What should Christians do with Santa?

A family friend told me a story of how a while back his child approached him with the following conundrum, “Dad, I believe in Jesus, even though I cannot see him, but I don’t know about Santa because I cannot see him either.” I was struck by the child’s confusion and by the parent’s dilemma. Later, as I reflected on the story, I wondered how Christian is it to go along with Santa. Some people may go over the top, but Santa himself should be harmless, right? Surely, the merry old myth doesn’t undermine the Gospel story.

In the past I had thought about few reasons to be pro-Santa:

  • Santa is a lot of fun for kids. Kids like fun. I like fun. Christmas should be fun.
  • Santa is rooted in the historical figure, St. Nicholas, who was an inspiring Christian hero. I love introducing my children to Christian heroes from the past. The first Ol’ St. Nick was a great picture of Christian charity and humility.
  • I grew up with Santa as an annual yuletide visitor, but I knew that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday. Somehow my receiving gifts connected in my mind with Jesus receiving gifts from the wise men.

As I kept thinking, I wondered if I was going to create some confusion in my kids’ minds if I kept up the tradition of Santa Claus. I thought of several reasons not to “join in all the reindeer games”:

  • I hope to spend time each year preparing my family to celebrate Christ at Christmas, but Santa seems to draw the most interest. I have yet to have an adult ask my children on Christmas Day, “Did you celebrate the Savior’s birth this morning?” I have had plenty of “What did Santa bring you for Christmas?”
  • Whatever the historical figure St. Nicholas was, he was not a materialism-inspiring phantom in a red cloak. The Christian message of “It is better to give than to receive” is happily applied to Santa, but not to us. Does anyone ever ask a child, “What did you GIVE your brother for Christmas?”
  • Surely, it is not best to leave it up to a child as to whether Jesus’ existence and Santa’s existence are both real or just made up. The church gets a head start in spending time throughout the year relaying to children the details of Jesus’ life. However, from Thanksgiving on, malls, Christmas cards, Christmas songs and TV specials tell the well-worn tales of Santa. In most areas of life, it is the parents’ role to help a child discern the truth in the array of messages they receive. In the case of Santa, we may not be helping much.

Because of these reasons and a few more, my wife and I decided to pass on the Santa tradition. However, we are decidedly pro-fun for Christmas. Can the two be reconciled? Here’s how we have done it.

  • First, we told our children about the historical figure, St. Nicholas. We told them that he was a man of kindness and giving. According to some stories of St. Nicholas, he would put his gifts in stockings before leaving them for those people in need. Therefore, we told our children, that for fun and in honor of St. Nicholas, we were going to surprise them each Christmas morning with some gifts in their stockings.
  • Second, we begin each Christmas morning with a “Search for Baby Jesus”. Based (very) loosely off the biblical narratives where the shepherds (Luke 2) and the magi (Matt. 2) went to search for Jesus, we encourage our children to search for the baby Jesus. What this entails is that the night before, I make scavenger hunt clues for my children that will have them running throughout the house looking for the next clue to lead them eventually to baby Jesus (a part of our child-friendly manger scene that has been on display during the Christmas season). One memory my wife and I have is of our children rushing past their stockings filled with presents to get to the empty manger, which held the first clue for that year’s “search.” After the children have found the baby Jesus, we take the time to retell the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and thank the Lord for His gift of a Savior. I hope your family has a Christ-filled Christmas.