Parenting predicament: Rethinking the Santa Claus tradition
Switch just a few letters and you can turn “Santa” into “Satan.”
Not saying that means anything. Before you jump all over me by assuming that I’m going to try compare everyone’s favorite jolly old elf to the devil incarnate, please hear me out.
I’ve always been a fan of Santa Claus. I remember watching out my window on Christmas Eve, seeing snowflakes drifting past our outdoor light display and hoping to catch a glimpse of a reindeer, sleigh or at least hear a jingle bell or two.
When my wife and I had children of our own, the Santa tradition continued. He’d make a late-night pit stop for some milk, cookies and maybe a carrot or two. He’d leave behind a gift or two for each of our kids – always, it seemed, exactly what they wanted. It seemed magical. As a dad, I didn’t want that magic to end.
But that blind, innocent belief my girls had in Santa slowly has eroded one question at a time. And as that process progressed, an eerie reality sank in for me as a parent. Especially as a Christian parent wanting to raise a family that embraces Christian beliefs as Christian truths.
My biggest fear was that our girls were growing up too fast – that the gradual disbelief in Santa was an inevitable sign that the innocence of youth was melting quicker than a snowman in late March. However, I have come to realize something even more concerning.
Our attempts to aid and abet the whole Santa charade has really been a series of stretching the truth – of lies that may have been innocent in theory but lies, nonetheless.
My wife has been the more level-headed half of our parenting team when it comes to Santa. As the girls ask questions, she answers with the truth. She has for a couple years now. And as the girls ask deep questions about Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, she continues to be honest with them – and even in the face of that truth, both girls continue to fight it. They still attempt to hold on to whatever shred of the story they can. They want to believe as much as it may seem silly or irrational.
Which has brought me to a scary truth of my own. We all, at some point as a parent, need to break the news and pop that bubble of innocence. And in that moment, what are we really saying to our children?
Santa, in all his alleged goodness of spreading joy to children all over the world, is not real. Something that our children have believed in despite the apparent reasons for doubt turns out to be a fraud.
The tooth fairy? Same thing. Easter bunny? Just a myth.
So what happens when our children are then asked to completely believe in another mysterious Being they can’t directly see or hear or touch? When we tell them to embrace God despite some potential reasons for doubt – even though we can’t physically experience His presence?
In our home, we’ve stressed God and His Word from day one with each of our children. We’ve shared His story at Christmas and stress that His birth is the real reason behind the season. We have similarly emphasized the story of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. That the holiday is not really about a magic bunny, but something so much more powerful and critical. We attend church together, pray together and read His stories together.
And yet, Santa has still been a part of our Christmas. Santa is in so many TV Christmas specials, movies and songs. He’s at the mall taking requests and handing out goodies. He’s drinking Coca-Cola in television ads. We let him into our lives this time of year partially because he’s everywhere and partially because he triggers so many innocent memories.
Does his presence take away from the image of Jesus in a manger? Does Santa distract us from the real focus of Christmas?
I think so. More so than I realized when younger.
Yes, millions of children who once believed in Santa were able to later embrace the truth about the jolly old elf and still completely accept and believe in Jesus Christ. But are there others who temper their beliefs in Jesus after being burned by Santa, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy? Does this cause some sort of early roadblock to total faith and commitment to Him for some people?
It may not a large-scale assault on a youngster’s path to Christianity, but it may plant some really small seeds of doubt that could blossom into something ugly down the road. Sometimes the small details are the most dangerous.
I believe that Satan does his best work in inches, not miles. Shaves a little off here, a little there. Gets even the most devout among us to let him in the door one toe at a time before we realize what is going on.
Meanwhile, the Bible warns against worshiping false idols, and for many, Santa is a revered part of the holiday season – for better or worse. Are we worshiping Santa? That may go a little too far, but he is a massive focal point for many.
But beyond all these concerns, the biggest and boldest of them all for me goes back to the pattern we create with our kids. How we foster false beliefs in myths such as Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, only to pull out the rug later. I’m as guilty as the next person. No finger-pointing here.
So as a dad who wants his children to embrace what is real, it is time to be real with them. No more wishy-washy responses to their questions. Remove the gray areas, focus on the black and white.
Santa Claus is a fictional character. The Easter bunny and tooth fairy are make-believe. But that doesn’t mean you need to physically see or hear or touch something to know it is real.
The joys of family, togetherness, love and compassion toward others are all very real traits we see in abundance this time of year that come from a very real source.
Not from elves or egg nog. Not from wrapping paper or reindeer. It isn’t magic. It is God. It is His Holy Spirit flowing through us.
The question remains … how do we best illustrate that reality to our children during a season that seems to be symbolized more by Santa than Jesus?
What is your opinion about Santa and his place in Christmas? Do you think children are less apt to fully embrace Jesus after being burned by false belief in Santa, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy? Is it better to cut those myths out of the picture from the very start? If not, at what age do you tell kids the “truth?”