Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jesus Loves Santa, and So Should You!

I was 7 years old.  It was Christmas Eve, and we were driving home from our annual Christmas Eve dinner with my grandparents. As I sat in the car on the drive home, looking out the window, I saw him. I saw Santa Claus!

He was flying through the sky, all lit up with his sled and flying reindeer. My brothers and sisters all clamored to see him and then we sat in amazement, talking about it for the rest of our drive home. We couldn't believe that we had seen Santa! Then when we got home, we set out cookies and milk for him (and carrots for his reindeer), and we went to bed. The next morning, we woke up to an almost-magical display of presents and colorful lights, and sitting beside the half-eaten cookies and empty cup of milk was a note from Santa. It was written in calligraphy on special stationary, and in it Santa told us that he had ripped his pants on the way down our chimney, so he was very thankful for the milk and cookies to refresh him. With a flash of excitement, I ran over to the chimney with my brother and sister and there it was: a piece of red felt. I was holding a piece of Santa's pants!

Later, I found out that the Goodyear blimp flies around with a Santa display on the side of the blimp on Christmas Eve. And I noticed that the note from Santa was written in the same calligraphy that I'd seen my mom use on special cards. But that was just a coincidence. I'm pretty sure that I saw Santa that night, and he wrote me a note, and I have a piece of his pants.

Now that I have children of my own, how to handle Santa Claus is something my wife and I have thought deeply about. We've considered the possible negative impacts of celebrating Christmas with Santa Claus. (No, I'm not talking about silly reasons like "SANTA" is an anagram of "SATAN"). There are real reasons for Christians to be cautious of Santa.
  • For one, Santa could detract from the true meaning of Christmas. There's a real danger in replacing the story of God sending His precious Son to be born into a cold, dark world with a secularized narrative about the North Pole and elves and reindeer and the like. This is an easy way to keep Christmas fun but devoid of any significant meaning or truth. In our family, we want Christmas to be about Jesus--that He came to pay for our sins and rise from the dead, conquering sin and death forever. 
  • There's also a danger that Santa can feed into our culture's commercialization of Christmas so that my children become overly obsessed with gifts and getting. Instead, we want them to feel a sense of joy in giving; to know deep within that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). 
  • And finally, Santa Claus could feed a works-based mentality--someone who checks a list and rewards good behavior while leaving coal for bad behavior is contrary to the grace of the Lord Jesus that we want our children to understand. 
But must Santa always carry this negative baggage so that he obscures the truth about Christmas? I don't think so.

I believe that Santa can communicate profound truths to children. Some stories, such as fables, fairytales, and parables are not empirically true, but still communicate profound truths about reality, God, and the human condition. Other stories are empirically true and also communicate these kind of truths. The story of the Nativity is an example of the latter, while the story of the Prodigal Son is an example of the former.  Both communicate profound truths, but only one is empirically true.

Santa embodies Christian virtues such as kindness, generosity, joy, and grace (which every child eventually realizes when they haven't been good all year long and Santa still comes through!). Of course, this depends on which version of Santa we teach to our children. Santa has been hijacked and commercialized by advertisers. So we need to be careful about focusing exclusively on Santa, allowing a wishlist to become a demand-list, or using Santa to threaten or manipulate our children. But allowing children to embrace Santa while they are young can teach them profound truths about grace and a good giver of gifts.

But what if all the excitement about Santa detracts from the excitement about Jesus?

C.S. Lewis (who, by the way, included Father Christmas in one of his Narnia books) often corresponded with readers. One youngster, 9-year-old Laurence Krieg, confessed to his mother that he might love Aslan the Lion more than he loved Jesus, and felt guilty about this. His mother wrote to the publisher, and Lewis himself responded in less than two weeks.

"Tell Laurence from me, with my love," Lewis wrote, "...[He] can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before ... I don't think he need be bothered at all." (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3, p. 1955).

Lewis's answer is brilliant. God made our imaginations and hardwired us to connect deeply with stories. Jesus himself appealed to people's imagination by telling parables—stories that communicated profound truths. He knew that stories often capture the heart and imagination in a way that rational, hard facts do not. Would Jesus rebuke someone for feeling love towards the father in the Prodigal Son? Of course not--because the very things that stir our affections towards the father in the Prodigal Son are true of God in a far greater way! And likewise Santa can stir our affections towards God. When we delight in Santa's benevolence and generosity, how much more so will we delight in the omnibeneovolent One who gave His own Son for us? Of course, our delight must not stop at Santa. But nonetheless, Santa can be a way we train our children to have their hearts and imaginations stirred towards goodness, and thus he can be a powerful way to communicate profound truths to children.

But wouldn't this mean that we're lying to our children?  

