Lots of talk going on this time of year about this one poor man.
I had a friend ask me recently about my opinion on this issue, and suggest I write about it. At the time, I didn’t feel like I had much to say, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I do have some opinions about Santa and Christmas.
Of course, if you go on Facebook, it won’t take long before you begin to believe that everyone has an opinion about how you should celebrate Christmas and whether or not it should include Santa. Easter and its infamous bunny has a lot of the same issues, but I don’t know that anyone takes the debate over the Easter Bunny quite as seriously as they approach the issue of Santa Claus.
It’s tricky ground, I realize. Some people would have you believe that if your children are taught Santa Claus exists as a red-suited, chimney-climbing, gift-delivering North Pole dweller, when they find out otherwise they will categorically deny everything else you’ve taught them to take by faith, most notably, the existence of God.
Others would have you believe that if you deny your kids the experience of believing in Santa, they will miss out on an important rite of passage as children, and grow to be joyless adults who have no sense of the magic and beauty of the world.
These are generalizations and over-simplifications of the two main camps when it comes to Santa, I know, but that is the general gist of what each is afraid of, deep in their hearts. But the truth, as is often the case, lies somewhere in the middle.
The phrase Santa Claus has descended to us from the Dutch Sante Klaas, and the earlier Sinter Niklass which means Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a real person who lived in the 3rd century and was a follower of Jesus. Nicholas lived in what is now Turkey, and was known, among other things, for his generosity.
There are a lot of legends surrounding the life of Nicholas, the most well-known of which tells how Nicholas heard of three young women whose father was too poor to afford a dowry for them. There were not any good options for single women back then, and without a dowry, the girls could have ended up having to sell themselves to survive. In one version of the story, Nicholas came at night to secretly give enough gold to the father to be able to marry his daughters off, and the bag of gold landed inside a stocking that had been hung to dry by the fireplace.
But aside from this well-known story, Nicholas was also an important figure in church history. He was a part of the Council of Nicea in 325, a meeting of bishops called by Constantine, which helped solidify some of the essential doctrines of the Church. After his death, the bishop Nicholas was sainted by the Catholic church, and St. Nicholas Day is observed on December 6 on the liturgical church calendar
We talked to our kids about St. Nicholas this year, and how he gave things to people who had less than he did. Part of the reason we talked about him was a reaction to Caleb’s interest in Santa this year, for the first time ever. He started slipping casually into conversation things about Santa – how he lived at the North Pole, and how he would be delivering presents to us this year, and I’ll admit, I panicked a little bit.
If I had to pick one side or the other of this debate, I’d have to confess that right now I lean a little toward leaving Santa out of things, but I think that’s mostly a default because neither Jason nor I really remember ever believing in Santa, and we do not feel as though we missed out on anything.
But I think it possible to do either and do right by our kids, and by the same token, do either and lead our kids astray. You can make sure your kids know that Santa isn’t real, and still fill the bottom of your Christmas tree with everything your child asks for and more, and teach them by example that Christmas is about how much you can get. Or you can encourage Santa fantasies and teach your kids about a generous spirit and the power of faith in things that are unseen.
I’m not certain about all these things, by any means. Honestly, we are just making up this whole parenting thing as we go, talking with our kids as much as we can, about as much as we can, and praying that God’s spirit will fill in all the gaps of our imperfection. But I have a feeling that in the context of the larger scheme of my boys’ life, when I look back in 10 or 15 years, agonizing over Santa will seem as silly to me then as agonizing over pacifier brands in the boys’ infancy seems to me now.
I can’t tell you whether or not including Santa in your Christmas celebrations is right for your family. There isn’t a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all answer to that question. But I can tell you that the way to give your kids the best chance to follow Jesus when they are adults is to make sure they hear about him at home for more than a couple of days in December.
So let’s agree to be okay with how other people – people who genuinely love Jesus – decide to celebrate Christmas with their kiddos, even if the choices they make are different than the ones we have made for our own families.
I honestly do not know which side of this we will land on in the course of the next several years. I’m sure the boys will pick up things from friends at school, and even if we don’t teach overtly about Santa, he’s in a lot of the Christmas movies we love, like Polar Express and Elf. But I’m really not too worried about it, because I am convinced that whether or not my boys end up thinking that Santa Claus exists, it won’t shake their faith in Jesus. Of course, only God can draw their hearts, and they will have to decide to follow him for themselves at some point, but God is a part of our family life in a way that Santa will never be.
Santa Claus sees heavy action in most homes, ours included, for four weeks, maybe five. But we talk about God all the time. We talk about God at each meal, and before bed every night. We talk about God when we see people making bad choices, and when we are believing him for things that are bigger than us. We talk about God when we see a pretty sunset or hear scary thunder. He is the center of our home.
And I don’t think anyone, not even Santa, can uproot that.