In Defense of a Santa-y Christmas

There’s been a lot of talk about Santa and Christmas here at What She Said, and I want to chime in with a semi-outsider’s point of view.  Confession: when I see Christians discussing how to interact with culture and raise children in the midst of it, I often find myself saying, “Thank You God for not making me a Christian until I grew up!” Because even now, as a believer, it seems to me that Christian Culture takes strange stands against things God just might be using, robbing life of joy and making our faith look kind of well…terrible.  I believe God can use Santa to help us understand Him. Here’s why:

In my family growing up, our Christmas celebrations were pretty secular.  And they were WONDERFUL.  My mom is a genius at Christmas: each year she turned our normal little house into a place where magic could happen, setting the stage for possibilities.  There were special decorations, cookies with sprinkles, and yes…presents.  A few under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas morning, HEAPS of festively wrapped packages, more than I could have asked for or imagined.  (Biblical reference intentional)

I don’t know when I realized the truth about Santa.  We didn’t have a fireplace, but rather a woodstove with a door that latched tightly from the outside. I do remember thinking at one point, “I don’t like Santa’s chances here…”  But I’m comfortable with mystery (a skill that serves me well as a Christian) and so I decided that Santa must know about our home heating choices and have an alternative plan.

We were not wealthy, and our presents were not the “must have” toys of the moment. But they were “must haves” for us, because Mom and Dad put a lot of thought into how to spend their Christmas budget.  The presents were perfect because they were personal, not just piles of stuff. And each gift, whether it was a stocking stuffer of Chapstick, a sweater I’d admired months ago, or a new toy, was tagged with a special little note or sticker, personalized by Mom, acting as Santa’s scribe. Each year, we experienced something truly special—magical, personal—that happened to us, in our house. In a way, these Christmases taught me to believe.

Now admittedly, my Mom loves Christmas, and so all of this was fun for her rather than a chore.  It might not be everyone’s thing.  But to Christian parents, I ask: might Christmas—the secular, Santa version, filled with presents—be a chance to teach your kids about exceeded expectations, possibility, and celebration? And how God loves and knows us personally? It takes a lifetime to understand what Jesus’ life and death and life mean.  It’s not the worst idea to start kids off with the best part, and work in the rest of the story from there.

Christmas Without Papa
Can You Take the Heat?
The Flawed Theology of Naughty and Nice Lists
Between Scarcity and Excess
  • Christa

    Thank you! My thoughts exactly–even the part about becoming a Christian as a grown up. We have these lovely neighbors, Christians that do not let their kids participate in Halloween. No dressing up, no trick or treating. Now the thing is, I can see having rules about what your kids could dress up as. And I can see having rules about how much candy. But if you’re okay with your kids playing dress up to be Batman (which this family is) and having the occasional Snickers bar (which this family is), who cares that Halloween started as some pagan celebration?

  • Edie C

    I have to disagree with you. I grew up in a very secular house as well with lots of issues, addictions, and problems around me. I had very little trust in my parents even from the very beginning. When I found out Santa, the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, etc were not real, it was just another blow to our relationship. It was also a huge blow to my already developing trust issues. Why did everyone lie to me? I had a few family members trying to show me Jesus and I lost any little belief I had built into him up to that point. If these other “characters” I couldn’t see weren’t real, then heaven must not be either. Thank the Lord that He pursued me for many years later so that today I can say I BELIEVE in Jesus! I don’t want my children to ever think I would lie to them. It’s so important to convey the truth from the beginning. There are plenty of scriptures that support only being for Jesus, not lying, not covering up, not making up other ideas, idols, icons, etc. It should be all about Jesus! {Now that I’m off my soapbox I will add in a disclaimer that we are adament with our children that they not ruin someone else’s “tradition” and they know the stories of the real St Nicholas that lived so long ago}

  • Carrie

    The problem is that all of those things can be taught without ever uttering the name of santa but True Faith can’t be found by teaching about santa. If we, as parents, think our kids can only experience joy, excitement, and wonder through an imaginary person then we’re teaching our kids that Jesus just isn’t exciting enough. But you know what, He is!

  • heidikins

    As I was growing up we had the Santa-Christmas and also the Christ child-Christmas, with a signifanct sway towards Baby Jesus. Santa filled our stockings and brought us ONE present wrapped in special “North Pole” wrapping paper that was sneakily hidden all year and only ever used for Santa’s gifts. My Mom gave us the rest of our gifts because she liked the idea that we knew Santa was great, but that our parents loved us more. We never hung our stockings until Christmas Eve after we’d read Luke 2 and reenacted a live Nativity. Santa was a part of Christmas, but he–and his bag ‘o’ gifts–was never the main event.

    As I get older, I like that. Santa never brought our “main” gift, our parents did that. Santa always brought something awesome, something we’d requested, but we always knew that he had a LOT to do that night and a LOT to carry and the bike AND the dollhouse AND the pony just didn’t fit in his sleigh with the gifts for every other kid in the world. That being said, any gift-giving became much more about our family members and friends instead of a big jolly guy in a red suit.

    When I was 8 I spent my first split-Christmas with my recently divorced parents. The Santa who visited my Dad’s house didn’t have North Pole wrapping paper, and he had different hand writing than the one who visited my Mom’s house. The Santa thing was over for me then and there, but Christmas was never about Santa, so I wasn’t too heartbroken.


