Should Christians Observe Santa Claus?

Every year at this time I am asked the question by parents in our church, “Should we observe Santa?”  It’s amazing to me how emotive and divisive the issue of Santa Claus can be.  I have read a number of Christian authors who post tempestuous rants declaring that Santa “hijacks” the meaning of Christmas.  To me, I find such extremist responses at worst inflammatory and at best unhelpful to the debate.  Many Christian parents grew up with Santa as part of their Christmas tradition and would like to do the same for their kids, but struggle with the ethics of it- namely in two areas.  One, is observing Santa lying to my children?  Two, does it make the focus of Christmas materialism rather than Christ?

These are fair questions and legitimate concerns that have to be considered and navigated by parents at Christmas.  I think we could add to the concern of observing Santa an emphasis on St. Nick potentially being omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal- all attributes that can only be possessed by God.  So, is it wrong to observe Santa?  I asked a Christian mother whom I respect a great deal to share with me her perspective on Santa.  The following is what she wrote to me and I found in it a great deal of wisdom.  I strongly encourage you to read this and ponder the insight she offers:

I like Santa.  Many are surprised that my family allows him into our celebration at all.  I care very much about this issue because as a Christian mom I want to get this right.  I usually answer the question with something along the lines of, “It’s a game we play in our family…our kids understand and enjoy it.”  I struggle if it is ok to invite Santa into our family’s Christmas celebration.  I understand and genuinely admire those who have chosen not to play Santa.  When I let go of the comparison game, and just tuck this question up with the Lord I always go back to my own childhood.  This game was special and dear to me growing up.  I was raised by Bible-believing Christian parents.  Jesus was clearly taught truthfully ALL YEAR LONG in many creative and traditional ways in both my home and church.  Both of my parents are wise and down to earth and didn’t raise us with a materialistic “keep up with the Joneses’” worldview.

Santa was a tradition of Christmas that we all loved and he didn’t occlude Jesus; or Jesus’ birthday.  Maybe because of the way they led our lives January through November or maybe because our Christmases were simple and sacred and both family and faith focused, I never felt Jesus was threatened or forgotten.  He was honored by a family who loved Him and loved each other.  I felt no more lied to than when my dad would tweak my nose and act like he’d pulled it off as he paraded his own thumb around.  The twinkle in my mother’s eye when she teased about Santa was very different than the passion in her eye when she taught about Jesus.  Both were good for me.  The way God puts families together is different.  Some kiddos are unique in the way they process things and for them the difference I just described would be more difficult for them than good for them.  This makes me glad that He gives us wisdom in every situation and very glad that we can share faith with great celebration and camaraderie even while having different convictions.

When I think about Jesus’ own life as a human child, and the faith culture in which He was raised I consider festivals intended to help a community remember God’s intervention and faithfulness to His people throughout the generations.  I believe THAT should be the center of Christmas.  I wonder if sometimes in our effort to keep the shallow and materialistic out of our Christmases, Christians tend to “over-baby” Jesus, making Him a little bit of a birthday tyrant.  I’m not sure that He would be ok with our over-protecting Him at Christmas while often under-acknowledging Him the whole year through.  In my family I don’t want to prioritize God first, family second, church third… with all the good choices lined up in order next and the bad choices carefully avoided.  I want God to be the center; the only Creative Life from which every choice and action flows.  When that is an intentional goal for everyday then at Christmas He is still the center from which everything flows; even silly fun traditions that keep children and parents young and connected.

The traditional games we play and the generosity we pour out on our children at Christmas time can be very pleasing to the God of “all good gifts” as it reflects His generous faithfulness throughout the year.  The telling of stories of family and faith tradition that make an Invisible God’s providence visible to children learning to move from concrete to abstract thinking can be very pleasing to the God who tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.”  Remembering Jesus the Baby, the Boy, the Minister, the Sacrifice, the Redeemer, the Living Intercessor in the context of family and faith community is the goal for my Christmas.  And FOR US, in our family, the sweet Santa game is powerless to steal that away.

