In my family, we don’t celebrate Christmas religiously. We do the whole Santa thing, and we celebrate the winter solstice, and participate in welcoming activities for the return of the sun (including some delicious orange punch, naturally). So what do you say to a kid who sees a nativity scene, or one of those Elf on a Shelf creepy dolls, or any other holiday tradition that you don’t engage in?
In my family, we certainly talk about how different people believe in different things, and that each of these is a symbol of the season to different people. The religious stuff is the hardest to explain so far, since I don’t want to turn her off like I am and keep her open-minded while still telling her the truth—that religion is a manmade concept, and that religious texts are written by people, not gods.
But this extends to other areas as well. The tooth fairy is different in every household, and now after that movie with The Rock and Julie Andrews in it, it’s like the media just took over our lovely traditions and made one universal, ugly, merely mildly entertaining (but mostly stupid) story to feed to our children. When this happens—and it often happens with Christmas movies, too—I merely tell my daughter that it’s art, just a movie, one person’s idea, etc. She’s old enough to understand this now, too, which makes it easier.
I do have a problem with people assuming that you partake in any or all of these traditions, however. No matter where you go, for example, people ask your kid if he or she has been nice or naughty, something that I don’t like. I’ve never liked the concept of being bribed with toys during Christmas, or external motivation in general.
I think the key is to just keep it simple, letting your children know not just what you value, but that you also value them and their own feelings and opinions. They are separate beings from you—as much as it breaks your heart to admit—and must form their own opinions and beliefs in their lifetimes.