JOPLIN, Mo. —
Santa Claus has gotten more than his fair share of coverage this year. But while talking heads on political channels trip over themselves about Santa's ethnicity, parents deal with Santa directly throughout the holidays -- especially when talking to children about the jolly old elf.
And according to readers who responded to a survey on the Globe's Facebook page, history figures into their holiday plans.
Way before songs were sung about old Saint Nick descending through chimneys from rooftops, a man born in Turkey during the third century spent his life helping sick and suffering people, according to the St. Nicholas Center, a nondenominational, nonprofit website.
Nicholas, the son of a wealthy family, saw his parents die during an epidemic while he was young, according to the site. Because he was raised to be a devout Christian, Nicholas donated his entire inheritance to charity and spent the rest of his life working to help others. He was made Bishop of Myra while still young, according to the site.
Historical accounts are filled with legends and supernatural stories, including a tale about a poor man with three daughters and no dowries for their marriages. When bags of gold mysteriously appeared in his home, Nicholas was given credit.
Several parents said they incorporate the Catholic saint in their holiday celebrations.
"We tell them it is a way to honor a man who gave so much of himself for the needs and happiness of others," said Shelly Mascher, of Joplin. "Santa is a reminder of doing kind and selfless acts."
The whole story?
When kids start to get suspicious, parenting experts recommend proceeding cautiously. Most child psychologists agree that there's not one right time to tell kids the whole story.
Glen Elliott, director of the department of Child and Adolescent Psychology at the University of California, said in a report on WebMD.com that parents should follow a child's lead. That means if a child asks pointed questions, parents shouldn't try to prolong a fantasy for their own enjoyment.
That also means that parents can ask their own questions, according to the report. Kids will give signals about what answer they are ready to hear. Some children may be ready to learn more about Santa's annual visits, while other kids are just fine with knowing what they already know.
The key part, no matter how those details are discussed, is to help convert any beliefs into other ways of understanding the holiday spirit.
What do you do?
We asked our Facebook readers about the role Santa plays in their home during the holidays. Here are some of the responses:
- Niki Corcoran: "It's all magic, and one can never explain magic."
- Sarah Reynolds: "My son was so upset when he found out (about Santa). He felt he had been lied to, and told me 'mommies don't lie!' I felt awful and started confessing everything (I told him about the tooth fairy)."
- Ashlee Myria Jenkins: "I told my step-daughter when she was 9 about Saint Nick, a real man who gave gifts to those who couldn't afford them and how parents want his legacy to live on."
- Latisha Logan: "I tell my kids that their presents are from Jesus, but Santa delivers them because he's Jesus' helper."
- Kerri Pennel Newton: "Parents aren't the only ones ... Teachers and media also put the thought in our kids' minds. As long as they know the real reason of Christmas, what is the harm of letting them believe in Santa? As a kid, my best memories are Christmas memories. Let them be kids, like our parents did."
- Michael Lopez: "He doesn't exist in my family. For us, Christmas is about Christ and the coming together of family. We prefer not to get caught up in the frenzy of everything else associated with the holiday. If we exchange any gifts, it's from us, not from Santa."
- April Kee: "My daughter is 4. I hide all of her presents and put them out after she falls asleep the night before Christmas. She believes in Santa, and I will let her until she questions it."
- Roxcee McCully: "I tell my kids (ages 8 and 9) that as long as they believe, he exists. They both still believe, and we have our own set of traditions that go along with Santa Claus."
- Ivalou Leighty-Womack: "Our children are 51 and 47. We could not honestly tell them there was no Santa when he was in every store and on every corner. So we sat them down and told them this: We (the parents) buy the gifts, but Santa Claus is the spirit of Christmas. That information did not cripple them."
- Paula John Amershek: "My memory as a child was at a Christmas Eve service at church, standing close together while my grandparents lit the Christmas candle. We take our children to Christmas Eve services and spend time with family to celebrate our savior's birth. We have always had stockings and presents on Christmas day and enjoy watching the news on Christmas Eve of Santa's sleigh getting close to the area. The girls would go to bed and fall asleep fast. The next morning we would open presents and let them look in their stockings, then we'd travel to see family. I asked my daughter in college how she felt when the truth about Santa came out, and she said she had fun with the idea, but most of her memories are of family and Christmas Eve services."
- Tegan Schwarzwald: "I don't lie to my child. He knows that people give each other presents because we care about each other."
- Sandi Hargis Melton-Riggle: "I never lied to my son about any of it -- Santa, the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, etc. But we played the game. He hunted for eggs at Easter and took lots of pictures with Santa. When the tooth fairy came, he'd say, 'Thanks, mom!'"
- Carrie Hardesty: "I was homeless off and on for a lot of my childhood. When I didn't get presents, I thought I was bad. I grew up dreading Christmas. I don't think people know how the kids who don't get presents feel when they are too young to understand the truth. I told my kids that Santa Claus came from a very real St. Nicholas, who gave to the poor. The true reason we celebrate Christmas is God giving us his son, and St. Nicholas contributed to how we celebrate it."