Christian parents often struggle with where Santa fits into the Jesus Christmas story. Here are some powerful ideas to help you navigate those waters.
As a young parent raising my kids, I was certain I wanted our kids to know the Jesus story of Christmas before any of the ho-ho-ho, Santa and all the commercialism of Christmas took over.
Christmas and my upbringing
Growing up Catholic myself, I found this all very confusing. With the exception of the delicate creche we set up every year, everything else pointed to Santa. Honestly, he was everywhere – from stitched pillows to statues, to cookies, ornaments and carols. (Okay, on the latter, Baby Jesus did get mixed in there, somehow.)
And when it came to gifts, my Santa really did deliver: stockings brimming over with goodies, just the gifts I had asked for in my annual missives to the jolly, red-and-white bedecked man, and all the magic and mystery coming with the season.
Needless to say, Santa was – and is – a pretty good deal for many a little kid. And I can’t deny, I liked it. But it bred in me an expectation of getting stuff, and the Santa story seemed to push the real story out to the periphery of my attention and interest.
Choosing a different path
So, as someone who truly came to place my faith in Jesus as a university student, I wanted something different when it finally came, well over a decade later, to raising my own children. And my husband felt the same.
So we downplayed Santa. We didn’t eliminate him, by any means. But we did our best to give Jesus center stage. Sometimes I think we did well. Other times, not so much. But, overall, I’ve come to a place of understanding of this Jesus–Santa mix I think may be helpful to parents now navigating this challenging territory.
Don't miss the connection!
Recognize the elements in the Santa story that actually connect with and/or intersect with the Jesus story. Here are several ways you can do that:
1 | Both Santa – in the form of Saint Nicolas – and Jesus walked on this earth. Share the legend of Saint Nicolas. Helping your kids connect Santa with a real person who lived and walked on this earth not only makes the celebration more meaningful, but it also proves an intriguing segue to the Jesus story – another who lived and walked this earth, albeit much earlier.
2 | Santa has a generous spirit. So too should we develop a generous spirit. Talk with your kids about why Santa is such a good and generous person. You can also bring in the generosity of God through Jesus. Perhaps take a look at some of Jesus’ miracles – like when he fed the 5000 in Matthew 14:13–21 (link!) or healed the blind man in John 9 (link!). Those were acts of extreme generosity, too. Make the connection for your kids.
3 | Both Santa and Jesus possess characteristics we want to encourage in our children – kindness, generosity, love, cheer. Spend some time asking your kids or grandkids the following questions:
- How does Santa / Jesus show generosity?
- How does Santa / Jesus show kindness?
- How does Santa / Jesus show love?
Note how I have intentionally begun with Santa. That is because you want them to make the connection between the two in the direction of Jesus. That’s where you want them to land.
4 | Santa is superhuman. After all, according to the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town, “He sees you when you're sleepin', He knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good...So be good for goodness sake.” Somehow, Santa has powers beyond the average human being, right? Well, so does Jesus – the Son of God, Emmanuel – God with us. In fact, I wonder if those lines were written with Jesus in mind...at least a little bit!
5 | Santa gives gifts. Jesus is the gift, not just of the Christmas season, but year-round. Rather than just give the gifts, make sure you convey to your kids what a gift really is (an expression of my love to you, for example) before you undo the wrapping paper and, perhaps, just as the season begins. And, with little ones, bringing it up again and again can reinforce it in their minds. It’s not too much.
So, don't write Santa off if you're a Christ-following parent who wants to raise kids who know the real Christmas story! Just make sure you leverage all the good stuff about Santa into teachable lessons guaranteed to lead them to the best gift – this Christmas, and for their lives!
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