A few evenings ago, we hosted a delightful group of ten Biola students at our house for dinner. During dessert, we launched into a lively discussion about how we should celebrate Christmas as Christians. We discussed various sub-topics under this broader question, but we spent the largest portion of our time talking about how Christians should—and should not—talk to their children about Santa Claus.
Part way through our discussion, one of the young women at our table commented that this was the first time in her life that she had heard Christians questioning the commonplace practice of pretending that Santa Claus is real. Let me repeat what I just wrote for emphasis. In all of her years growing up in an evangelical church in Southern California, this young woman had never heard another Christian challenge the validity of this questionable practice. But she had a lot to think about after “dinner at the Berdings”! Here are five reasons that surfaced during our discussion for why you should stop “playing the Santa Claus game” with your children. Oh, and if you’re just discovering through this blog post that Santa isn’t real … ummm … sorry for breaking the news …
Five reasons not to pretend that Santa is real:
1. The Bible repeatedly instructs us to speak what is true. One example among many in the Bible is Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Cf. Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 21:28, Zechariah 8:16.) “Santa Claus actually exists” is a falsehood. Christians should seek always to speak the truth, even with their children. No, especially with their children …
2. Pretending Santa is real could lead to embarrassment for your child. One of the young women at our table recounted that when she was eight years old a couple of her friends broke the “code of silence” and told her that Santa wasn’t real. Her parents, desiring to prolong the game, found a way to take a photograph of Santa Claus sitting on a sleigh, and offered the photo to their daughter as “evidence.” As a result, she became an apologist for the existence of Santa, arguing vehemently for his existence among her group of friends. When her parents were forced to level with her, she was acutely embarrassed about the stance she had taken among her friends. This leads into the next reason to avoid this practice.
3. Pretending Santa is real could result in some level of breaking down of the trust between the children and parents. The young woman I just mentioned talked about how upset she was with her parents when she discovered that this elaborate story wasn’t true. Her parents’ decision to keep replaying this untruth upsets their daughter to this day.
4. Pretending Santa is real could lead to theological confusion in your children as they get older. Example 1: Bring in Joe Atheist: “You believe in God? Do you also believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny?” Example 2: Attributes that only belong to God get attributed to Santa, such as omniscience (“he sees you when you’re sleeping…he knows if you’ve been bad or good”) or omnipresence (he personally delivers packages to all the children in the world in one night. But then again, maybe we should rename that “omni-presents”?). Who says that this won’t have any impact on your children’s understanding of God as they grow up? Example 3: At its best, the Santa Claus metanarrative reinforces moralism; at its worst, pelagianism. (And don’t get me started on the Elf-On-The-Shelf movement …) This is potentially confusing–at the very least. At its worst, it could be described as a modern example of syncretism. (Note the line from the song: “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above ‘cause Santa Claus comes tonight.”)
5. Finally, pretending that Santa is real will take the eyes of your children off of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. It could cause them to look away from our Lord Jesus, who was born of the virgin Mary, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a propitiation for our sins, rose from the dead–thereby proving his victory over sin and death, and will come again in glory as conqueror and judge. We should be very careful not to allow our children’s eyes to get diverted from Christ toward something far less significant, that is, toward the sentimental or toward a practice that tends to feed their selfishness rather than to heighten their awareness that they too need Christ.
These are five good reasons not to pretend that Santa is real with your children. So what should you do if you have “played this game” with your children in the past—or are currently playing it?
My recommendation is that you go to your children at whatever age they are and humbly confess to them that you’re sorry for not speaking what is true. It may be that until today you hadn’t considered that there might be a problem with this practice for Christians. But a proper doctrine of sin doesn’t allow you to limit culpability for sin to what you intentionally do; it includes actions, thoughts, and omissions that you didn’t realize were wrong. (That’s one of the reasons why the covering of all our sins by the blood of Jesus is so important.) You may actually discover that this humble approach to your children builds trust and strengthens your relationship. (And, yes, I would recommend doing this if your child is a full-grown adult.)
My father came to Christ and my mother returned to her childhood faith when I was six years old. Until that time—at their encouragement—I had grown up thinking that Santa Claus was real. But shortly after they believed in Jesus Christ, they decided that they didn’t want to act untruthfully any longer toward their children. So they sat down with my older sister—who may have already figured it out by that time—along with my younger brother and me, and explained to us that Santa was just a made-up story, and further, that they were sorry for pretending that he was something more. From then on in our household, the Santa story was demoted to the status of a fun fairy tale, and never allowed to become more important than Jesus Christ, who is the center of Christmas. No, Jesus Christ is much more than that. He is the center of all of human history, and the reason Christmas even matters.
I previously posted this at The Good Book Blog: Talbot School of Theology Faculty Blog on December 18, 2014.