Kids naturally love the idea of Santa. I mean, what’s not to love? His eyes twinkle, he brings toys, his favorite snack is cookies, and he lives in a land of magic. There’s a superhero, supernatural element to him. Not to mention you get to climb on his lap, tell him everything you’ve ever wanted, and know he’ll deliver. He’s basically the embodiment of the best grandparent ever.
Maybe you never gave Santa a passing thought. Then you had kids. Suddenly you’re at a crossroad. Is teaching your kids about Santa naughty or nice?
Christians seem to especially wrestle with this. After all, the real meaning of Christmas is the baby in the manger not the man in the sleigh. But Santa and his reindeer are everywhere. Try as you might, your child is bound to ask questions and get swept up in the excitement. As a parent, you may feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle to keep Christ at the center of Christmas.
So what do you do? Is there any harm in believing in Santa? Should you preserve the imagination of childhood? Do you get your kids to buy into an idea you know to be fiction and fantasy? What happens when they discover the truth? How will they rationalize that Santa is a fake? Will they feel duped? Lied to? Worse yet, will they wonder if other unseen figures – like Jesus – are also a fabrication of the mind?
These are tough questions to wrestle with as a parent. If you feel torn between fantasy and fact this season, let me ease your fears. I would like to propose a radical idea this Christmas:
Contrary to popular opinion, Santa and Jesus are not archenemies. They are not battling it out to see who wins the center of Christmas this year. You do not have to vote one of them off your Christmas list. You can teach your kids about Santa and still keep Christ in Christmas. How? I’m so glad you asked…
1. Focus on the person rather than the persona. Between the holly and jolly, we forget that Santa was a real person. His name was Nicholas. He lived thousands of years ago in Asia Minor, not the North Pole. He wore dirty sandals, not shiny boots. And it was Roman soldiers, not elves and reindeer, that marched on his streets.
This was not your everyday Santa Claus. He lost both his parents to a plague of smallpox when he was young, inheriting all their wealth. At that time families were suffering from hyperinflation, leaving their homes in search of food and work. Nicholas chose to spend all his money helping the poor and fighting for those who were suffering unjustly. At night, he secretly delivered bags of gold coins into a family’s stockings so the father would not have to sell his daughters into prostitution. He also exposed a corrupt government official, saving three innocent men who were about to be executed. His reputation traveled fast around town and the people adored him. He was known for his kindness, goodness, and love towards those in need.
But most of all, Santa believed in Jesus. Nicholas was known for his strong faith and even at a young age became the leader of the church. He destroyed the temple of the pagan goddess Artemis and passionately argued against Arianism, a heresy threatening the church at that time. Even the Emperor Constantine called him, “mighty Nicholas, servant of God”. But his life wasn’t merry or magical. He was persecuted at the hands of the Romans for being a Christian and church leader, suffering alongside many martyrs of the early Church. During a time of grotesque and barbaric persecution, Nicholas was imprisoned and severely tortured (likely for ten years). He underwent unimaginable pain because he would not recant Jesus as Lord or sacrifice to pagan gods. It was only when Constantine ordered the cessation of persecution under the Edict of Milan that he was released. Battered and probably disfigured, Nicholas remained a leader of the people and the faith. He remained true to the Lord and continued to serve the people of his town until his dying day. Even today, people across Europe, North America and the Middle East still celebrate the memory and generosity of St. Nicholas on December 6th.
2. Focus on faith rather than fantasy. Though the story and legend of Santa Claus has changed over the years, it is still rooted in a real person who lived a life of compassion, strength, and courage in the face of persecution. It gives a whole new meaning to the person, Santa Claus. Teaching your kids the true story of St Nicholas points to Jesus. How can it not? His faith in God gave him the strength to stand for what was right regardless of the consequence. His faith in Jesus gave him a heart for serving others. The generosity and good-nature of Nicholas towards children and the poor mirrors the very heart of God. Jesus’ own attitude toward the poor was one of compassion (Matt 15:32), love, and provision (Ps 146:9). God commands his people to give with a cheerful heart (2 Cor 9:7) and to help those in need (1 John 3:17). God’s heart beats for the fatherless, the afflicted, the outcast, the widowed, the orphans, the weak, and the needy (Ps 82:3-4).
The true story of Santa Claus can serve as a good reminder for all of us. Christmas is as good a time as any to love on those around us, especially those who are lonely, struggling, or in need. The spirit of Christmas is one of giving. God gave His most precious gift, His Son, for us because we were in desperate need of a Savior. So give to others out of the grace you have already received.
3. Focus on the truth but enjoy the fun. So what will you teach your kids about Santa? That’s for you to decide. I will do as my Mom did for me. My parents taught me about Santa, but they never lied to me. They taught me about the real Santa Claus and in effect, kept Jesus as the focal point. They explained that Santa was a real person at one time and that he followed Jesus by serving others and standing up for his faith.
Just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t mean you have to be a Scrooge. You can still play along with today’s version of Santa Claus without compromising the truth. We still put out milk and cookies as kids knowing full well Dad was going to eat them. We opened gifts from Santa on Christmas morning, winking at each other knowing Mom had wrapped them. We still visited the big guy in red all the while knowing he was just a regular Joe. Frosty and Rudolf weren’t any different than fairytales. We knew the truth. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t be part of the fun.
Playing along with the idea of Santa is no different than pretending in a game of make-believe. Kids get that. They play it all the time. They pretend they are superheroes, firefighters, or cops chasing robbers. But when it’s all said and done, the truth still remains. So have fun with it and enjoy a game of make-believe as a family this season.
So don’t feel pressure this Christmas. You don’t have to choose between Santa and Jesus. Santa can serve as a reminder of the spirit of Christmas. And he can point to the real Reason for the season.