Saturday, December 16, 2006

What do you tell your kids about Santa? (Part 1)

At this time of year it is impossible to avoid images of Santa Claus as his cheery face smiles out from shop windows, Christmas cards and wrapping paper. In fact, for many children, Santa Claus is what Christmas is all about.

This year is the first Christmas that my daughter has been able to really understand what's going on and so we have had to think about what we would tell her about the bearded, red-suited old man she is seeing in every shop we go into. We have decided not to go down the road of telling her Santa is real and that he will bring her presents on Christmas Eve. I realise that some of you may be thinking we are kill-joys, so let me try to explain why we came to this decision. Incidentally, before I do, I'm not saying our way is the only right way, but I do think it is important that every Christian parent at least thinks about this issue, or we will just be swept along with the world's Christmas tide.

Our thinking on this issue was influenced in no small part by Noel Piper in her book Treasuring God in our Traditions. She talks about how she and her husband chose not to include Santa Claus in their Christmas festivities and gives several reasons why this was so. First, we tell our children many fairy stories but we don't expect them to believe that they are true. If we present Santa and the story of Christ's birth to our children together, it is very difficult for them to pick out the real truth from the fairy stories. She says:
Think how confusing it must be to a literal-thinking, uncritical pre-schooler. Santa is so much like what we're trying all year to teach our children about God. Look at the "attributes" of Santa:
  • He's omniscient - he sees everything you do.
  • He rewards you if you're good.
  • He's omnipresent - at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
  • He gives you good gifts.
  • He's the most famous "old man in the sky" figure.
But at the deeper level that young children can't comprehend yet, he is not like God at all. For example, does Santa really care if we're bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa? What about Santa's spying and then rewarding you if you're good enough? That's not the way God operates. He gave us his gift- his Son- even though we weren't good enough at all.
While in the grand scheme of things, it may seem like a bit of harmless fun, part of the "magic of childhood", the "Santa brand" has become a multi-million pound industry. I did a Google search on the term Santa and it threw up a number of sites encouraging you to part with your money, so that your children can receive a letter from Santa. You supply them with personal information about your family and they will send your child a letter supposedly from Santa. They can also receive a phone call or a text message. For the sum of nearly £20, they would also be sent chocolates and some "snow from the North Pole"!

Noel Piper gives other reasons why promoting Santa Claus may not be helpful:
I think children are glad to realise that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn't that better than a funny, old make-believe man who drops in just once a year?...Knowing that their Christmas gifts comes from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack, can help diminish the "I-want-this, give-me-that" syndrome.

So if not Santa, then what? You can't avoid telling your children something about him and we have decided to tell Eilidh a bit about the historical origins of Santa Claus instead. I'll post again on Monday and fill you in on who St Nicholas actually was.


krisy said...

My husband and I completely agree with you and the Pipers. We stress Jesus' bithday and all that means. Santa is just another funny make-believe character to our 3 year old. "Kill-joy" or not, we are charged with telling the TRUTH to our children, even if that means Santa is not a part of our Christmas. Thank you for this post.

Hendrick Family said...

I really needed to hear this! I was beginning to think I was crazy. My husband and I work for a church in College Station, Texas. We have four boys. We are surrounded by newlyweds and college students. This year on our blog I wrote about our thoughts on the Christmas season. I got emails from all over the country that said, "Thank You for making us go to the Bible to figure out if the idea of Santa could be supported in scripture." I was thankful for their response, however, so disappointed to see people I love and respect hold so tightly to the idea of Santa in their homes. The Bible does have to be our authority on everything, EVEN during Christmas. Once Santa is thought through with the Bible in mind, it seems almost funny that we would ever even consider telling our children he is real and that he serves any purpose in the meaning of Christmas.

Thank you!

Jess said...

I absolutely agree... I was raised without Santa, and we're raising our kids without Santa... opting for a simple focus on Christ instead.

It's just such a huge distraction from the true meaning, and once you add in all the "hype" around Santa (that he knows what you're doing, he gives good gifts, he comes to your home, and those creepy plaques that say "BELIEVE")... it's just too much. The only thing I'm going to work that hard to get my kids to believe is the TRUTH about Christ.

I daresay if Christians from this last century had spent as much money on missions and translating the Word of God into languages around the world as they have on Santa-- just in the last 40-50 years or so, the Great Commission would probably be all but finished.

As it is, children in Christian families are taught to delight in something that isn't really real, and all the time and money spent on such a lie just can't be honoring to Christ. Honestly, it makes me sad.

It's such a close and personally important topic to me that I don't feel I have enough subjective distance from it to blog about it yet. But thanks for sharing truth here. I appreciate it... and hope it will speak truth into the hearts and lives of other young parents who can use these precious few years with their young children to speak faithful, true words into their children's lives.


Christine said...

I was raised with Santa, but feel convicted to raise our children without Santa. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

Jessica said...

I was also raised with Santa, but my husband and I have decided not to do the Santa thing. Some think we're crazy, no-fun, fundamentalist, etc. But it's not about what others think, is it?

We want to be truthful with our kids, right? Basically, if you're telling your kids that Santa is bringing them presents, aren't you lying to them? AND it detracts from the real meaning of Christmas, Jesus, which is what we want to be focusing on.

Talk about "kill-joys", we've decided not to celebrate Halloween, either. This is a conviction my family had from my childhood, and I've had to re-evaluate it now that I'm a parent. But I feel strongly enough that it doesn't glorify God, so we don't go there.

Thanks for your post. You're not alone!