Think of Christmas and one of the images that comes to mind is a jolly ole man who wears a red suit trimmed in fur and has a belly that wiggles like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs. He is affectionately known to us as Santa Claus.
Many stories have been written about Santa Claus. Movies, cartoons, books, and live dramas have all portrayed a storyline that centers around the ‘big guy’ and his Christmas time magic. Wonderful, heartwarming storylines that lift spirits during the holidays and bring hope to millions that this might just be the year of miracles for them too.
Malls are filled Santas during December, magazines boast his picture on their covers, and front lawns are decorated with the magic man and his reindeer. Say Christmas and inevitably Santa will come to mind.
The story of Santa Claus brings cheer to the heart. His loving nature and his willingness to bless children with their hearts’ desires renders him a ‘good guy’. He’s happy, he cares about people, he fulfills their dreams…what could possibly be wrong with Santa?
I remember back a few years when my daughter was a toddler. We told her all about Santa Claus and how he was going to bring her presents on Christmas Eve. We went through an elaborate scheme, even keeping her presents hidden in our room until she had fallen asleep so it would appear as though Santa had really come during the night and filled the underneath of the tree with her favorite goodies. We had even gone to the trouble of buying her a little plate that said, “Cookies For Santa” and two years in a row we baked Santa’s favorite cookies (which by the way is white chocolate/macadamia nut) and left them on that plate with a glass of milk for Santa to snack on when he brought the gifts. After she fell asleep Steve would eat the cookies, drink the milk, and we’d put out all the gifts under the tree. Naturally, her eyes were bright with excitement on Christmas morning when she spotted all the presents and saw the empty plate. Santa had surely come and left her a treasure trove of goodies. We had fun with the whole Santa thing, until she hit the age of 3. That year she got terrified at the thought of a stanger coming into our home while we were sleeping. She shivered in fright as we lay down to nestle her to sleep. I had to sleep with her to calm her fears.
Not a thought had entered my mind that there was anything wrong with what we were doing and with participating in the fun-loving myth of jolly ole St Nick. It was just another Christmas tradition for us, a way to make the holidays fun for our little girl. UNTIL….I heard a very wise man of God talk about the myth of Santa and the damage it does to the spiritual understanding of children.
Sitting in service that Sunday morning it hit me for the first time what we were doing by deceiving our daughter and my eyes were opened to the ‘danger of Santa Claus’. This minister went on to explain how we as parents lie to our children and create for them a person who they believe is real. A person who gives them things and wants the best for them. A person who watches their behavior during the year and rewards them based on their good deeds. A person who does not exist at all. A person whose characteristics sound very much like God. His next question was what caused me to stop in my tracks that Sunday morning in December of 2001. He asked, “If you lie to your children about Santa, creating in their mind a person who loves them and gives to them, only for them to find out the truth later, what makes you think they will believe your stories of Jesus whom they also cannot see? Your lies and deception have planted a seed of doubt concerning your honesty and have created an atmosphere of disbelief in what your children cannot see and know for sure to be true.” (somewhat paraphrased)
Wow! I don’t know if that hits you like it hit me, but that was a powerful, life-changing moment for me. I want my children to believe me when I tell them of Jesus and His love for them. I want my children to develop faith in the God of the universe who loves them beyond measure. I want them to believe me when I tell them of His goodness, His mercy, and His grace. I want them to love Him. But, how can I expect them to believe me concerning this faceless Man whom they cannot see when I’ve established a pattern of lies concerning another faceless man whom they couldn’t see?
Well, needless to say we stopped our tradition of Santa and the cookies that Christmas. We still visited him at the mall. We still read his stories and watched movies about him. But, only after we fessed up to our daughter (our son was only one and didn’t understand at all) that Santa was an imaginary figure created to add a little fun to Christmas. Thankfully the Lord showed us all of this before our kids were old enough to really understand what we had done. Now our kids know and understand that we are honest and up front with them about everything. The Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, the sandman – all the things that seem so innocent but can establish a pattern of lies and deception and can tear down the trust between a parent and child – are all fictional characters just meant to add a little spice to life. When children are finally told they’ve believed a lie for years on end, distrust and disrespect develop toward the individuals who perpetuated those lies and we don’t want that issue of mistrust to stand between us and our kids (there will be plenty of other issues).
Many children have survived the Santa saga and are okay, believing in and trusting God. But as for Steve and myself, we would rather err on the side of caution and establish a truthful relationship with our kids while they are young.
So, while Santa in and of himself isn’t bad, allowing a child to believe the lie that he is real and that he exists can be very dangerous. I am grateful we saw that before real damage was done.
*****TO BRING THIS POINT HOME, I WAS WATCHING A SHOW RECENTLY WHERE TWO SISTERS WERE DISCUSSING THEIR DECEASED FATHER. ONE SISTER SAID TO THE OTHER, “BUT DIDN’T DADDY SAY THAT TO US AND TEACH US THAT?” (I DON’T REMEMBER WHAT THE EXACT SUBJECT WAS THEY WERE DISCUSSING.) THE OTHER SISTER RESPONDED BY SAYING, “YES, HE DID, SISTER, BUT HE ALSO TAUGHT US OF SANTA CLAWS. HOW CAN WE BELIEVE HIM?” THINK IT DOESN’T AFFECT? IT DOES!*****