family · traditions

How To Be Santa Claus – Part 1

Every December, I think a lot about Santa Claus.

My kids are still little enough that our family approach to Santa is evolving. Tamara and I talked a lot before having kids about how we would handle The Santa Claus Thing, and it raised a whole bunch of issues that I hadn’t thought about previously.

For example: Did you know that there are different ways to be Santa Claus? I only found this out a few years ago, and it was like Finding Out The Truth About Santa Part Two!

When I was a kid, I thought every family’s approach was pretty standard. There is a Santa; he’s a strong presence from birth until sometime during the school-aged years. He flies around the world magically on Christmas Eve and he delivers presents to all the “good” boys and girls. His arrival at your house is ALWAYS sometime between your bedtime and the time you wake up in the morning, even if you only sleep for four hours. You leave out a letter for him asking for a certain list of gifts for Christmas, and you leave out milk and cookies.

Pretty standard, right?  I think my family had one of the more common approaches to The Santa Claus Thing, although maybe I just think that since it’s the way I grew up. But it turns out that there are families who make different choices about how to be Santa Claus and how to treat Santa Claus in their homes.

The first time I learned about this was in college. My friend from the Midwest told me that she’d always opened her Santa gifts on Christmas Eve, and that her parents had explained to her that Santa’s task – delivering toys to every kid in the world while they were sleeping – was so challenging that some kids had to get their presents on Christmas Eve. (I am pretty sure her parents liked to sleep in on Christmas morning, and A+ to them for figuring out how to make it happen!) When she shared this, I thought it was interesting, but didn’t think much more about it.

I may have heard about other family versions of Santa over the years, but the next time I really thought about it was when Tamara and I discussed how we’d handle the Santa thing. She explained that in her house, Santa filled the stockings, and maybe brought one other present. The rest of the gifts were from her parents.

I thought that was interesting, too. In my childhood home, every thing we opened on Christmas morning was from Santa. We opened our Santa gifts on Christmas morning, and then our Santa stockings on Christmas evening when we got home from celebrating at my aunt’s house. It never occurred to me that you could decide, as a parent, which presents Santa brought and which presents your kids knew were gifts from you.

Once I started thinking about it and asking about it, I found so many different versions of Santa. My sister’s close friends have exactly one present under their tree from Santa – THE present that the kid asked for when he went to see Santa and sat on Santa’s lap. A lot of families do this, and the ONE Santa present is based on what they tell Santa in person or what they write in their letter to Santa. I talked to another parent who handles Santa this way, and says that it really helps with the gift wrapping process; if the kids know that they are going to receive several gifts from their parents, then you don’t have to be quite so undercover. You can honestly say to the kids, “Don’t go in my closet,” without raising suspicions about Santa – because they know you’re buying and wrapping certain gifts for them. Of course, the other reason to only have one gift be from Santa is so that you get CREDIT for providing joys and toys to your kids on Christmas, and that’s legit as well.

Tamara and I have sort of settled in on Santa bringing stockings and maybe one gift to our boys. We decided that last year, when Edgar was 2 and Jonas was three months old, and it was pretty funny. I didn’t really think about which presents would go into Edgar’s stocking. For me, it makes the most sense for things to go in the stocking that are small or squishy. So last year, Edgar’s presents from Santa included socks, underwear, and a toothbrush, because THAT IS WHAT FIT PROPERLY IN HIS STOCKING. This year, I thought ahead a little more, and Santa is going to be much less practical.

Edgar didn’t write a letter to Santa this year – maybe next year? – but every week he makes a semi-formal announcement letting me know what he’s getting for Christmas this year. It changes periodically, but I’m not too worried about it, because he’s three and any pile of presents is going to be well-received on Christmas morning.

I have many, many thoughts about Santa, which is why this is Part 1 in my How To Be Santa series. I wish I could tell you when Part 2 would be posted; I can promise it will either by this coming Saturday, later this month, or the end of next year. Stay tuned!

santa clause figurine
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on




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