Not necessarily. For one thing, Santa Claus was a real person--Saint Nicholas. In our house, we often talk with our children about the historical person of St. Nicholas, who loved Jesus and sought to honor Jesus and be like Jesus with a life filled with generosity. My children know that Santa loves Jesus first. When my children start asking questions about Santa, we pull out a book, and read some stories about the historical person of St. Nicholas. We don't strip the story of it's magic, but we also don't strip the story of it's history. We explain that St. Nicholas became Santa Claus. We don't go into detail about how this happened, but I suspect that when my children are old enough, they'll understand this and figure it out for themselves. This is a delicate balance, but for now, it's been a very positive one in our family.

But secondly, I don't think that telling our children about Santa is an outright lie. My goal is not to deceive or manipulate my children, but rather to teach them truths by telling them a story. Santa is no more a lie than any other fairytale or parable that communicates a deeper truth.

There's one final thing about celebrating Santa that I think is extremely positive: learning a sense of wonder.

A sense of wonder is a tremendously positive thing, and my children are growing up in a world that seeks to strip this from them. They are growing up in a world that is increasingly secularized and portrayed as purely materialistic. Modernism has replaced the magic and awe people once experienced regularly with cold, propositional explanations. The existence an immaterial soul, of the spiritual world of angels and demons, and God Himself sometimes seems like an illusion. But as Christians, we know that a personal God exists, who is holy and pure and loves us deeply. He is real and substantial. He is not just wishful thinking or a psychological crutch. Although He is immaterial, He is the foundation of all reality. And He became incarnate--a human baby, our Creator, born to Joseph and Mary. And developing a sense of wonder can lead us to be people who marvel at our Creator's majesty, glory, love, and humility.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that wonder is a learned skill, and he describes how his wonder of Santa developed into wonder of His Creator:
What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way. 
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea. 
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. 
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.
Santa can communicate profound truths to children, and he can stir their affections and their wonder towards a reality that is only fully realized in our Creator. And so, in my family, Santa is celebrated. Sometimes he even tears his pants.

Below are a few resources useful for anyone thinking through Christmas and Santa:


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Many years ago in a place on the other side of the world

lived a man filled with compassion for each boy and girl

It is said that this man, Saint Nicholas, gave

away all that he had during those long ago days

He wanted to show love to the sick and the poor

And to encourage the children that he has such a heart for

Why did Saint Nicholas give with such generosity?

It’s because he knew of the greatest gift given to all humanity.

He loved because God loved him and the whole world!

God’s love overflowed in his heart, so the story is told.

He knew that God sent His Son Jesus to save all people on Earth

Jesus, a perfect man, with a humble birth

Jesus, who died, so that we can have peace and joy

Jesus, the greatest gift for every man, woman, girl and boy!

All people, including Saint Nicholas, had a big problem with sin

But Jesus fixed that when he died and then he rose again!

Out of thankfulness for this precious gift of God’s Son

Saint Nicholas also longed to show love to everyone!

Today we know Saint Nicholas by Santa Claus or Kris Kringle

We sing lots of fun songs about him that have quite the jingle

But first let’s remember, underneath all the presents and fun

Began a story of love and compassion

When you receive a gift, be it large or small

Remember the love that is behind it all.

Remember the love being shared in the gifts that you get

Express THANKFULNESS! Please never forget!

Whether it’s what you wished for or not is of no concern

It’s the expression of love that I hope makes your heart warm.

As Santa would say, Merry Christmas to you!

May you know God’s love for your whole life through!

Valls Family said...

While I like most of the post, I take issue with something that you said. There was a comment in the post that says something like, "so it's not really a lie" ... there is no such thing as something being "not really a lie". If you let your kids believe in Santa, that is GREAT! (that is not lying). But if you tell your kids Santa exists (as in he exists to this day) that is a lie. If someone is given a gift under the tree that is from Santa, that is a lie. Elf on the Shelf is also lying (in my opinion) . We are commanded not to lie so I can understand how some would feel pretty strongly about this, but again, that doesn't mean they are high strung, rather just filled with conviction. Just because the GenPop does Santa, doesn't mean everyone has to do it or even that it is right. I'm pretty sure Jesus went against what the general population thought was right in His time and made some waves but was He wrong? I'm not comparing myself to Jesus, or anyone that doesn't "do" Santa for that matter, what I'm saying is that just because the majority goes along with something doesn't make it right. And if people stand against it, that doesn't make them wrong or mean they are taking away any of the magic. Now, let me explain something. I don't "do" santa with the kids but what I mean by that is that I don't perpetuate the lie - this was something my husband and I felt very strongly about. We wanted our kids to know that we always tell them the truth. My son (8) asked about santa about 3 years ago and we explained the truth, which is much like the poem Banana Bear posted, until then he believed in Santa and what the stories made him out to be. Now he understands who Saint Nick was and that Santa the people's way of spreading his christmas cheer. My daughter (4) believes in Santa. None of our gifts are given from Santa, I think we have one Santa decoration, and we watch the Polar Express and all the fun Christmas movies, etc. Santa is not banned from my house. My daughter talks about Santa and I don't say, "Santa is just pretend." I also don't tell her mickey is pretend or cinderella is pretend. We don't talk about how they better be good bc Santa is coming or anything like that. When my daughter asks me whether Santa is real or not I will explain it and talk it through just like I did with my son in that Santa was Saint Nick who loved Jesus and did great things for boys and girls but that he lived a long time ago and that now people want to spread that same joy and cheer through Santa Claus.
I take issue with the comment about it not "really" being a lie because there is no such thing.

