Jesus vs Santa Claus

the reason for the season

I’ve hesitated to write about the Jesus vs Santa topic because it can be a surprisingly divisive topic in church and family cultures. However, the holiday season is upon us and I think it’s interesting and even helpful to hear differing perspectives on how parents handle the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as well.

Here’s mine.

The church cultures in which Mollie and I raised our kids have been theologically conservative, highly biblically literate, and conducive to sincere devotion in following Jesus. I got the impression over the years that our family held the minority position in those churches in that we openly practiced the Santa tradition.

For some no-Santa Christians, the idea of Christians practicing the Santa tradition can seem incomprehensible. I don’t care to sway anyone to my position, but for what it’s worth I thought I would share my reasons why my wife and I chose to follow this secular holiday tradition. Our reasons may surprise you, because they ultimately have to do with Jesus.

Following are my responses to the most common reasons I’ve heard for not observing the Santa tradition:

1) We want Jesus to be the focus of Christmas in our family
Indeed. Of course we wanted this for our family as well. However, it’s not an either/or issue. I know this because I was raised in a Christian home that kept the Santa tradition, yet I and all of my sibs love Jesus today, and none of us believes in Santa Claus anymore. I can remember as a kid that, even though my imagination excited me about Saint Nick, my parents also taught us that the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Jesus. I believed them, and it made perfect sense to me.

I definitely got the idea that Jesus and Santa Claus were somehow on the same team.

Later, as a parent, I had what I saw as a strategic reason for keeping the Santa tradition. From the time my children were small, of course they learned about the story of Jesus and His birth. However, I knew they could only understand so much, and I certainly couldn’t expect them to sit around and stare at their navels pondering Jesus all Christmas season. So we enlisted Santa Claus to help make the season of Jesus’s birth more exciting for them. We knew they would eventually drop the Santa belief as they left childhood, but we believed there would remain with them very positive feelings and fun memories that they would carry with them into adulthood. The reason behind it all would always be Jesus.

I believe this has proved to be true.

2) I’m not comfortable lying to my kids
I completely agree with this one. Our kids assumed Santa was real mostly because of songs and stories and the input of extended family members. Christmas mornings pretty much convinced them. However, as they got older and directly questioned us, we made it a point to never to lie to them.

However, I used it as a way to encourage critical thinking. I told them that I wanted them to figure it out on their own. I told them that all of their lives people would tell them things that were not true and that they needed to learn how to discover what is true. This wasn’t a very satisfying answer to them, but then it became sort of a game. They would begin to give me arguments and I would try to argue the other side. If their argument was a good one, I would say “that’s a good argument!”

More importantly, for each child I also used this moment to underscore the truth, saying something like: “I will tell you this – the story of Jesus and everything in the Bible is definitely true, and Mom and I believe it.” I wanted them to be rock solid about that.

I think there is something very healthy about a child learning to critically engage in figuring out the truth, even when it is against his or her interest to do so.

3) Christmas is a pagan holiday. Christmas trees and Santa Claus have pagan origins.
I have always thought this was a lame argument for several reasons. Primarily, regardless of what December 25 meant many hundreds of years ago, today, in America, it is not a pagan holiday. For followers of Jesus it is a remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus.

True, no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. This is also irrelevant. So the church randomly picked a day to celebrate the birth of God’s Messiah. Or maybe the date is not so random, and the church picked a popular pagan holiday and redeemed it to become a holiday celebrating the true Creator. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Even today many Christians attempt to do the same thing with Halloween.

Christmas is arguably not a biblically condoned holiday, but that does not make it a harmful practice. Behind this objection there seems to be a concern that all of Christendom is somehow accidentally participating is false worship because of the holiday’s origins. But worship is intentional and conscious. I have yet to see biblical support for the idea of someone accidentally worshiping Satan. I’m willing to be proven wrong on this.

4) I don’t want to encourage materialism and selfishness in my kids.
Another great reason. We didn’t want to encourage those things either. I probably don’t need to say much here though. I think we all recognize that Christmas has become very commercialized and money driven. Many people go deeper into credit card debt during the Christmas season. Not good.

I’ve heard a lot of great strategies that families use to get around this. Some don’t do gift giving at all. Some do, but make a point to give to a needy family each year as well. Some work at a shelter as a family as part of their Christmas season, serving those less fortunate than they are. Some do gift giving but limit the dollar amount that can be spent. Please feel free to share your ideas or traditions in the comment section!

But as for the topic at hand, it certainly hasn’t been my experience that observing the Santa tradition will necessarily encourage materialism and selfishness. My opinion is that the example of the parents over the long haul is foremost in encouraging or discouraging a materialistic lifestyle. In fact, ironically, Santa only exists because of the generosity of parents toward their children. When children figure out that it was mom and dad all along, this arguably encourages gratitude and models selfless giving to them.

