Anti-Santa or Pro-Christ?
[This is an updated version of an article written several years ago]
Christmas is undoubtedly one of my favorite times of the year. While I abhor the plague of syncretistic paganism that envelopes much of the holiday season as much as the next Christian, God always works it out to His glory. Despite the world’s effort to euthanize Christ from Christmas, the Star of the show shines brightly on.
But all the traditions do pose a challenge for the Christian. Specifically, how do Christians maintain as central that which is central to Christmas, namely God’s plan of salvation for sinners through Jesus?
One of those aspects that my wife and I have wrestled with is Santa Claus. We both grew up in homes that told their young children that Santa was real, Santa knew all your deeds, and Santa was the giver of gifts at Christmas. After we married and before God blessed us with children, we began discussing the Santa issue. After many conversations, we opted out of “being Santa” for our then future children for a variety of reasons, but our top five are below.
1) Being Santa de-centralizes the centerpiece of Christmas–Jesus: This one is difficult to get around. Yes, the historical St. Nick is worthy of respect and honor. We can learn much from his heralded compassion and kindness. Yet it remains, that it’s all about Jesus.
2) Being Santa attributes divine characteristics to Santa that belong to Jesus: In many ways, this may be the most serious issue. Only the Divine Jesus knows all of our thoughts and deeds. To ascribe any other being but our God with these divine characteristics is idolatry. In our minds, it is all pretend. In the minds of children, it is somethhing altogether different, which leads to numbers three and four.
3) Being Santa lends itself to covetousness and idolatry rather than worship of Jesus: If our children are more concerned about Santa because of what kinds of gifts he can bring than they are about Jesus for the gift that He is to sinners, then we have contributed to our children’s already idolatrous nature. In addition, I’ve heard many parents proclaim they’re love of “being Santa” because of the priceless “joy” or “look on my kids’ faces.” It seems this is a slippery slope toward parents idolizing their children rather than worshipping Jesus.
4) Being Santa introduces mythological themes into historical reality: Christmas is about the truth of Jesus Christ. Why then would the believer want to introduce mythological elements into a holiday that Christians celebrate as a historical reality, that Christ is born?
5) Being Santa lends itself to immorality rather than holiness: Since many parents that “do Santa” lie to their children about Santa, then one must question the very foundation of “doing Santa.” This is not the same as a temporary, birthday-surprise type situation. We are talking about a deception that is maintained anywhere from three to ten years. Add to this, Christmas is supposed to be about the truth that Jesus is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Therefore, it does not seem the wiser to mix fact and fiction at Christmas time.
Of course, many people (often professing Christians) seem to have a beef with folks like us. Some are genuinely curious as to why we don’t do Santa. Others are downright indignant. Here’s some of the reactions we received over the years:
1) “Aren’t your kids missing out on all the fun at Christmas?”: An alternate version of this questions is, “Aren’t your kids missing out on their childhood?” Of course, this assumes that Christmas is about having fun and getting stuff. Now granted, Christmas is lots of fun and should be, but I know plenty of children (including mine) that have never been fed the Santa tradition and who think Christmas just as grand. In essence, they don’t really care so much about Santa as they do about getting stuff. Either way, you have to deal with a child’s covetous idolatry (the “Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome), and we believe that task is best accomplished by focusing on historical truth at Christmas.
2) “You’re just being legalistic.”: First off, we must use the term legalism carefully, since it often requires that we know the motivations of someone’s heart, and we can only know their motivations by getting to know them personally.
Second, legalism can only be legalism if it is a belief or practice that a person believes sets them apart as more righteous than another person and obtains for themselves a more righteous standing with God. And this is certainly not where we stand. A Christian’s righteous standing with God is by His grace alone through faith in Jesus. Thus, my wife and I don’t judge other Christians for “being Santa.” Rather, this article is not religious dogma but a call to consideration from fellow believers.
3) “So, you don’t celebrate Christmas?”: We were meeting with a group of Christians once, and we happened to share with them that we “don’t do Santa”. One lady in the group said, “So, you don’t celebrate Christmas? You don’t do gifts?” Indeed, the Santa myth is deeply ingrained even among adult Christians. Apparently for some, leaving Santa out of Christmas is no longer Christmas. Thus, we see plainly the real and present danger of neglecting the Savior during the holiday.
