Santa Claus…yah or nay?

Is it Christian to celebrate Santa Claus?  Is Santa Claus stealing CHRISTmas from Christ?  Isn’t Santa the embodiment of materialism?

These are question Christian parents face every Christmas season.  I know I struggled with them as well when my children were little.  Our children did believe in Santa, and, yes, I felt guilty.  I felt somewhat less of a Christian.  If I had to do it all over again, would I still allow my children to believe?

For me, it came down to this one question:

Is there a way to celebrate the myth of Santa Claus that does not promote materialism and overshadow the true reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ?

It is my belief, that it is possible to use the myth of Santa to further promote Jesus.  This answer may surprise some, but please hear me out.

If you choose to include Santa in your Christmas, it is extremely important your children know how the legend of Santa Claus came about.  They need to know the myth of Santa is based on a real person, St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas was a man who loved Jesus, and tried to be Christ-like by using his wealth to help those in need.  (To get more of the history of St. Nicholas, please click here.)  Despite various fabrications and non-truths that have been added to the St. Nicholas story, his remains a life embodied by the Christian values of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness.

Yes, even the Santa Claus we know today embodies the same values.

It took an exhausting day in Kindergarten for me to see the “Christ-factor” in Santa Claus.

Some good, kind hearted person made many teachers a “Santa Cam,” an ornament necklace made to look like a camera, for many of the teachers.  You let the kids know that “Santa is watching,” to encourage good behavior.  Let me just say, the kids didn’t seem to care who was watching (and I’ll leave that right there).  As the day progressed, I thought to myself, “It is a shame we tell the kids that Santa only brings toys to the good boys and girls because some of these kids will get toys and think that they were good.”   Right then and there my mind was made up to encourage my kids not to use Santa with their own families.  Well, that was until something pinged my heart:

Grace, Missy, Grace.  (Yep, there is that word again.)

My reaction:  They don’t deserve grace……..oh, wait, I get it.  Our salvation is not about our works and how we behave (so even naughty children get grace), it is about our belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ.

My Aha Moment:  We can make Christmas what we want it to be; we can make Santa about Christ.  Santa brings presents to kids who have not been perfect all year; Santa brings presents to the deserving and undeserving.   Please do not be mistaken, Santa should not be the center of your Christmas; however, if you do choose to participate, there is a way to point the way to Christ.

Some have a hard time with telling their children a lie and worry it will somehow cause them to doubt the existence of God.  I can understand and sympathize with these parents as one of my children took the news of “no Santa” really hard.  However, I read an article in Christianity Today that gave me a new prospective:

  1. S. Lewis, one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century, dedicated the Chronicles of Narnia to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. In the dedication, he noted that “girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales …. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Many of us have grown too old for fairy tales, yet not matured enough to understand them as adults. And we steal something precious from our children when we deny them the opportunity to believe in fairy tales, and to learn how to glean truth from a made-up story. To believe, for a little while, allows them to later understand symbolism and metaphor. And as growing children question the veracity of the story, let them research the stories and real people (like St. Nicholas) whom the myth is based on. They can compare and contrast Jesus and St. Nick.

Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who brought us the best gift of all: eternal life. And certainly, we need to tell our children first and foremost that Christmas celebrates the Son of God arriving to earth (Our family even baked him a birthday cake!). But other Christmas traditions—from the tree to the turkey dinner to Santa—can also enrich and bless a family’s holiday. By using a myth of a loving person who brings you a gift you did not earn, we allow them to experience a parable they can understand when they grow older. They will learn about all generosity by being the recipient of generosity.

 

Lewis (who, by the way, included Father Christmas in one of his Narnia books) often corresponded with readers. One youngster, 9-year-old Laurence Krieg, confessed to his mother that he might love Aslan the Lion more than he loved Jesus, and felt guilty about this. His mother wrote to the publisher, and Lewis himself responded in less than two weeks.

“Tell Laurence from me, with my love,” Lewis wrote, ” … [He] can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before … I don’t think he need be bothered at all.”

Lewis’s answer is brilliant. God made our imaginations and hardwired us to connect deeply with stories. Jesus himself appealed to people’s imagination by telling parables—stories that communicated profound truths. Even if stories are fairy tales, and therefore not empirically true, they still communicate truth. Smart parents will use the Santa myth to teach their children to be giving rather than demanding, and to experience generosity and grace.

Let me be clear, we should not teach our kids that their Christmas lists are lists of demands and center our Christmas around Santa.  We also need to be careful not to use Santa as a way to manipulate their behavior (guilty).  That being said, allowing our children to embrace Santa can lead to an experience of grace.  As they grow older, we can use that particular grace to show them what it means to give and receive grace.  This will give them a firsthand experience.  Rather than replace their imaginations with cold hard facts, embrace their imaginations with tales of a Father Christmas who gives without expecting anything in return, who loves children, and brings you a gift (yes, I said gift and not gifts…..it will help control the “wish list.”).

Ultimately the decision is personal for each family.  Right or wrong?  It is not up for me to decide.  All I am saying is that you can use Santa to bring glory to God.  If you choose to allow your children to believe in Santa, use him to point the way to Christ.  Focus on the real story behind Santa than the commercialized version we know today.  We do not have to buy into the world’s slant of Christmas for our children to experience the awesomeness of the season.  After all, Christmas is what we make it.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,

Missy Baroff