As an apologist, I often try to write on and address a wide range of issues. Sometimes, it is the most subtle of these issues that have the most profound impact on our culture.
It’s for that I reason I feel we must take a serious look at the issue of Santa Claus and Christmas.
While I do not aim to be a scrooge with this post (pun intended), we live in a very different culture than we used to, and it’s more important than ever that, especially with our children, we are crystal clear about every aspect of our lives–even those which seem trivial or meaningless.
Consider this, just as a preface:
Even though we should, many of our Christian homes do not spend time going through the historical evidence for Jesus with our children, etc. That means our children’s concept of God, in many cases, is something like this:
“A loving, giving, jolly man whom we cannot see, but is watching all year long to determine whether you have been bad or good.”
If this is true, we have a big problem, because it is exactly what we lead them to believe about Santa Claus until the day we break their hearts and tell them he is not real.
But I have to ask: Why should we expect our children to continue believing God is real if we have not given a more robust understanding of God and intentionally deceived them regarding the notion of Santa Claus?
You may think this is not a big deal, but in a culture where kids are taught in school from a very young age that there is no God, I think this is quite problematic and should be dealt with very carefully and with a high regard for faithfulness both to God and our families.
At the same time, I think we can all agree that we must find a way to preserve the particular joyfulness and spirit that comes along with this long-held tradition, and I will do my best to offer some thoughts on how we can faithfully accomplish that.
#1. Recognize the Problem of Culture
It was not long ago that in America, our very foundation for truth, morality, etc., was the Word of God–even for non-Christians.
It’s not that way anymore.
As suggested in the two posts above, our culture today is much more in line with the Greek culture of Acts 17 (which had no foundation in the Word of God) rather than the Jewish culture found in Acts 2 (which did have its foundation in the Word of God).
As such, the response for each should be different. Scripture shows us that the Acts 2 culture needed resurrection preaching, while the Acts 17 culture needed resurrection preaching with the beginning of the story in Genesis, for appropriate context.
Most of our children are educated in “Greek” by our public school system. Sadly, they are receiving 10x the “Greek” education than the “Jewish” education in many of our Christian homes.
We cannot allow this continue; and, we must seek to give our children clarity about what to believe. They receive enough mixed messages as it is (something we should prepare them for)–let’s be careful not to add to the noise in an area where we know we can make a difference.
Are Traditions Okay?
Yes–but only to the extent that they have taken into account the very serious implications of holding to them when the cultural winds change. There is a massive difference between doctrine and tradition.
Again, with respect to this debate, most of the world (and certainly the United States) has, in the past, grown up with a moral foundation on the Word of God. Most Christian language was widely used and regarded by all, and there was at least a noticeable respect for those who believed in God from those who did not.
In that world, the notion of Santa Claus was not a violent intruder. In no way could Santa be seen as taking the place of God, but merely as a generous addition to the giving spirit of Christmas.
But in the manner children are educated today, they will have a difficult time seeing the difference between believing–and therefore, disbelieving–in God and Santa.
Obviously, no Christian is educating their kids that Santa rose from the dead. But the notion could be misconstrued that to believe in a resurrection is just as fanciful. Seeing as how many atheists actually argue against God from this perspective, this is actually not a bold or outrageous statement at all.
Drawing Clear Distinctions
Hear me loud and clear: The way in which we most effectively combat this issue will come down to the clear distinctions we draw between that which is reality and fantasy.
In other words, it is simply too great a risk to mingle and blur the lines between those things we ultimately aim to teach our families are true and those things which, although similar at face value to a child, are ultimately purposeless and make-believe.
Are purposelessness and make-believe okay? Absolutely.
I’m not sure that my childhood would have been the same had it not included Barney–the big purple dinosaur who taught many of us how to make-believe in the first place. My oldest son has already taken an interest in him.
The problem arises when that which is make-believe is too easily confused with that which is true. Although fallacious, it is not hard to see how an atheist would argue there is little difference between God and Santa Claus.
This notion has the potential to lead your children into an eventual distrust not only in the God you claim to worship, but in you as their trusted guardian as well.
It is for this reason we must be careful to draw these distinctions. We must draw clear enough lines such that we can impart truth and still allow our children to dream and wonder with the rest of the world.
2. Remember the Purpose of Christmas
While I certainly make no blanket political endorsements on this blog, I am happy to see the White House paying attention to Christmas again this year.
Of course, I don’t actually mind the term “Holidays” because it simply means “Holy days.” Still though, Jesus truly is “the reason for the season,” and with respect to that, it does my heart good to see that acknowledged in the public eye.
As we teach our children the meaning of Christmas at home, we should remember that we are teaching the Story that will impact their entire lives–not one that simply consumes one day (or even one month) on the calendar.
