Santa Claus is coming to town

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. So claimed Edward Pola and George Wyle in their 1963 Christmas song. This is probably, at least experientially speaking, an accurate claim. At Christmastime, people seem friendlier, the roads are quieter, entertainment options abound, and everyone looks forward to spending Christmas Day with loved ones.

If you have children, you’ll know that this is their favourite time of the year. They can’t wait to have time off school, decorate the Christmas tree and count the days till Christmas finally comes.

And then there is Santa Claus. He is all over: in shopping centres, on TV, in the movies—and in the imaginations of our children.

When our first daughter was born, my wife and I made the decision to not promote the Santa myth in our house. She is aware of Santa—and I think she has chosen to believe in him!—but we have told her from the beginning that he is an imaginary character.

In Christian circles, the Santa Clause factor is hotly debated. Do we tell our kids about Santa or not? Is it wrong to lie to them by telling them that he is real? Or are we just encouraging their imagination? The question is raised year after year, and opinions vary.

In the last couple of days, I have read two really good articles by Christian mothers who have opted not to promote the Santa myth in their homes.

Sarah Wallace, over at her Gospel-Centered Mom blog, posted an article titled “What to Do about Santa.” She begins by noting that both her and her husband believed in Santa, and neither of them have any last scars from their discovery that he is not real. However, in their home, “Santa wasn’t going to work.” She gives four reasons why this was the case:

  1. Santa promotes works righteousness.
  2. Santa blurs the line between fact and fantasy.
  3. Santa is a type of god.
  4. It’s hard to compete with Santa.

She concludes,

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.

The second article, by Kimm Crandall, is titled “Jesus Pushed the Elf off the Shelf.” It follows Wallace’s post quite nicely, with particular emphasis on expanding Wallace’s first point. She explains her concern this way:

As the traditions of the holidays swirl around my children, my hope is that they will learn to distinguish the law from the gospel. I want my kids to know that God is not another Santa Claus. I long for them to embrace the fact that they are not capable of being good enough to receive anything but coal in their stockings and that our hope for goodness can only be found in the only One capable of perfection.

Crandall’s concern is to teach her children their need for God’s grace. Santa promotes works-righteousness, she argues. Promoting Santa mitigates against this. “Do good and you will be accepted by God and will receive good things. Do bad and you will be punished by God or worse yet, be turned away. It’s the law, masked as Karma, masked as parenting.”

Both articles afford good food for thought. You may read them and disagree completely, but they will at least give you something to think about as you decide what to tell your children about Santa.

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