Santa Claus is not Jesus.
Brilliant, right? Way to go, self, you’re a genius. Have a cookie and enjoy all the accolades that come with this level of intellect and achievement.
This is pretty simple. Obviously, Santa Claus is not Jesus. It seems either sacrilegious or legalistic to even construct the sentence. I can’t decide which it is. Maybe both. But here’s the point: Santa Claus isn’t Jesus.
At this time of year for many American families, Santa Claus takes center stage for a month of jollyness, checking his list, reminding kids to behave, bargain shopping, and Christmas spirit. The only problem is that Santa Claus isn’t the central character in the Christmas story. In fact, he’s not in it at all. So at this time of year, I think we all can use a good, timely reminder that Santa Claus isn’t Jesus. Myself included.
Let’s Be Honest: Santa Claus is Fun
Most of us grew up with some understanding of the Santa Claus experience, and at some base level it is fun for parents and kids. As parents we love getting our kids things they enjoy. It delights us to see their anticipation as they wait and wonder, shaking packages and bursting with barely-bridled enthusiasm. It gives us joy to see their happiness when they finally get to tear into these treasures they’ve waited for or when they storm downstairs to see what Santa left them. They are memories we will treasure.
Santa can also become a long-awaited crutch in keeping our kids in line. It’s a card we wish we could play all year long, but somehow, “Santa is watching and seven months from now you might not get any presents,” just doesn’t have the desired effect on a kid who can’t remember what is happening 7 days from now.
And like my friend Shane Pruitt pointed out, doing the Santa thing somehow gives us that child-like sense of Christmas again ourselves.
So What’s the Problem?
A few things to consider:
Is playing up Santa Claus lying to our kids?
You can treat Santa lots of ways, but let’s consider the most common way people talk about him: He’s a real person who makes toys for kids all over the world and delivers them on Christmas Eve. What you receive depends on what you ask for and how you behave in the months or weeks leading up to Christmas. We set out milk and cookies for Santa, possibly write him a little note, and then the parents eat the cookies, drink the milk, and write a little note back to the kids. We talk about it like it’s real. The kids think it’s real. And honestly, it could all be a fun tradition, so it’s easy to pass it off as just good fun or not meaning any harm.
But at the end of the day are we lying to our kids? And if so, do we think it is ever ok to lie to our kids? Our we teaching them that white lies are ok?
Are we confusing our kids about God?
I may be a spiritual and parenting novice, but I find it incredibly hard to teach my kids things about the nature and character of God. He’s invisible, spiritual, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, and perfect in wisdom, goodness, and love. All of these things are paradoxical to us as human adults, let alone the mind of a child. It’s a hard thing to explain the realities of God to a child in ways they can understand.
On the other hand, we have Santa Claus, who is also omniscient, eternal, perfect in goodness, etc., except he’s not real. One day my kids will find that out. Maybe they will just outgrow it. Maybe they will be crushed by it. But either way, this person with supernatural attributes they thought was real, will all of a sudden become a children’s game, a superstition.
When that happens, what will that cause them to think about the other person with supernatural attributes they thought was real? Will they question his existence, too?
Are we teaching our kids to be moralists?
Moralism is reducing the gospel to behavior improvement. It says that the goal is to act right. Taken to its end, it even says that we somehow earn God’s approval by being good enough and shames us into acting right. Moralism is all about what’s on the outside. It fails to deal with the heart.
With our “Santa is watching you” sentiments, are we teaching our kids to act right in order to receive things rather than out of love, gratitude, and worship? In addressing behavior without addressing the heart, are we teaching them that what matters most is how you act rather than what’s in your heart?
Does Santa rival our affections for Jesus?
The first question my kids get asked by the average person at this time of year is, “What do you want for Christmas?” or “What do you want from Santa Claus?” He’s that big of a deal in our culture.
But in the midst of our celebrations, our shopping, and our putting Santa center stage, are we robbing the attention and affection from the one who actually deserves it, the one for whom and by whom this whole season and every other season exists, the one who sacrificed everything for us to save us from our sins and restore us to God? If the way we talk about Santa, or anything else, even subtly rivals our affections for Jesus for a moment, that thing is harmful to us and is contrary to the gospel.
Who or what are we making much of?
Our primary job as parents is to teach our kids to love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind, and all their strength. Colossians 1.15-20 makes a huge statement about Jesus, the height of it being that he is to be pre-eminent in all things. Pre-eminent is a big word that means first place in everything. Another way to say it is that Jesus should always be front and center in our minds, our hearts, and our affections. Anything else taking that spotlight, even for a moment, is what we call idolatry.
So in the Christmas season and all others, we have to ask ourselves who we are making much of, both in our own hearts and in the sight of our kids.