Over the years, we have chosen not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas stories and decorations. There are several reasons.
First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don't ask our children to believe them.
Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they're able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child's clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It's very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.
Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we're trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the "attributes" of Santa.
- He's omniscient—he sees everything you do.
- He rewards you if you're good.
- He's omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
- He gives you good gifts.
- He's the most famous "old man in the sky" figure.
But at the deeper level that young children haven't reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.
For example, does Santa really care if we're bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?
What about Santa's spying and then rewarding you if you're good enough? That's not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren't good at all. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.
Helping our children understand God as much as they're able at whatever age they are is our primary goal. But we've also seen some other encouraging effects of not including Santa in our celebration.
First, I think children are glad to realize that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn't that more significant than a funny, old, make-believe man who drops in just once a year?
Second, I think most children know their family's usual giving patterns for birthday and special events. They tend to have an instinct about their family's typical spending levels and abilities. Knowing that their Christmas gifts come from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack, can help diminish the "I-want-this, give-me-that" syndrome.
And finally, when children know that God's generosity is reflected by God's people, it tends to encourage a sense of responsibility about helping make Christmas good for others.
Karsten, for example, worked hard on one gift in 1975. On that Christmas morning, his daddy stepped around a large, loose-flapped cardboard box to get to his chair at the breakfast table. "Where's Karsten?" he asked, expecting to see our excited three-year-old raring to leap into the day. Sitting down, I said, "He'll be here in a minute."
I nudged the box with my toe. From inside the carton, Karsten threw back the flaps and sprang to his full three-foot stature. "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them . . ." He had memorized Luke 2:8-20 as a gift for his dad. Karsten knew the real story.
In fact, a few days later, he and I were walking down the hall at the church we attended then. One of the older ladies leaned down to squeeze his pink, round cheek and asked, "What did Santa bring you?" Karsten's head jerked quickly toward me, and he whispered loudly, "Doesn't she know?"
(Adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions)