The true gift of Christmas
Don’t allow Santa to usurp the gospel
I still remember the acute embarrassment I felt when, at six years old, I realized Santa Claus wasn’t real. I say “realized,” because it was the result of deductive reasoning after my 16-year-old brother had scoffed at a comment I’d made about the Tooth Fairy. His reaction made me think that I must be wrong about the Tooth Fairy being the one exchanging my old teeth for money. And if the Tooth Fairy is fake, then the Easter Bunny must be, too. And if the Easter Bunny is fake, then … No. It was too much to bear. I had to confront my mother about my suspicions directly.
And so I did. In the backyard on a summer evening, I asked my mom if they’d lied to me about Santa. She hesitated, then admitted that, yes, Santa Claus was just imaginary. I was incensed. I hated the feeling of being the only one in my family not to be in on the secret. Growing up, my dad would tell people, “Allie was born 26.” I always wanted to be a part of adult things, knowing what adults know. And here I’d been duped by the people I saw as my equals!
I was a kindergartener stuck between a desire to be mature while feeling genuinely heartbroken that she’d put cookies, milk, and reindeer treats out all those years for nothing. The disappointment faded, however, and I was glad to be in-the-know on something most kids my age still hadn’t figured out. I wasn’t traumatized, it didn’t make me mistrust my parents or doubt the existence of God, as some warn telling kids about Santa may do, and I don’t blame my mom and dad for playing up the fun and imagination of the North Pole. But I did insist to my mom that night that I’d never lie to my kids about Santa. And I’ve kept that promise.
My husband and I don’t tell our kids Santa is real, not because we’re fuddy-duddies or because I’m bitter about my parents deceiving me about his existence. We refuse to do so for reasons that perhaps stem from my initial Santa revelation but have developed over time as we’ve considered how we want to disciple our children. Basically, we believe Santa is a distraction and a demotion from what Christmas is actually about: the birth of our Savior.
The characteristics of Santa are that he is mostly unseen, residing in a far-off place, watching as you’re sleeping and awake, and that he not only knows when you’ve been bad or good, but he also makes lists based on this behavior and rewards children with gifts accordingly.
Is that not simply a cheap and legalistic version of God, who is also unseen, sitting on His throne, while remaining all-present, all-seeing, and all-knowing (Psalm 139:1-3)? God, not Santa, is the real Gift-Giver, from whom every good and perfect present comes (James 1:17). It is God who judges the human heart, who determines right from wrong (Jeremiah 11:20). And it is God who rewards us, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of the grace made possible through Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). We don’t need the mystery of Santa, the magic of the sleigh, or the fantasy of the North Pole to have fun at Christmas. All the mystery and wonder for which our hearts naturally long is found in the real story of Jesus (1 Timothy 3:16).
We don’t want to direct our children’s attention from the truest, greatest, most joy-inducing, and hope-cultivating message ever conveyed—the gospel—with something and someone so much less. To my husband and me, it doesn’t seem fair for us to continually chide our kids to remember the “reason for the season” while pointing them to Santa.
This doesn’t mean demonize or hide him; we just treat him, his elves, and Rudolph like fun, fictional characters of Christmas. I’ve heard of other parents telling their children about the story of St. Nicholas, a 3rd-century Greek bishop who gave gifts to children, in lieu of focusing on the Santa of the North Pole. There are lots of ways to enjoy all kinds of Christmas traditions without allowing the Santa narrative to usurp the gospel’s rightful place in our celebrations.
That humans have contrived a story of Santa so similar to, but so much shallower than, the story of Jesus speaks to our desire for an omniscient being who sees and cares for us. Christians understand that no one but Christ can truly satisfy that longing, and we have the honor of teaching that to our children. Christmas presents us with a particularly special opportunity to do that.
Santa is a bit of a controversial topic, and my hope is not to draw dividing lines where there shouldn’t be any. There are plenty of godly, loving parents who do things differently at Christmas, and there is freedom in that. But, in case you’re a parent who, like my husband and me, is still figuring out how to navigate the chaos and confusion of our age with as much clarity as possible, I wanted to offer our strategy for keeping the main thing the main thing at Christmas.
And, if I had to guess, I think my six-year-old self would be pleased with our decision.
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These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.