If I say I don't believe in God, no one cares. If I say I don't believe in doing the Santa thing with my kids, I usually get a passionate response either for or against the idea. Very few people sit on the fence. I haven't met any Santa agnostics.
First of all I need to say that I am not sure if I believe in God. But I do know that I hate Christmas. I hate a lot of things about it, but one of them is Santa. No, these presents didn't magically appear by the hand of a fat dude in a red suit; they are here by virtue of me working my arse off, thinking hard about what to buy and spending hours shopping (even though I hate it). Men take the credit for enough in this world - I'll be damned if a fictional one gets the credit for all my hard work to make Christmas "magical". I have never found it to be so. Even as a child, I remember it as a time of stress, people pretending (and failing) to be happy, arguments and disappointments (yes, I mean crap presents that I don't want and feeling sad that someone spent their time choosing them and paying good money for them).
So, what's the point of it all? I think if you are religious person, it's really significant, it matters, and it is sacred. But I am struggling to find the meaning.
I try not to let my lack of jolliness for the season show with my kids. Except for the Santa thing. I've been asked, "But aren't you worried about spoiling it for the other kids?" My first thought was 'let them debate it in the playground', but then I decided to tell my children to be respectful and sensitive to other people's beliefs. Some people believe in Santa, don't spoil it for them.
But one of my daughters couldn't resist. "Santa's not real," she announced to our three-year old neighbour while scooting with him in the back lane. "He's just someone dressed up." Our young neighbour looked at her quizzically; it was if she had spoken Greek. I jumped in, quite loudly, so the supervising parent could hear: "Darling, remember I told you that different people believe in different things, so you shouldn't spoil it for them?" The supervising parent grinned and said, "It's okay; I realised he wasn't real a while ago." We had a good laugh and his son genuinely seemed none the wiser.
It seems some people think that, by not having Santa, I'm taking a sword to the fabric of children's enchantment and gleefully shredding it to ribbons. But I think children will find their own enchantment no matter what we tell them. My daughter did this with the Tooth Fairy - for some reason, I went along with this tradition. I don't know why - it just seemed, well, easier. But then my daughter asked, earnestly, "Is there really a tooth fairy?" I told her the truth. She burst into tears and said "You shouldn't have told me something that wasn't true!" I was quite surprised by her passionate response. We comforted her and said she could still get a coin under her pillow. Then she said, "I wonder who will put it there...(*gleeful, wondering expression*) Mummy or Daddy?"
Like I said, children will find their own enchantment. I don't want to crush it. But I think there is more than one way to nurture it. Characters in books can feel real - and of course the best ones feel REALLY real. But we mostly know they are not. This doesn't generally spoil it. We can still enjoy the story, the character, the experience, take pleasure in it, look into ourselves, or escape from ourselves. That's why it's called IMAGINATION. It's not real. But it can actually feel better than real. It can feel more true. This is the power of stories for me - to look within, or to escape. I can happily promote this to my kids without worrying that they are going to label me a liar.