• Wed, Dec 25 - 12:10 pm ET

My 3-Year-Old Now Knows About ‘Santa’ But I’ve Yet To Mention ‘Jesus’

108269169My son just turned three and this is the first year he’s actually “getting” the traditions that circle around Christmas. He says Happy Holidays! to people walking by him in the street. He calls out the names of popular holiday imagery when he sees it; snowman! Christmas tree! Snowflake! And of course – Santa! 

I bought an Elf on the Shelf storybook to introduce him to Santa. He’s drawn to the big, bubbly character that brings kids gifts around the holidays. It wasn’t until yesterday when we were at my mother’s apartment building and we walked by a nativity scene that I realized he has no idea who the other character associated with this holiday is. My mom said, Look! Who’s the little baby in the manger? It’s Jesus! My son looked at her, completely stone-faced – as if to say, Who the heck is Jesus?

I haven’t been in a position to have to explain Jesus to my son yet; we don’t go to church. We’re not a religious family. My mother has given up on trying to schedule a baptism date for my son and appoint his godparents. She hasn’t even tried to broach the subject since my daughter was born – I think she’s starting to realize a baptism isn’t something that is in either of their immediate futures.

It’s not that I’m an atheist – I just really hate certain aspects of organized religion and I haven’t quite figured out how to present spirituality to my child. I don’t know how to introduce “Jesus” to a child when I’m not totally behind the whole Jesus narrative. But if I can introduce him to Santa – a completely fictitious character who exists only to bring him joy – why not Jesus? I was comforted by the idea of Jesus as a child. Maybe I should offer my child the same narrative I was offered.

I want both of my children to find there own way when it comes to religion. I want to introduce them to the ways different cultures celebrate a “God” figure. I was able to be raised in a faith and grow to decide that it’s not quite for me. I don’t necessarily want to make that decision for my kids by not exposing them. I don’t really think that’s fair.

So I guess next year, in addition to the Santas and snowmen and nutcrackers – there will also be a nativity – because, why not?

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    We kind of have this same struggle and I felt bad about it. We have our kids go to Sunday School. This way they get the stories and such because we are pretty terrible about remembering to have religious talks on our own. We were both raised in religion, and we feel like it was okay for us, didn’t hurt us, made us stronger, whatever. If our kids decide not to believe every word, it’s okay, they’ve been exposed and can make their own decisions later.

  • Heather

    If you want to, by all means, but not introducing a preschooler to jesus isn’t going to doom him to not being comforted or to a life of religious confusion. If you’re not sold on the Jesus story, then think of it like this. You’ve introduced him to bubble guppies, but not Mr Rogers. Both are great characters that teach kids things. One is not more important than the other. So he knows Santa (who is more recognizable and child friendly) but not Jesus (who is harder for kids to understand and isn’t really geared toward kids), no big deal. When he’s old enough to get it, he will.

  • drunkchristmasspririt

    I decided to become baptized as an adult, as did my husband (though he was from an anabaptist faith initially). people shouldn’t feel pressured to baptize babies. that way, you know it is truly a free-will decision to do so (or not).

  • pixie

    I’m from a non-denominational/non-religious household. I don’t even remember my grandmother, who went to church most weeks (Anglican) having a nativity scene. I don’t really remember how or when I was introduced to the concept of God, Jesus, et al, but I don’t think you should be ashamed or worried that your three year old doesn’t know who Jesus is yet if you’re not an overly religious person. As he grows, slowly introduce him to religion as a cultural experience/education. Bring him to see churches, temples, etc to get him acquainted with not only Christianity but other religions as well. Admire the beautiful architecture and art involved with the buildings. Like anything, an interest in learning about different cultures or religions can easily begin with exposure and experiences. My parents chose not to baptize me as an infant (and don’t think people should feel pressured to baptize their children if they don’t want to) and exposed me to different things so that if I decided to choose my own faith as an adult, it was completely my choice (nothing wrong with baptizing your baby if it’s important to you, but it’s good to accept your child’s decision if they choose a different faith later on in life).
    Through exposing your child to experiences and the art behind the faiths, if he seems interested, the two of you could learn together. Get children’s religious books from the library (like Noah’s ark picture book or Jesus picture book). I never attended Sunday school as a child, but with my interest in understanding different religions, I did better in religion class at my Catholic high school than most of the kids who attended church every Sunday.

  • Maddi

    I think it’s better to not introduce religion into young children’s lives. Young children really struggle to understand concepts like religion and often grow up believing the nonsense simply because that’s how they were raised. If you allow your children to be raised aware of what religions are, but not introducing them to the actual beliefs of religion until older, they’ll find it a lot easier to decide which one they choose to believe, if any.
    It’s all fine and dandy to say the Jesus narrative brought you comfort as a child, but did the constant reminder that if you do anything wrong you will burn in hell for eternity with the devil also bring you comfort? I doubt it.