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” (36-37).
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.
“Let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy together” (Psalm 8:8). “Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Psalm 96:12). Are these just metaphors? Personally, I don’t think so.
1 Corinthians 2:9 tells, “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 fairytale story about 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.