This year, it happened on December 3rd. Some years, we don’t even make it past Black Friday, and other years, we might make it all the way to December’s double digits. There are a few different versions of the questions, but they always come. Well-meaning people ask my children, “have you made your list for Santa?” “What is Santa bringing you?” I hold my breath while I wait for the answers my kids are going to give. Most Christmas traditions for kids include Santa Claus, but in my house, they don’t. In this article, I’ll tell you how to not do Santa while still keeping the magic of Christmas alive—and not ruining Santa for other kids!
We’ve also got you covered for Santa-free kids holiday party ideas! And if people are guilting you about not doing Santa like I’ve experienced time and again, check out our step-by-step worksheet for getting rid of mom guilt!
Why We Don’t “Do” Santa
We decided we weren’t going to “do” the whole Santa thing.
No letters to Santa. No pictures with Santa. No plate of cookies and glass of milk left out for Santa on Christmas Eve. No gifts from Santa. And no creepy elf cavorting around my house for all of December spying on my kids and reporting back to Santa.
Our family’s Christmas traditions for kids aren’t exactly typical.
Yeah, go ahead and clutch your pearls and tell me I’m ruining all the magic of Christmas. I’ve heard it all before.
Responses range from blank stares to “Oh, okay, well that’s nice” to “Keep your kids away from mine during December” (mostly joking, I think) to “I could NEVER deprive my kids of the magic of Santa” to everything in between.
So why did my husband and I decide to do this? Honestly, when we started really thinking about the traditions we wanted to create for our daughter as we approached her first Christmas season, we just kept coming back to the idea that Santa didn’t feel like a necessary thing for our family.
It would have been easy in some ways just to follow more in line with traditions from our childhoods, but we decided that it didn’t feel “right” to us to cultivate the Santa myth in our house. It didn’t feel right for the new nuclear family we were creating.
Determining What Was Right for Our Family
While we had happy childhoods full of beautiful Christmas memories, both my husband and I struggled with the whole idea of “Santa” as kids.
I was a curious, precocious kid who started questioning the details of the Santa mythology around age 2. Yeah, I kept my parents on their toes.
My husband had a bit of a preteen crisis of faith when he realized Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real. If his parents had lied about those things, how could he be sure they hadn’t lied about the existence of God?
No one has ever said our parents had it easy raising us.
We’re the first to admit that we are pretty darn neurotic, but combining those genes, what kind of chance did we have that our daughter, and any other children we had, would be a kid who easily handled the whole magic and myth thing well?
We were skeptical kids, and we are both pretty wretched liars.
Ultimately, we wanted to make sure that whatever personalities our children had, we would do our best to create an environment in our home where they felt like they could trust us.
For us, especially me, Santa felt more like a lie I would have to cultivate for years instead of an opportunity for making magic for my children.
Maybe I’m just an anxious overthinking basket case and our kids would have loved Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy (yep, we don’t “do” those either) and then happily outgrown the ideas without a bit of angst. I’ll never really know.
I do think my anxiety is high enough without having to figure out a new place for an elf to travel each night, that’s for sure. So for me and my family, it’s nice in so many ways to venture away from the typical Christmas traditions for kids.
I Felt Pressure to Do “Normal” Christmas Traditions for Kids
People have straight up told me that I’ve taken the magic out of Christmas, though my children’s experiences don’t echo that sentiment.
And of course there’s the shocked, scoffing response of, “How do you not do Santa?”
Our approach to Christmas traditions for our kids is unique, I know. But it works for us, and that’s all that really matters.
That first Christmas, when we were still trying to figure out what traditions would look like for our family and kids, I took my 10-month-old daughter for Santa pictures. We already thought we didn’t want to “do” Santa, but I wanted to give the grandparents that photo op.
Plus, we were still trying to figure out what traditions we were going to take, leave, or start.
When she looked at me with tears streaming down her face and arms reaching out for me, I felt okay walking away from doing any tradition “just because” most of the people I knew were doing it.
My husband and I need to be the people our kids can trust the most in the world, so if she didn’t want to sit in this stranger with a red suit and a big white beard’s lap, I wasn’t going to make her.
Some kids eagerly await Santa visits and pictures and some babies are calmly intrigued, but that wasn’t my kid.
