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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Christ

I know them -- good, Christian folk who love the Lord and honor Christ at Christmas, but who have small children and, in the "spirit of the season", teach their kids that there is indeed a Santa Claus. "It's harmless fun," they tell me. "Besides, it gets the kids to try to be good for a few weeks." All good, right?

Frankly, I can't figure it ... at all. Seems to me that it runs diametrically counter to honoring Christ. And I'm not simply talking about recognizing that "Jesus is the reason for the season". I mean, it seems to me that the whole concept is problematic.

First, there's that whole "be good" thing. Christ doesn't say, "Be good." Christ says, "Be perfect." Santa offers a level in line with worldly thinking that is "good enough" and presupposes that you are basically good and only the really, really bad kids would fail at this. Indeed, as it turns out, I'd guess that the number of kids being taught about Santa who do not get something nice for Christmas (as opposed to a lump of coal) is nearly zero. So the message, contrary to Jesus's call for perfection, is "The standard is low enough that anyone can make it!"

Then there's the problem of make-believe. Here I am, teaching my child on one hand that there is indeed this jolly, over-sized elf who lives at the North Pole and manages somehow to make and deliver toys to every child on the planet in one night, one at a time, by magic. Then I tell them that there is a God who sent His Son who came as a child, grew up, died, and rose again and now lives in heaven. "No, no you can't see them. No, not either one. No, you can't actually talk to them either. Well, maybe Santa ... you know, at the local store. But, what I really want you to believe is in the one you can't talk to, see, or physically realize in any way." How is that going to go over? And when they discover "You lied to me about Santa!", how are they going to view Christ?

It seems to me that teaching your kids about Santa (as if he's real, not in some "fictional character" way) is teaching them things that are not harmless. It seems to me that teaching them about Santa reinforces a works-based view of salvation and offers them a known lie while you're trying to teach them, in similar realities, an unseen truth. So ... why do that?


starflyer said...


I think you need to watch Elf; if you've already seen it, then see it again. It's a realistic portrayal of the whole Santa and elves thing. You see, Buddy, was raised by Santa and the elves and his human father lived in New York and didn't know he had a kid, and...well...maybe you should just watch it and then blog on it.

Danny Wright said...

We didn't do the Santa Clause Thing for that very reason. Satan mimics.

That said--and you addressed this also--we are careful to not demonize these things too much. Our reasoning is, if we draw too much attention to things like Halloween, the Easter Bunny and Santa, even in a negative sense, it might give it all more credit than it's due. We simply point out to that the world celebrates traditions in its own non-threatening ways; that Santa, a jolly old gift giver is much easier for a lost world to stomach than the Birth of the King of Kings to whom they will one day give an account, or his tortuous death, the image of their sins, or his resurrection, the power of a Holy and Righteous God.

We'll let you know in a decade or so how that worked out.

Stan said...

Ummm, seen Elf. How does that help me?

Stan said...

Yeah, I have an upcoming post on "demonizing" (or so). When I was growing up we had "Santa", but it wasn't a real thing. My parents made it clear that there was no real Santa. Then we would get gifts from "Santa" and we all knew it was an extra gift from Mom and Dad. Santa wasn't painted as real, but neither was he painted as evil.

Marshal Art said...

Thinking this issue over, almost an annual event as it seems to come up somehow in some way every year, I've decided that a little parental license is not a bad thing and possibly, quite a good thing indeed.

It might be the best thing to bring children up from the start focussing only on Christ during the Christmas season, with no false notions regarding Santa Claus. Indeed, there would be no better path if all children were rational beings capable of grasping the concept of eternal rewards.

But as they are somewhat less than rational, and more often than not quite selfish and parasitic in nature, to use Santa to ease them into notions of behavior and consequence (reward for good---lumpst of coal for bad), can well illustrate for them the lessons of Christian teaching which they should be getting at the same time.

First, they learn that good behavior brings happy rewards. Then they learn about the joy of giving and how that has its own rewards as they see the happiness they had a hand in creating for someone. This can all be tied to works that are manifestations of our faith as we also educate them on the Reason for the season.

