Parenting Challenges

Jesus and the Santa Claus Story

Much of what this blog focuses on is building children up in the character and person of Jesus. As Christian parents, I think a good question to ask is: Does what we say and teach in regards to Jesus and the Santa Claus story honor our values?

Jesus and the Santa Claus story

Does the Santa story and our participation in it help or hinder our integrity, values, and message as parents who say we value Christ above all else?

Is Santa Claus Real?

As parents we are all in on the big secret. And that’s where the problems begin. Is keeping secrets and covering up lies something you want to teach? Don’t forget that more is caught than taught, so “Do as I say and not as I do” won’t get you very far.

What I was taught about Santa as a child

For your context, I think it’s best if I share my experience with the Santa story. I grew up without Santa because my mom was still upset about being lied to as a child. Also my parents were very religious and “Christmas not about Santa.”

While I recognize that these are legitimate objections, I still felt robbed as a child. Among my peers, I was alone in my knowledge and therefore lack of excitement surrounding this “magical” part of Christmas. There was no wonder or mystery to contemplate.

Doing Santa with my own kids

So I started to “do Santa” in my own way, but in light of my heightened awareness in recent years, particularly regarding predators and grooming, I decided to lay the Santa story to rest.

What does Santa have to do with grooming? Well, the Santa at the store is actually a man who pretends to be something he isn’t. In order to get in his good graces to receive gifts, a child is often asked to violate the norms of how we would want our children to engage with any other stranger who beckons our child to sit on his lap.

This man holds all the power and promises to give you gifts if you’re “good” or cut you out if you displease him. Maintaining his power and position are a web of lies, manipulation, and even spies.

What does Santa have to do with Jesus?

Jesus and the Santa Claus story - what does Santa have to do with Jesus?

Lessons of the Santa Story

Of course, Santa isn’t in the Bible. The mythological character of today is based off of a man who lived over 1,000 years ago himself! What we can examine is how we apply the Santa story and what it teaches our children. Is it in line with the way Jesus lived and taught?

Trust

For me, one of the most important things for my relationship with my kids and my ability to have influence over their lives in the long run is my trustworthiness. You only get unwavering trust from your children for a very short while before they start to question you. Then it’s up you to prove your are worthy of their trust.

Taking advantage of their natural trust as a young child tells them that you can’t be counted on to tell the truth. What’s more, they learn a great deal about deception and just how far you will go to deceive them. It betrays your integrity and does not reflect the person and character of Christ.

If I go to great lengths to deceive my child in the name of “fun” what does that say about what I value most? What kind of example is it? Is having fun a good excuse for lying?

If I lie to them about Santa, what’s to keep my from lying to them about Jesus? My words have lost worth.

Not only does the current Santa paradigm undermine our authenticity and integrity, but it undermines it in our kids. I want to know my kids, really know them. And I want to talk about uncomfortable truths with them.

Authenticity

I’ve done some personal work to stop myself from using negating talk like, “Don’t cry,” “It’s not that bad,” and “Calm down.” Even though it may make me uncomfortable to see them cry or be angry, it’s important to me that they learn to identify and accept their feelings. How else will they learn to be authentic with themselves and others?

Santa says “you better not cry,” but the Psalmist says of God, “You number my wanderings. You put my tears into your bottle. Aren’t they in your book?” And John records that Jesus did not hold back his tears, but in even in public Jesus wept.

Santa says "you better not cry," but Jesus wept. #YouBetterNotCry #ThingsNotInTheBible Click To Tweet

While the threat of Santa’s ire may convince your child to comply in the holiday season, it’s teaching them to behave for the wrong reasons. It’s teaching them to behave for a reward or for fear of judgement. It’s the same practice predators, fascists, and cults depend on to get compliance.

Obedience that pleases God is done out of love. I want my kids to do what I tell them as an act of love and trust, not to please some judgmental old man who’s holding all the cards.

With the rise of the Elf on the Shelf has come increased leverage to control children’s behavior. Ever present is the lingering threat of losing out on “gifts”and having a sad and shame-filled Christmas day.

Discernment

I want my kids to trust their gut, to speak up when something feels wrong, and to question the stories they’re told. I’ve heard of parents silencing an older child who was figuring it out by telling them if they don’t believe in Santa, they get no gifts. This invalidates a child’s trust in his own discernment or thrusts them into the world of keeping an open-secret. It values keeping up the charade over truth.

“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, HCSB).

I’ve gone to great lengths to shape and educate my children that no other person has a right to their bodies. I don’t force them to hug or touch anyone, especially not strangers. But, I’ll admit, I have laughed at the photos of kids crying in Santa’s lap. The subtext is, “Silly babies, don’t they know that this strange man is safe and here to bring them good things?”

We ignore their rightful distaste for being placed in the hands of a complete stranger. Has every man who plays Santa been background checked and his only intentions for wanting to handle children been proven pure? Even so, are all the predators in the system?

