Santa’s Not in the Chimney, the Elf’s Not on the Shelf

Our young kids don’t believe Santa is real. They’re not aware that The Polar Express exists. And they’ve never once spotted an Elf on our Shelves.

Does that make their parents roughly as bah-humbuggy as Scrooge, Harry and Marv, and mean ol’ Mr. Potter combined? Have we perhaps even, like a certain bright green mean one, stolen Christmas from our little Whos?

Every Santa-themed movie ever made would reply with a resounding: UM, YES. Here’s the thing, though. Our kids — despite our Grinchiest efforts! — have somehow, miraculously, managed to maintain their glistening sense of Christmas wonder.

They experience a careening level of joy when we go on our Christmas light drives. They are overjoyed to watch (from the window) as I turn on the Christmas lights, and they are overjoyed to watch (from a different window) as I turn them off before bedtime. They are legit thrilled to open their advent calendar door each morning, despite it merely revealing a tiny picture. I mean, who gets excited to see a 1-inch picture of a sled? What kind of innocence allows for that kind of simple wonder?

So I hope you won’t report us to the proper authorities for depriving our kids of a belief in Santa, or a belief in motion-capture Tom Hanks at the North Pole, or a belief that Elves engage in rampant Shelf-based mischief while we sleep.

As a kid I wasn’t taught that Santa was real, or that he would really visit our house. Nonetheless, I had a radiant sense of wonder at Christmastime. I didn’t need to imagine that a plump, red-suited fellow would smuggle gifts into our living room via chimney to feel that December was the most magical month of the year. Heck, our parents gave us gifts! And it wasn’t even our birthday! How cool is that? Plus, my mom did every single sweet, beautiful, creative thing in her power to make Christmas special for us. Santa Claus would have just been redundant.

So now that I’m a parent, why have I bypassed the Santa-is-real mythology? Well, here are my three main reasons. And keep in mind, I’m only speaking for myself. I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge, trying to keep you from celebrating Christmas with your family however you want to celebrate.

First, I’d rather not give my kids an illusion and then relieve them of that illusion when they’re older. The world will disillusion them enough without any of that coming from their mom and me. I’ve heard some people talk about how devastating it was for them to learn Santa wasn’t real. (Not everyone has this experience, of course; but some people do, which is enough for me.)

As a friend said on Twitter, teaching kids Santa is real “does nothing but make kids doubt what parents teach them while misattributing the kindness of gifts to some fake, detached figure.”

Which brings me to my second reason. I don’t tell my kids their Christmas presents were brought by Santa because I want them, in all areas of life, to convey gratitude to the appropriate source.

I wouldn’t want my kids to thank the Dinner Fairy for their dinner, rather than their mom who lovingly made their dinner with her two hands. Similarly, I don’t want them to thank the Christmas Fairy (i.e Kris Kringle) for their Christmas gifts, rather than their parents or their grandparents or neighbors or whoever lovingly picked out those gifts. Learning to say thank you to the right person is a building block of growing up. (And besides, their mom deserves ample credit for picking out fantastic gifts!)

My third reason, the third sacred cow I’ll tip over, is that I just never really thought the Santa Claus mythology was all that interesting. To me, the worst part of most Christmas movies is the part that literalizes every single detail of the Santa story. The actual logistics of Father Christmas fathering Christmas each year strikes me as just… not that compelling of a yarn.

Santa can be quite a fun idea if it’s a mystery just out of reach. An elusive figure that you never quite see directly; only the evidence of his exploits.

But Santa as a specific person with a specific crew of reindeer and a specific flight path around the world? It strains credibility (of course), but also just strains to be narratively compelling.

Now that I’ve scorched a few bridges (maybe including the one that goes “over the river” and takes you “through the woods to Grandmother’s house” on Christmas Day), let me add a caveat of sorts.

As far as raising kids go, curiosity is everything. Joy is everything. Wonder is everything.

If your kids derive joy and wonder from the Santa mythology, and if you have devised a viable escape route for when they get older, by all means enjoy those years of joy and wonder! I’m all for it. Anything that widens a child’s eyes with mystery and curiosity can be a beautiful thing.

But as for me, my Shelves will remain Elf-less. My chimney will remain Santa-less.

And I will happily watch Mr. Hanks go anywhere on earth, via any whimsical mode of transportation, other than the North Pole via The Polar Express.

Sorry, Tom. It’s just not my thing. But Merry Christmas to you and your lovely wife Rita.

And to you too, if you’re reading this! Celebrate the holidays however you see fit.

May your home be filled with comfort and joy, from the shelves to the chimney.

2 thoughts on “Santa’s Not in the Chimney, the Elf’s Not on the Shelf

  1. Well, let’s see. Having done much of my growing up in the 1960’s, we had neither Elf on the Shelf or Polar Express. Yet, somehow, Christmas survived. We knew all about Santa, of course, but never thought he was a real thing, even while we loved the idea. Easter Bunny; same. We knew who was bringing the presents. Yet Christmas (and Easter) were still highly anticipated times of the year for us. I really don’t know of any of my friends who really thought those characters were real – at least not after the age of say five. And yet, somehow, the magic was still there. Know why? Because for your kids, you and Dani are, for those days leading up to these holidays, all the Magic Fairy’s your kids need.


  2. My sister taught her son that some families believed Santa is real, and he shouldn’t tell them differently, but that in their family they believe that the magic of Christmas is love and the generosity Christmas inspires. He always accepted that, and I thought it was a good explanation for kids and adults both. Her reasons for not pursuing the “Santa myth” are similar to yours; she’s a psychologist/family therapist and if I’d had children I likely would have followed her example as it seemed both reasonable and loving.


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