One of the surprise characters in my Christian fiction novel, Elephant in the Room, is Nick Saint, a professional Santa Claus. He was a surprise character for me because I never intended to write about Santa. But during the creative process of writing about gluttony, the familiar plump character came to my mind. I imagined what would happen to the real man behind the legendary belly if he lost weight. I also wondered how I could express my strong opinions about this cultural icon in a loving way to encourage Christians to purposefully address truth in their own families. Nick Saint turned out to be one of my favorite characters, adding a bit of humor to the serious subject of overeating, while providing helpful perspective on the whimsical fantasy that pervades the Christmas season.
Beware: I’m going to take the next few paragraphs to present my opinion about Santa Claus. You might be surprised to read that yes, there is a Santa Claus. Anyone who says differently is flippantly denying reality. The fat man in the white fur-trimmed red suit can be easily identified by most people on earth, and we see him everywhere in December, on the virtual screen as well as in-person at malls or on street corners. There are songs, movies, cards, costumes and decorations to fill your house, yard and rooftop with his image.
Most people know some basic information about Santa Claus’s story. Santa is a make-believe character derived from legends growing throughout history starting in the fifth century and consolidating in modern form from a poem by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 and print advertising by Coca-Cola starting in the 1930s. What began as a story about one generous but anonymous benefactor has ballooned to a fantastic tale of requested gifts magically delivered to everyone on earth in one night by a stalker who watches everyone all the time. But the crazy story is not the real problem.
The problem is how we talk to children about Santa Claus. When parents don’t clearly communicate that Santa Claus is a make-believe character, just like Superman or Scooby-Doo, then they are deceiving their own children. Why do adults do this? Some say they want to enjoy the fantasy by incorporating their children into the story. Grandparents and family friends get into the act, but does part of the fun for adults come from teasing and fooling the helpless children? Then one day the truth comes out (and it always comes out) that Santa Claus is not a real person. The children are always disappointed. But don’t fool yourselves, parents. Your children are not disappointed in Santa; they are disappointed in the people who have lied and deceived them.
Your children are not disappointed in Santa; they are disappointed in the people who have lied and deceived them.
Parents should be a source of truth and wisdom, setting an example for a lifetime of building trust in relationships. Parents, if you lie to your children about Santa, then they might wonder some day what else you have lied about. If you tell lies and laugh it off when the truth is revealed, then why can’t children lie without suffering consequences when they are caught? Your children will note the hypocrisy. Parents, when your children are seeking the truth about the bigger issues of life, will they come to you for help, or search the world for what feels right to them, drifting and confused by relativism? Do you read about God, Jesus and the miraculous stories from the Bible in the same way you tell stories about Santa? When they stop believing in Santa, will your children stop believing what you told them about their sin problem and God’s salvation solution? Is this lack of trust contributing to the epidemic of young people leaving their parents’ churches as soon as they can? (I recommend Ken Ham’s book, Already Gone, to begin considering the causes of this epidemic.)
Now are you ready to read my opinion about what parents should say about Santa Claus? Since children can understand the difference between pretend and real, parents should clearly identify Santa Claus as a pretend character. Laugh together with your children about the fantasies surrounding this character to the extent you decide in your own home. For our family, we barely acknowledge this story because we have better things to read, watch, think, sing and talk about. My children can identify and pick Santa out of a line-up, though. Explain how the world venerates Santa, then role play how your children should respond kindly when the little old lady across the street asks, “So what did Santa bring you?”
Build relationships with your children by telling them the truth about everything. Please keep in mind that some subjects are too mature for young minds, so it is truthful to tell children that they cannot understand the truth now, but that you will tell them about it when they are older, then keep that promise. Otherwise, answer their questions with the truth, or take them with you when you look for the truth in trusted resources so that you learn together. Spend time together talking about the real people in your lives, and read about the real people in history. Most importantly, carefully and reverently explain who God is and what He has done, using the Bible as the source of truth. Study the Bible to understand its historical, scientific, reasonable facts alongside God’s miraculous work in creation and redemption. Marvel at the wonderful true story about Jesus, a real man who did miracles by the power of God to demonstrate that He was God’s Son and our Savior.
In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed for His disciples and anyone who follows Him, saying in verse 17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” I am sanctified, blessed and set apart for holiness, by God’s truth. I want to sanctify my children in the truth, and the Bible is the only source of God’s truth. Dear Reader, I pray that you, too, will be sanctified by the truth and that you would sanctify your children in the truth. Please tell me about your truthful conversations with your children about Santa Claus.