Santa Claus—what a hotly debated figure in Christian circles! Can a Christian focus on the true meaning of Christmas amid all the distractions “the man in the red suit” brings? As parents, we do not want to become our children’s joy-robbers, yet we still want them to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Is that possible?
First and foremost, I think we should avoid the temptation to dupe or lie to their children about Santa. Neither should we assign him God-like character traits—there is only one all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God. However, when children ask if Santa is real, I believe the answer is yes. Is he a bearded guy flying around on a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer? No, but he exists—and his realness has nothing to do with the fact that we can follow him on Twitter.
In the famous editorial response to Virginia O’Hanlon, the editor of the New York Sun newspaper wrote: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”
Just as faith and hope are real, everything Santa Claus represents—or is intended to represent—is real. It’s a personal choice, but we try to avoid crushing our children’s imaginations when it comes to Santa, but instead use it as an opportunity to point to the Savior.
What’s wrong with make-believe stories? Jesus Himself used parables to teach His followers important lessons. And there are wonderful lessons to be learned from Nicholas.
Who is the real Nicholas? He was a devout third-century Christian who used the entire inheritance he received from his wealthy parents to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was a model of how Christians are supposed to live, obeying the teachings of Jesus from Luke 12:33. He loved children. He cared for the poor. He put Jesus Christ at the center of his life.
Saint Nicholas doesn’t detract from Christ. He points to Him, if we get out of the way and allow him to do so. The problem isn’t Santa, but rather his position in our homes and Christmas celebrations. Often, the very ones who complain that the commercialism of Christmas overshadows the true meaning of the holiday are the ones who overspend on their children and grandchildren. If your Christmas morning is buried under piles of wrapping paper and boxes with no thought of Jesus, His birth and the reason for it, you’re missing the point.
How you choose to handle the celebration of Christmas is a personal decision. In our family, we try to explain to our kids, even at their young age, that Jesus is what Christmas is all about, not what’s wrapped under the tree. God gave the ultimate gift when He sent His Son to earth on a rescue mission. Telling others about Him is the most important gift we ever give someone. And, if kept in the proper perspective, Santa can help us do that.