Dear Barbara: What About Santa?

dearb-santa2

Dear Barbara, How should our family handle the popular tradition of Santa? I know Christmas is about Jesus, so is it wrong to talk about Santa too?

Like many of you, Dennis and I kept our favorite childhood holiday traditions alive as we began growing our new little family: Santa, cookie recipes, all white lights or colored lights on the tree, when we opened Christmas gifts, when we went to Christmas church services, Santa and more.

Several years into parenting though, I started questioning this borrowed tradition, asking myself, did I want to teach my children to believe in Santa Claus when I knew he wasn’t true?

The responsibility of what we were modeling and teaching our children weighed on me heavily because I saw my children, then ages three to five, already rooted in our repeated traditions. They weren’t yet asking questions because they trusted us and what we told them. And that was what worried me.

What should we do as a mom and dad who believed in the supremacy and reality of Jesus over all?

How would we handle Santa at Christmas, but also what would we do for Halloween, Easter, the tooth fairy, reading fairy tales and other make-believe traditions we each grew up with? Truth has always been of immense importance to me. Even though Dennis and I didn’t feel we were harmed as children by pretending Santa was real, I feared my children would think I was lying to them if we told imaginary stories.

I wanted the best for my kids, and I know you do too.

Peace, encouragement, and clarity calmed my tangled mind when I discovered the book Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, which is still in print and available on Amazon. Hunt addresses the importance of reading good stories to children of all ages. She helped put my fears in perspective when she wrote, and I underlined,

“Maybe you have wondered about the wisdom of fairy stories in your child’s life. I heard a man recently say that life wasn’t like Cinderella and others who say they don’t like elves and fairies and talking animals and Santa Claus. Children don’t take life as seriously as adults and are more inclined to read for pleasure without theorizing until all the fun is wrung out. Imagination is the stuff out of which creativity comes.”

As an artist, growing creativity in my children was as important to me a teaching truth. This author’s words put the value of pretending and imagining in perspective. Finally, as a mom I felt liberated to encourage my children to enjoy this delightful and very important part of being a child all year long.

Armed with a long list of great books from Gladys Hunt’s bibliography, I continued reading imaginative books from authors Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak and one of my favorite stories, Good Night Moon. But as my children grew, I added more classics: Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many more. These books include talking animals and imaginary worlds with made up scenes that danced in our heads.

Even today, as an adult, having reread the entire Narnia series only a few years ago after our granddaughter Molly died. I still love the possibilities C.S. Lewis presented in his Narnia series. His imagery of heaven gave me hope and peace as I pictured Molly playing and laughing in Lewis’s land beyond the sea. I often wonder if God in His limitless creativity might welcome us to a world where animals do indeed talk and fly.

Psalm 8:8 says, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy together,” and Psalm 96:12 tells us, “Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” Are these just metaphors? Personally, I don’t think so.

1 Corinthians 2:9 reads, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Imagination isn’t just for our enjoyment. It’s important for our faith too. Do you believe in a God you can see? Are you confident you will go to heaven because you’ve been there and can verify that it is good? Of course not.

We believe by faith because we have read the story God has written for us that gives us glimpses into heaven and stories of people who believed in Jesus, most without having actually seen Him.

So we must allow, even encourage, our children to dream, wonder, and speculate about ideas that are out of this world. This is practice for them growing the ability to believe in a God who they cannot see. What about heaven with streets of gold, mansions just for us? I’ve never seen such a thing. But I can imagine!

I don’t think parents should fear a make-believe character like Santa. But neither would I encourage an emphasis that excludes the more important Bethlehem story of Jesus.

We made the placement of our nativity scene more important than the decorating of our Christmas tree which was always placed carefully on top of our piano. We always played Christmas carols about Jesus, we read the nativity story, and tried to practice Advent, though I freely admit we failed more than succeeded which made me feel guilty—a self-imposed guilt I realize now in my greater maturity.

We can encourage our children to enjoy reading good stories and learn to create their own stories to tell. If you want, allow them to delight in a character named Santa who would give sacrificially to others without trying to convince them he is real any more than you would Cinderella or Peter Rabbit.

Good, make-believe narratives create a longing in all of us for something more, a longing only the true story of Christmas can satisfy.   

Every family needs to decide for itself what to do with this popular Christmas story. There’s certainly no avoiding or ignoring it. The choice is yours and you must make it.