Accident said...

Great article! It always encourages me when people are able to present reasonable arguments instead of resulting to anagram-based retorts. And I hope you'll allow me to present a few comments, as I came from the other side.

I believe that it's dangerous to compare Santa to a parable. I understand the principal there, but there is a key difference: Santa is not presented as a story. A parable doesn't eat cookies, write letters, rip pants, or leave presents. In my mind, this borders on deception (albeit with good intentions). I believe this could take credibility from stories that really are true. After all, if the story about a jolly man who brings presents isn't true (despite the evidence), why would a story about a man who died 2000 years ago be any more true? Granted, this is just conjecture on my part.

The comparison between Aslan and Santa is also a bit tenuous. Aslan is a character that was specifically modeled after Jesus - that was the author's base intention. While Santa does carry several Christ-like qualities (and St. nick certainly appears to have been a man after Christ's heart), he is not directly modeled after Christ. I understand that, with tact, one could use Santa to teach children about grace and Christ's benevolent character, but it would be a major stretch from the consumerism-based Santa the media projects. I believe there are better ways - which leads into my final point.

The magic and wonder of Christmas doesn't rely on Santa. Seriously. Growing up, I knew my gifts came from my parents - and I believe that I learned more about grace from that than any of my friends who thought they were from Santa. There was no fooling my parents - they knew exactly how I behaved through the year, and I knew it too. I also knew we didn't have much money, and I appreciated their generosity even more. I learned about Christ's character from watching them.

But the magic and wonder isn't limited to presents. Christmas is a time when people decorate their homes with fun lights; it's a time when people give away free cookies at the petting zoo; it's a time when people move past their ordinarily drag demeanor and smile at each other instead. For a month out of the year, my community became a truly wonderful place. And while everyone may not have the same experiences as I did, I believe that there is a lot more wonder to be had around Christmas than just Santa, if you take the time to look.

Ultimately, we all have to rely on the Spirit to lead our kids into all truth, and I honestly believe that it's possible whether we do Santa or not.

Nathanael King said...

Hi Accident, Here's a couple of thoughts in response.

In regards to your first point, Santa could very well be presented as a story. In my mind, it depends on the presentation. But secondly, the difference between a Santa and a parable are not all that different. When Jesus told parables, he often included elements of reality (think the good Samaritan). He used real and believable situations and geographical places. He didn't completely remove the parable from reality. Further, it's extremely likely that there were children present when He taught with parables. Do you think He took the time to distinguish and explain, "Now kids, this didn't really happen. I'm just telling you this to communicate a bigger truth?" I don't think so. So was he deceiving those children who couldn't distinguish the story from reality? I don't think so.

In regards to the point about Aslan, it seems to me that your point entirely depends upon whether you present a Santa that loves Jesus and seeks to honor Jesus (more in line with the historical St. Nicholas), or a Santa who has been hijacked by advertisers. I'm encouraging people to present the former to your children.

And finally, I agree that there are other ways that Christmas becomes magical for children. My point is simply that Santa can be part of that in a very positive way. :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

So, who teach your child to lie? Hey Love, get the phone and if it is you know who, tell him, "I am not at home"! Yes please, start out with the lie about Santa Claus and the Easter-bunny. Santa Claus is no more than Satan Cause; if you would examine how easy it is to go from one to the other, you will see the lie. Do not put your child in Santa laps he could be a pedophile, also, telling your children the same lie you found out about Santa and then you (parents) become a liar. Therefore, when they start lying to you do not be surprise. If it is good for the parent, it is good for the child. No such thing as a white lie or black lie, a lie is a lie is a lie. Learn this lesson now or live with it as long as your child shall live or you! Ex: Santa Clause is nothing but Satan Cause is the truth. Easter eggs, rabbets do not come out of an egg, nor do rabbets lay eggs, LIE! It is just fun for the children, really. My Lord, Christ, get two days out of 365 days and He is in competition (necessary) with a jolly Fat-man, human being dress in a red and white suit who is a god to your child, Ex: "I know when you're sleeping, I know when you're awake, I know when you're good or bad so be good, for goodness sake!" Then Christ must deal with a rabbit. Oh yeah, about the bunny, a pastor once said; it is just a little fun for the children, "that the Easter eggs was like a rebirth of Christ.” to my children. In addition, do not tell your children to tell anyone you are not at home, that is still a lie. We need to break the lie of fun. When the child find the so call, man in red and white outfit this is a lie, guess what you are a liar. Someday, they will tell you lie to your face. God Bless, Grace, Mercy, Peace & Love, Tj