On the positive side, there are a couple of other reasons that proved to be quite important to Mollie and me when we were determining what our family culture would be around Christmastime:

Extended family
I was raised by devoted Christian parents. Had Mollie and I refused to practice the Santa tradition on “spiritual grounds” I think it would have created an unnecessary offense against my parents and siblings. There were other things more important to us that my parents didn’t understand, like breastfeeding, homeschooling, and eating a whole food/organic diet. Creating a rift over something as fun and harmless as Santa Claus would have been just been super-annoying to my family.

To see it from my mom’s perspective: she and her 6 siblings grew up in St. Louis with an alcoholic father. As a result she grew up impoverished, and quit school after the 8th grade to start working. She told us that when they were young, she and her siblings would sometimes each receive an orange for Christmas.

So when she married my dad, I think she tried to make holidays with her own children everything she missed as a child. I have wonderful holiday memories from childhood, and I still love the Christmas season. I think my mom would’ve been hurt had I implied that I saw her efforts as harmful.

Jesus versus Santa

Christmas morning with my siblings, 1962

Joyful, Joyful
In our family, Mollie and I wanted to tip the scales in favor of making the Christian holidays transcendent and irresistible; something that our kids would look forward to all year long. Santa Claus is unnecessary. If you’re a parent and you don’t include Santa in your repertoire of holiday traditions, I fully respect your decision. However, I would encourage you to figure out ways to make the holiday season an exciting and transcendent time for your kids, so that they will grow up loving the season of Jesus’s birth. Ultimately, we all hope to see our kids continue to love the person of Jesus Himself.

For me the bottom line on Santa is: he’s a harmless, if shallow, part of American culture.
If we can figure out ways to use harmless cultural traditions to our advantage,  I think that’s a good thing.

My illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus in fidelity to the Bible, beginning with creation and the fall. Orders should be received by Dec 5 to ensure delivery by Christmas.
(Or, please email me directly me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)

 

 

 

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8 comments on “Jesus vs Santa Claus

  1. I think you handle the issue well, and you’ve given solid reasons for doing so that any reasonable person ought to accept.

    We always taught our kids that the Santa character they see today isn’t real but that there is an alleged, historical source for the St. Nick tradition. Moreover, we never hid Santa from them. They watched all the Santa/Rudolph cartoons, and we basically treated the characters like any cartoon character. I don’t hide Mickey Mouse from my kids because he’s fake, so why hide Santa? Just enjoy is as the fantasy that it is and move on. The fact is, my kids enjoy Christmas very much without believing Santa is real.

    As far as gifts are concerned, we only get our kids stockings and whatever we can fit into those, and we don’t do any Christmas gifts other than that. Again, being raised with that from birth, my kids feel like that’s a perfectly normal Christmas and they don’t feel cheated in any way, even knowing that other families do things differently. My wife has made it clear to them that she’d rather randomly buy them gifts throughout the year (which we do) to show them we love them rather than to feel obligated to buy gifts simply because it’s commercially expected. We also wanted them to know that (1) it’s Jesus’ birthday we’re celebrating, not theirs and (2) they already got the greatest gift, i.e., the gift of Christ’s birth making a way to reconcile fallen man to God.

    Finally, I never understood why people suggest Christmas is a pagan holiday. Certainly the celebration of Christ’s birth was moved to a day that another pagan holiday occurred (whether to eclipse the day’s pagan celebration or to have confluent celebrations make everyone feel inclusive), but it doesn’t logically follow that celebrating one thing when another thing occurs make the two identical. If I chose to celebrate my child’s birthday on Ramadan, it wouldn’t make my child’s birthday a muslim holiday. It would just happen that the two occur at the same time. As for Christmas trees, yes, those have pagan roots, but clearly no one today gets a tree for pagan motives. If someone out there were involved in eating bacon during one of their pagan rituals, should that ban me from having a BLT in good conscience?

    As always, great post – and have a very merry Christmas!

  2. Frank,
    Thanks for taking time to weigh-in in such detail. I love hearing about how other families handle these issues. The stocking idea is a good one, which also happens to be tied in to the historical St. Nick legend, for what it’s worth. I have no idea what my kids will do with their own children someday, but as long as Jesus remains the center I will be happy.

    May you and your family have a joyous Christmas as well!

  3. Mark James says:

    There were a couple things in your essay that stood out to me. First is this issue of lying to our children. I didn’t want one the first memories of my children to be that I lied to them. Nor did I think it was a game to see how fast they would discover the deception. We never presented Santa Claus as anything other than a cartoon associated with the season and I’m glad we did. We just simply took that issue off the table. Lying is a serious problem and we see it extend all the way to the halls of our government as well as culture. In fact, lying is so ingrained in our culture (Hollywood), that’s it’s seldom questioned. Further, I witnessed first hand the dismay and hurt when the child learns that the parents lied to them from the beginning. Far from feelings of gratitude. It’s not harmless.

    Critical thinking will come soon enough to a child with lines of questioning and exposure to literature and art that encourages an honest search for truth. To your credit, your children books, through art – an alternative cultural view – present Jesus as the way and Truth at a young age. Life itself will teach plenty about the subjects of lying, propaganda, and deception and, we as parents, need to be the first line of defense.

