Written by: Dr. Joe Parle
I’d like to take some time to give my take on the issue of Santa Claus. Keep in mind that I am doing this as a concerned theologian and not as a judgmental finger pointing legalist who just seeks to ruin everyone’s fun. Godly people disagree on this matter and I recognize that my convictions may not be shared by all God fearing Christians.
Regarding Santa Claus, my personal view is that a Christian parent can and should teach their child about the historical Nicholas. However, they should not encourage their children to believe in a present day Santa Claus who delivers presents. My reason for this is both Scriptural and ethical. From a Scriptural point of view, the Bible consistently forbids lying (cf. Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 19:22, Ephesians 4:25, 1 Timothy 1:10). Note especially Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” Also, see Proverbs 14:5, “A trustworthy witness will not lie, But a false witness utters lies.” As parents, our children trust us to tell them the truth. We represent God to them and they are usually not at a point in which they could reasonably discern truth from error at that point. In my view, the practice of teaching our children, however well intended, results in other deception in order to encourage them to keep trusting.
My second issue is an ethical one. One big ethical challenge I see is that if our children trusted us to tell them the truth about Santa Claus and later realize they were deceived by us, what will prevent them from making the same assumptions about God? I remember how horrified I was when a friend of mine convinced her doubting child to continue to believe in Santa Claus by comparing it to belief in an invisible God. Hence, kids who believe in Santa Claus are often challenged to defend his existence to their friends who do not believe. It pits the authority of the words of the parents against the words of their friends. What will happen when their friends deny God? What are these children to think? When my child begins to question God, I want her to know that she has always heard the truth from me even if others do not believe it is the truth. Also, I want to make sure that my child is focused on the true gift giver of all gifts (James 1:17). The true gift giver is the triune God that we celebrate at Christmas time; instead Christmas has turned into a materialistic season in which Christ is rarely mentioned. No wonder some Christians choose not to celebrate Christmas at all.
The common arguments for this practice are to encourage imagination and to not make the child stand out from the rest who do believe in Santa Claus. Regarding the first, I believe there are healthier ways to encourage imagination. Some individuals argue that they grew up believing in Santa Claus and they turned out fine. Usually they grew up in a far different American culture with far different assumptions about God. I would not want to build my child’s imagination by violating the biblical principles of truth telling. Regarding the second, Christians are called to be different. We are called to be in this world but not of this world (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Much of what we believe is considered to by this world to be foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Christians act like we have a choice about whether to expose ourselves and our families to mockery and rejection. Muslim and Jewish parents typically do not have much of a choice on this matter and in this culture. They recognize that their children will be different. I think Christians should not fear the same with our children.
So with my kids I have often told them that there was a real man named Nicholas who had a reputation of giving secret gifts to needy children. At Christmas time, some parents play a game with their kids in which they tell them that Nicholas (whom they now call Santa) is bringing gifts to the kids. These parents are pretending with their kids much in the same way that I will often pretend that I am a horse or my daughter will pretend she is a mermaid. I caution my kids to not tell their friends what I said about Santa so they can continue to play the game with their parents. It is their parents’ job to tell them. In our house, we celebrate Christmas by remembering that all gifts come from Jesus, who is the real giver of gifts and we celebrate his birth.
OK, enough for my soap box. What do you think? As I said, my goal is not to attack or to openly criticize anyone or their parenting skills. My desire is to examine this situation biblically.