Should Christians Include Santa in Christmas?

I asked the following question on the Christian Mom Thoughts Facebook page recently and got over 80 passionate comments:

Do you (or did you) include Santa in your Christmas traditions? What do you think of it from a Christian perspective?

Personally, I have never taken issue with Santa as long as the emphasis is on Jesus. But there were great insights from commenters on the view that Santa should not be part of Christmas – comments that left me more deeply pondering the question.

As I considered it further, I realized it’s more than a question of Santa. It’s a question of how we, as Christian parents, make decisions every day about how to most faithfully raise our children.

What criteria can we use to make the right faith-based parenting decisions?

Let me take you on a little detour that will come back to a thought model for this question – one that can be applied to Santa and everything else in our parenting (a big promise indeed!).

Earlier this year, I read a parenting book on discipline that was only marginally helpful, but there was one particular page that left a lasting impression.

The author provided a chart of the parent/child relationship that looked something like this:

Two things intrigued me about this chart. First, the terrifying yet deeply real fact that as a parent, we automatically lose control as time goes on (I don’t like that at all!). Second, it struck me that the author’s picturesque trade-off between control and influence is highly idealized.

In a perfect world, control and influence would completely offset each other, as the graph implies; in each time period that we lose control, we would gain the same amount of influence. But depending on the choices we make and how intentional we are with our parenting, our personal family graphs might end up looking very different:

We could lose control but fail to gain influence:

 

Or we could lose control and replace it with only mild influence:

Here is the startling reality:

We will certainly lose control over time. But we will only possibly gain influence.

A parent’s job is to love and instruct. Influence is the tool we need in order to be in a position to instruct as our children grow. It has two components:

1.   The strength of the parent/child relationship we’re building.

2.  The nature of the parent/child relationship we’re building. It’s entirely possible to have a strong relationship with your kids, but not be seen as a strong influencer in the area of faith. If you simply take your kids to church each Sunday or send them to private Christian school without leading as a faithful role model at home, you may have no more influence in matters of faith than in matters of homework.

The million dollar question, then, is how do you continually strengthen your relationship with your kids and develop an influential relationship specifically in the area of faith? There are many open-ended tools at our disposal, and many ways to apply them:

  • Quality time
  • Conversations
  • Teachable moments
  • Family prayer
  • Family Bible study
  • Role modeling
  • Serving opportunities

The truth is this: there are thousands of possible paths toward strong, faithful Christian influence. It is possible for different families to use the same tools in different ways, different tools in different ways, or the same tools in the same ways…all for the glory of God. This isn’t to say that there are no absolute answers when it comes to parenting methodology, but rather that the vast majority of decisions are not black and white.

When we face any parenting decision, such as where Santa fits in at Christmas, we can ask ourselves this:

Would the decision I’m considering strengthen or weaken my relationship with my kids, and would it strengthen or weaken the nature of my influence in the area of faith?

Some families might feel Santa’s inclusion in Christmas weakens their faithful influence. Other families might feel Santa has no impact on the faith-based meaning of the season.

What you do with Santa is simply one more tool in your influence box. It’s what you do with the decision, and how it aligns with everything else you do, that makes the difference.

 Do you feel Santa strengthens, weakens or has no impact on your influence in the area of faith? Why?

10 Comments

  1. Rachel on December 12, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    Hello. This is a very interesting discussion and one I am sure gets many comments on both sides. I really believe that no matter what a person decides to do with their children considering Santa, it is not my place (or anyone else’s) to judge that decision. So we do have to becareful in respondiing back to one another. A few years back I saw a nativity scene that included Santa bowing down and presenting gifts to baby Jesus. The thought struck me that when I had children I could include Santa in Christmas as one who worships the Lord and has the spirit of giving to others. As far influence – it/he doesn’t influence my area of faith.Nor has it influenced my 4 year olds. Just the other day my daughter put on a “program” in which she was talking about how God likes when we do good and doesn’t like bad behavior. She ended with Praise your God. Even with the hype of Christamas they are very tender to the Lord. I think it all depends on how we, as parents, approach the subject and what we do with it.



