In a recent conversation with another church planter’s wife, she asked me the question ‘What did you tell your girls about Santa?’ I thought this would make a good blog for this time of year. Christmas has become so commercialised and in lots of ways totally over the top. People overspend, overeat, over-drink, and if you asked the people in the schemes what Christmas is all about, I’m not sure many of them would mention Jesus in amongst a whole list of other words associated with Christmas.
So, as Christians, what should we be teaching our children? Should Dad dress up as Santa on Christmas Eve and leave gifts under the tree? Should we leave a glass of wine and mince pies out for him? Is it okay to make any references to him at all?
If you google one of these questions you will find a whole range of answers from ‘Santa is of the devil; after all, it’s an anagram of Satan’ to ‘We just want to make the kids happy.’ Is there a happy medium between these two extremes?
Here are some thoughts on the subject…
- It’s not sinful to teach our children about the original Santa.
St Nicholas was a real person who lived back in the 4th century. He was a Greek bishop and loved to give gifts. Apparently he would throw bags of money into people’s homes, sometimes down the chimney. He would do this at night so he could remain anonymous. He was well known for helping the poor and would secretly give gifts to those in need. We could all learn a lot from his example of generosity and kindness. It is reported that when his wealthy parents died, they left him their money. He didn’t want to waste it so he decided to give it away to those in need. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’
- Don’t use Santa to manipulate your children.
When standing in the queue at the shop at this time of year, you often hear parents saying, ‘You’d better behave, otherwise Santa won’t come.’ It drives me mad when I hear this – this is how NOT to parent! We can’t be using manipulation to get our children to behave. And anyway, this will only work for the month of December; what about the other 11 months of the year?! We shouldn’t say things like this because we are embarrassed of their behaviour or because they are acting up and we can’t be bothered to deal with it properly. We need to be training our children in righteousness, not in behaving for Santa. Lesli White says, ‘We should never promote a myth to promote a form of moralism not consistent with the teachings of Christ.’ We can’t be teaching them that behaving outwardly means they will get stuff. Our parenting needs to be about challenging their sinful, rebellious hearts.
- Lying is a sin.
We somehow think that if we lie for the ‘right’ reasons, it’s okay. So it’s okay to tell our children that Santa comes on Christmas Eve to deliver their presents. We’re not hurting anyone, so it must be all right. The Bible thinks otherwise… ‘If you want to live a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and keep your lips from telling lies’ (1 Peter 3:10, NLT). Telling our kids about Santa isn’t in any way malicious but it is a lie.
Also, one day they will find out that he isn’t real; he’s not still alive or living at the North Pole. So, once they find this out, how are they going to distinguish between Santa and Jesus? If you have told them Santa is real and a few years later they find out he’s not, they might think the same is true for Jesus. We have to be so careful because little minds are so impressionable.
- Point them to Jesus.
The fundamental thing that we need to be telling our children is that Christmas is all about Jesus. We need to tell them of the greatest gift that was ever given. He left the glory of heaven so that the relationship between God and man could be restored. It’s not just a cute story to get kids to act out. It actually happened; it is real. It’s not just a gift for one month of the year. It’s not just a gift for those who are on the nice list. It’s a gift that is available to anyone who truly repents and puts their faith and trust in Him.
This has been lost in all the commercialisation. It is very hard to even find a pack of Christmas cards that have any image showing the real meaning of Christmas!
- Make Christmas fun and build memories.
We love Christmas in our house and have always tried to make it fun for the girls. There are certain things that we always do. For example, we always decorate the tree together with cheesy Christmas music playing. We always have an advent calendar. We always have a Chinese takeaway on Christmas Eve and watch the movie Elf. We always have a stocking on Christmas morning and then open the rest of the presents after lunch.
When the girls were younger we used a Bible-reading advent calendar, which we got from the Good Book Company. They have a few different ones which have all been good. We found it helpful to use the month of December to focus specifically on the actual meaning of Christmas.
When they asked us about Santa (which wasn’t very often, because we were living in Northern Brazil!) we would explain that he didn’t actually come and deliver presents. We were honest with them; we didn’t want to put a downer on this wonderful time of the year.
Is it wrong then to talk about Santa? I think it’s okay so long as they know the origins of the story and talk about the example St Nicholas was of someone who was living for Jesus.
As with most parenting questions, this one is up to each family to decide. There are overarching principles, but at the end of the day each family must choose what they are going to do. Ultimately, though, remember that we are urged to bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).