One Family’s Santa-Free Christmas

how to do christmas without santa

It’s that most wonderful time of year when children are bribed with candy canes to allow adults to finish their egg nog and we’re constantly scrambling to get that best deal on Amazon Prime for just the right gift for just that right person. The walls of our social media feeds and our drug stores are littered with things we might need or things we may not. In the spirit of not sounding like a total scrooge, it’s also the most celebratory blessed time of year to be Catholic because we are joyfully awaiting the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

The Santa of My Childhood

What would Advent be without a little or a lot of Santa behind the scenes as well? Our childhood religious Advent calendars had jolly ol’ Santa peeking around to see Baby Jesus, along with the shepherds.

Many Christians around the world merge Santa into their Advent celebrations. We’re preparing our hearts for Jesus and our hearths for Santa. Growing up, we put out cookies and milk for Santa. My mom would artfully maneuver the cookies look like Santa had enjoyed them (God love her, now that I’m a mom I’m confident she bit into them out of more than just obligation. She probably hadn’t had much time to sit down herself and enjoy a treat!).

Meanwhile, my dad rushed us outside to “look for the reindeer” as my mom hustled to dump gifts under the tree. And nibble cookies.

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Making the Santa Decision for My Own Family

When my husband and I started having children, we talked about the holidays. Would we do the Santa thing? Would we not? What were compelling reasons one way or the other? As two lawyers, I guarantee we like to find compelling reasons for and against all situations. And Santa was no exception.

The first few years we kinda half-heartedly did the Santa thing. But when our oldest turned three years old and began asking, repeatedly, about the where-why-how-who-when of the situation, we both shrugged and decided nah on Santa. We started lighting a birthday candle and singing happy birthday to the newborn King instead of setting out cookies and milk. We found a narrative that fit better for our family. Our kiddos are 8, 6, 4, and 2. They’re still little, but old enough where the narrative has taken shape.

Our Reasons for Being Santa-Free

Some people will argue that “doing the Santa thing” is a commercial watering down of Jesus’ birth, a red herring to keep the focus off the Messiah. Others will say it’s just Saint Nick elongated from his feast day on the 6th of December to the 25th. Still a small pack of others may say it’s actually sacrilegious to perpetuate the myth as Catholics.

I don’t think it’s a scourge on the face of humanity! Neither do I think it’s a desecration on tradition to omit him from the narrative. Each family should discern what suits their narrative for the season. It’s certainly not a moral battle we have to wage on the Eve with the extended relatives!

Our reasons came down to these two concepts:

  1. focus
  2. fantasy

What is the focus of gift giving? What are the reasons we give each other gifts? Why focus on someone else giving our kids gifts who isn’t physically manifest? And then, what are the purposes of fantasy? What leaps of imagination do we ask them to make? How is a story about a kind man (loosely related at this point in the culture to a Saint) determining if they’re naughty or nice one that’s great enough to keep going?


We give gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. We tell our kids these are birthday gifts at His party! Additionally, we prep to discern what gift we will give to Him this year. Our time, our talents, our treasures. The relatives are kind and give gifts, too. The Godparents, the special friends. These people are generally understanding of our narrative and tailor in with it.


I think kids can be enchanted by magic stories and fairy tales, Santa being one. But at the end of the day, the arch of our Catholic Faith does require leaps and trust and invisible things. These other stories and mythologies are not real truth. Sure, my kids can discern stories from truth; but only when we’re honest and tell them that stories provide morals to glean and lessons to learn. Truth provides the ultimate answers to questions in our lives, the ones we can’t get to the bottom of ourselves.

Plus, I remember when my oldest sister told me Santa wasn’t real and I felt crushed. As if the reason for joy and gift giving was gone. HELLLO! Jesus is that reason so it’s easier for us to cut out the middle jolly man and stick with the birthday Boy.

Santa or Not…It’s Up to You!

However you do it, you run the risk of flack from friends and loved ones. Traditions and establishing your own traditions are sensitive and sweet things.

It’s okay to break the mold and ditch Santa if you’re feeling like we did. If you’re a wee tired, you may also find relief in keeping just one narrative at the center of the season.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas, sisters!

What say you? Does your family refrain from the Santa narrative? Why or why not?

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Nell O’Leary is a recovering lawyer turned blogger, speaker, and sewer of baby goods while tending to her husband and four kiddos in the great city of Saint Paul, Minnesota. She serves as Managing Editor for Blessed is She and can down a hot cocoa in no time flat. Find out more about her here.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Sharon Piasecki
    December 13, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    We went this way with our kids too (they’re both grown and out on their own now), and I don’t think either of them ever missed it. The trickiest part is making sure they don’t “ruin” it for the other kids at school or in the family/neighborhood who do “believe”! We just talked about playing along with the “game” the others were playing.😊

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