    Second, Christmas has morphed into an idolatrous ‘holiday’. I find this passage in Jeremiah to be revealing: Jeremiah 10:3 – “For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with an ax. They deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers. that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.” There were very real negative consequences for Judah.

    Christmas today is almost unrecognizable from the Christmas of my youth, to wit Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday, terrible movies of people doing bad things, and frightening Santas. And now, we can’t even wish someone a Merry Christmas without fear of retaliation or revulsion. It’s rare to see something that captures the spirit of Christmas. I get it, the whole Christmas thing is for children to enjoy and partake. Sure, I can laugh along with some of the movies that have a good message. And lest I be branded a humbug, I do use the time to enjoy family, and, yes we exchange gifts in the spirit of thanksgiving. And I don’t sit in judgement of those that partake in the Santa traditions, but do join debates about the subject. The greatest gift of Jesus is but a quiet whisper in the prolonged din of the masses that say otherwise.

    Anyway, all that said, allow me to suggest a new blog subject for the new year, one that I truly hunger for: art. You are extremely talented as an artist and a voice for a cultural alternative. I would love to hear about your art, the inspiration, the challenges, the influences, your objectives, historical touchstones, etc. For me, the political subjects of your posts don’t serve the greater cause of getting to the root of our political divisions – our culture. My effort as a photographer is to push from behind and displace artists caught up in identity politics. That’s why I will only exhibit in museum venues and never exhibit in a church. I believe, like the apostles, that we are called to go out into the world and the world is mostly outside of the church. My standard drumbeat is “Change a heart and you change the politics.” I say this with love and it’s a subject I will be glad to meet and talk about over a cup of coffee. I want to hear about the journey of a lifelong artist.

    Anyway, I feel safe in saying Merry Christmas!

    Mark James

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mark.
    I enjoy hearing your perspective and I’m happy that you are satisfied with the course you chose with your family.

    I must say, I’ve seen the Jeremiah 10:3 passage before, (I considered referencing it in my post,) and I don’t see that it has any relevance to Christmas. When I read verses 1 thru 9, it seems pretty clear to me that the verse is speaking about idols made out of wood for purposes of false worship. By contrast, I think Christmas trees are a harmless tradition, and I’ve never heard of anyone worshiping one.

    At any rate I appreciate your suggestion for art-related posts. I have done several over the years. You can find them by clicking the key words on the right. In fact my previous post was related to my current book project, which is where much of my creative efforts are going these days. ‘Sorry to say I have been unable to to make a real living solely as a fine artist. I’m not giving up, but I am cocooning.

    Merry Christmas to you also!

    Scott

  5. Rod Lampard says:

    We chose to opt out of the Santa trad. I wanted to be straight-up about Christmas with my kids, besides that advent is most of December, not just a couple of days near the end. Party for a month or party for one day? Is say, party for a month! 🙂 Growing up, Santa Clause and New Years eve were the reasons for season. Lots of alcohol, food and very little Christ. The closest thing we had ot anything reverent, were the Christmas carols we might attend, the odd midnight mass and a cheap, grey, plastic all-in-one nativity scene. Reindeers, Winter scenes and Santa were the order of the day, which are way out of place in the Australian summer. Getting was more important than receiving and my parents, who were still together at the time, would use Santa as a way to manipulate us into behaving well. The season became meaningless to me. I didn’t even completely read the gospel accounts until I was in my late teens, as I came to understand and value Christmas outside the materialist consumer tradition. Not that I am against the buzz of shopping and buying that perfect gift. There is a place for that, I just wanted the focus to be the deep seated joy about an eternity entering time and space, not a temporal high about some new toy. To clarify, I’m not anti-Santa. I’m counter to the overemphasis on Santa, which is too easily used by atheists, Muslims, (among others) to mock Christians and their faith in Jesus Christ.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Rod. I get all of that and respect your approach. I find it interesting to compare our experiences – 2 guys in 2 different countries with with 2 very different upbringings, yet we are united on the things that matter most.
      May God enlarge your influence in the coming year, and may you and your family have a joyous advent season!

  6. Many years ago, I overheard 2 young girls talking about the difference between Santa and God (they were about 4 years old).
    The conversation went like this:
    1st girl: “You know what? I think Santa is the same person as God.”
    2nd girl: “NO. They are NOT the same.”
    1st girl: “Yes they are. God has a white beard and white hair, and Santa does too….AND Santa sees everything you do, and knows everything you do….and so does God. They are the same person.”
    (The 2nd girl did not have a reply for this, so she didn’t say anything for awhile).
    Finally , after about 2 or 3 minutes, the 2nd girl said:
    No…Santa is not God. Santa only loves when you are good. God loves you all of the time, no matter what.
    Then the other girls said, “Aaaaah. That’s true. You are right.”
    And that ended a very interesting discussion…………..
    Merry Christmas!

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