Our family doesn't "do" Santa Claus. We don't condemn it, either, and don't worry, we've made it a point to teach our children not to spoil the fun for your children.
My husband decided that he didn't want to add Santa Claus to the mix because his family didn't have Santa Claus, either, and he still felt like Christmas was the most joyous holiday ever. Later, I found out that his parents' did have Santa, but Jeff was the youngest, and so everyone else pretty much knew that there was no Santa by the time he was old enough to remember everything. At any rate, not much energy had really been put into it (but his mother was surprised by his revelation that they didn't have Santa). Either way, it doesn't make a difference. He always remembered having Christmas focused on Christ.
And we've pretty much found the same thing. My kids have problems sleeping Christmas Eve because they are so excited, they enjoy getting and receiving presents, but they also remember what it is about. (and as the good rule goes...we replace the tradition of Santa Claus with an excited energy about Advent).
We handled the Santa thing very simply by using pretty much these exact words. "Santa Claus was a man who lived a very long time ago, and he gave gifts to children. Some people choose to remember him on Christmas, too. We like to focus on the birth of Jesus."
Not that it doesn't have its repercussions though. One of my favorite memories was when Chris was around four (now remember, we were very careful how we phrased that). We were in an outlet mall in Barstow, CA, just before Christmas. A very nice, elderly saleswoman was talking with Chris, and was very charmed by him. Then she asked him "Is Santa bringing you lots of presents this year?" Chris very emphatically replied "Mommy and Daddy told me Santa Claus is DEAD!!!"
She was horrified. After my original feeling of wanting to hide inside a clothing rack (I was sure she felt like we should be reported), we laughed hysterically all the way back home.
But another thought occurred to me, too. It really amazed me at that time that she would be horrified by that. There are plenty of people who don't observe Christmas. There are Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, agnostics, atheists, Hindus, Muslims, etc. In California, this is a very strong reality. There are plenty of families who don't observe Christmas at all for one reason or another. And honestly, I am happier about the fact that people who don't believe in Christ choose not to observe it at all rather than observing it brainlessly, or choosing to make it something completely different than Christ's birth.
I know that these past few years, people have been very upset about stores saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." But the reality is there are lots of holidays being observed at this point of the year, and to be perfectly frank, the observation of Christ's birth is not about buying presents, going shopping, and sending cards. These things are nice, but as far as a Christmas tradition, it is relatively new. Christmas is about Christ's Mass -- a Holy Communion service that is focused on remembering when and how our Savior was born. God took on flesh in order to be a sacrifice for our sins. The presents are about us sharing that joy...but that joy can be shared without the presents. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true....the things that I MUST do to get Christmas "done" often take away from that joy by the sheer length of that to-do list (buy this, decorate this tree, bake these cookies, etc.)
So really, I don't care what the stores do. As long as they are not telling me that I can't respond back with a "Merry Christmas," since that is the holiday I am observing. I don't mind them showing respect for the fact that the person who is walking through the door to make a purchase might not be Christian. In fact, the way things are going, even here in the Midwest, there is a good chance that they are not.
Maybe I'm a little odd, but sometimes I think that it would be much better for Christmas to be a holiday that "those nutty Christians observe because they believe something 'crazy' about God being born as a man in a stable" rather than it being about supporting our economy, trampling people to get the lastest Wii, or about some fat man in a red suit that was invented by Coca Cola -- because he bears little resemblance to the real Saint Nicholas -- and I doubt Saint Nicholas would've been flattered with what we've made him into. One gives us an opportunity to tell people what Christmas is really about. The latter doesn't allow room for Christ in his own birthday.
So I know the world sees me as a Grinch...and maybe I am. But in my old age, I am becoming more and more sensitive to the things that take glory away from God, and realizing in a world where Truth matters less and less, that this might matter more and more.
Merry Christmas everyone...Gloria in Excelsis Deo.