But even more important than this decision is the commitment by you, as parents, to live the Bible’s truth before your children as you teach it.

One friend shared, “I knew about Santa when growing up just as I read stories about elves and other pretend ideas. But I never got these stories mixed up with Jesus Christ because of the way my parents lived. They talked about Him as a living person all year long. I knew He was the real one!”

Whatever you decide to tell your family about Santa, would you live in a way that they know Jesus is real every day, every moment of the year? This is the most important matter to be decided upon.

May you make Christ the center of your holiday gatherings and your everyday lives. This is why He came at Christmas.

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26 thoughts on “Dear Barbara: What About Santa?”

  1. I too when my children were young and growing up, decide to tell them the truth, that Santa was not real, just make up for the holiday. As when I told them about Jesus, someone that they could not see with their eyes, they would have confidence that I was telling them the truth. …..Just my view on this subject.

  2. Our kids are all older and past Santa age- but now that we have grandkids, we wanted to do something to change the way we had celebrated Christmas in the past when our kids were growing up. So-in our house, we have made a conscious decision to make Advent more of a big deal than Christmas Eve and Day, in the sense that during Advent we regularly do things each day that focus us as a family on Christ instead of presents and food, and we have invited our family and friends to join us. We do 4 potluck dinners, one each week of Advent, followed by an Advent meditation for that week and community setting up of the manger scenes and lighting the Advent wreath for that week. The Holy Spirit always shows up and great things happen! By the time Christmas actually arrives, Christmas is almost anti-climactic because we have been preparing our hearts for His arrival all season with those we love. On Christmas Eve and Day, our focus is on church services, and then gift giving with immediate family only: we mostly cut out presents (maybe just one- something really needed) and put our focus on stockings instead- each person has a stocking, and each stocking has a scripture on it of a gift God gives to us- we each read the scripture on our stocking and then open the small gifts and candies which symbolize the sweet gifts of God. We have had much positive feedback from others involved in our Advent celebrations- they are grateful to see and be included in a model of Christ-centered simplicity and sweet fellowship during this season. Doing Advent celebrations in community is a great antidote to the loneliness that many people can feel around the holidays as well. It makes me think that many Christians are searching for a different, more simple and more Christ-focused way to celebrate but not sure what changes to make or what to do. For many years we struggled with this. When we made the drastic switch to doing things this way, we have never been had this much peace in our home or felt more like Jesus was truly at the center and being glorified in our home during this time than we do now as a result of these changes. Many thanks to Ever Thine Home for encouraging and inspiring us to do it!

    1. Thank you,
      Alex, for sharing your beautiful experiences. I want to cry as I read it, thinking how wonderful it must be to celebrate in this way and how it must please God. Think of the change in our world if more & more people, families would adopt this method of celebrating the coming of our beloved King! May God richly bless you.

  3. Barbara, I’m just so grateful that you don’t shy away from these “difficult” topics that we wrestle with. We, like you, struggled some and prayed about how to handle the Santa issue and landed in a different place than you guys. I had had an issue when I was a child and discovered the truth. I know that it may have only been slightly, but I have to admit that discovering the truth on my own (and not having them tell me) injured my trust towards my parents. It was not a huge ordeal (on the outside), but left this yucky feeling in my tummy that they had gone to great lengths to convince me of something that wasn’t true. (“Hear those bells? That’s probably Santa” or the tray with 1/2 eaten cookies the next morning, etc…) I was only 7 or 8 but it stung and left it’s mark on my heart. So many years later as a new mom, we prayed and considered our own experiences and decided we would NEVER tell our kids something that wasn’t true. We have 7 total and I do not think that anyone has been slighted of Christmas fun in the least!! We have many special, fun traditions and our home is place of joy during the Christmas season, even without Santa.
    Having said all that, I am so glad for a safe place to hear wisdom and the thoughts of other believers as we journey through this wonderful (and sometimes very challenging) season of child-rearing! I love your encouragement to seek Holy Spirit wisdom for ourselves.
    PS- I LOVE Honey for the Child’s Heart and all the children’s books you mentioned! Reading aloud to my crew has been one of the greatest joys of my life!

  4. Another fun option that I grew up with is celebrating St. Nick’s day on December 6th! We got to learn about the real person and his legendary generosity, got our stockings stuffed that day instead of Christmas, made traditional St. Nick’s cookies which are delicious, and it still captured our imagination learning about this real person who was radically generous because he loved Jesus and gave gifts that brought people joy (and maybe still does?!). That way Christmas day itself is more focused on Jesus, but we still got the Santa fun. It’s definitely what I plan to do with my kids!

