On the Question of Santa Claus

I’ve already made it known a couple of times in the past few weeks that I love Christmas, especially in this post. Part of enjoying the holiday season and Christmas is the lead up and anticipation of the day, for when the day comes, you kind of begin to realise the season is coming to an end.

But I love the lights, the trees, the smells, the goodies, the giving and receiving of gifts, the cold, the snow (if it comes), the Christmas movies, the time with friends and family, the delicious and usually huge meals, and so much more. So, yeah, I love Christmas!

And, of course, I very much recognise that this is the day the church celebrates the birth of Christ (though it could be that he was born another date). I don’t see it as a tag on to Christmas. But I also don’t mind if people celebrate Christmas time for all the other great things I mentioned above, things that I also believe bring joy to the heart of God. Nor do I mind since I am convinced that the Immanuel heart of God is a reality every day.

Still, one thing that many Christians can struggle with is the idea of Santa Claus and whether or not we should tell our children about him, as if he is a real person. It is interesting to note that the story of Santa Claus is based upon the real historical figure within the church known as Saint Nicholas. But, of course, most are not aware of the man, Nikolaos the Wonderworker, who was bishop of Myra.

Still, what of the modern day Santa Claus? Isn’t he and the whole Christmas gig too heavily wrapped up in American-western consumerism? Should Christians celebrate those aspects of Christmas and tell their kids about Santa Claus? Isn’t this lying?

Well, I would start off by agreeing that the tidal wave of consumerism that has hit America in the past few decades has gone way overboard. In many respects, some of this has been a meeting of gluttony and greed.

But I personally do not have a problem with celebrating Christmas nor of telling the story of Santa Claus, even if one doesn’t add in some of the accounts about Saint Nikolaos the Wonderworker (though I can hear my evangelical friends casting dark shadows on some of the stories of Saint Nikolaos as well).

Why does it not bother me?

Simply stated, I believe God takes great delight in the amazing opportunity of drawing children into magical tales of ‘otherworldy’ accounts. Those stories that begin with, ‘Once upon a time….,’ are the stories that capture our hearts. And, so, there truly is something magical about the whole setting of Santa Claus and Christmas. Or there should be. If you don’t think so, watch The Polar Express. Absolutely fantastically magical!

This is why you had someone like C.S. Lewis writing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia (and other stories). None of it is real. But in these we find remarkably enchanting tales that speak of something greater, that somehow give us a taste of another world. Now, people might be quick to argue that the spiritual overtones are quite obvious in The Chronicles of Narnia. But, with Santa Claus, we have crossed the line.

Yet, for the average person who has never read the Bible, I don’t think things are so obvious in some of Lewis’ works. Of course, many are finding out Lewis’ perspective due to the release of the movies over the past few years. But here is a series that has captivated the hearts of millions, teaching them something of the eternal (and magical) drama going on.

So, just as in The Chronicles of Narnia, all magical tales can carry a sense of divine undertones, drawing people in to the greater redemptive story of God. This is true in works like The Lord of the Rings and even in non-Christians fantasy fiction and science fiction books (though I will refrain from naming those books so that I avoid a possible stoning). God is quite capable of such even if an author had no such intentions.

You see, I find no harm in letting children be drawn in to the marvellous stories available to us. Let it be The Lion King or Aladdin or whatever other story (in book or film form). But they captivate kids (and us). And I think God meant it that way. In that amazement, I believe children are getting a touch of their creative Father and the age to come that will be beyond anything we could think or imagine. John’s Revelation was simply imagery to explain what is to come. Not the complete picture.

And so, with good ol’ Saint Nick, or Santa Claus, here is a character who stands as a magical draw into something more than we see here in this world, something special and otherworldly. We don’t have to be afraid of such. Nor do we have to preach the gospel in some cheesy way every time we talk of Santa Claus. Rather we allow children, and even ourselves, to be captured by such a character and story, revelling in the fact that this calls us into the greatest story and character of all time.

So, what do I think of the story of Santa Claus? I think it beautiful, magical, amazing. And I desire my children to see this as well.

If you would like to read other articles around such Christmas topics, check out Brian LePort’s and Michael Patton’s.

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3 thoughts on “On the Question of Santa Claus

  1. Of course we would never lie to our little daughter. We have always told her about Father Christmas but explained how people pretend he is real and dress up as him. When she was younger she was very clear that Father Christmas didn’t exist. As she has got older she enjoys joining in the game. I find it hard to imagine spinning her such a yarn and then saying ‘Oh we were just having you on!’ I’m probably making too much of it but I can’t help thinking of the impact it could have on a child’s faith in God. Might they think ‘May be Jesus isn’t real either?’

    We have a lovely little book that tells the story of Saint Nicolas and how that is the basis of the legend of Father Christmas. It tells the whole story of his generosity in throwing the money through the window to pay for the girls’ dowries. Yes, it’s a great story. There’s just one problem. I am beginning to realise that the historical evidence for Saint Nicolas being a real person is pretty slim and certainly the tales that are told about him have been embroidered over the centuries if not completely made up. Of course we would never lie to our little daughter. But I’m wondering if I’ve been taken in on this one.

  2. David –

    I find it hard to imagine spinning her such a yarn and then saying ‘Oh we were just having you on!’ I’m probably making too much of it but I can’t help thinking of the impact it could have on a child’s faith in God. Might they think ‘May be Jesus isn’t real either?’

    I know this is a concern of some parents. I shall something I said in another discussion about this concern. I suppose that when my son (and children) figure out themselves that Santa Claus is not real and if they were to ask me why I never told them Santa wasn’t real, I will share some of the things above that I shared in this article – about the magical and otherworldly excitement it all stirs in us, pointing to the new creation to come of which we only get glimpses of now. I will share how God is creative, tells stories to capture our imagination, and those stories point to the great things of the kingdom of heaven.

    I am beginning to realise that the historical evidence for Saint Nicolas being a real person is pretty slim and certainly the tales that are told about him have been embroidered over the centuries if not completely made up.

    Yes, I understand this as well, and also the stories about St Bonafice and the Christmas tree. Some of it has possibly been embellished over the centuries. So if we find out something is not true, we have to be wise in how we handle it. We don’t communicate it as ultimate fact and history, but can still possibly consider the stories and accounts. In the end, the Santa Claus of St Nick is not so much real, but again, I am ok telling the story within the framework of the creative imagination and magical tales that so delight us and draw us in to the bigger drama of redemption.

  3. Pingback: Week in Review: 12.11.2010 « Near Emmaus

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