When my son was a toddler my husband and I wanted him to experience the whole magical Santa thing, as we did when we were kids. But after one year of celebrating this way with our son we didn't feel right about it, so we let him eventually forget about it. Now, I don't think that children will be scarred for life if they are led to believe that Santa comes to their house to bring them presents. I celebrated that way and I'm not scarred. But we want to make sure that our kids know at a very young age that there is only one who is all-knowing and omnipresent: God. We don't want them to believe that there is anyone else who can see them or who knows what presents they want.
We also pray for missionaries around the world, sponsor a child in another country, and pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Our kids know that around the world there are children who are in need and suffering, and that as Christians it is our responsibility to help. So we decided to teach our kids about who Santa/St. Nicholas really was: a Christian whose desire was to spread the love of Jesus and help the poor. We read a book titled St Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer. This has been a wonderful teaching tool! It depicts St. Nicholas as a jolly man with a white beard in a red robe. This helps our kids to make the connection between St. Nicholas in the story and the Santa that they see displayed in other books and decorations. At the end of the book it explains that the reason why we give gifts today is to continue the tradition of giving to others, as St. Nicholas did. For older kids I also recommend the book The Story of St. Nicholas by Cheryl Odden. You can purchase it from Voice of the Martyrs. It is a more historically accurate account of St. Nicholas's life and doesn't depict him as a jolly man with a white beard.
You may be thinking that our kids are missing out because Santa doesn't bring them presents; not at all. They have fun pretending and watching movies of Santa flying in a sleigh with deer and sliding down chimneys. But they know that it's pretend, just like fairies, leprechauns, and Barney the talking dinosaur. To them it is a make-believe game. Our kids receive gifts from us, but not a ton.
We also try to make Jesus more important than the gifts, of course. We listen to a lot of Christian Christmas music. We also listen to Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But more often than not we are listening to Silent Night, Oh Come all Ye Faithful, and Angels We Have Heard on High. We decorate with nativity scenes, but we also decorate with Santa and snowmen. The only thing I don't like to decorate my house with is presents (like ornaments that are presents or present stocking holders and such). I just try to keep the focus off of the material things.
I know that there are some Christians who feel convicted about celebrating Christmas at all. I think that's fine. There was a time when I felt uneasy about certain pagan origins like the Christmas tree. It's true, the Christmas tree has pagan origins. But the way I see it is, what Satan uses for evil, we can use for good. While the Christmas season is full of materialism and extravagance, we don't have to partake in that. And while the season is surrounded by pagan traditions, so is just about any other holiday. Even our wedding rings that we wear every day have pagan origins. We're never going to be able to get away from it. But we can claim the season for Jesus.
I would love to hear how you celebrate Christmas and other holidays around this time of year, so please share!