If either of my children ever asks to go see Santa or take a picture with one, I will be game, and I am happy to like and react to those sweet Santa pics on Facebook of families who love that tradition.
We don’t forbid our kids to talk about Santa, but we also don’t force them.
How We Choose to Do Santa Impacts So Many Children
As a teacher who has taught in both public and private schools, I am also a big proponent of families who celebrate with Santa not making all gifts, especially the biggest and priciest ones, come from Santa.
It is hard to sit in a classroom with kids on the first day back at school and see the looks on the faces of kids who got one or two toys or a much-needed coat or new shoes for Christmas while classmates brag about iPads, four-wheelers, and the newest video game system.
Our kids know that Mommy and Daddy are the ones bringing the presents. This makes a discussion about how much things cost and how much different families can afford and what types of things different families value a bit easier to introduce.
It also provides us the opportunity to talk about different social issues, like different socioeconomic classes, which are important for my privileged children to understand.
And these conversations lead to not only empathy for people who are different than they are, but also different traditions we’ve created as a family.
For Us, Not Doing Santa Is Actually Easier
My husband is a hospital doctor, so his work schedule often makes opening gifts on Christmas morning difficult for our nuclear family. Not having Santa bring presents makes it easier for us to prioritize finding a time for our family to celebrate together over the idea of the morning of December 25 being the time when gifts are “supposed” to arrive.
In our house, Daddy being around to play with any brand new toy is much more exciting that if Santa had delivered it instead of Amazon Prime.
I know we’re not the only ones not letting Santa dominate our December, so why does it still seem so surprising to some people that my kids don’t expect Santa to bring them half a toy store or a YouTube unboxing channel on December 25?
Many parents are choosing not to “do” Santa for various reasons or are finding new, more minimalist ways to celebrate Christmas, so we’re not alone in our choices.
But we have had to figure out how things were going to look for our family. The baby Christmases were easy because babies love wrapping paper and milk and maybe 1 present more than the box it came in.
But the toddler years start bringing more questions to the table.
How To Not “Do” Santa
Both kids went to a preschool that celebrated Saint Nicholas Day, so we talk about how the idea of Santa came about as people were inspired to replicate Saint Nicholas’s generous spirit.
(1) Use History To Explain the Myth
Don’t send the kids off solo to just any website on Saint Nicholas if you want to talk about that connection, though, unless you really want to explain evil butchers, pickling students in brine, or girls without dowries being sold into slavery over Christmas cookies and cocoa this year.
As elementary-age kids, the idea of a real historical figure inspiring others to be generous seems to help my kids wrap their heads around why Santa is a part of the Christmas season.
Our explanations about the history of the traditions has gotten more detailed as they have gotten older and asked more questions.
The book The (Wonderful) Truth About Santa offers some helpful imagery for explaining the idea of giving to others in the “spirit” of Santa Claus, and it also is a nice resource for children who have “outgrown” believing in Santa.
(2) Create Excitement In Your Home in Other Ways
One of the most essential tips for how to not do Santa is absolutely to create excitement and fun in your home around the holidays.
Christmas can still be a special time for your children even if they aren’t waiting for a jolly old man to squeeze down the chimney they may or may not even have.
We’ve embraced fun manger scenes, reusable advent calendars, and individual mini trees for each kid.
A crafty great grandma even made beautiful reusable fabric bags that we use yearly for an advent calendar of holiday and winter books.
Here are just a few of our favorite non-Santa related books and toys from over the years:
Christmas Books That Aren’t About Santa
- Who’s Coming to Our House?
- Christmas in the Manger
- Secrets of Winter
- Little Blue Truck’s Christmas
- The Itsy Bitsy Snowman
Fun manger scene options for various ages
- Nativity tea light set
- Peg doll nativity
- Peg doll holy family
- Fisher price set (wish they would make this set with darker skin tones)
- Blue Panda Nativity Set
- Large Felt Set
Advent Calendars and Trees
We use a large wooden Advent calendar with small compartments, filling them with pieces from the sets below and candy or small toys like Matchbox cars for some years.
