I believed in Santa Claus.
My husband believed in Santa.
We turned out okay. We didn’t walk away from the Lord or resent our parents. Before we had kids we figured we would do the whole Santa thing. We wanted Christmas to be as special for them as it was for us. But then we actually had kids and we had a big problem.
Santa wasn’t going to work.
First, let me say I’m a huge proponent of fostering imagination in kids. My kids’ all-time favorite activity is pretending. All day long I have pirates, superheroes, and exotic animals flying through my house. I love it.
I also want to point out that when I talk about Santa in this post I am specifically referring to teaching our kids to believe in Santa, not whether or not he should be banished altogether. My husband wears a Santa hat while we bake cookies. My kids sing along to Christmas songs on the radio and they don’t skip over Santa’s name like a cuss word.
But we have decided not to tell our kids Santa is real. More specifically, we purposely tell them he is not.
If you’ve been reading this blog for long you know that the whole point is to direct us moms and our kids into living out the gospel. I tried and tried to fit Santa into that plan, but it didn’t work. It was like trying to stuff a giant man down a chimney…
There are four reasons Santa didn’t make the Wallace team.
1. Santa promotes works righteousness.
That might sound harsh, but keep in mind the aforementioned goal. The heart of the gospel is the glorious trade of our sin for Christ’s righteousness. It is a difficult concept to teach because kids are legalistic by nature. It takes a lot of time, prayer, and thoughtful conversations to help them understand that God loves us because of Christ’s good works, not ours.
Then along comes Santa.
He’s jolly, sparkly, magical, and he promises gifts to children who are good. One of my sons, in particular, is very sensitive to the damage this causes. He would be so stressed if Christmas rested on his good deeds. Each time he messed up he would buckle down and double up on his good deeds to make up for it. I already have to work with him on accepting Christ’s free forgiveness instead of trying to work for it. Thanks, but no thanks, Santa.
2. Santa blurs the lines between fact and fantasy.
So precious are the moments when the kids climb onto our laps for a Bible story. We talk about Jesus and how He lived a perfect life and died for our sins. We talk about the mighty power of God who created the world, parted the Red Sea, and closed the mouths of lions. They listen intently.
And they believe me.
Sometimes my heart aches when I look into their wide eyes and innocent faces and think, “They trust me implicitly. I want so dearly to lead them in the truth.” If my husband and I throw Santa into the mix of “true” stories, what will they think later when they find out Santa is not real? How about Noah’s ark? How about the ten plagues? How about that Jesus guy who was kind of like a religious magician? We want the categories of true and fantasy to be clearly divided. Characters don’t get to jump back and forth from one category to the other.
3. Santa is a type of god.
Some of my readers might be rolling their eyes. But think about it. He is omnipotent (all-powerful – makes toys, rides a magical sleigh, goes up and down chimneys). He is omnipresent (everywhere at once – how else could he deliver the presents?). He is omniscient (all-knowing – he knows who is bad and who is good). He is eternal. He is perfect. He is the whole package. I can’t think of another mythical creature that encapsulates so many characteristics reserved for God alone. When we describe God to our kids I don’t want them thinking, “Oh yeah, kind of like Santa.” No. God is not like anybody. We want to keep it that way.
4. It’s hard to compete with Santa.
Who cares about a baby in a manger when there’s a huge man in a shiny red coat throwing presents and candy around like it’s going out of style? Kids spend the entire Christmas season looking for signs of Santa. They write him letters. They bake him cookies. And that’s just the kids. Playing make-believe takes a lot of work for us grown-ups. We are on the other end of it trying to hide the evidence and figure out how to field all of their questions. All the time and energy we put into keeping up the Santa myth could be spent focusing on Christ’s birth.
Some parents call the Santa myth a lie while others call it pretending. I’m going to call it a huge distraction. My five-year-old asks me questions about God all the time: What does it mean to be a spirit? If God doesn’t have a heart how can He love people? If there is only one God why do we call Jesus God? Whew! Talk about tough questions. If I told my son Santa was real I would get all the same kinds of questions. Hundreds of them. Do I really want to take the time to thoughtfully answer my son’s genuine curiosity with answers that aren’t even true? Do I want Santa to become the focal point of every conversation?
So where does that leave us with Santa? He’s everywhere we go. We can’t exactly hide from him. And we don’t want to. We treat Santa like any other part of life. We explain him. We use him as an opportunity to teach our kids how to think. We don’t want them to run and hide in fear or to venture out on their own to find the answers their parents wouldn’t give them. We have open and honest conversations about it.
When we see Santa ringing a bell outside the grocery store my kids smile and say, “Merry Christmas, Santa!” They giggle and get a big kick out of it. But they don’t think he’s real. He’s not watching them while they’re sleeping or keeping track of their good deeds. To them it’s just like seeing a guy dressed up like batman.
And they are having a great Christmas.
(NEW note: I am so thankful for the great discussion this post has encouraged. One question that has been tossed around is, “How do you keep your kids from spoiling it for other kids?” It’s definitely something to address with your family. BUT – it shouldn’t be a motivating factor for teaching your kids to believe in Santa. For example, we wouldn’t say, “Well, we don’t want our kids to be party poopers so I guess we’ll have to go along with the Santa thing.” From the time our kids are really little they think of Santa as a game. That shouldn’t spoil it for anyone. By the time they are old enough to spill the beans we have the talk about some kids believing in Santa. We don’t make those kids sound silly or less spiritual. We just say it’s a family decision and every family is different. It’s a great way to help them put different family decisions in perspective. At some peoples’ houses we can eat food in the living room, some let us run in the house, some say take shoes off at the door….and some believe in Santa. It helps our kids learn thoughtfulness and respect for different ways of doing things.)
This post originally appeared on The Gospel-Centered Mom, published with permission.