What should Christian parents do about Santa?

19 12 2011

they seem pretty comfortable together

I’ve been getting this question frequently over the past few weeks so I thought I might put something down briefly to try to be of some assistance.  At the beginning of our parenting my wife and I wrestled with this same question and I think we’ve come to a pretty good place. First we need to ask “why would you even ask the question?”  In other words, what’s the big deal?  I can zero in on two things that would be problematic for Christian parents:

  1. For the Christian, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus the redeemer of the world.  A man in a red suit who brings presents is a bit of a distraction to the “reason for the season.”
  2. The Bible is pretty clear that it is mom and dad’s responsibility to pass on their faith to their children.  This is a process largely built upon the trust that the child has in the parents to tell them the truth.  When parents don’t tell the truth about some things (i.e. Santa Claus) it may compromise their trustworthiness in other, more important matters like Jesus.  Iain put it well this morning when he said “Mom wouldn’t lie to me about a big man in the sky with a white beard who sees when I do right and do wrong and gives me rewards…oh wait…”

But if these reasons make you think I’m ready to rule Santa out, don’t think so fast.  I’ve got a few good reasons for keeping him in the game.

  1. It’s fun.  Despite what your fundamentalist friends tell you, Jesus isn’t against fun.
  2. You don’t want your kid to be “that kid.”  You know the one that makes all the other kids cry in day school when he says “there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”
  3. The fictional Santa Claus is modeled upon the historical person of St. Nicholas of Myra.  Turns out he wasn’t such a bad guy.  He was a faithful Bishop in the church who was tortured and imprisoned for his faith under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  In the fourth century he stood up for the full divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea.  It is said that inspired by Christ’s words to “sell all you have and give to the poor” (Luke 18.22) Nicholas did exactly that, using his vast wealth to give anonymous gifts to the poor.  This is why Santa Claus, modeled after Nicholas of Myra, distributes presents at Christmas time.  So “Santa,” or Nicholas of Myra is actually a concrete example of how the Lordship of Jesus Christ can move people to generosity and concern for the poor.

Which brings me to what we do in my household.

  1. Make Jesus central to Christmas time:  In my house we’ve been reading the birth narratives from the Jesus Story Book Bible.  After the reading, I might sing a Christmas hymn to David.  After the reading and the singing, we sit and talk about the story and the song and what it means.  Finally we pray.  I try and pray something that reinforces what we read or sang about.  All this to say during this time of year, like every other time of the year, we talk about Jesus a lot.  It gave me immense pleasure a few days ago my son remarked to a nursery worker “Jesus came at Christmas time to rescue us.  And he’s coming again!  But not yet.”
  2. Use Santa as a teaching tool:  Nicholas was of course a historical person.  More than that he was the type of man who I would want my son to be like.  He was a tough, courageous, Jesus loving man who had a reputation for extravagant generosity.  You might use Phil 2 to talk about the extravagant generosity of Jesus vacating his throne in heaven to rescue us and how this moves followers of Jesus (like Nicholas!) to forgo their own wealth and privileges to help those in need.  You might follow this up with something practical, like taking your little one to buy toys or clothes for a donation.  So in the same way Jesus moved Nicholas to generosity, Jesus can move your little ones to generosity.
  3. Make clear that Santa is pretend: In my home we play lots of games.  We’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia and since David is only three, it is hard for him to stay focused through a whole chapter.  To help him stay focused we act out the chapters after we’ve read them and this is always lots of fun for both of us.  Mommy is pretend Lucy.  Daddy is pretty Edmund (too bad for me!).  David is pretend Peter.  And finally our cat Rico is pretend Mr. Tumnus (yes, he hates it).  Santa is a great, fun, pretend game.  Much like our Narnia game, Santa is a game that can teach David some valuable things about Jesus.  The thing about a good pretend game is that reminding everyone that we’re just pretending ruins the game.  You don’ t need to remind everyone you’re pretending because everyone already knows it.  So David knows Santa is pretend.  We’ve told him.  But we don’t bring it up constantly. That would ruin the fun.



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