Christmas As An Atheist Holiday


How’s this for an explanation of Santa Claus:

Santa and Mrs. Claus have a twelve-thousand square foot mansion at the North Pole, heated by geothermal power.  The North Pole complex boasts an electrical generation system which directly extracts unlimited electricity from the Earth’s magnetic field for lights and equipment.  Santa’s workshop maintains two million square feet of warehouse space (reaching 30 stories underground with a cubic volume well exceeding Amazon.com’s North American 17 million square foot capacity) and an advanced production facility that combines robotics with elf-based manufacturing.

The entire facility is hidden beneath the Arctic Ocean, under almost 14,000 feet of icy seawater.

Santa’s sleigh has a carbon fiber shell protected by a carbon-carbon heat shield able to withstand over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Its laminar flow properties allows hypersonic flight to cover massive distances in just one night.  Contrary to popular belief, the reindeer are just there for show.  Nobody but Santa and the elves really know how the sleigh’s engines work, but suffice to say that the Air Force and NASA would love to get their hands on Fat Force One’s engine design.

As for how Santa carries all the toys at once, perhaps he uses a TARDIS.

My oldest son is a bit technical, and asks questions like “how does Santa fit down the chimney?  There’s no way it’s big enough for a fat guy like him and he’d get stuck.”  I don’t have a ready response for that, and trying to explain gallons of Vaseline and a corset to a five year-old is beyond my powers of persuasion.

Or maybe you just have to believe.

What do you tell your kids about Santa?

Me?  I am a hopeless prude who ruins my kids’ innocent childhood.

I tell them there is no Santa.  I tell them at the youngest age they can understand it.

No, Virginia, we don’t believe in Santa.

You can believe in Santa if you want.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  If you want to regale your youngsters with stories of Santa sliding down the chimney with a sack of gifts to leave under your tree, before snacking on your milk and cookies, that’s your business.

If you want your kids to believe that noradsanta.org is really NORAD tracking the sleigh, go for it.

There is no Santa because to believe in Santa Claus, my kids have to believe in magic.  I don’t want my kids believing in magic, because there is no magic.  Nothing we see in the world is magic.  Magic is nothing but raw superstition and fantasy.  We all live in reality, and my kids need to know the difference between reality and fantasy.

Santa Claus is fantasy.  An invention.  A product.  A character birthed in advertising and sustained by our insatiable addiction to buying stuff.  Santa and his entire universe of Santa-land, populated by Mrs. Claus, elves, Rudolph and the supporting cast of flying reindeer—Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen—they’re all made-up.  Nothing about them is real.

Believing in the “elf on the shelf” is deceiving yourself.  And your kids.

Reality is mom and dad giving presents and stuffing the stockings over the fireplace.  My kids know this.

And guess what?  It hasn’t ruined Christmas.  Not one iota.  My kids look forward to Christmas, sing carols, open Christmas cards, and love their gifts like any other youngsters.  And at five and four years old, they know Santa isn’t real.

To me, it’s really important to tell children the truth.  There’s no substitute for it.  At some point, every parent who tells a child that Santa uses magic to deliver presents (especially parents in apartments or homes with no fireplaces), have to face the questions as the kids get older:  how can Santa be real?  Eventually, every parent has to give a wink and a nod and tell their children that Santa isn’t real, or simply wink and nod and refuse to answer the question.  Every child, growing up, faces the fact that Santa isn’t real.

Childhood innocence has to end, and what kind of a monster would end it sooner than it has to?

I don’t tell my kids there’s no Santa to end their innocence, but to protect it.

Telling children to believe in Santa Claus sets them up to be disappointed later.  It betrays their innocence by feeding them an obvious lie.  Believing in Santa guarantees that one day children will be stripped of that innocent belief and learn that it’s a lie.

Telling my kids that Santa is what he really is—a story—means they’ll never be disappointed by that lie.  Knowing the truth doesn’t strip them of innocence.  It preserves their innocence for the really important things.  Believing in Santa, magic, the Tooth Fairy (and fairies in general), is believing myths and lies.  How can my kids trust me to tell the truth when they’re older if I feed them a pile of lies today?

Yep, I’m an unbearable prig who has robbed my kids of their youthful play.

Or not.

I believe that it’s possible to enjoy the spirit of Christmas, and celebrate it joyfully, without all the myths and magical baggage that goes along with it.  I believe that the knowledge of the true meaning of Christmas isn’t spoiled if you lose the elves and the fat man with the white beard.  Even for little kids.

I’m sure that gives me something in common with the atheists who reject Santa, along with Christmas.  American Atheists has placed billboards in Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas that read “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church!  I’m too old for fairy tales.”

Yes, I’m too old for fairy tales, even my preschoolers are too old to believe that.

I’d like to thank the atheists for making my point:  when we tell our kids that Santa is real, and that he exemplifies the spirit of Christmas, we are practicing atheism.  Practical atheism.  We are taking a day dedicated to celebrating a uniquely Christian event and making it a fairy tale.

If you’re going to tell your kids that Santa is real, when they find out he’s not, what stops them from believing that church isn’t real?  That God isn’t real?

Of course, you tell them that those fairy tales are just for kids, like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.  They’re cute little stories that make grown-up holidays more fun for the little ones.  They’re harmless.  I suppose they could be, but they’re also false.  To me, I’m responsible for anything I tell my kids, or not tell them.  There’s plenty of truths in the world that my kids aren’t ready to hear.  But there’s no reason to feed them made-up stories and tell them they’re true.

One day, the made-up and the true have to part ways, and I want to take no chances with the truth.

Unlike the atheists, I believe in the truth of Christmas.  I believe that God sent his son, born of a virgin, to this world in the most humble circumstances.  I believe that God inspired men to write about this event hundreds of years before it happened, so we would know it’s the truth.  I believe God wants us to teach this to our children.

There’s no magic in the world like Santa uses, but there is a reality beyond the physical world.  There’s a reality deeper than fantasy, more powerful than flying reindeer, richer than Santa’s toy sack, more industrious than elves, and warmer than the firelight flickering in the windows at Santa’s house.  There’s a love deeper than gift giving, and gifts beyond simple toys.  There’s a connection among humans stronger than the bond of myth, and a joy that transcends holidays.  There’s a real peace on earth and goodwill to mankind that’s not fantasy, but fact.

I want my children to know the real power and majesty in the universe.  I don’t want them confused by myth and magic.

The real spirit of Christmas doesn’t wear a red suit.  He doesn’t ride in a sleigh or carry toys to children.  The real spirit of Christmas is the baby in swaddling clothes.  The real spirit of Christmas is a hundred million angels singing in the firmament of the heavens “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

My billboard would be a bit different than the atheists.  It would say “Dear Jesus, All I want for Christmas is to skip Santa.  You’re too important for fairy tales.”


You can have your Santa Claus and sleigh.  You can have your elves at the North Pole.  You can have your flying reindeer and sacks full of toys.  You can have your naughty and nice lists.  I’ll take the Silent Night, the baby who was born into the world to die for our sins.  I’ll take the King who conquered death.  I’ll take the God who sacrificed His son for me, and I’ll take the resurrected Christ who is coming back.

Merry Christmas!

(top image credit: Shutterstock; bottom image: American Atheists billboard, with my modification)