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How Should the Christian Family Approach Santa?

As a Christian leader, I get asked this question often during the Christmas season. “How should Christian parents approach the topic of Santa?” Many parents decide to jump in with both feet on the Santa fun, while others give the Santa topic a complete stiff-arm. In this article, those two most popular options will be presented with a thought or two on each one, then I’ll share another option that we do with our children in our own home. In no way would I say that our option is the perfect way of doing things; after all, every family has to pray, decide and act upon the option that works best for them. However, there are some things that we must consider in this particular topic because as Christian parents we are our children’s pastors, and that is a really, really big deal.

The Two Most Popular Santa Options:

Go “all-in” on the Santa fun: This can be and often is a lot of fun for both the parents and the children. After all, we can use Good Ol’ Saint Nick as an ‘ever-watching eye’ to make our little ones behave! For example, “You better stop doing that; you don’t want to end up on the ‘naughty list’ do you?” “You better go to sleep, or Santa isn’t going to come!” Parents can play into the Santa stories, and often it causes us to feel like children again ourselves and can even make it easier to get into that “holiday spirit.”

However, as Christians, there are a few things to consider. Our job as the shepherds of our children is to teach them from an early age that Jesus deserves to be the center of our attention. He is supposed to be number one in all seasons! Is it possible that we are helping to create an idol in the lives of our children by focusing so much on Santa? After all, we’re helping them put more focus on Mr. Clause than on Jesus Christ. Are we teaching them that Santa and his list is the ultimate judge when actually Jesus and the Book of Life is? Often, by accident, we are more concerned about our children’s actions than we are about the state of their hearts. It can be easy to create a consistent model by saying, “If Santa sees you ‘being good,’ then you will get want you want.” However, our goal as Christian parents should not be to create moralists but rather to foster obedience to Jesus and His word as an act of worship in response to the gospel.

Last, but not least, one day they will find out that we’ve been lying to them for years. Could we unintentionally be teaching our children that it is OK to lie as long as it is done in good fun? If you’re “just playing along,” it is OK not to be truthful. That could be a lesson that comes back to bite us in their teenage years. “Who taught you that it is ‘OK’ and ‘fun’ not to be truthful?” “Well, you did, mom and dad.” In an interview with Brad Pitt (a father of six), he talked about discovering the real deal about the North Pole, and it was a “huge act of betrayal” for him as a little boy. He told E! News, “When I found out the truth, I was like ‘Why? Why? Why would you lie to me?”

Give Santa Clause the Stiff-Arm: This option tells children from the beginning that there is no such thing as Santa Clause, Rudolph, North Pole, etc. As a family, you choose to avoid all things Santa: movies, decorations, pictures, etc. Some children comment at school, “I can’t color this picture of Santa because my parents don’t want me to associate with anything that has to do with that fake, red fat man!”

However, this option has its own considerations. This no-tolerance-for-Santa option proves you are truthful with your children, which is admirable. If you choose this route for your children, there should be some additional intentional teaching for them as well. For example, parents should inform them that other children’s parents say it’s “OK” to believe in Santa. Why is this important? It’s not your 6-year-old’s responsibility or role to tell all the other first graders, “There is no such thing as Santa Clause, you misguided dummies!” Also, if we’re not careful, we can create a sense of pride and self-righteousness in our children that they know the truth while others do not. Remember that we are our children’s pastors. They are ultimately our responsibility. If this is the route you choose, disciple your kids to be serving, loving, patient and understanding of the upbringing of others. Don’t create and foster “that kid” in the class that ultimately grows up to be “that adult” in the church—a self-righteous legalist who does nothing but give the pastor and fellow church members an ulcer.

However, I’d like to introduce another possible option.

The “Santa Is Like Cinderella” Option: This is the option that we choose for our family. You can tell that we have older girls in the house. We actually have two girls and two boys. Our sons are still a little too young to know about Santa, so this is what we tell our girls: Santa is like Cinderella. He is not a real person, but he is fun to talk about, be entertained by and see in art (movies, decorations, etc). This option allows them to know the truth and still participate in the fun. They don’t have to sit out of any activities at school, can still have their pictures with Santa, can watch great movies (like the old Rudolph claymation) and see Santa decorations without being confused by them.

However, they still need to be sensitive of the others at school and church that have been told that Santa is real by their parents. Once again, it’s not my child’s job to educate their peers about Santa. It is their own parents’ job. Also, I don’t want a parent-teacher meeting because my daughter traumatized all the boys by telling them that their favorite Christmas character is like Cinderella!

You may be thinking, “Who cares? What is the big deal?” The truth is that God has given us the amazing and humbling task to be a steward of the next generation that ultimately belongs to Him. We are pastors and disciple-makers to our children, so everything we do is a really big deal. We should care a whole lot, even about the little things!

Whatever option best fits your family, just make sure that Jesus remains the number one focus. Teach your children that He is the reason for the season, that Jesus was the promised Son of God. He grew into a man to die as a perfect man for mankind. He was buried and came back to life three days later conquering sin, death and the grave. He showed Himself for 40 days, ascended into heaven and one day He is coming back for His people! He alone is our hope. He is our source of peace. He is our only joy. He is our greatest love!  

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Shane serves as the Director of Evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He and his wife, Kasi, reside in Rockwall, TX with their five children – Raygen, Harper, Titus, Elliot, & Glory. He has been in ministry for over 15 years as a church planter, lead pastor, associate pastor, and student pastor. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies, a Master’s Degree in History, and a PhD in Clinical Christian Counseling.