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.

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.

Should We Chunk Santa?

This is the $50,000 question, right? At this point, I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that we should put down the Santa Claus fun and back away slowly. But I want to draw a different conclusion. Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Trust Jesus, follow him, and make him first place in everything in your life. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
2) Read what the Bible says about Jesus and Christmas.
3) Ask yourself what would most magnify the grace, goodness, and glory of God during every season of the year, including Christmas.
4) Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom and help you to obey.
5) Apply these to things to your approach to Santa Claus.

That’s it. No, I’m not going to tell you what to do. Like I said, moralism isn’t a good thing. I don’t want you changing the way you behave because I said so. Santa Claus is not Jesus, and neither am I. I do, however, care about your heart, and I want you to love Jesus, hear from God personally, and trust and obey him.

Does Santa Come Down the Clayton Chimney?

I want to be clear that this is our method based on our convictions, which have been formed by Scripture, prayer, and conversation with others. Every one of us has to ask the Lord what he wants from us and obey on our own.

How we approach Santa is largely a way for us to compromise and have fun with family who do buy all the Santa magic. In the Clayton house Santa Claus is a fun game. We talk about him with our kids like it’s a fun way to get presents. We do tell them what others say about Santa when they ask, and we let them watch movies that have a Santa Claus theme, listen to Santa Claus music, and participate in normal Christmas parties.

But we are careful in these moments to talk with our kids about what is real, what isn’t, and who and what Christmas is about. We leave one present unwrapped for them on Christmas morning, and that is their Santa Claus gift. Once the melee calms down we are clear that the present came from us and we expect them to tell us thank you, just like they would anything else we give them or do for them.

How we treat Christmas and Santa is less about what we don’t do and more about what we emphasize. We observe the season of Advent, both at Remedy as a church, and in our family. We have an Advent calendar, something we open every day of Advent, and those things in some way point us to Jesus and the biblical, gospel significance of Christmas. We have a Jesus tree in our house where our kids can hang things that make them think of Jesus throughout the season. And one of our favorite traditions is our kids giving away many of their own toys to friends and neighbors.

That’s what works for us.

The Miracle of Christmas

In a discussion like this, it’s easy to get lost in the debate, but we cannot forget that there is something much bigger calling for our eyes and our hearts. It is the most pressing and life-giving news of this season and every season:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. –Luke 2.10-11

Merry Christmas.

A Few Others’ Thoughts On It

Rethinking Santa by Dr. John Piper
Thinking About Santa by Noel Piper
Should Christians Play Santa by C Michael Patton
Should Your Family Invite Santa to Christmas? by Lindsey Carlson

Interested in hearing more about Advent?

Advent at Remedy Church