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Is Santa Real? Making the Most of the Guy in Red

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“You’d better be good or Santa won’t bring any presents!” Have you been that parent? That’s what Santa is for, right? For moments like these when we need to give our children a reason to be on their best behavior all Christmas season long! There is a much greater purpose to the story of old Saint Nick than just a quick behavioral fix. When they ask, “Is Santa real?” your explanation of who Santa really was could have lasting effects on their character. You might be wondering how to explain Santa to your kids without losing the Christmas magic.

Try Saint Nicholas! St. Nicholas came from a wealthy family and gained an inheritance at an early age. He used it to help the suffering and the less fortunate. He exuded empathy, kindness, generosity, strength, and he stuck up for others. St. Nicholas’ values contribute to the magic of the Christmas season and are also what we want our children to share with the world as well. Is there any harm done when we use the made-up Santa story for a quick-fix rather than the story of who he really was? Here are a few risks we take as well as how to explain Santa to our kids in a way that is helpful in building their character.

Lost Trust

No one I know has ever refused to buy their children presents because they threw a tantrum at the store. Empty threats teach children that we will not follow through on our disciplinary actions. In each empty threat, we risk receiving empty trust from our kids. If we don’t follow through in what we say, our children will struggle to take us seriously or believe anything we say.

Rather than using no-gifts-from-Santa as a short-term fix, when they ask “Is Santa real?” we can leverage the true story to teach our children the value of generosity.

Unclear Expectations

Sometimes the only thing coming out of our mouths is what we want our children to stop doing. With a focus on what we don’t want our children to do, we forget to communicate to them what we do want them to do.

Explaining who Saint Nicholas was communicates that we value the same things he valued: generosity and kindness. It’s important to clarify what values we expect our kids to radiate. Otherwise, they’re left unequipped and confused.

Performance-Based Actions

When we threaten our children to be good because Santa’s watching them, it gives them the impression that they only have to be good while they are being watched. If we want something deeper for our children than just a performance of good behavior, then we must focus our attention on their character formation.

Instead of communicating to our children that they must perform well to get presents from Santa, we can tell the true story of Saint Nicholas and inspire acts of empathy and sticking up for others—even when no one is watching. Character and integrity are proven in what we do when no one is watching. Good inner character leads to good outward behavior.

In what healthy ways have you responded to the question, “Is Santa real?”


If you were one of Santa’s elves, which job would you want?

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