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: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"!
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.
- 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.
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.