Undoubtedly, if you grew up in the Western world, you had a certain relationship with a man in a red suit who sneaks into your house once a year to give you more stuff. But in many churches, and even among families in our own church, there are differing attitudes towards Santa as a cultural icon.
I’ve seen four distinct ways most Christians deal with Santa in their homes. My goal is not to lift one above the other, but to help you consider different options that may bear weight on your conscience so you can make a wise choice for your household.
Option 1 - Fully Accept
In this option, Santa is real. He lives at the North Pole, has elves that make presents for all the good boys and girls around the world, and on Christmas Eve delivers them in a sleigh with flying reindeer.
This is how I grew up. We always had a present from Santa on Christmas morning, so as a kid, the guy in the red suit was “The Man”! At some point in my childhood I was told Santa wasn’t real, but I remember it going pretty well and I don’t feel any scars of betrayal from my parents. Others who were brought up as I was do feel hurt by the apparent lie their parents told them.
One of the biggest downfalls with this option is it tends to separate Christmas into two separate events that cause the coming of Jesus and the coming of Santa to become opponents. For Christian families, this leads to tension in how they conduct their family worship around a Santa-focused Christmas.
Option 2 – Deny
Choosing to focus on the truth that Santa isn’t real so you and your family can concentrate on the coming of Jesus is another valid option for Christian families. Structuring your home, your gift giving, and your family worship around the singular focus of Jesus Christ’s incarnation is a beautiful thing to do, and lines up strongly with the traditional church calendar (which begins with the first week of Advent).
Ultimately, choosing this option will separate you a bit more from your non-believing family and friends because there is, by nature, a separation from much of secular Christmas culture through this choice. When we consider the amazing opportunities to share the gospel at Christmas-time, lessening them by rejecting popular culture makes this option a challenge.
Option 3 – Focus on Saint Nicholas
When we teach our children about the history behind Santa Claus, we remember that the inspiration for the cultural icon comes from a godly example of generosity inspired by the generous gift of God to us in Jesus. There is still a celebration of Santa as a reflection of God’s generosity, but without the separation of the Advent story from the more cultural picture of Santa.
One potential disadvantage is that when explaining to others the connection between Jesus and Saint Nicholas/Santa you may seem preachy, overly serious, and it can be hard for the connection between the two to be made by someone with no understanding of Advent or the story of Saint Nicholas..
Option 4 - Reject Christmas altogether
This option is definitely the least utilized, but is worth talking about, albeit briefly. As Christians we have freedom to worship Christ in so many ways, and choosing not to celebrate his coming on December 25th is open to us.
There is a level of belief, even subversively and subtly among many Christians who grew up in the Western church in the last few decades, that Christmas is, at its very roots, a worship of a pagan deity. There is an uneasy feeling that by celebrating Christmas we are somehow playing into a form of paganism and therefore a worship of Satan.
The one thing we don’t get to do is remain ignorant of historical research on the matter. Thorough, Christian historians have debunked the, “Christmas is a pagan festival myth,” many times and, sadly, the fruit of following this belief does inevitably lead us away from those who need the good news of Jesus. That cost should be unacceptable to any Christian.
Finally, however you choose to consider Santa, know that the message of Advent, at its core, is God coming to those who are far from him, and we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, get to bring the good news of Jesus to those who are far from God. Whether you accept, deny, remember, or reject Santa is up to you, but let’s make the Gospel the main thing no matter what.