Did you believe in Santa Claus when you were a kid? Do your kids believe in Santa Claus? Is it wrong for Christians to teach their children to believe in Santa?
Where do you land on this topic?
Well, it’s Christmastime and Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus! It is a special time of year when we decorate our homes, put up nativity scenes, exchange gifts, and cook treats for family and friends. It’s also a time of year for spiritual renewal when churches will host special worship services, play special music, celebrate Advent and focus on the hope, peace, joy, and love found in Christ.
Yet at the same time, we also see a jolly overweight man dressed in a red suit with a white beard appearing in our shopping malls, posing for photo ops, and asking children what they want for Christmas. It’s Santa Claus! Or is it? What do you think? Should Santa be included in your Christmas celebration or avoided as a distraction from the “true meaning” of Christmas?
Before you come to a definitive conclusion, let’s explore a few facts:
1.Celebrating Christmas is Not in the Bible.
It’s important to clarify on the front end of any discussion about Christmas that it is not a biblical mandate. That’s right, nowhere in the Bible are we told to celebrate the birth of Christ on an annual basis. In fact, the first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th wasn’t until 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be an annual celebration.
So essentially, Christmas was Constantine’s idea, not God’s idea. This means that any time we are talking about the “true” meaning of Christmas, we must remember it is within the framework of church tradition rather than biblical truth. Therefore, any discussion about the “right and wrong” of Christmas can be a slippery slope.
2. Santa Claus Was a 3rd Century Christian.
Most of us are used to the American version of Santa Claus (i.e. red suit, white beard, sleigh, reindeer, etc.). But the European version of Santa Claus is much different and actually looks more like a religious papal type figure, holding a cross, and dressed in white and gold. This is because the original Santa Claus, whose actual name was St. Nicholas, was a Christian priest born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor.
He was a rich man who cared deeply for the underprivileged, especially the children, and would deliver gifts of food and clothing late at night in order to keep his identity a secret. St Nicholas became known as the gift giver of Myra, serving as bishop of the church, and eventually being named the patron saint of children and sailors. Of course, much has changed over the years when it comes to Santa Claus, but I do think it is important to recognize his Christian roots in caring for the poor when discussing if He should or shouldn’t be included in your Christmas.
3. Believing in Mythological Characters is Part of Childhood
It’s no secret that our children believe in things that aren’t real during their developmental years. Today’s children’s books, T.V. programming, movies, and educational curriculums, all capitalize on this issue by presenting topics in a way that taps into a child’s imagination. We tell our children animals can talk, trees can walk, and people can fly, all that time knowing they will one day realize it isn’t true. This is all part of the fun of childhood and growing up! To my knowledge, I don’t know of any parents that considered Sesame Street to have had a detrimental effect on their child and the need to warn them against the woes of a talking Big Bird. Instead, it fills a child’s life with wonderful memories and joyful reflection.
So why is Santa Claus any different? Should Santa be any different? I personally don’t think so.
As a pastor, I’ve had no problem incorporating Santa Claus into our family Christmas celebration over the years. In fact, we used to say that Santa is giving gifts in Jesus name, which is more than I could say about any Sesame Street character. So when it comes to Santa Claus, I view it through the lens of Elmo. They are both jolly, red, and love to be with children and children love to be with them. 🙂