associated with a mysterious organization called the kingdom of heaven," and Christmas Future (where the kingdom of heaven uses many hands to get work done). Here they learn so much about Christmas, but the answers are always open-ended, leaving just enough mystery or uncertainty to allow children to believe what they choose. allowing for understanding to grow and interpret. The book has full-color illustrations and includes a list of "Ten Things that Prove Santa Claus Really Exists."

Back cover introduction, The True History of Santa Claus
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How to Talk to Your Child About Santa Claus
by Sonia Leal

Book cover

Experienced teacher Sonia Leal recounts the dialogue she had with her nine-year-old daughter. The question came as her daughter's school friends were challenging "belief" in Santa Claus. This is frequently the catalyst to such a discussion. The author believes that the way this question is handled sets a tone and pattern for other difficult questions that will emerge as a child grows into adolescence.

The first two sections of the book, "The Dreaded Question" and "The Historical Explanation" are very useful in helping a parent work through how to respond to the Santa question. She nicely shows how to weave the story of St. Nicholas into today's Santa. The book underscores the importance of honesty and generosity. The later sections are a pleasant memoir, but less directly useful for answering the question.

Do you believe in Santa Claus?
     some thoughts on talking to children about Santa
The Truth About Santa, New York Times Room for Debate
     suggestions for families from a variety of perspectives
3-Minute St. Nicholas Retreat
     from Loyola Press
5 Widely Different Ways to Handle the Santa Issue with Questioning Children Updated!
     from Jesus Without Baggage

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The Flint Journal's response to such a question is from the column, "In 1975 she wrote The Flint Journal asking if Santa exists -- and the response went nationwise," by Dominic Adams, The Flint Journal, December 14, 2014. ©  The Flint Journal. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Flint Journal. Alan N. MacLeese worked as a copy editor and columnist for The Flint Journal and Saginaw News. He died in Maine in 2012 at age 81.

Book cover

The True History of Santa Claus
by Nury Vittachi, illustrated by Eamonn O'Boyle. PPP Company Limited, Hong Kong, copyright © 2003.

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How to Talk to Your Child About Santa Claus
by Sonia Leal, CreativeSpace Independent Publishing Platform, copyright © 2014 Sonia Leal.

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The Santa Club
by Kelly Moss, Palmary Press, Henderson, Nevada, copyright © 2011.

Here is a fresh way to answer the question, "Is Santa Real?" while preserving both facts and magic. The approach may be adapted from what is presented. 

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Maybe the Truth About Santa
by Amy Powell Zalewski, Shiny Red Ball Publishing, copyright © 2005.

A simple guide with open-ended questions to help children make up their own minds about Santa being real as the spirit of giving.  

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The (Wonderful) Truth About Santa
by B. K. Gendran, Illus. Tess Jansen, Tea & Cookies Press, copyright © 2015.

A simple sory beginning with St. Nicholas, who gave in secret, telling how others then gave in secret, like Nicholas. Then parents did, too. The child is invited to become a "Santa" too.   

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Ssshh . . . Santa's Secret Society: Where Secrets are Unlocked, and the Magic of Santa Lives on Forever! by Julie Atkinson, Magical Transitions, Middletown, Delaware, copyright © 2015.

A story to be personalized showing all the people that are "Santa" for a child. The child is invited to become part of the "Santa's Secret Society" and to keep the "Santa Secret." A magical key ornament is suggested to commemorate the child's new status.  

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Santa: The Whole Story by Robert Weston Gilliard, copyright © 2013.

Simple book linking Santa, the Nativity, and St. Nicholas, ending by inviting the reader to join in the fun of giving. Self-published book has some unfortunate typos.   

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