(3) Create Christmas Traditions for Kids that Enact the Giving Spirit of Saint Nicholas
As the kids have gotten older, we have focused more and more on ways we can work together to make presents for family and friends and support various local service projects.
Grandparents have loved Target dollar spot hand-painted flower pots with bulbs my kids planted in them, handmade ornaments, and other fun, simple crafts.
My kids love to help pick out toys for the local women’s shelter’s toy drive so that parents staying at the shelter can “shop” for their children’s Christmas gifts or find all kinds of small gifts to fill bags for the gift night at a local hot dinner program.
Being able to talk to them about how we are getting to help “be” Santa for these local families lets us have a much more honest and frank discussion with them about the many needs in our community and how helping others is a way to really spread joy around holidays or any time of year.
And how cool is it to not “do” Santa, but to “be” him? Replicating the generous spirit of Saint Nicholas is truly what the holiday is about, after all.
(4) Help Guide them Through Keeping Up the Spirit of Santa with Kids Who DO Believe
At the beginning of December or the first time our kids bring up Santa each year, we try to be careful to remind them that other families like to pretend that Santa actually brings presents on Christmas morning. We remind them that some parents make Santa a fun secret for their kids and that every family enjoys their own way of doing things.
I don’t want my kids ruining any other family’s fun by saying their friends are wrong. I don’t want my kids ruining a peer’s Christmas by telling them that their parents are the ones putting presents out for their friends. I’m not the Grinch, y’all.
Just because Santa and Elf on the Shelf aren’t the right fit for our family doesn’t mean I begrudge others their fun if those things are right for theirs.
We talk about respect and kindness a lot in our family, and not revealing the Santa “secret” is a chance for my kids to show that respect and kindness to others. We remind them that every family is different and enjoys different things, and we wouldn’t want anyone to come along and tell us that our way of celebrating is wrong.
(5) Know It Won’t Always Be Easy
Every year the social media landscape fills with ideas for creative Elf on the Shelf hijinks and how to stage reindeer tracks in your yard on Christmas morning.
Every year there seems to be a new way to write letters to Santa and get messages back.
Families who are following a different path can sometimes feel uneasy about how to navigate more public holiday discussions. If families who actually celebrate Christmas sometimes feel overwhelmed by the holiday excess, what about our community members who don’t celebrate Christmas at all?
Why We Need Unique Christmas Traditions for Kids, And To Include Kids Who Celebrate Other Holidays
Our closest family friends are Jewish. The deluge of Christmas cheer in every store and corner of Facebook and Pinterestland with only a splash of blue and silver Hanukkah decor thrown on an endcap at Target doesn’t make November 1-December 26 the easiest time of year to navigate for those of the Jewish faith.
Even though he attends a Jewish school, our friends’ 5-year-old son has recently become obsessed with the idea of Santa. And it kind of breaks his mom’s heart.
No quick fix is going to solve that issue, but I’m happy to provide a sympathetic ear, and look for ways our kids can have winter fun together that doesn’t revolve around Christmas themes.
Our sweet school community has families that bring many cultural traditions to the table, so my kids are learning about lots of ways and reasons to celebrate.
I’ve enjoyed sharing books like Celebrations Around the World with my students and my children, and we’ve all learned more. I hope that my kids will grow up learning to respect and appreciate the diverse beliefs and traditions of our community.
So almost 8 years into this whole parenting-without-Santa-journey, how do I feel about our choice? Would I do it differently if I could go back in time?
We don’t have a single Santa photo other than that one tearful one of my 10-month-old daughter, and our house still lacks an Elf on a Shelf. But I don’t feel like my kids are missing out.
It’s not always a Pinterest picture-perfect holiday around here, but my children love Christmas and all of the traditions and memories that we’ve created as a family.
And they haven’t destroyed any classmates’ beliefs in Santa. At least not yet.
What are some of your favorite unique Christmas traditions for kids?
Tessa is mommy to NL (age 7) and FR (age 5), school librarian/teacher, doctor’s wife, and the keeper of all the schedules. She has a Master’s in library and information science with a K-12 school library certification and an undergraduate degree in English, and she works at an elementary school library. She writes about living life with OCD, anxiety disorder, and depression, helping my children learn to navigate life with anxiety, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, auditory processing, dyslexia