Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays

Photo by Scott Vuocolo

Before my husband and I had children, we discussed how we planned to handle various aspects of holidays. We aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it only seemed natural to me that we wouldn’t bring the commercial aspect of Santa Claus into our home for the Solstice.

It wasn’t something I would miss. Not only was there the overly commercial aspect and the blatant lying, but I didn’t have fond memories of the jolly old man. I have the obligatory pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap, tears streaming down my face at having been forced to sit on a strange man’s lap. At the age of four, I informed my mother that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I knew she left the gifts, and I wanted to appreciate her effort and thought rather than some mythical stranger.

However, my husband did have fond memories. He enjoyed the magical aspect as a kid and actually pretended to believe in  Santa Claus long past when he actually quit believing in order to receive an extra gift.

There were discussions. In the end, we compromised. We would discuss the spirit of giving with our future children and Father Time, a representation of that spirit, would leave gifts. I was a bit unsettled by this but recognized the need to honor my husband’s wishes, too. And then we had children…

Gazing into that tiny face, so trusting of us, we knew we couldn’t lie to him. We had no desire to break the special trust held between parent and child. So, life went on. We celebrated our solstice traditions and thought nothing more of Santa Claus or Father Time for five happy years.

The year our oldest turned five years old, he brought up the topic. We had read books about what other people believed and what other holidays people celebrated. We were surrounded by the commercialism of Santa Claus every time we went out.

One fateful day the question came. “Mommy, does Santa Claus exist?” There was an internal cringe, I’m sure. I explained that some people believed he did. Others didn’t. Some people believed in other forms of a spirit of giving. And then I asked him what he believed. He told me that he thought Father Time would leave presents for him and his siblings.

The morning after the longest night of the year, as we got up to open gifts, there were three unwrapped presents sitting on the sofa. My husband and I said nothing about them. We neither claimed to have given them nor that they were from Father Time. While we wouldn’t lie to our children, we also didn’t wish to squash any magic from what they wanted to believe.

The next year, at the age of six, he asked is Father Time was really real? I told him that I could answer his question and that the answer would be one of two – either yes or no. If it was yes, life would go on as it had and he would still believe. However, if it was no, would he be happy no longer believing? I asked him a hard question. Which was more important to him: knowing for certain what the answer was or believing regardless? He chose to continue believing, knowing that at any time he could ask me and I would answer truthfully, whatever that may be. His four year old sister piped up that she didn’t believe and that she thought that when I filled everyone’s stockings, I also left the gifts on the couch. I replied that different people believe different things.

We now have four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and 7 months. Listening to their conversations about the subject is interesting. I still stick to my need to be authentic and refuse to lie. I also will not force my beliefs on someone else and tell them they are wrong. Honoring honesty and authenticity doesn’t have to conflict with honoring the magic of childhood.

Edited to add: After that first year, the gifts have all been digital media for our library – either movies or music cds. Its a tradition we plan to continue, regardless of what our children believe and one which we can feel honest about.

12 thoughts on “Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays

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  1. I really, really like this take on it, and I can see how honoring your child’s desire to believe in something mystical really CAN be reconciled with a desire not to lie to them.
    Was it ever difficult for you to go along with the kids? Did they want to take it farther – i.e., leaving cookies out, etc.?

    1. The first year was a matter of me balancing my beliefs with theirs and being true to everyone, but since then, the balance has been much easier. The kids like many mythical things. They love Harry Potter and magic, Percy Jackson and Greek mythology, and learning about different cultures. The idea of the spirit of giving, and how we give to others, naturally presented itself for them in the combined beliefs of cultures. Reading about how the Solstice is celebrated in different countries (as even celebrations of Judeo-Christian religions are based on the Winter Solstice) and different ideas concerning giving in relation led them to believe that there could not be one physical person. I suppose that is why they haven’t taken it further with cookies or such.

  2. I’m very interested in your approach and have some questions for you…
    Can you explain the history of Father Time or is he a character you made up for this purpose? How does he differ to Santa Claus?
    You and your partner don’t believe in the commercialism of Christmas. Do you give presents other than those from Father Time? How is gift giving for he sake of gift giving any different from the seasons commercialism that you try to avoid?
    Many people believe that by not telling the truth or the full story, one would be lying. How do you reconcile yourself with this philosophy?
    Thanks again for the post- very interesting.

    1. While in general we avoid commercialism, the commercialism generally found with regards to Christmas is primarily relegated to Santa Claus. Of course, being a consensual living family, we have other issues with Santa Claus besides the aspect of the commercial side. However, we do not celebrate Christmas at all. We believe that Christmas itself is not a secular holiday and follows a religion that we do not adhere to. Instead, in order to honor our beliefs and be authentic to ourselves, we have chosen to follow more Earth-based holidays.

      We do give gifts to one another, but we never give gifts for the sake of giving. Gifts in our family are given with conscious choice because we want to give them to the person receiving them. We put a lot of time and thought to any gift we give, making the majority of them. Besides a few board games this year and the DVDs, all of the gifts we are giving our children are handmade by us.

