Q: #183. Should Christian parents teach their kids to believe in Santa Claus?
A: I know this isn’t going to be a popular answer, but I believe it is wrong for Christians to promote the Santa Claus is a real person myth. My main reason is simply that you can’t do so without lying to your children. I do not believe there are small lies, little white lies, harmless lies, lies to prevent hurt feelings, etc. A lie is a lie. The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between good lies and bad lies, it just says lying is wrong (Col 3:9)(Eph 4:25)(Zech 8:16)(Prov 12:22).
In addition, generally lie has to build upon lie.
Little Billy asks: How does Santa get into a house?
(Answer) He lands his sleigh on a roof and goes down through the chimney.
What if the house doesn’t have a chimney?
(Answer) Then he enters through a door.
How does he have a key to every house?
This can go on and on….
What effect will this lying have on a child when he eventually finds out the truth? For many, it may just be brushed off as a silly joke, but for others, it certainly isn’t brushed off. There ARE kids who are genuinely hurt when they find out the truth, and realize that they were lied to for years by their parents (and others). They can wonder, “If I was lied to about this, what else have I been lied to about.” “Maybe Jesus isn’t real either.” Can it have a lasting effect on a child’s trust, or whether or not they ultimately believe in Jesus? Probably not in most cases, but it is possible. I believe it is ALWAYS best to be honest with our children in EVERYTHING. If we never lie to them in the first place, then we never have to worry about if they will be harmed by a lie when the truth is found out.
Update: About 12 years after writing this, I was recently shocked to find out from my mother that the above paragraph applies to ME! She told me that when I was 7 years old, my father told me (and my 5 year old brother) that Santa was not real. (For no other reason than to make us as miserable as he was at Christmas, but that is another story.) He also told us that our mother wrapped our presents, and put them under the tree.
Afterwards, being very upset, I went to my mother and asked her if it was true, and she responded, “yes.” I then asked her if she was the “tooth-fairy” too, and she responded, “yes.” Then, after some thought, I hesitantly asked her, “Are you God too?” Her reply was, “No honey, God is real.” Since I don’t remember this happening, I obviously don’t remember how much, or how long I was affected by learning that I was “lied” to by my parents. I also don’t know if it impacted my trust in my parents, or if it influenced my view of God, but I strongly suspect (knowing me) that I did not just “brush it off” immediately, and move on.
Another problem I have with perpetuating this myth is the good/bad, naughty/nice aspect as it relates to getting gifts. This is a horrible message to send to children. Good children get gifts, bad children don’t. What does it say to poor children whose parents can’t afford many gifts, or perhaps none at all? Obviously, that child will think, “I was bad.” But, his friend from school, whose parents have money, got lots of gifts. “He must have been good.” What if the truly bad kid from school gets lots of presents and the poor kid, who never causes any problems gets 1 or 2, or maybe none at all? This is certain to damage a child’s self-esteem.
I believe we also run the risk of our children making Santa more important than Jesus. Kids are naturally excited about getting gifts at Christmas. For most, it is probably the most exciting aspect of Christmas. Who is giving the gifts? Santa! When you think about it, Santa is also pretty much given the same powers as Jesus. He is omniscient (all-knowing). He is omnipresent (able to be everywhere). He can work miracles. He is immortal… Have you ever seen a child make a list of what they want for Christmas, and then get down on their knees and “ask Santa” for the items? (I doubt this is true, but I read in a few places that Kris Kringle (a name for Santa) is German for “Christ Child.”
Does all of this mean that we have to leave Santa Claus totally out of Christmas? I see nothing wrong with having some fun with Santa, but I think we need to make sure that our children realize that WE (parents) are the ones giving them the gifts. They should realize the sacrifices we had to make to give them the gifts so they appreciate them. (Santa makes no sacrifices in giving the gifts, so why should kids appreciate them?) They should realize that Santa is simply a man dressed in a costume, and there are men all over dressed in costumes just like the Santa they see. If they wish to have pictures taken with Santa, or sit on Santa’s lap, I see no harm in that if they understand the truth.
It might also be helpful to explain to children that Santa Claus (St. Nick) is actually based on a real person who lived in the 4th century named Bishop Nicholas from Myra. There are sites all over the internet that explain this story in detail, but in short, he was a very wealthy Christian man who gave his money as a gift to many people who needed help.
Of course, the emphasis for “Christ”ians on “Christ”mas should be Christ. Our traditions and celebrations should have Christ at the center. Take part in the numerous celebrations that take place in your church. Play Christmas music that celebrates the birth of Christ. Read to your family from the places in the Bible that speak about the birth of Christ. Bake a cake for Jesus on Christmas day. Put out ornaments and decorations that show why Jesus is the “reason for the season” (i.e. nativity scenes, a lighted star, Merry Christmas (not X-mas) or Noel signs, etc…).
The reason why we have a Christmas at all is because of Christ. While not everything we do at Christmas always points directly to Christ, God should ultimately get the glory in EVERYTHING we do (1 Cor 10:31)(Col 3:17,23), not only at Christmas, but always. I believe this verse should be a key for us at Christmas: (Mt 1:21) “And she (Mary) shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Jesus (God) came to Earth, became a man, and ultimately gave His life to pay for our sins out of love for each of us. Thank you Jesus! Merry Christmas!