Every year the debate ensues over whether Christians should or shouldn't include Santa in their Christmas traditions. In my experience, I've seen everything from idolizing Santa as the end all be all of Christmas to the other extreme of implying Santa is evil because his name is spelled using the same letters we find in the name 'Satan.' Some parents are adamant that celebrating Santa is sacrilegious to the real meaning of Christmas, and others feel it is "no big deal." Christians seem to land all across the spectrum when it comes to Old St. Nick. So, how should you handle Santa with your kids? I'll go ahead and show my cards here - we include Santa in our family's Christmas tradition. My goal is not to convince you one way or the other, but I would like to offer a few perspectives behind my view and hopefully help you as you decide what you feel is BEST for your family this Christmas.
1. Santa is real. Maybe not the "jolly old elf, with a little round belly, that shook when he laughed like a bowl fully of jelly!" However, most people know bits and pieces of the real story of the 4th century St. Nicholas who allegedly helped a poor man by secretly providing a dowry for his three daughters so they might marry and live happy lives (among other kind deeds). Some folklore even suggests that one of these secret deliveries resulted in a small bag of money being tossed down the chimney and landing inside a damp stocking which was hung by the fire to dry. These legends are difficult to verify, but the consensus remains that St. Nick was a compassionate and God-honoring man. His kindness was celebrated as a representation of God's love and mercy displayed at Christmas. Over time the legend has evolved into what we know of as Santa Claus. The story has gathered a number of elements, some good and some not, from imaginative stories, poems and songs (mostly meant for children such as, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" from 1823, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" originally in the 1939 coloring book for Montgomery Ward and the classic song from 1934 "Santa Claus is Coming to Town").
2. Santa vs. Jesus. This is usually where the debate of Santa ends up. Does including Santa in your Christmas tradition compete with Jesus, "the reason for the season?" This is a good question. In fact, I urge everyone to ask this question about every area of life, not only at Christmas and not only regarding Santa! For the purposes of this post; however, we will focus on Santa.
For centuries now, some version of Santa has been a prominent part of the Christmas tradition of most of the western world. Like it or not, Santa is here to stay; especially now that he is so involved in making people so much money. Ultimately, the Santa character represents qualities of generosity, joy and love found in the original St. Nicholas that the world has longed to maintain. So, what should we do with Santa? Some treat Santa as anti-Christian and wish he would go away. Some are ambivalent and just "go with the flow." In our home, we have attempted to include Santa as a fun and redemptive part of the Christmas season. He is NOT center stage, which I would never support, but he is a means of pointing to Jesus who is center-stage! Honestly, I do not think Santa is the problem when it comes to losing our focus on the true meaning of Christmas. This is why we have been intentional to redeem Santa from the secular viewpoint and highlight ways Santa points us to Jesus. As far as the ambivalent crowd goes simply "go with the flow" is never the biblical or wise approach to Christian living. We should always be intentional in our efforts to focus on Jesus.
In my opinion, based on my understanding of our biblical role as Christians in society, the best approach is to redeem anything and everything we can in culture for God's glory. I offer caution to those who take a defensive, religious approach that treats a make-believe character as an enemy of Jesus. Understandably, we should be intentional to focus on Jesus but should also maintain a "good name (Proverbs 22:1)" in society. Often the defensive, religious response to issues like Santa causes us to lose our "good name" and "opportunity" with "outsiders" (Colossians 4:5)." We must be careful not to replace Jesus with Santa yet not sacrifice our role of redeeming the world around us.
Another example where Christians must walk a fine line between our faith and the secular views of society is regarding patriotism. For instance, should Christians celebrate our nation's Veterans and service men and women? If so, does our patriotism encourage our kids to depend on military power instead of faith in Jesus? Does it encourage them to solve their problems with fighting? No doubt, we have a responsibility to be engaged in culture without allowing the cultural norms to compete with our highest allegiance, that is, to Jesus. This is why every Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day we as Christians should allow the example of our nation's freedom fighters to point to the original Freedom Fighter (Jesus) who died for the sins of the world! Likewise, with Santa Claus, Christians have the opportunity to use this make-believe character as a wonderful cultural example of the generosity, kindness and compassion we find in Jesus.
If you are intentional as the parent, you can skillfully include a fun childhood tradition such as Santa at Christmastime in a way that assists you to keep the focus on Jesus. If you choose to include Santa or not, be intentional in the decision. If you choose to leave Santa out, try to avoid a harsh, judgmental or legalistic stance, which usually creates resentment and rebellion. If you choose to include Santa be intentional to make the connection back to Jesus as the "main thing" at Christmas. Redeeming Santa means reminding our kids that Santa gives gifts because God gave us His only Son, Jesus. Santa also teaches us that giving to others is more important than receiving. Redeeming Santa also means correcting bad theology, God gives good gifts to the naughty AND the nice, because of the GRACE of Jesus. Unlike Santa, God gives to His children based on the merits of Jesus!
3. Am I lying to my kids? Some parents feel that including Santa in their Christmas tradition is "lying" to their kids. Obviously, we all understand Santa is make believe; however, I disagree that this equates to lying. As a parent of small children, I love to engage my kids' imaginations; honestly, it's a very healthy thing. Good parents learn that children move in and out of fantasy and make believe effortlessly. Children simply don't have a problem doing this. I read a blog recently that made reference to a child's imaginary friend. Only a heartless parent would squash the idea of their child having an imaginary friend. We should engage the imaginations of our children. Which is why you find yourself pouring non-existent tea into a tiny teacup for your daughter's imaginary friend. It is why my boys think their play set is a pirate ship and why they think their dad (me) is invincible! This is not lying, this is playing in the world of make believe with your child. Engaging a child's imagination by including Santa during the Christmas season can be a fun way to direct attention to Jesus as God's gift of love and forgiveness. It can also help develop the importance of biblical values like generosity and faith. You may not realize this, but every Veggie Tales movie or Chronicles of Narnia book is an example of engaging a child's imagination in order to point to Jesus and key Biblical values. This is the value of Santa as a non-essential but fun part of our Christmas tradition. In the end, I've never met an adult that was traumatized by the sudden realization that Santa was only make believe. As children mature Santa will fall to the wayside along with tea parties, pirate ships and sadly the great, invincible dad.
You are the parent! You must weigh out these issues and decide for your family. Either way, I pray your home is full of joy as we celebrate how 2000 years ago a little boy, in a little town changed the whole world.
"Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!" To listen to Andy's recent Christmas sermon series, click here.