  • KAPOW1998

    Edie, I totally agree with you. I did grow up in a Christian household, and my parents put on a HUGE Christmas extravaganza – gifts, decorations, etc – the works. Santa was a small part, but NEVER, and I mean NEVER, did my parents pretend that Santa was real. It was clear from day one that Dad left the notes from “Santa”, thanking us for the cookies. That the man dressed as Santa who came to our Christmas party was my grandfather (Santa with a French accent, wearing cheap cologne??) We also, joyously and with great anticipation, celebrated advent with our own advent wreath and prayers and readings said every evening before dinner. We read the biblical accounts a fair amount. We participated in the pageants at the Christmas Eve children’s service, came home and sat around the fire eating delicious, once-a-year food and stayed up ridiculously late. And you know, THOSE moments – the ones that built the anticipation of the arrival of Jesus – those were the moments that made Christmas magic to me. Those are the traditions I remember most clearly about childhood Christmas celebrations. My sisters and I knew what Christmas was all about and were given the joy in the magic of the season, but I never had reason to doubt my parents were lying to me. So later, I had no reason to doubt they were lying to me about Jesus, either. We’re doing the same for our kids. Our youngest will be sprinkling reindeer food outside this year – knowing full well there’s no such thing as Santa. (She just wants to see if we can attract reindeer). I expect we’ll leave cookies out this year, too. But we lean heavily toward Jesus, and I can see how that’s built the anticipation of Christmas much more than Santa. And I also have to warn them not to blow the charade for someone else’s kids.

  • Tara Edelschick


    I wonder if this isn’t another do-you-can-your-own-pickled-fish-that-you-caught-yourself controversies from a couple weeks back – with lots of unhelpful defensiveness and judgement from both sides. I can see why you want to defend Santa from attack. Some of us who have chosen to do without him are mighty snarky about it. My post two weeks ago had this less than generous line:

    “…He tells us how to give him a gift: ‘What you have done for the least of these you have done for me.’ Why not do that for Christmas?”

    Certainly plenty of faithful Christians have done Santa-Claus Christmases and raised faithful children while doing it. And perhaps you are right that some of what happened with Santa had a direct, positive influence on the development of that faith.

    Still, I don’t think that those of us who don’t “do Santa” have relegated our children to a holiday that lacks “exceeded expectations, possibility, and celebration.” Nor do I think that their faith will lack imagination or joy or celebration. If it did, that would bode poorly for Christians worldwide, many of whom don’t include Santa in their celebrations.

    Ah, well, all of the angst and judgement and fear leaves no doubt that we are in need of help. Good thing he’s on the way!

  • Lori

    I just don’t get it. I also know God doesn’t want pride or judgement of others get the best of me. So I’ll just say Happy Birthday Jesus :-)

  • Megan White

    Well put! Thanks for sharing this lovely and lively piece. It was a reminder of how believing in Santa helped me become a more faithful person myself!

  • Susan @

    I love that “What She Said” is covering this issue! This has been much on my mind this season as well. Our children are 6, 4, 2, and 8 months, and we do Santa as well. In the Christian circles we run in, we’re well in the minority to do so, and In find the issue is often an elephant in the room among adults (which I recently described in Christians and the Santa question.
    Parents’ own experiences in their childhood, as well as their own convictions about how to handle myth and truth, play into how this decision is handled by each family.
    This line in Trish’s post resonated especially with me: “Each year, we experienced something truly special—magical, personal—that happened to us, in our house. In a way, these Christmases taught me to believe.”
    The experiential component of believing – the tactile wonder and anticipation – is an amazing thing. My huband’s and my memory of it in our own childhood Santa experiences have contributed to our choice to embrace the Santa myth, with Jesus firmly planted at the center.
    However I completely respect and value the position of those who choose differently.
    Thanks for the dialogue.

  • Addie
  • Lisa Schultz

    Thank you for posting this! I agree.

  • Alison Hodgson

    Our family is preparing to celebrate our first Christmas in our new home, which we built after an arsonist set fire to our old one.

    We were all home and in bed when the alarms sounded. We ran out with just the clothes on our backs.

    The arsonist was sentenced a couple weeks ago and this Advent we have been talking about justice, grace, mercy and forgiveness.

    I really loved this post and the picture of your mom living it up and creating wonder and delight for her children.

    Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate that Jesus came, that he is Emmanuel, God with us. God’s presence can be difficult to perceive at times, and yet believing he is there and looking for his providence, in good times and bad, is the great work of our lives.

  • Laurel

    I love this post, and it really resonates with me. Totally agree with you, and so glad you wrote about this.

  • kimberlee

    Trish, so happy to see you on Six Seeds! You’re just popping up everywhere, in my world anyway. ;)

    Just wanted to say that my parents were the same about gifts, they were personal, not whatever was “the thing” that year. And the stockings were THE hit, mine jam packed with make-up when I was older.

    I don’t know many Christians that are anti-Santa because they consider him “secular.” When the truth is, he isn’t secular, but an actual saint that did good in Jesus’ name. The holiday has become totally commercialized, and even Christians aren’t immune to that. We’re the ones who know the true reason of Christmas. And growing up in a Christian home, it’s hard for me to relate to how people don’t even know anything about the holiday they celebrate. It’s rather sad to me.

  • kiersten anderson

    BRAVO!! and well said. I agree 100%. as i think about my most memorable moments as a child they involve mystery, make-believe and fun. i think christmas is a wonderful time of year to not only focus on the birth of Jesus, and his mysterious and magical work in this world, but a time as parents to be creative, fun and enjoy our children and create fun memories with them!