Like many pastors, over the years I have been asked about my opinion on embracing Santa as part of our annual Christmas celebration. It’s intriguing how a real and generous Christian man from the third century named Nicholas morphed into the mythological jolly figure we all grew up hearing about. On one hand, there is a fun-loving and magical innocence about having “Santa” visit us each year. On the other hand, followers of Jesus should be experiencing an uneasy check in their spirit about Santa. Here are three questions that have helped me personally as a Dad navigate this sticky issue:
- Do I elevate Santa or Jesus at Christmas?
As a follower of Christ, if my kids hear the word “Santa” far more than the name of Jesus at Christmas, then I have shifted the emphasis of Christmas to a mythological figure rather than the living Savior. I have also taught my children that a fairy-tale figure has the same traits as God. Only Jesus knows when I am sleeping and when I am awake. Only Jesus knows if I have been good or bad. And if I am telling my children to be good for goodness sake, then I am also reinforcing works and morality-based theology in the lives of my children rather than the amazing gift of grace that God offers us through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
If my Christmas traditions and celebrations lift up the man in the red suit but dwarf the nativity and the advent, then I am molding my children to do the same one day in their homes. Am I really ok with that? The Lord tells us not to devote ourselves to myths (1 Tim. 1:4) and that our words and actions should be done for Jesus (Col. 3:17), so as a parent I believe that will include who I celebrate at Christmas.
- Do I emphasize Getting or Giving at Christmas?
The birth of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us, gives us the reason to celebrate God’s gifts of grace, forgiveness, eternal life, joy and peace. These are gifts that He freely gives to a people who so desperately need them and that we cannot produce with our own efforts. Therefore, I find giving and receiving gifts in honor of the birth of the Savior King is very appropriate. But where do we cross a line? When does a thoughtful gift become an expectation? At what point do we move from generosity to consumerism? Are we ok with our kids rattling off a long list of things they want each year with no thought of how to bless others?
If I’m not careful, giving credibility to Santa (and the traits the world has endowed him with) can feed the consumeristic appetite of my family. What am I doing as a parent to teach my kids that generosity and blessing others is a more appropriate way to celebrate Jesus (Acts 20:35)? How can I retain the joy of giving and receiving gifts as a family each Christmas yet not let that overshadow the opportunity to engage the poor, needy, and hurting among us? I have found that teaching my children about who the real St. Nick was has helped; they know that there was a generous man who blessed others and that he is a good model for us as we celebrate Jesus.
I have also discovered that intentionally engaging opportunities each year in our neighborhood and community to bless others fosters generosity and memories that last a lot longer than whatever I opened up under the tree from “Santa” years before.
- Do I embrace Honesty or Dishonesty at Christmas?
One part of the Santa tradition that has always been unsettling for me is that no matter how I package it, I would be lying to my children. I have always found this odd. I teach my kids that God wants us to speak truth not falsehood (Eph. 4:25). Isn’t it a bit contradictory for me to tell them that there are fairy-tale beings (Santa, tooth-fairy, Easter bunny), and watching them at an early age embrace what mom and dad are telling them with their little hearts, only to find out as they grow up that mom and dad weren’t being truthful?
I know this is debatable and some will find wide-eyed wonder a justifiable reason for a fib, but I personally felt the conviction as a young adult that I wanted my future children to believe and trust what I told them. Promoting the reality of Santa has the potential of discrediting my honesty. I don’t want my children wondering what else I or their mother told them that isn’t true. I don’t want to send a mixed message by speaking about truth while endorsing occasional dishonesty. I don’t want my kids wondering if things I have told them about Jesus may also not be factual.
Don’t we find it odd that we may actually discipline our children for not being honest yet make exceptions to bend the truth at our own whim or when we feel driven by culture or tradition? Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the One who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). I feel I can best celebrate it by speaking truth.
The Allens have by no means mastered this topic. We still struggle each year with trying to let the pure worship of Jesus be primary for Christmas. Some years we do better than others. I’m grateful Jesus doesn’t depend on us to display His glory. He does that through His own power. The answer to this cultural reality is not to attack Santa, but to faithfully lift up Jesus however I can.
As a Dad, I am responsible for who I emphasize during Christmas. I want to be faithful to lift up Christ not anyone or anything else. I want my children to look back and remember that Jesus has, is and always will be bigger than Santa.