I think this Mom sums it up well.  Yes, there are potential dangers in observing Santa that require caution, but if a family chooses to observe Santa they have not necessarily caused Jesus to abdicate his throne.  For some families, Santa won’t be the right thing to do.  And that’s good.  But for other families, Santa can be a part of the Christmas tradition while still focusing on Jesus.  And that’s good, too.

I believe when it comes to Christians and the observance of Santa we must apply the principles Paul taught in Col. 2:16-17- “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Paul notes that the observance of diets and days is like a shadow, but Jesus is the substance.  God gave the Israelites in the Old Testament specific rules and regulations about what to eat and what to celebrate as a means of aiding their obedience and devotion to God.  But now that Christ has come, we follow and obey God on the basis of grace, not law.  It doesn’t mean we reject what the Old Testament says or think it unimportant, we just understand it in light of Jesus Christ.  All of the dietary laws, observances of days, and animal sacrifices were simply pointing the way to something that was coming which was much better- Jesus.  That’s why he refers to diets and days as a shadow, but Jesus is the substance.  We have to make sure that we are not chasing shadows with our lives.  We must be focused on the substance- Jesus Christ!

It is very important to note what Paul does not say in this passage.  He doesn’t say, “Forbid people from observing diets and days.”  What he says is that you cannot let anyone judge you.  There is great liberty for believers.  Christians can choose to observe or not to observe whatever they choose so long as it is in keeping with Scripture.  The substance of the observance or celebration must be Christ and growing faith in him.  This becomes a potential issue in the church because there are people and families with a wide diversity of convictions (including Santa).  We have to be careful how we handle these in the context of the body of Christ.  I have talked to some children (and even parents) about what they would be doing to celebrate Christmas and the first thing they say, with great enthusiasm, is they won’t be observing Santa Claus.  I came away from those conversations wondering if the chief end of Christmas was to extol the non-existence of Santa instead of the existence of Christ.  Again, it’s perfectly fine to not observe Santa and for some families it’s the best thing to do.  However, we must be careful how we handle this to not cause division within the church.

If we are to follow the principles of Col. 2:16-17, at issue is if you do not observe Santa, you cannot think that you are more spiritual than others who do observe him.  Paul condemns that in this passage.  Why?  Because it leads to pride and self-righteousness, not Christ-righteousness.  The reverse is true.  If you observe Santa, you cannot think that those who do not are wrong.  Don’t judge others in these convictions and don’t let them judge you.  These are convictions that God has given you.  Realize that God genuinely has not given them to everyone.  We must never let issues such as these divide us.  Our liberty to follow our convictions is part of the treasure we have in Christ.  Our unity and fellowship in the body of Christ is part of that treasure as well.  If we are not careful, pride and judgmentalism can set in regarding convictions and take away our treasure.

So, let the Lord lead you and give you wisdom about what is best for your family regarding Santa Claus.  And whatever he leads you to observe, don’t condemn those who observe differently.

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One Response to “Should Christians Observe Santa Claus?”

  1. I loved this article. My dad was a Baptist pastor who was very clear about teaching me that Santa was not real (while my mom and grandma whispered behind his back that he was wrong and I’d better be good because Santa was watching). When I was older and raising my own children I felt cheated that I’d never experienced that wonder. And cheated that I had no idea how to incorporate Santa into our Christmases with no tradition to build on. And amazingly, when my dad was dealing with MY children he encouraged them to believe in Santa. Where was that when I was small?

    As a teen I asked my grandma why she had tried to encourage me to believe in Santa. Her response was so dear to me. She said that Santa is real, but not as some jolly man at the North Pole. She said that Santa is the spirit of giving and fun at Christmas. And that each time she got to choose a gift for me and watch me open it and the joy it brought, for that moment, she got to be Santa.by