This is one clear and distinct difference we must make in our children’s minds.
Especially while our children are very young, I see no problem making mention of Santa Claus. However, I would caution you from making much mention of him until right around Christmas time.
This gives you the entire year to make sure your children know that we celebrate Christmas because of Christ’s birth, and that we give gifts to others because of the Gift God to us.
However, it also lets you bring the element of Santa Claus in as an addition to the giving spirit of Christmas.
We Give because God Gave
As I mentioned, it’s important we teach our children the true meaning of Christmas. But this is an apologetics blog–so you should know that I am talking about much more than simply reading Luke chapter 2 as a family on Christmas morning and attending church a few extra times.
You should learn about and teach your children the historical validity of the life of Jesus Christ, even from a very young age. And, you should do so in a way that connects the whole story of reality–from Genesis to the Cross.
“Preaching is not the performance of an hour,” says E.M. Bounds, “It is the outflow of a life.” And in much the same way, being a Christian and a Christian family is not a performance during Christmas time, but it is the outflow of a life and Christian family–one wholly submitted to God.
We must make sure our kids know that we give at Christmas time not because it is the right thing to do, not because it makes people happy, and not because Santa Claus said we should, but because God Himself stepped out of heaven, set aside His glory, and became like one of us. He lived a perfect, sinless life, and became as a lamb brought to the slaughter for the sin of all mankind.
The gravity of the last two sentences is enough to shake the foundations of the entire world, and has been doing just that for the last 2,000 years.
We Give Though None are Deserving
Furthermore, we should take this opportunity and use it for the sake of the gospel.
There are many programs for helping the less-fortunate and underprivileged during this time of year. While the notion of Santa Claus is helpful in teaching our kids to be giving and generous, how much more so the Gospel–which teaches that we’re all less-fortunate and underprivileged -indeed, hopeless! “Dead in trespasses and sin,” the Bible declares.
Christ came as the lowest of the low because He came to save the lowest of the low. I’ve heard it well said that Christianity is the only religion in which the higher you climb, the more of a servant you become.
Christ is highest; and, was the epitome of a servant. Christ served the whole world by offering Himself, willingly, as a sacrifice.
So while we may make mention of Santa Claus, especially while our children are young, we must make a more conscious effort than ever to teach the true what, why, and Who of Christmas.
3. Relish in the Passion of Christ
The outflow of the Christian life is where our testimony before others rises and falls. Parents–this very much includes your testimony before your children.
Do your kids see Savior-sensitive parents? Do you teach them why you believe what you believe? Are you simply over the gospel?
One of the most amazing, pioneer missionaries to ever live was Adoniram Judson. It would take much time to develop his story, but to sum it up, his missionary journey famously landed him on the shores of Burma.
Upon his first return back to the states, he was invited to speak to a local congregation. Interested individuals and families piled into the church from miles and miles around, excited to hear fascinating and adventurous stories about what the rest of the world was like.
To their surprise and disappointment, Judson simply stood before the congregation for about 15 minutes and gave them the gospel.
The pastor, following the conclusion of the service, expressed the disappointment of the people to Dr. Judson, explaining that they came to hear interesting stories from another world–not the simple gospel.
Judson defended, “I presented the most interesting subject in the world, to the best of my ability.” “But they wanted something different — a story”, the pastor suggested. Judson fought back, “Well, I am sure I gave them a story — the most thrilling one that can be conceived of.”
The pastor again said, “But they had heard it before. They wanted something new of a man who had just come from the antipodes.” To which Judson gave his final reply, “Then I am glad they have it to say, that a man coming from the antipodes had nothing better to tell than the wondrous story of Jesus’ dying love.”
I wonder–have we gotten over the gospel? Have we failed to relish in what Christ has done for us, so much so that our children see us light up with more passion and excitement about Santa Claus and superficial gift-giving at Christmas time than about Jesus Christ and His gift all the time?
I’m not sure it’s the banishment of Santa Claus we need, so much as the relishing in the finished work of Christ and the grace, love, and mercy of God.
God’s Glory is Primary
Isaiah 42:8 tells us, “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
God is very concerned with His glory–and for good reason. Perspective is everything, and this issue of Santa Claus requires deep perspective because in the homes and hearts of many, Santa, unfortunately, is used to replace Christ.
Am I necessarily saying you should not have Santa Claus in your home? No. I will offer some practical suggestions at the end of this blog post, but ultimately, I think you have to decide that for your own family.
However, I would highly caution you to put Santa Claus in the proper perspective of your home during this time of year. A good test? If Santa Claus comes to the mind of your children before Christ does when you think of Christmas, you might have a perspective issue.