Regardless, forcing a child into a stranger’s lap for a photo op or to whisper wishes betrays their body boundaries.

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Jesus and the Santa Claus Story

Gratitude

The current model of Santa bringing gifts is contrary to the very meaning of a gift. Merriam-Webster defines a gift as “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.”

Santa’s gifts are dependent on behavior. Why should a child be grateful for gifts from Santa? They are compensation, not gifts. Do they write thank you letters for his generosity or do they feel entitled and relieved that they have been deemed “good enough”?

And here’s another reason why. One year, a friend shared that after spending a great deal of money on a very nice gift “from Santa” for her child, it was almost immediately broken. When the mother got upset, the child responded, “Why do you care? You didn’t pay for it.”

A definitive part of having gratitude is recognizing and valuing the kindness of the giver. Santa gets his toys from enslaved elves and magic. Alternatively, the kids could receive gifts that based on the kindness of those who love them. Sharing the beauty of this truth gives them a taste of unearned grace and an opportunity to experience genuine gratitude

Contentment

The Santa paradigm places all focus on the child, their wants, and their behavior. It encourages self-contentedness.

Every interaction becomes about them being good enough to earn their gifts. They are told to make a list, not of what all they are thankful for, but of all their wants and desires. Their focus is turned away from the good gifts that they may have just spent Thanksgiving being thankful for to getting their parents ready for the big shopping day.

Not only does this breed discontentment with what they have, but also with themselves. They are being watched and judged at every turn. One wrong move and they might be declared “bad” and lose all that they wished for or they might be perfectly “good” and feel self-righteous and entitled to their “gifts.”

Generosity

Your parents who’ve told you no throughout the year are about to be overridden by Santa. Be good and he’ll give you what your stingy parents won’t. Of course, as mentioned above, these gifts are dependent on behavior. So they aren’t really gifts, but compensation.

This conceals the example of generosity. Not even Santa is generous. He is not giving freely out of his own kindness.

Additionally, all their self-focus leaves little room for considering how they might give generously to others. If they have not freely received, why freely and abundantly give? 

Some Final Thoughts on Santa for Christians

A lot more could be said about Jesus and the Santa Claus story. Truth be told the original Santa Claus story had more in common with Christian virtues than our modern tales. In fact, the real St Nick was a generous Christian monk, but the details of all his work aren’t entirely clear.

Sharing the real story surely has value. Breaking the news might sound scary, but truth really is better. The Truth is best.

If you’d like to consider more about Santa and your family traditions, you may enjoy reading these posts.

My Experience Breaking the News About Santa

Suggestions for Keeping Santa Claus

How God Is Better Than Santa

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Christina Dronen

Christian mom who practices gentle parenting. Author of the Parenting In Christ Bible study discussion guides.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Christina, I very much agree with your post. I have a big problem with the lying part. Parents are pretty much teaching their kids it’s okay to lie. So many kids later on feel betrayed and honestly heartbroken when they discover the truth. It’s one of the 10 commandments not to lie and yet some Christians seem fine with it when it comes to Santa. But for our children it can be a sign that you don’t fear God that much, so why should they? My 3 year old knows how Santa works, she knows he’s ‘not from God’, she knows he’s not real and that parents buy the gifts. Thank you for sharing this and hopefully reach some more Christian parents.

    1. Thanks Ann! I think the manipulation on top of the lies might be what bothers me most… and also all the wrong things doing the dance around the lie teaches. I guess actually there could be lots of lessons here (listen to your instincts about getting close to strange men, don’t keep secrets, real gifts don’t come with conditions… etc. But those are best taught from a distance, not from putting the kids through it themselves. Honestly, with the whole #metoo movement in recent years, it’s made me think a lot. Men like Harvey Weinstein pull Santa-like tricks.. secrecy, gifts w/ strings attached, violating body boundaries, lying… I just can’t see putting my kids through that for the “fun” of the Santa Claus Story. Jesus story is full of more wonder, love, hope, and all the things that are truly “magical” mysterious and fun… and most of all true, worthwhile, and encouraging. I do hope this post encourages parents to think… I did a lot of thinking (and observing) over years to get to this perspective!

  2. Christina, I love this. Love it! I was raised a Christian but with Santa. I raised my kids with Santa but a watered down version. The “lying” to your kids was always an issue for me but the other points you bring up – specifically authenticity, obedience and discernment – just hit me right in the face. Makes so much sense! My kids are young adults now — too late — but when the grandchildren eventually show up, these are some thoughts I will share with them. I wasn’t expecting to read this tonight! Thank you for sharing. xx

    1. Hi Michele,

      Thank you for the encouragement and sharing your experience! I hope it’s helpful & encouraging to your kids as parents now. I think when you examine the Santa Story in the context of Jesus, and the kind of relationships he calls us to, it helps. Our relationships with our kids are more important than traditions!

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