  5. I “believed” in Santa until whatever the appropriate age for that came, All my mom did was explain that it was just for fun and explained about the spirit of it all. I guess I just saw it as a kind of “rite of passage”, even though I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I just felt like I grew up a little and in on something. I never doubted them on other things she told me later. I just kept moving forward. As a Christian, I think sometimes my fellow believers get a little wierd agonizing over stuff. Teach truth, let kids have some fun. It is all pretend and there is a cool character behind it. God will prevail. I love this article! When they start questioning, tell the truth! it is not that agonizing or detrimental. At the same time, follow the Holy Spirit. the Elf on the Shelf is super creepy to me. A recent weird thing. Maybe you can come up with a lesson for it, but creepy to me. Just my opinion. Blessings.

  6. I think Santa is a great illustration of our relationship with God. It teaches us to believe in something we cannot see and to receive a gift we cannot deserve.

  7. My 5-year-old son is learning about Santa at daycare. We don’t emphasize it too much. We just answer questions as they come up. We have nativities galore this year in our house and are playing games like “Star from Afar,” so there is no question my small children are seeing who Christmas is celebrating. But they are having fun with Santa, and I’m fine with that. Thank you, Barbara, for your thoughts and wisdom on the subject. I just wanted to share what my question-asking son said to me last night. He said, “Mom, did God make Santa?” It evoked such a neat response to who Santa is and who God is. Because Santa is magical and can do amazing things, like go all over the world in one night. But God is more powerful, more “magical” than Santa could ever be. And God created all things. As you teach and model God and Jesus to your kids, they’ll figure out the “truth” without you even having to labor over the point. There’s no way you’re going to get around Santa unless you shut yourself off to the outside world completely, which Jesus would most certainly disagree with. We are the light. Some day my son may have a conversation with a classmate about Santa. And my son may say, “Hey, did you know God created Santa?” What an interesting conversation that would be to listen in on.

  8. We watched Miracle on 34th St. last night as a family. It brought up the question of Santa being real. Our 10 yr. old daughter felt a bit confused; as she is “on the edge” as to still believing or not. We reminded her that St. Nicholas WAS a real man; and that Santa comes out of that story. Believing in Santa is to bring the joy of giving to our hearts; just as St. Nicholas did so long ago. Even more, St. Nicholas/Santa points to Jesus and the even better gifts he gives. Thank you Barbara for giving some additional guidance on this issue!

  9. We taught our twins that Santa was a fun thing that went along with Christmas and Christmas was all about the baby Jesus. It worked out fine and they never had the urge to “out” Santa to other kids. Having them trust us was a big concern. If they discovered at 6 or 7 that we’d lied about Santa to them, why should they believe anything else we tell them when they’re 16 or 17.

  10. Thanks for helping to put this delicate subject in perspective. I too felt guilt for a while when my daughter was little, but now, with three precious granddaughters, whose eyes are filled with wonderment, they believe in Santa, but they believe and know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

  11. I had such great hope when beginning to read this post but, alas, am feeling such disappointment from someone who I thought would bring more Biblical truth to the matter. To go off into the realm of children’s fiction was, in my opinion, completely irrelevant to the question of Christmas.
    Santa embodies the very definition of an idol: that which receives the adoration that belongs to God alone. Children are taught to assign him characteristics that belong to God alone: “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good. . .” God warns us throughout His Word that He will not share His glory, that He is jealous for our attention.
    I am an ESL teacher and, to a woman, my students are so baffled by the emphasis on Santa in this country. They come from countries that celebrate Jesus only on Christmas. Some do gifts in January as a commemoration of the three kings. For those who have a “St. Nicholas”, his arrival is early December and never confused with the reason for the season.
    They are troubled by the bombarding in school that starts before Halloween to begin making their lists for Santa, to write their letters to him, etc. It’s causing their children to become self-centered, as though Christmas is all about getting and consuming rather than focusing on giving to help those in need and thanking God for His “indescribable gift”.
    Additionally, non-Christians from other religious beliefs now celebrate “Christmas” because it’s seen in a completely secular light because of Santa.
    We need to acknowledge that we’ve allowed the culture to creep into our homes. It doesn’t matter if you talk about Jesus, bake Him a birthday cake, etc. Children’s hearts are drawn to the idol that retailers have successfully made the focus of the holiday. I pray that the Church will awaken to their idolatry, repent and tell our children that Christmas is only about the birth of our Savior.

