OK, I’m going to add my thoughts to all the Christmas and Santa posts that have come out. (You can see some here, here, here, here, here, and here; if I didn’t link to yours, then leave it in the comments.)
In a spirit of full disclosure, I will say that in our home Santa is a game. We talk about him around Christmastime when the kids bring him up and when we go to the mall and see him. Most of what they know about Santa they get from friends or TV shows. We don’t discourage it or necessarily encourage it. We play along. I’ve got four kids. The two oldest (10 and 8) have figured out Santa is a game. Our two youngest (4 and 2) haven’t figured it out yet. Growing up, Santa wasn’t a big deal. As long as I can remember, I’ve known it was treated as a game in my family… a fun one that we enjoyed playing.
Now on to my thoughts…
Christmas is about the fulfillment of thousands of years of promises by God to send a Savior to the world–Jesus. He did it, though, in the most unconventional and least expected of ways. Jesus arrived as a baby. The God of the universe, who has always existed, who is the Word responsible for the creation of all things became a baby! He was born of a virgin! Angels announced his arrival… to shepherds of all people! A star announced his arrival and guided astronomers from the East to see him! OK, I’ll stop with the exclamation marks…
The Christmas story is a miraculous one filled with mystery and, dare I say it, magic. If it weren’t for the mystery and magic of it all, I don’t think there would even be a Santa or Rudolf or whatever stories there are about belief, generosity, selflessness and peace. It is the miracle of God becoming man that sparks many of the stories, myths, and legends that exist about Santa.
Now, I’m not saying that we replace Jesus with Santa… or even that we go to extreme lengths to perpetuate the Santa myth. I do think, though, that we snuff the mystery and magic and miracle surrounding Christmas by turning a hose on the imaginative spark in people. We are so quick to point to facts and figures. We distill the miracle of Jesus born to a mere historical fact just so that we can feel good about ourselves because we stuck to the truth. We make claims that children will be confused about Jesus if we don’t expose the myth of Santa to them. We try and remove any vestiges of imagination or story from Christmas in the name of historical fact.
Is our faith that fragile? Is the faith of our children that fragile? If it is, it isn’t because of a juvenile belief in Santa. If we are living out our faith in front of our children everyday of the year, then Jesus is the one constant that children will have in their lives while all the other stories will become just that–stories–as they grow and develop the cognitive ability to distinguish between real and fantasy.
So I say, let the magic and mystery and miracle of Christmas live on! Point children to the truths of faith, generosity, sacrifice, etc. that show up in different Christmas stories. Emphasize that Christmas is about Jesus’ birth and the miracle of that. Celebrate Advent with your children and look forward in anticipation to the Christ-child…. and enjoy the Santa stories. You can even tell them about the real person behind Santa–St. Nicholas. (VeggieTales has a recent video that does a fun job of telling that story!)