“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake… I guess in girl and boy land, we’ll have a jubilee. We’re gunna build a toy land, all around the Christmas tree.”
I didn’t grow up in a Christian house. For me as a child, Santa was always a special part of the whole Christmas tradition. There was something magical about the entire month of December that Santa just seemed to fit nicely into. I didn’t become a Christian until my late teens and so I never truly had to wrestle through what I would do with Santa as a parent. When I grew up and had children of my own I remember feeling an interesting turmoil about Santa Claus. On the one hand, I looked back with very fond memories of my own childhood looking up to the sky hoping to get a glimpse of his sleigh, and I didn’t want my children to miss out on such magical anticipation. On the other hand, I had grown deeply over the years as a man of Christ. I loved His Word and I desired to deeply form the message of the gospel in my children unapologetically and uncompromisingly.
After much discussion with my wife and talking through a variety of scenarios, seven years ago (when my oldest was only just born), we made the decision that ours would be a family that would not celebrate Santa Claus. Yep, you heard me, Ol’ Grinch here stripping all the joy and merriment out of Christmas. Bah Humbug! Well… not exactly. At the moment I confess it felt like a difficult decision, but as I look back all these years later, it is a decision I am so grateful the Lord led us on, and one that I would encourage every follower of Christ to follow.
Perhaps it is helpful to back up and consider the Biblical foundations of parenting and the responsibility that comes with such a calling. As Christian parents we have a heavy responsibility to do everything in our power to raise our children in a home that honors Jesus and that gives our children the best possible chance to see Jesus as Lord of every area of their life. My aim is not simply to raise happy children that get along well with others and who do well in school. That may or may not be a part of their story. My highest ambition (though so much is out of my control) is to raise children that know and love Jesus, and that become disciple-makers themselves. The Word of God guides my parenting, and sheds light on the responsibility. As a Christian (not just as a Pastor, but as a brother in Christ) I cannot take that responsibility lightly or without careful thought about the stories I allow to shape my children’s hearts.
Consider Santa Claus for a moment. One of the primary concerns we had was that Santa had developed in Western culture as essentially a god-like figure. He has divine attributes that allow him to, “see you when you’re sleeping, to know when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good.” And with that basis many parents then encourage their children, “to be good for goodness sake.” In other words, “Children – behave morally because Santa is watching you, and if you really want presents, it is based on your moral behavior.” As we consider that narrative, it is quickly apparent that everything about that plot line is the antithesis of the gospel.
First and of utmost importance I want my children to know that in our house we are to have no other Gods, but God. In other words, we are not to even allow the thought of another God into our presence (that’s the first commandment in the Old Testament which was affirmed in the New Testament by Jesus). And yet the story we tell our children of Santa essentially make him out to be a god or at least a demi-god. He is all seeing. He is a judge who judges your moral behavior. He is one whom we ought to aim to please. He is able to be in many places at once. And according to the legend, true jubilee, is found in him. All of this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches and of what I want formed in my children.
The truth is that God alone is the judge, and there are no other gods besides the one tri-une God of the Bible. Our aim is to please Him. Further, the gospel declares that we are not judged by God based on our merit of whether we do right or wrong in this life. Rather as the book of Romans reminds us:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”Romans 3:23–25, ESV
I don’t want my children in their youngest years to believe in the polytheism of Jesus and Santa or in the ungospel of Moral Superiority. I want my children in their youngest years to believe in the one true and living God and in the true gospel of Grace Through Faith.
A second concern I had was around the day I would have to tell my children that we were lying about Santa. While this day of reckoning is one that I myself as a young boy faced, and one that many children face each year, I recognize the kernel of doubt that might be planted in my children’s hearts on that day. If Mom and Dad made me believe that Santa was real and it turns out he was made up, could it be that Mom and Dad have made also made me believe that Jesus is real, and that he too is simply made up. God forbid I plant such a seed of doubt in my children’s hearts.
So What Can We Do?
So what can you do? How can it be possible to maintain a sense of majesty and awe at Christmas, and yet not dilute the message of the incarnation. My answer would be that the truth of Scripture accomplishes all of that and more. At Christmas we repeat the story of the incarnation over and over again with our children. The story of a God who humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant and becoming man. We tell the story of angels proclaiming the birth of the long awaited King of Kings. We tell the story of the shepherds in the field overwhelmed by the heavenly sight of angels filling the night sky. We tell the story of the wise men from the East who followed the star to Bethlehem. And we tell the story that just as He came once, He will come again, and that Christmas reminds us that we continue to wait with eager anticipation for His return. For on that day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. I can think of no other story more full of life and wonder and mystery and majesty than God’s truth.
When it comes to Santa, we tell our children the truth. We tell our children of the history of a man known in the Church as Saint Nicholas. While the facts are hazy it seems that he was a man that knew and loved Jesus. He was a man that was known for bringing the Church back into alignment with the Bible. He was a man that gave away tremendous wealth in order to bless others. He was known for giving gifts to the poor and needy all around Him. And most importantly, He was a man who did all of this because He worshipped Jesus. We let them know that other families might celebrate Santa in different ways, but for us as a family we believe in the Bible, and the man Saint Nicholas did too. Nicholas would have wanted us to remember Jesus.
Christian parents – may a heart worship of the one true and living God well up in the lives of your children this Christmas! And Lord willing in you too.