The Christian’s relationship to Santa in America is varied. Some see Santa as a fun trick to play on your children while they are young enough to believe it. Others feel that Santa distracts children from learning about the incarnation of Christ. Some go further, claiming that Santa is a tool of the devil to distract people from focusing on Jesus. Still others view Santa as the embodiment of the Christmas spirit–he is jolly, generous, and loves children. Given the myriad of movies, television shows, products, and advertisements in our country that feature Old St. Nick, one thing is for certain: Santa is impossible to ignore. The Santa question is one that every Christian parent will eventually have to address with their children. With that in mind, we asked some or our writers who have children to share how they have addressed or plan to address that question with their children.
“Emphasizing Jesus Without Demonizing Santa” by Erin Newcomb, writer:
My daughter thinks of Santa Claus the same way she thinks about Winnie the Pooh: as a fun character in a storybook. She typically refers to him as Sinterklaas, because the only time she’s ever seen him was at an Old Dutch festival; based on that experience, she also thinks he rides in a red boat and parades around with giant birds on stilts. Since she’s only two, she has no memory of receiving presents on Christmas Day and no one has told her to expect gifts from Santa.
Our approach is not to demonize Santa (which, in my view, makes him a lot more important than he actually is), but to emphasize Jesus. So we do an advent calendar together every night, counting the days until Christ’s birthday. We’re planning a party where my daughter has requested blue cupcakes and corn. I might make some executive changes to the menu there, but I’m thrilled about her excitement every time she says “Mama, what are we waiting for?” and then answers her own question “Jesus’ birthday!” Sure, she’ll get gifts, a few stocking stuffers of little animals, but the main gift will come from her parents—books that focus on Jesus and his incredible, imminent birthday.
“When Your Children Believe Anyway” by Brad Williams, writer:
My wife and I very much want Christmas to be about the Christ Jesus that we love and not about the imaginary Santa. In general, we tend to be against tricking our children unless it is short-term and for the sake of humor. And, in a way, telling your children that there is a jolly old fat-man dressed in a red suit flitting about the world in a sleigh full of gifts pulled by flying reindeer sounds like a pretty grandiose joke to pull on them. It must be great fun to chortle whilst one’s children fall for that gag.
But since we didn’t want to be curmudgeons and ruin the prank for everyone, our compromise was to frame Santa around St. Nicholas of Myra. We told our children that Saint Nicholas was a real person who loved Jesus and gave away his wealth to those in need. So Santa was real, but the present incarnations are just people playing pretend.
Yet, our son stubbornly believes in Santa, and his sister has followed suit. We have decided not to out-right crush their misplaced faith in Santa, but rather to logically persuade them of the impossibility. So far, they are resilient in their belief and are as cute as cherubs in their defense of the jolly old elf. One day, they’ll realize the truth, and that we were always honest with them.
“The Disinterested Approach” by Seth Hahne, illustrator:
While I’m certain my wife will have her own say in matters (though I doubt it will differ from my own in anything but trivialities), my current guess as to how we will deal with, speak of, or explain Santa Claus will be wholesale neglect. I’m imagining that it just won’t come up in any real way. When my daughter first encounters Santa, it will doubtlessly be through the lens of Who is this new imaginary character? My easy, disinterested response will sit squarely along the lines of Oh, he’s like Totoro. But he’s a Christmas Totoro. Only, not as cool as Big Totoro.
It’s pretty simple in my imagination and I doubt it will be any more difficult than that. She’s already well aware of the difference between fantasy and reality. She considers Totoro and Howl and Sophie and Ponyo to be her friends, but she knows they only exist in the panel in our living room (i.e., in stories). I don’t imagine her involvement with Santa will be any more robust; especially as our own disinterest in the red, white, and black Xmas superhero becomes apparent. I have never held any particular fondness for the tradition myself and haven’t ever felt any loss associated with never having believed in or cared about the mythical figure. Wondering how to deal with Santa is, for us, as much a non-issue as planning how to explain to our children the political platform of William Henry Harrison.
“The Importance of Gratitude” by Ben Bartlett, writer and associate editor:
Santa is pretty straightforward in my mind. He’s pretend. He encourages being good simply to get stuff. And he steals credit from generous family members.
Perhaps someday I’ll tell the story of St. Nicholas, and why there are good connections between his generosity, the giving of gifts, and the greatest gift of all. But thanks to the confusion created by a secular world in love with possessions, the distinction is too difficult for my three-year-old to parse.
So, my son and I had this conversation when Isaiah saw some Santa toys.
Isaiah: Daddy, who is that?
Me: That’s Santa Clause.
Isaiah: Oh. What does he do?
Me: Well, he’s pretend. People like to say he comes down their chimneys and leaves them presents.
Ben: I have no idea.
There’s one other reason Santa is ignored at our house. Parenting is full of uncertainty and constant worry about missed opportunities, making clear chances to teach gratitude valuable. So when my kids receive presents this year, they will be expected to say, “Thank you,” to the giver in each and every circumstance. To put it bluntly, there’s just no room for untrue stories about Santa.
“Admit it! Santa is Kinda Creepy” by Drew Dixon, editor
My wife and I took our 5.5 month old daughter to the lodge at the local State Park to have pictures made with Santa. To be honest, it wasn’t our idea–we were invited by another couple in our church who recently had their first child as well. We love these friends dearly and jumped at the opportunity to spend time with them. Evelyn stared at Santa, grabbed his beard, and stuck her fingers in his mouth. It was adorable.
My wife and I had already discussed how we would approach Santa and we thought that we would simply tell Evelyn that he was a man from Turkey who loved Jesus and graciously gave away his wealth to help others in need. However, as “Santa” awkwardly nibbled at my daughter’s fingers, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s possible to avoid having to deal with the more troubling aspects of Santa lore. We don’t want to be the family that ruins everyone else’s fun by telling the truth about Santa and yet there are certain aspects about him that I feel will necessitate correction if my daughter were to professes faith in them.
Admit it–the idea that Santa sees children when they are sleeping and knows whether they have been bad or good is creepy. These are things that only God knows and sees–I cannot see how attributing such qualities to Santa would aid my daughter in understanding God. Further, the gospel tells us that God gives us good gifts because he loves us not because our works merit them. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to teach that to my daughter. I will give her gifts but it will be clear that they are from her earthly father in hopes that doing so will point her to her heavenly one.