Now that we have a daughter, the question of what to do about Santa comes up. As Christians, we know that Christmas is all about Christ! The true meaning of Christmas has almost nothing to do with what Santa Claus has become today (a highly commercialized fictional character who travels with flying reindeer, fits through chimneys, and rewards children for being good).
The original Santa Claus was based on Saint Nicholas, who was an actual person who lived in the third century in the village of Patara, (now Demre, Turkey). Nicholas was born into a very wealthy family and was raised a devout Christian. When Nicholas was still very young, his parents died. He decided to obey Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:21 “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me,” and so he used his entire inheritance to help the sick, needy and suffering. He was later made the bishop of Myra and became known for his generosity.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).
I grew up skeptical of Santa being real. By the time I was 7 years old, I knew Santa Claus was fiction and I remember being that kid who spoiled it for my classmates. My husband also grew up knowing Santa Claus was a joke, and both of us turned out great! We’re both quite imaginative and don’t think that knowing the truth about Santa Claus caused any harm to our childhood. Now that we’ve become Christian and want to raise our daughter devoutly Christian, we have to consider how to present Santa to her. Should we go along with the “magic” of Santa Claus? Should we tell her straight out that he’s not real?
I read a blog responding to this very question by the Gospel-Centered Mom. She decided to talk about Santa Claus like you would about any childhood character (Peter Pan, the Muffin Man, and etc). I like her suggestion; however, I believe we will take a different approach. I don’t think we will be talking about or explaining Santa Claus, but instead wait for her to ask us about him. We will explain that Santa Claus is an exaggeration of Saint Nicholas and that people celebrate him because of his generosity and devout faith. We will also explain that through the years, people started making up stories about him and added fictional stories to make him sound more fun and exciting.
Another objection I have to the Gospel-Centered Mom’s post is that she says teaching children that Santa brings gifts for good children will lead them down a path that teaches a works-salvation theology. Understandably Christmas isn’t really about getting gifts, and the whole “Elf on a Shelf” who reports to Santa the child’s behavior is unnecessary, but the danger I see in her reaction to ‘works’ is this: children will believe that their works/behavior do not matter as long as they are ‘saved.’ See, this mom comes from a theology that is antinomian. What is antinomian?
In Christianity, an antinomian is one who denies the fixed meaning and applicability of moral law and believes that salvation is attained solely through faith and divine grace. Many antinomians, however, believe that Christians will obey moral law despite being free from it. (ref.)
This is a difficult subject to talk about because I think a large percentage of Christians in America today are antinomian. They think that works are completely unnecessary for salvation since it says in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” However, this flies in the face of the verses from James 2:24 which state, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” and in verse 26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” I would say, like most things in the Bible, that we face a dichotomy of values: God is all-loving, yet all-just; God pre-determines all, but we have a will to choose Him; We are saved by faith alone, but there is a place for works related to keeping the moral law.
I’ll leave this touchy topic for another time; but for now, my understanding of faith and works doesn’t bring me to the conclusion that teaching children to do good things in order to get good things is necessarily bad. This is the way the world functions, and children must learn to do good works. On the other hand, we will also teach my daughter that our works pale in comparison when we look at what Christ did for us on the cross. It is only through His righteousness and His power that we can do anything at all.
I apologize for the tangent, so to conclude:
What to do about Santa?
- Talk about him if he comes up and point to the great example of Saint Nicholas and Jesus’ words, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
- We will give each other gifts but not go overboard (maybe 1 expensive gift and 3-5 small gifts). We were even thinking of setting up a college fund in which friends and family can give money to instead of buying her a bunch of toys.
- Feel free to use decorations with Santa on them, but just remember they commemorate Saint Nicholas!
- Through prayer, Bible study and worship, we will teach our daughter the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus is made flesh on earth to suffer with us and to be crucified so our sins would be washed away. Hallelujah and Merry Christmas!