I do not intend to be legalistic here, but our generation has largely forgotten about the glory of God. No one said it would be easy to follow Christ. Even His own disciples would reply, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” after hearing Jesus teach.
The point is not to drag down the gift-giving and excitement of Christmas for your family–if anything, what I am advocating for is not so much a defocusing on Santa Claus in December, but a refocusing on the things of God all year!
God’s Gift is Eternal
Before leaving you with some final thoughts and practical suggestions, I must tell you that the ultimate perspective with which one can live is an eternal one.
God’s gift is the only gift that can be enjoyed for eternity. It is hard for us to grasp that word, but the reality is that once you begin to exist, you will never cease to exist. No one really dies, they just change location.
What could or should be celebrated more than an eternity of life with the Father? What Christ gave to us was more meaningful than anything we can even fathom in our human experience.
Despite the fact that one of our human brains packs as much information processing power as every computer, router, etc., on Earth and can store petabytes of information–or, as much information as is available on the entire Internet–we still cannot fathom what the Infinite God and Creator did for us when Jesus came to Earth died on the cross thirty-three short years later.
This eternal gift is the one we celebrate at Christmas–it behooves us, as redeemed sons of the Living God, to begin acting like it.
Conclusion: Some Practical Suggestions
While much of this post has been spent giving a philosophical approach to this issue, I want to bring it down to a very practical level and offer some suggestions for how your family can approach this issue.
I am not going to give a recommended way, and I’m not even going to disclose how our family has chosen to handle this. I will say that I am not going to mention any solutions that I would not consider for my own family, so it is safe to say that if I write it, I endorse it.
Teach Jesus Alone
This view would essentially eliminate the idea of Santa Claus entirely from your home. If you choose to do this, you likely would not participate in holiday decorating–very little, if so, since many decorations center around Santa, reindeer, etc.
Of course, if you have small children, you will likely have to explain to them why your family is different, which is expected and potentially a good opportunity to teach them about the gospel. You will also want to tell them to be respectful of other children and families, because it is likely they have been taught about Santa Claus, and it is up to their parents to tell them that he is not real.
Teach Jesus, Teach Santa
On this view, you might simultaneously teach about Christ but also bring in the notion of Santa Claus during Christmas time, much the same way you speak of the Easter Bunny during Easter, though the obvious emphasis is on the finished work of Christ.
If you choose this way, you will want to be absolutely certain you provide your kids with a strong foundation on why you believe in Christ, and who God is. You should be very intentional in your home about the difference between Christ and Santa, and in my personal opinion, you should not mix the two in any way (at least while your children are young and don’t know any history behind the real Saint Nick).
Which brings me to my next suggestion,
Teach Jesus, Teach Saint Nick
Many have families have adopted the view of teaching, from a young age, the true stories both of Jesus and Saint Nicolas. Many know that Saint Nicolas was simply a pastor!
As one website sums it up, “Born in Patara, a land that is part of present-day Turkey, circa 280, St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. St. Nicholas transformed into the legendary character called Santa Claus, who brings Christmas presents to children around the world.”
On this view, you might end up teaching Santa Claus in the “imaginary” sense while your children are very young, but as soon as they show signs of understanding, you begin to point to Saint Nick as a historical person and simply tell the truth of how Saint Nick “became” Santa Claus. Here again, your kids should probably be instructed not to spoil the “secret” for others.
Teach Jesus, Teach Becoming Saint Nick/Santa Claus
On this view I’ve come to learn about more recently, some families have chosen to teach the concept of Santa Claus in a unique way. For all intents and purposes, Santa is treated in the traditional “imaginary” sense, but rather than telling your children he is simply not real one day, you teach them that the idea of Santa Claus is that one day, they get to become Santa Claus.
This “lessens the blow” a bit, and allows your children to feel as if they get to play a part in the spirit of Christmas for those who are younger. In other words, you become Santa Claus by being a generous and gift-giving person like “him,” but it allows you to keep Christ in perspective because the only reason Santa is this way is because of Christ and His gift.
This also makes for a nice transition for when your kids grow up a bit and learn about the real Saint Nick. In much the same way the true, historical tradition turned into the Santa Claus tale, it becomes more real in that your children will simply learn to honor this historical tradition that they were a bit too young to understand in the beginning. They get to “keep the secret” by not telling the younger kids, which makes it fun and enjoyable for everyone.
However you choose to handle Santa with your family this year and for years to come, never lose sight and perspective of God coming down to Earth as a man–Jesus Christ–and satisfying the wrath of God on Calvary, thereby taking your place and mine.
It is the story of reality, and the old adage is true–it is the “greatest Story ever told.”
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!