    1. Donna, I wholeheartedly agree with your response to this article. My daughter bought a book from voice of the martyrs ministry about the true story of Saint Nicholas and she began reading it to my two granddaughters from the time they were about 1 1/2 to 2 years old. This settled the issue with them right away and there was no confusion. On the other hand my sister-in-law got very angry and upset with our family because we were not going to make a big deal about Santa at Christmas time. She is a born-again professing Christian but it broke my heart because my niece, I feel was very deceived and really struggled because our children didn’t celebrate Santa. Therefore it created a wedge during the holidays because my sister-in-law did not want to spend time with us so that she can keep up with the pretense of the Santa and the elf on the shelf tradition. Thank you for standing up for what I believe is the right thing ! Sometimes I feel so alone on these issues. I try to be respectful of other people‘s beliefs and opinions but my heart breaks because I feel there is so much compromise and our culture has so negatively affected the church body especially here in America! May the Lord bless you for being faithful to our God!

    2. Wholeheartedly agree, Donna! If Santa is discussed in Christian homes, he should be presented in truth. I believe Saint Nicholas would be aghast to know of our modern day ‘Santa’. He was such a devoted Christ-follower and defender of TRUTH! I don’t condemn any of my brothers and sisters for their decisions, but would encourage them to re-evaluate the way in which they handle “Santa Claus”.

  12. We recently found out that our son told his entire Kindergarten class that Santa isn’t real. So, we are now “that family.” If you go the no Santa route, be prepared to have repeated conversations with your kids (emphasis on repeated) about not spoiling it for others. They can be tricky discussions.

    1. Tricky is the word when it comes to being “that family” and your cchildren get older and conversations become more complex. When talking to my teenage daughter on issues such as sex and relationships I make sure to tell her it is information and advice for her ears only. She is not to share with her friends because they may not be ready for such talk. Their parents may not approve. I thank God for his guidance in this area for it is indeed tricky.

    2. I appreciate the balance in this article. As a family, we too wanted to focus on Jesus. We decided to downplay Santa & treat him as an imaginary character, while also talking some about the history of St. Nick. We told our son that some families “play a game” with their children & pretend like Santa is real – don’t spoil their game by telling them that he is not real. You are right, repeated discussions are necessary!

  13. I have grown children and 3 precious grand babies. We talked about Santa when my kiddos were little, but in the sense like we talked about Mickey Mouse or Big Bird. They thought of him as a fun fictional character but they knew he wasn’t real We would ask what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas-they would smile because they knew “we” we’re Santa. Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection always took center stage and they all love and serve him today. And they are not scarred because they grew up knowing Santa was not real.

  14. Love ETH! Such wise balance here! We are the only family on our church staff that practices Santa (very low key) & Oddly, I have often felt judged-esp, at the Christmas Eve service.. So now I joke about it & tell the church people-please don’t spoil it for my kiddos- I am doing it for outreach to the lost. Lol!

    1. I love your approach, to be the only one is always a more thoughtful decision. I did not make a big deal about It. But just talked About Jesus, who would be very happy with your outreach!
      ! 😇
      Kate

    2. I like your thoughts on being a type of outreach. When we appear to be so “prim & proper” in a world that is not, we can put up walls. And then where does Jesus fit in? We raised three daughters & Santa was part of Christmas but our Nativity scene was first & foremost even without explaining it to them. I think Christians worry too much about some of these types of issues. I think we need to turn to Him, ask/pray for His guidance, AND LISTEN & OBEY. He desires for us to love others first & foremost. That’s what HE did for us & everyone else that He came in contact with. Your article was wonderful Barbara. Thank you.

  15. Well I am 50 and I believe there is Santa’s out there! You may have been one once, have you ever given when you needed it yourself, helped when you were so tired you hurt all over, then expected nothing nor accepted anything for it except a thank you. You had just been Santa you had given without expecting in return.

  16. Thank you for such a insprational perspective on this matter. As for myself and a few mothers who were just discussing the same scenario with The Elf on a shelf which is the lastest popular imaginary friend. I will be sharing your thoughts with those moms too.

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