  2. Karen McRae on December 12, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Personally, my husband and I have never told our children there is Santa Claus. Actually, we never pressed the issue with Santa Claus with our two boys in either direction. Christmas is an amazingly wonderful time around our home, and we participate in all of the traditions; however, we spend 365 days a year raising and teaching our boys to know the Lord and recognize Him in every moment of their days. I have friends and family on both sides of this discussion and respect everyone’s choice. For me, I had a moment with the Lord some years ago when my oldest son was first old enough to participate in trick-or-treating. I was in torment over what I should do as a Christian parent and prayed diligently for weeks over what the “right” answer was. God answered my prayer by telling me that I should never do anything that made my son look negatively at Him and there was a way to teach him to be in the world and not of the world. That as he grew and could better understand the truths in the holidays we celebrate, there would come a time for a different guidance on his outlook at things, but, that while he was young and life was about presents and candy let him smile and laugh and live in that joy and not have Him think God is mean and uncaring by not letting him participate with his little friends ….. I had everyday of the year to gently guide him to understanding every blessing we receive comes from the Lord.



  3. Rosann on December 12, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Personally, my husband and I have no problem with Santa. We were both raised with the excitement of Santa each Christmas and are both very faithful Christian adults. We discussed the pros/cons of Santa when we started having kids and decided we wanted our children to experience the joy and “magic” of the Christmas season, while also teaching them the reason we celebrate Christmas is to honor the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Both of our daughters (age 4 and 7) know Jesus is the reason for Christmas and consider Santa an added perk. We go to church regularly. We read the Bible together, do devotions together, and pray together on a regular basis. We have a very good relationship with our kids and spend lots of time talking with them about faith, family, life, and love. While I do admit to feeling a little bit of anxiety over the Santa conversation I’ll have to have with my 7 year old I’m sure in the very near future, it’s no more anxiety than I feel over having to discuss the birds and the bees, how to handle a bully, or what she should say/do when someone challenges her faith, among 100 other sigh inducing parenting questions. By the way, we also do Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets at Easter time. My girls hardly focus on the Easter Bunny, but know and talk about how Christ died on the cross for our sins. I really believe it’s okay to have fun with our children as long as they know the heart of why we have the holidays/traditions we have. I think true faith runs far deeper than Santa or the Easter Bunny. I can’t control the faith path my children will ultimately choose as they grow and mature. All I can do is lay the foundation. God never stops seeking us…or our children. No matter what, they are in His very capable hands. That’s a tough reality to face as a control freak mama. But God continually teaches me to trust Him in and with all things.



    • Vicki Ciuk on December 13, 2012 at 7:21 AM

      I agree…true faith runs much deeper than santa and the easter bunny. Amen!



  4. Bev Wafford Morris on December 12, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    We simply don’t do Santa. I don’t feel that it’s anything more than creating an idol. I can’t remember if I posted this before, but this is my favorite Santa story of all time. When my oldest daughter was in pre-school, the school had Santa visit. To prepare her for that, I told her the story of St. Nicholas, and how the legend of Santa Claus grew from his kind acts he performed for the glory of God a long time ago. She asked me if he was dead now. I told her he was, we finished our discussion, and I didn’t think anything of it until Christmastime a couple of years later, when she announced to her entire kindergarten class that Santa Claus is dead.

    Since then, we’ve discussed how different families have different values, and how we have to respect their right to believe what they will, etc. She just point blank looked at me and asked why parents would want to lie to their kids. I didn’t have an answer for that. Glad I didn’t have to explain to her why I lied to her.



  5. Victoria Nyki Hubbard Skogen on December 12, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    I personally have a gift under the tree for each child from Santa, though both my children know and have from early ages. But I feel that when it comes to going to school it is not my 6 year olds place to tell others this, so when others ask what Santa brought they have answers. It’s never a major toy, just something like a doll or car. I never pressed the issue and when asked I was honest, I didn’t want the issue of well if Santa’s not real is Jesus to ever cross our paths. But before we get to the gifts on Christmas we celebrate the biggest gift of all. We have birthday pancakes and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and then my husband reads to them out of the Bible the Birth of Christ, we started this tradition when my oldest was only 6 months old.