      I would agree with you concerning the concept of lying by ommission and struggled with it that first year. That year, we chose just to leave the gifts without saying anything about them. It could be said that we were perpetuating a lie, but we often anonymously give people gifts or help them as we can without letting it be known that we were the ones to do it. That doesn’t make our gifts or help any less. We receive joy from giving – not from being known for the gifts or help. Since then we have stuck to the digital media, which our family enjoys together. It has actually developed into a lovely tradition for family movie nights and music to dance together with. We plan to continue giving movies toward our family collection, regardless. My husband takes off the last two weeks during the calendar year and we spend it together, playing games, watching movies, and just being together. By giving our children the choice of whether they want us to answer their question, we can be authentic to ourselves while allowing them to be authentic to themselves.

      Santa Claus is actually based on many pre-Christian Pagan myths. Father Time makes appearances in many forms. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year when the year (and previously the sun) are thought to be reborn. Father Time was thought to usher in this new year at the end of year celebration. You can find various refernces to Father Time and various sun gods in Pagan and other Earth based traditions.

  3. The more of these kinds of posts I read… the more I re-examine. I guess that is the point. My now-12yo daughter… I think she still believes! We traditionally leave a treat (usually fudge) and a glass of water out for Santa. She sends him a letter online every year. When she asks me if Santa is real, I ask her what she believes. I tell her that what she believes is all that matters. It doesn’t matter what class-mates, etc. think / believe / say. She can believe whatever she wants. I’ve always really enjoyed the Santa thing… but

    I would like to be able to be honest about the holiday without robbing that fun from my children. So perhaps you have found a wonderful middle ground! I’m rethinking how we can adjust our own traditions. Perhaps still use a stocking… and presents (that fit) do show up by Giftmas morn… but perhaps nothing of who leaves them there… I don’t know, I’m still thinking on this one. Thank you for another perspective on it.

  4. I am an atheist of jewish heritage and my partner is an atheist of Christian heritage (and we aren’t spiritual either) and this is our first year with a child who is aware of what’s going on. We have decided to celebrate Xmas as a family occasion with no religious aspects and no magical or mystical ones either. We’ve told our 3 year old that Santa is a character and a person in a costume. I think there’s enough awe, wonder and beauty in the real world, especially for a little person, and no need to perpetuate the Santa myth. Plus, as I didn’t have it as a child and didn’t feel like I missed out!

    1. I’m often curious to hear about people celebrating Christmas without a connection to religion. Is there a reason that you have chosen to celebrate Christmas as opposed to something which lends itself to a more secular nature such as the Solstice? To me, the prevalence of such is a product of the nonconcious religious ideology surrounding us.

  5. Yeah, it’s a bit fudgy I suppose, but theer are a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes my partner’s lovely Mum happy as she is quite traditional, if not religious. My mum isn’t so happy but for her we are lighting Hannukah candles at the moment so it’s swings and roundabouts. Secondly, it is part of the local culture and I figure I don’t mind participating in it a little bit if it’s fun. Thirdly, I am not a spiritual person, so it’s stretch for me to institute a whole new celebration, and same goes for my partner. For me, doing that would not feel very authentic either. For me, pagan traditions do not seem so different from those of organised religions. Fourthly, he is a bit like your husband, and enjoyed all that stuff when he was a kid, and it takes him back there and gives him pleasure. I do want to have family occasions and the major holidays are kind of a shortcut to that.

    One last thing, I am in New Zealand, and Xmas is a real summer event, a celebration of the warmer weather kicking in and the long holiday. It means beach and BBQs as much as anything else, so it’s quite easy to focus on those aspects.

    I guess it’s not as principled as it could be, but this is my area of compromise.

  6. Thank you so much for this discussion. My husband and I both have wonderful memories of xmas and the magic of santa… but as adults we follow Buddhist thought, of which Satya–truthfulness– is a MAJOR premise. I can’t tell you how many discussions we’ve had regarding what to do for our son who is luckily too little still to care. This year we’re experimenting with celebrating December as a month of Peace & Compassion, as well as lighting candles at dinner for the 3 days leading up to Buddha’s enlightenment on Bodhi Day (Dec 8th.) Like your family, we make almost all of our gifts… and we don’t give that many. Just these small celebrations, along with volunteering and material donations to our favorite non-profits, and singing loudly (and off key) while making cookies for neighbors is plenty of fun for us as adults… I really hope it’s enough magic for our kids. I want them to run down the stairs on xmas morning excited not to see what’s under the tree for them — but to be excited in anticipation of the look on the gift receiver’s face when a box of river stones collected on summer walks, or some other small gift they made with love and thoughtfulness, is opened. Knowing that although this sounds beautiful, but is a bit wistful, it’s REALLY nice to hear that you’ve got a creative tradition that’s working for your family. Thank you!!!

  7. I liked your post and how you got about it. We are trying to focus on thebirth of Jesus since we are Christian. However, have still invited Santa along for the ride though I plan to tell him about the story of St Nicholas etc when he is older (around 3-4). However I loved your way and might even steal a bit of it to make it easier to our children while not taking the magic away.

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