All this to say, let us keep central that which is central at Christmas. Christians, if you choose to “do Santa”, then do it. But by all means, please be careful in how you deal with the historical truth of Jesus coming into the world at Bethlehem, living a sinless life that we couldn’t live ourselves, taking God’s wrath against sin that we ourselves deserved at the cross, and rising from the dead so that everyone that turns from sin and follows Him will have eternal life.
Jeremy, thanks for laying out your reasons for being countercultural at Christmastime. Christy and I have certainly struggled along as well with this topic.
She grew up in a no-Santa/no-Jesus Christmas context. What I mean by that is that although her family was very Christian, her father believed it was wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus, especially on December 25th given that date’s pagan history. They gave one another presents but had no tree or any such traditional Christmas trappings. In fact, Christy decorated her first Christmas tree at my house in 1997.
I grew up in an all-Santa/no-Jesus context. Christmas was just about the presents and the get-togethers. My family wasn’t anti-Jesus. We just didn’t know the Lord. So of course, my parents were very pro-Santa but also Jesus-neutral (if that’s a possible position).
We’ve chosen in our family to be Jesus-heavy and Santa-lite at Christmas, given the context of our culture and family. We’ve had conversations with Zachariah (our 5yo) about how reindeer really can’t fly and how Santa is just pretend. Given the pervasiveness of the Santa Claus myth in our culture and my side of the family, we’ve never had to actively promote Santa ourselves. We’ve simply chosen to downplay it and really emphasize Jesus, keeping Christ central.
I must admit that my conscience isn’t completely clear on this, and I continue to struggle with carrying on the Santa myth. Would Jesus have a “money-changer moment” if He saw someone dressed as Santa Claus walk into our sanctuary? How about if He saw my wife and I setting out a few presents for my children in our home under the Santa pretense? I’ve never really thought about it like that until now, and that’s a scary thought!
There is one aspect that I’m curious about. I really appreciate your winsomeness when you said that you and Sarah don’t judge other Christians for carrying on the Santa myth, but how are you communicating this mindset to your children? In areas where we are anticultural, or even anti-church-establishment, I believe that our children in their inability to see gray areas are in greater danger of judgmentalism than we are. I’m not asking this question to be perjorative. I sincerely want to know how you’re doing it so that I can better help my children in this area because it bleeds out into much more serious things than Santa Claus.
Thanks for your post!
Ben, I really appreciate you sharing your and Christy’s background on this topic. Sarah and I did not come to our decision on Santa overnight. Sarah especially. I was fairly certain where I stood early on in our marriage, but out of love for my wife we did discuss the possibility of doing some kind of variation on “doing Santa”.
I do understand Scripture in such a way that your “money-changer moment” insight has merit. But to be fair, I believe that there are many “money-changer” issues in churches, so we defintely have to be careful lest we slide into legalism.
The question you raised on how we communicate a non-judgmental mindset to our children is extremely important. The main answer lies in the fact that this is a heart issue like all other heart issues. Whether we’re dealing with Santa Claus or adultery, movie choices or murder, we must teach our children “not doing” does not make us righteous toward God or other people. This is why the gospel is so important, because it constantly screams at us, “You are incapable without Christ!”
We attempt to limit legalism and judgmentalism in our children regarding Santa in the same way that we approach other issues. Though a bit generic, we usually say something like, “That’s the choice that they have made. We believe that it is not best, but that does not makes us better than them.” For me, the struggle with this is not to sound too postmodern. But let’s face it, some secondary and many tertiary issues cozy up with postmodernism much more easily than we may find comfortable.
With all that said, Sarah and I often fail in communicating a non-legalistic attitude, and our children often fail to see these issues in a non-legalistic way despite our efforts to teach them otherwise. But we keep praying for them, talking with them, and directing them. And you know what, often times we see glimmers of hope in their attitudes. Ultimately, it will take the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to break our children’s self-righteousness. We are simply called to be faithful in preparing the soil of their hearts. Thanks for the comments.
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