[This is an updated version of an article written several years ago]
Christmas is undoubtedly one of my favorite times of the year. While I abhor the plague of syncretistic paganism that envelopes much of the holiday season as much as the next Christian, God always works it out to His glory. Despite the world’s effort to euthanize Christ from Christmas, the Star of the show shines brightly on.
But all the traditions do pose a challenge for the Christian. Specifically, how do Christians maintain as central that which is central to Christmas, namely God’s plan of salvation for sinners through Jesus?
One of those aspects that my wife and I have wrestled with is Santa Claus. We both grew up in homes that told their young children that Santa was real, Santa knew all your deeds, and Santa was the giver of gifts at Christmas. After we married and before God blessed us with children, we began discussing the Santa issue. After many conversations, we opted out of “being Santa” for our then future children for a variety of reasons, but our top five are below.
1) Being Santa de-centralizes the centerpiece of Christmas–Jesus: This one is difficult to get around. Yes, the historical St. Nick is worthy of respect and honor. We can learn much from his heralded compassion and kindness. Yet it remains, that it’s all about Jesus.
2) Being Santa attributes divine characteristics to Santa that belong to Jesus: In many ways, this may be the most serious issue. Only the Divine Jesus knows all of our thoughts and deeds. To ascribe any other being but our God with these divine characteristics is idolatry. In our minds, it is all pretend. In the minds of children, it is somethhing altogether different, which leads to numbers three and four.
3) Being Santa lends itself to covetousness and idolatry rather than worship of Jesus: If our children are more concerned about Santa because of what kinds of gifts he can bring than they are about Jesus for the gift that He is to sinners, then we have contributed to our children’s already idolatrous nature. In addition, I’ve heard many parents proclaim they’re love of “being Santa” because of the priceless “joy” or “look on my kids’ faces.” It seems this is a slippery slope toward parents idolizing their children rather than worshipping Jesus.
4) Being Santa introduces mythological themes into historical reality: Christmas is about the truth of Jesus Christ. Why then would the believer want to introduce mythological elements into a holiday that Christians celebrate as a historical reality, that Christ is born?
5) Being Santa lends itself to immorality rather than holiness: Since many parents that “do Santa” lie to their children about Santa, then one must question the very foundation of “doing Santa.” This is not the same as a temporary, birthday-surprise type situation. We are talking about a deception that is maintained anywhere from three to ten years. Add to this, Christmas is supposed to be about the truth that Jesus is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Therefore, it does not seem the wiser to mix fact and fiction at Christmas time.
Of course, many people (often professing Christians) seem to have a beef with folks like us. Some are genuinely curious as to why we don’t do Santa. Others are downright indignant. Here’s some of the reactions we received over the years:
1) “Aren’t your kids missing out on all the fun at Christmas?”: An alternate version of this questions is, “Aren’t your kids missing out on their childhood?” Of course, this assumes that Christmas is about having fun and getting stuff. Now granted, Christmas is lots of fun and should be, but I know plenty of children (including mine) that have never been fed the Santa tradition and who think Christmas just as grand. In essence, they don’t really care so much about Santa as they do about getting stuff. Either way, you have to deal with a child’s covetous idolatry (the “Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome), and we believe that task is best accomplished by focusing on historical truth at Christmas.
2) “You’re just being legalistic.”: First off, we must use the term legalism carefully, since it often requires that we know the motivations of someone’s heart, and we can only know their motivations by getting to know them personally.
Second, legalism can only be legalism if it is a belief or practice that a person believes sets them apart as more righteous than another person and obtains for themselves a more righteous standing with God. And this is certainly not where we stand. A Christian’s righteous standing with God is by His grace alone through faith in Jesus. Thus, my wife and I don’t judge other Christians for “being Santa.” Rather, this article is not religious dogma but a call to consideration from fellow believers.
3) “So, you don’t celebrate Christmas?”: We were meeting with a group of Christians once, and we happened to share with them that we “don’t do Santa”. One lady in the group said, “So, you don’t celebrate Christmas? You don’t do gifts?” Indeed, the Santa myth is deeply ingrained even among adult Christians. Apparently for some, leaving Santa out of Christmas is no longer Christmas. Thus, we see plainly the real and present danger of neglecting the Savior during the holiday.
All this to say, let us keep central that which is central at Christmas. Christians, if you choose to “do Santa”, then do it. But by all means, please be careful in how you deal with the historical truth of Jesus coming into the world at Bethlehem, living a sinless life that we couldn’t live ourselves, taking God’s wrath against sin that we ourselves deserved at the cross, and rising from the dead so that everyone that turns from sin and follows Him will have eternal life.