In May my wife is due to give birth to our first child. I am both excited and terrified to be a father. In the midst of all the doctor’s appointments, searching for cribs and other necessities, and reading books about parenting I have been thinking about what to do with Santa Claus? Maybe this is not the most important thing to be thinking about right now, with all the other things going on. But knowing we will have a child next Christmas is causing me to ponder, do I want my child to believe in Santa Claus?
I can think of a couple very good reasons to be honest from my kids at the start and tell them there is no Santa Claus. First, the whole “Santa Claus theology” tells kids that if they are good they get stuff and if they are bad they do not get stuff. This is directly opposed to Christian faith which tells us none of us are good enough and all we have is a free gift from God as grace. “Santa Claus theology” is intricately connected consumerism which teaches us to buy, buy, buy. Consumerism tells us that more stuff equals more happiness. Santa Claus and consumerism is a far cry from Jesus Christ, God become human, laying aside all rights as God to save us and show us that the way to be fully human is to live self-sacrificially for others.
Does this mean I do not want to get my children gifts? Of course not. I just want to teach them that getting gifts is not the point of Christmas. I also want to teach them that the gifts they get are not because they were good, but are because Mommy and Daddy (or their grandma and grandpa or aunts and uncles) love them. Can this lesson be learned while kids still believe in Santa? I am sure it can, but the fact remains that “Santa Claus theology” is opposite from “Jesus Christ theology”.
On a much more practical level, what about the many children in poverty in America and throughout the world? It seems that “Santa Claus theology” would say these kids were not good…because they do not get presents. I want my kids to understand that some people may have more and other people may have less, but this is not because those with more are better. My hope would be that my kids will develop a desire to help those in need. Christmas would be a time to realize how much we are blessed and how we then have a responsibility to help others. None of this is because we deserve it or they deserve it. Instead, it is a free gift of love: God has blessed us so that we can bless others (which takes us back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that Abraham will be blessed and through him, all the world will be blessed).
To sum up, “Santa Claus theology” teaches that if you work hard and are really good then you will earn your reward. This is a false teaching, opposed to the truth that you cannot work hard enough or be good enough to earn a reward…but God loves you anyway, even though you do not deserve it, and Jesus Christ came to love and save you. Your reward is not something you earn.
Another reason I see to be honest about Santa Claus not existing is that I want my kids to develop a faith in Jesus Christ. My fear would be that when they come to realize that Santa does not exist they would reason that, if they cannot see Santa and he does not exist then God, whom they cannot see, must also not exist. Now obviously, children who learn Santa does not exist do not automatically become atheists! I believed in Santa when I was a kid and I turned out okay. At the same time, there are so many challenges to faith and Christianity in the world today. I know my children will face these, and I suspect they will become more prevalent in the future. So why should I add unnecessary challenges?
As I write, I certainly do not want to come across arrogantly. I am sure many people’s kids believe in Santa Claus and still learn the same lessons I hope my children learn. In fact, I know many such people. I just fear that the whole “Santa Claus theology” will get in the way of that.
What are some reasons to just bite the bullet and go along with the whole Santa Claus story? The biggest one I can think of is that someone could say, “Come on Dave, Santa Claus is fun and harmless. It is just a cultural thing, you are reading too much into it.” I do not want to be “that guy” who does not just go with the flow.
Another reason is that in some way, telling my kids there is no Santa Claus then requires them to be deceitful to their friends. What I mean by this is that I would also tell them that many families do believe in Santa Claus and that we should not ruin their fun. So my children would then, when other adults or their friends ask them, be forced to play along. But is such playing along a form of lying?
It seems there is might be no way to win: you either lie to your kids that there is a Santa, tell them there is not but also tell them to lie to their friends who believe there is, or let them be the punk kids who tell their friends there is no Santa and then they have no friends.
Again, I am not trying to come across as holier-than-thou. If your kids believe in Santa Claus, that is fine with me. But I just cannot help but wonder, as a parent-to-be, if skipping the whole Santa thing is the way to go. Why should I teach my kids what I know is a falsity that teaches them if they work and behave they will be okay? Why should I teach something that is in direct opposition to the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Feedback is welcome. Have a very Merry Christmas!
One last thought, I think it would be cool to tell my children about the real Saint Nicholas. The real, historical Saint Nicholas is a far cry from the “Santa Claus theology” prevalent in our culture. He is much closer, being a saint, to Jesus Christ.