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: cookie recipes, Christmas trees, church services, holiday decorations, Santa Claus, 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 real?
The responsibility of what we were modeling and teaching our children weighed on me heavily. By this time our oldest children were between three and five, and they were already rooted in our traditions. To them, Christmas was all about these activities that we repeated year after year. When we talked about Santa, they trusted what we told them. And that worried me.
What should we do as a mom and dad who knew that Christmas celebrated the birth of Christ?
Not only did I wonder how we should handle Santa at Christmas, but I also thought about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. I questioned whether I should read fairy tales to our kids.
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.
A turning point for me was discovering the book, Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt. Hunt addresses the importance of reading good stories to children of all ages. She helped put my fears in perspective when she wrote:
“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.”
Peace, encouragement, and clarity calmed my tangled mind as I read Hunt’s book. As an artist, and knowing God values our being creative since we are made in His image as Creator, I believed the value of growing creativity in my children was as important to me as teaching truth. This author’s words put the questions 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 like Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, and the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. These books include talking animals and imaginary worlds that danced in our heads.
I reread the entire Narnia series only a few years ago after our granddaughter Molly died. As an adult I still love the possibilities C.S. Lewis presented. 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 98:8 says, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy together,” and Psalm 96:12 tells us, “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” Are these just metaphors? Personally, I wonder. As 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 because you’ve seen Him? 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.
I think it’s important to encourage our children to dream, wonder, and speculate about ideas that are out of this world. This is practice for them in 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. In our home we made the placement of our nativity scene (on top of our piano) more important than the decorating of our Christmas tree. We always played Christmas carols about Jesus, we read the nativity story, and practiced Advent … or maybe I should say we tried to practice it, because with little children we failed more than we succeeded!
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 Cinderella or Peter Rabbit. And if you choose to include Santa in your celebrations you might want to teach your children that he is modeled on real historical people who did give gifts on Christmas Eve to children.
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 Santa Claus. There’s certainly no avoiding or ignoring it, since Santa is everywhere in our culture during the holiday season. 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 I was 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, the more important question is this: Do you live in a way that shows your children that Jesus is really alive and real every day, every moment of every year? If you do Santa will be all he really is; a make-believe story that goes away as they grow up just like the Tooth Fairy.
May you make Christ the center of your holiday gatherings and your everyday lives. This is why He came at Christmas.