The one downside is that few are willing to inflict the sorrow and suffering on the child who refuses to show he deserves reward. No one will leave that lump of coal for the child who has nothing better coming. But at that point, the parent has already demonstrated his shortcomings, so it doesn't matter.

Stan said...

I'm trying to imagine the "honest parent" who would be willing to give their child a lump of coal every Christmas to illustrate "There is none good, no not one." I don't know how else to get around the very common, very human, very false perspective of "good enough".

Marshal Art said...

Don't forget, Stan. We're dealing with children here and there IS an application for the word "good" around which a child can wrap its little mind. A "good" little boy is a well behaved boy according to the parameters for behavior set by his parents. That those parameters might be based on Christian teaching and relevant to the boy's overall development do not need to be emphasized exclusively when all he may really understand is that he may or may not get gifts. Heck, take away Christmas altogether and we're still left with trying to get the kids to understand good behavior and sharing.

Think of the ramifications of Christs's existence for us and had He not come. How do we get little kids, even not so little kids, to understand "Natural Man" and sin nature and the need for a Savior and then how that faith should result in good works? I see the whole issue of Santa Claus as the milk before the meat. Or better yet, milk while we give the meat in small, chewable and easily digestable bits.

Also, as the character is such an ingrained part of our culture, to indulge in this harmless fantasy is an easier way to teach the kids that there is someone who always knows what they're doing. Someone larger than life who is always aware of their behavior and will demonstrate that once a year (as opposed to once after death).

Finally, I like the idea of a child's life being comprised of magiic and wonder and dreams and fantasy. Properly guided by Christian parents, such a thing can help to develop kids into strong Christians themselves.

Stan said...

As I told Dan above, my parents used "Santa" without making him "real". Nothing wrong with some fun. Absolutely nothing wrong with imagination and guided fantasy (as long as they are taught what is and isn't real).

I see the theory of "bad kids" and "good kids" and all, but, seriously, have you ever actually seen a kid who earned it get coal rather than a gift? What, then, is learned?

David said...

Trying to teach kids the value of giving rather than receiving, that there is reward and consequence for actions, or that there is some omniscient being watching their every move isn't going to work at Christmas. I didn't see the joy on my parents face when I enthusiastically opened a gift, paper flying about. I saw the toy, or book, or what ever item. The concept of the joy of giving didn't hit me until I was able to get gifts for others, and I grew up not believing in Santa, and knowing about Christ and His work for me. And the rewards and consequences is a little misleading, since not all good actions receive rewards and not all bad actions receive consequences. And like Stan said, Christ didn't tell us to be good so that we can receive something. He told us to show our love for Him by obeying Him. The "gifts" are secondary. And knowing that there is always Someone watching isn't really incentive enough for us to be "good". Most of the people reading this blog believe in an omniscient God, yet still sin regularly without regard for "Who's watching". And reducing the amount of time of being "good" to the few weeks leading up to Christmas seems a little counter productive to me. If we want to teach our children about reward and consequence, it should be expressed year round, with Christmas being an exception to the rule, not an example of it. My parents gave me gifts because they loved me and enjoyed my joy, not because they thought I was comprehending good equals rewards. In fact, as I look back, I feel sick thinking about how greedy I was for Christmas to come, not to celebrate the birth of my Savior, but because I knew I was gonna get lots of stuff that I used up or forgot about in a month or 2. For the longest time I've wondered,"On my birthday, I receive gifts, but on Christ's "birthday"...I receive gifts..."

Marshal Art said...


Your last suggests you did not live in the type of home I suggested. If the idea of "Santa", or anyone else, always watching is to have any effect at all, it must be ongoing throughout the year. Though I wasn't consistent as a parent, I was not above speaking of Santa taking notes when it was still only June or July. Amazing the effect it has! All the while, I would be more consistent in speaking about how God is always watching and how eventually one would be called to task.

As for coal in stockings, it seems to me that though I've seen some kids for whom that would be more than they deserve, my kids simply weren't ever so "bad" that I'd visit such a punishment upon them. I'm not being a biased parent here. As I compare them to myself at their various ages, all three were far better behaved than I ever was. How could I give them the ultimate representation of badness without their behavior so bad as to deserve such a thing? And as to the children of other people, that's THEIR problem.