  6. Michelle Massaro on December 12, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    I have four childred ages 17, 15, 12, and 3. The older three did Santa and we hated breaking thew news with them. Absolutely hated it. By the third child, we put it off until just last year (although she’d been figuring it out on her own by then.) With my youngest, I’m not doing Santa. We just don’t talk about him. I, too, have loved the images of Santa bowing at the manger. And there are a lot of good lessons we can learn from Santa–selflessness, generosity, graciousness. But the issue to me is the mass lie that all of society is expected to participate in. For years our children look at us with trusting, doe eyes and ask “can Santa REALLY go around the world in one night? Can his reindeer REALLY fly? Did Santa REALLY eat the cookies I made?” and we look back with equal sincerity and say “Of course he can! He’s Santa!” For years we do this assuming the child would rather have the fun story than the truth, and when the truth comes it is devastating. My feeling is that Santa would be just as fun without pretending he were real. Kids have wonderful imaginations and love their favorite cartoon characters without thinking they are alive. We can read wonderful books to them again and again, or watch the same movie over and over and the child doesn’t love it less because it is pretend. They trust us to tell them the truth–about life, about God, and about Santa. And after three kids’ worth of going along with the norm, I’m opting out. My son recognizes Santa and has seen The Grinch, but I don’t focus on him. I have mentioned once or twice that Santa’s not real, but I don’t belabor that point either. My strategy is just to not give Santa a whole lot of airtime in our family. So far he hasn’t seemed any less thrilled with the holiday season as my older three, and I didn’t have to lie to him to make him giddy over Christmas. I feel much more at peace about handling it this way than with the other three kids. Next year will be a new challenge as he gets older but I’m taking it one year at a time. (I also don’t judge anyone who does Santa. I did it for over a dozen years.) So, that’s my perspective. =)



  7. Sharon Nichols Young on December 12, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    I actually read another article about this recently, not necessarily from a Christian perspective, but an autism one… it was aimed at Asperger folks and their families. My son’s primary diagnosis is PDD-NOS, which is one of the high functioning autism diagnoses like Asperger’s. We took a stance early that “Santa” was part of the class of beings that we called “fun pretend” – along with the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy and whatever else people came up with. It has worked well; he doesn’t feel like we’re lying to him, and we don’t lose major respect points by having to fess up and break his trust. By the way – he told us the other day that there is still someone in his class (7th grade, honors yet!) who believes in Santa… we’re talking about 12 year olds here. I am so glad we never had to disillusion him. We draw a clear line between the reality that is Christ and the fun things people come up with to celebrate holidays.



  8. Vicki Ciuk on December 13, 2012 at 7:18 AM

    Interesting posts…on both sides. I think a lot of our belief system comes down to what we celebrated as children. Of those of us who celebrate Christmas with Santa, did we as children…or not? I remember the magic of Christmas morning as a child, when Santa had been there with gifts. For a moment our focus was on the gifts…But is that entirely wrong if we use this feeling to teach our children truth of the ultimate gift, Jesus. As parents we try so hard to control what our children see, hear, say…and as they get older and are “on their own” with their choices, are they prepared to make decisions for themselves? Control is great to keep our kids safe when they are young. But as my oldest child gets older, and deals with more of the pain and reality of the “real world” I am glad to know that there was a time when he was little, and those realities weren’t so “in his face.” I know that some kids have it rough from day one, however, we were blessed and our kids have been able to just be kids. A three year old can understand that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday…but cannot comprehend what that means until they are mature. Why not allow them to understand as they grow? I guess my main point is that if you use santa as a teachable moment, it can be useful in a childs spiritual growth. And if you choose not to celebrate with santa…that’s fine too. But, if you choose not to use santa are you teaching your child that anyone who does is wrong or “less Christian” than you? Be sure to be filled with grace, regardless of what you choose.



  9. […] […]