How do you handle Santa Claus?
That big man dressed in red and fur is everywhere! He’s on front lawns, store aisles, on Christmas cards, ornaments and movies. You can’t go anywhere at Christmas without running into Santa Claus. The adults alll know he isn’t real. But for many, especially the kids, you say the word “Christmas” and an image of good ole’ Santa is the first thing that pops into their brains.
For a Christian parent who wants Christmas to be about Jesus, it’s a constant fight throughout the last quarter of the year to keep their kids from going on overdrive about Santa Claus. If you don’t want to expose your child to the myth of Santa, good luck and God be with you. I know my own mother back in the 50’s didn’t want to tell us about Santa Claus. After the third or fourth well-meaning grandma-type asked Mom’s sweet little two year old boy what Santa was going to bring him for Christmas, Mom gave up.
I struggled writing my last blog about Christmas. That’s why I wasn’t timely in posting a new blog. In exploring the over-arching question of how a Christian should celebrate Christmas, I felt like I unearthed more questions than answers. It was like uncovering an ant hill and letting all the ants escape. A Christian’s response to Santa was one of those questions.
Every year, parents who are trying so hard to honor Christ in Christmas struggle with how to deal with the man in the big red suit. Just two days ago, a friend of mine told me her daughter is struggling with what to say to her two toddlers about good St. Nick. Many conscientious parents feel like they are lying to their child about Santa Claus when they pretend he is real. Yet, like my mom, denying the existence of Santa ends up to be counter-productive. The image of Santa is everywhere. A family would about have to take a three month vacation to the Bahamas or boycott Walmart to escape the blur of red and the sound of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” The curious kid would quickly pick up that Mom and Dad have been holding out on him.
I am not the perfect parent by a long shot, but I can share with you how my husband and I handled it. We chose to tell our two girls the truth.
The first thing to remember is that kids understand pretend a lot better than we think they do. The gift of imagination is part of their creative process. As they explore the world and try to fit all the pieces together, they might get it wrong, but don’t worry, they’ll balance it out soon enough.
When the girls were toddlers, we didn’t make a big deal out of Santa. We didn’t deny his existence but we didn’t initiate talk about him. We didn’t ban his presence in our home but neither did we plaster his image all over our home and yard.
As the girls moved into their preschool years, the age where stories and imaginative play abounds, we told them that Santa was a fun character about whom parents and children like to play pretend games. We told them the story of St. Nickolas, that he was a kind Christian man who gave gifts to poor children and told the children about Jesus. “We honor what he did by giving gifts to each other and pretending that Mommy and Daddy are Santa Claus.” Then we quickly moved to the story of Jesus, emphasizing that Jesus is real and we are celebrating His birthday.
Our girls always seemed comfortable with this. It was fun to watch their imaginations take wing and to participate in their pretend games. Santa was nothing more than a character like Mickey Mouse or Clifford the Big Red Dog. We never had to deal with the coming of age when they stopped “believing” in Santa, because Santa was never real to begin with. Yet, when people asked them, “What did Santa bring you?” they comfortably fell into the story line and answered in a way that didn’t raise eyebrows. There was no tension between them and their playmates of “Santa doesn’t exist.”
The commercialism of our world makes it so tough to parent well at Christmas. How do we live in our world without participating in what it pushes upon us? I love the way one translator paraphrased Romans 12:2. These words have helped me many times in keeping the right balance. “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
Santa is only one of many tensions we’ll play tug-of-war with as we try to instill a Christian worldview into our children. The world is filled with ideas, concepts and activities that distract us from our Lord. It’s part of living in this world. We will constantly need to make choices of how to balance our daily lives with our faith in Christ. A parent’s job is to teach the kids that balancing act. How you choose to handle the Santa issue will teach your child much about how to hold loosely the rest of the world’s ways.
Is it ok to talk about Santa? Sure it is. Have fun. Be a kid. Enjoy the creativity, imagination, and spontaneity. But like everything else in our world, don’t allow it to become your main focus. Instead, let Santa and the rest of the Christmas trimmings blur into the background, using them as tools to point toward Jesus. After all, He’s the real deal.