It’s the question we get asked over and over again this time of year. Here’s my answer typed out from a couple years ago. I hope you’ll find lots of grace in these words, as we focus on the greatest Gift of Christmas.
Eyes aglow and face full of excitement, my little boy jumped up and down exclaiming, “There’s Santa!! There’s Santa!! That’s the REAL Santa Claus, Mommy! Isn’t it!?”
Wrapped in the whimsical beauty of the cold night, we sat clapping and waving and hovering together under coats and blankets at the Christmas parade. From the moment those first fire trucks went driving by, Isaiah was enthralled. The lights. The bands. The baton twirlers. The candy. The precious living and walking nativity.
And then the sleigh came into sight. A jolly old man with a gleaming red coat and a glorious display, waved and gazed right at us as he said, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
The exuberance and wonder and questions came spilling out as fast as they could from my four year-old boy.
And I felt baffled as to what to do in the surprise of that moment.
Do I proclaim Santa real, against all that is true?
Do I encourage the wonderful creative imagination that God gave my little boy?
Do I crush his excitement (and the excitement of every other little boy and girl within hearing distance) as I point out the cotton fake beard and the wooden reindeer?
Do I pull him from the magic to remind him what Christmas is really and truly about?
As I quietly sat smiling, not knowing exactly what to say, I pondered just hiding right there under the covers. For I don’t want Santa to be dancing in the eyes and hearts of my children – Jesus, only Jesus, should reign there as King!
I let the moment pass, but as soon as we got into the car I could hear the conversations going on in the backseats. With unbelieving sisters, Isaiah continued to exclaim, “But I saw him! It was Santa! He was riding on his sleigh!”
Now, typing it out, I see things more clearly. But in those moments of glistening joy lighting up his sweet face, besides for wondering why we hadn’t had this conversation already, all I could think of was one precious Christmas morning when I was a little girl with eyes sparkling.
As I recall – my brother and I woke up, ruffled hair, rumpled jammies, and excitedly took a peek under the tree to find no presents… NO presents! Had Santa missed our house entirely? Maybe we’d been too naughty? All of a sudden we heard footsteps in the attic. We ran up the stairs as fast as we could and searched between boxes and behind each and every thing. Finally, when we declared our pursuit a failure, we went back downstairs slouching in defeat. We closed the door and walked sadly around, until we heard jingle bells fill the air and the rumblings upstairs once again. We dashed to the door but couldn’t get it open. We pushed and tugged, until with eyes peeping out- saw boxes and boxes and boxes of presents. It was so much fun and incredibly enchanting!
Years later, as Santa in his jolly red suit continued to be a part of our Christmas celebration, I heard of what had really happened. I wasn’t angry with my parents for not telling me the truth. Although they had told a fib, I had thought it great fun to outsmart the adults as I figured it out for myself. Believing in Santa Claus (the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy) as a child did not stop me from believing the truth about Jesus.
And so I understand the moms and dads who love God with all their hearts and still follow in these magical fantasy-based traditions!
But, for our family, we have prayerfully chosen to be different!
Our kids know of Santa Claus and how he is mostly fiction. They also now know of the historical Christian figure, Saint Nicholas (pronounced Sinter Klaas by the Dutch), the man who many years ago, as tradition has it, was kind-hearted and faith-loving and spent much of his time (when outside of prison) giving. I enjoy sharing the legends of this great example of a man, how he loved children and giving and most likely pointed others to Jesus. But, I also feel it’s right for our family, to tell them that he is no longer living. And to declare that just like each one of us, St. Nicholas will one day bow before the true Father of Christmas.
We still hang our stockings, have (too many) presents under our tree, watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and eat Santa-shaped cookies, but we are clear about the difference between truth and fantasy.
It was so much fun for me as a child to believe in something that was not real, but my stomach gets twisted in knots now thinking of lying to these kids that God has entrusted to us (and breaking His commandment in the process). What if this one little lie, when they realize it is not true, causes them to stop believing in God too!?
Each Christmas season is so full already, running around frazzled and dazzled and jellied. To stop and appreciate the warmth and the beauty of the gift God has given, I realize now that we’ve had to pick and choose between what is important to our family, and which traditions to pour our time and lives into.
Even more than that, is the deep longing in my heart of hearts, to stop making Christmas about Santa Claus or St. Nicholas or anyone or anything else, and instead make Jesus shine above everything.
The story of this God become babe is already precious enough. The beauty and glory, anticipation and miraculous wonder can not be topped by a man with a pillow stuffed under his red suit, no matter how jolly, giving and enchanting.
Jesus is enough! He’s much more than enough!
And what I love, love, love to behold (especially when I’m feeling much like a Scrooge) is that our kids are even more enthralled with the miraculous beauty of the true story of Christmas! Each day they are completely wrapped up in which part of the Christmas story we get to read about. Their little eyes sparkle and they jump up and down when they finally get to give presents, even more so than receiving. And the glistening eyes, the joy brought to their hearts, the fun and the magic of this holiday season is all about Jesus!
There’s no greater story ever told. Full of passion, love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. The man in the red suit can’t even compare. In fact he most often stands in stark contradiction.
For just in the custom of Santa’s list – the one where he checks who’s naughty or nice – our kids see the message that if they work hard enough to be good, without pouting or crying, and if they behave just as they should, then they will be rewarded with gifts from Santa. It’s legalism in it’s sneakiest form, where we try and we try and we try to be righteous. And the sad part with this tale is that we can never ever be good enough.
But the Gospel, the truly Good News story, is that Jesus took our punishment, that coal in our stocking – because that’s certainly what would be there if we’re honest. God sent His Son to a world so undeserving, in order to save us. A gift given freely; one that we could not earn – a most precious, eternal gift found not in a stocking! And that’s the most beautiful, wonderful drama I want my children to experience this Christmas. How beautiful that it all began with a virgin, and a manger, and a baby born to die as our Savior.
And my sweet Isaiah, whose beautiful blue eyes lit up for the man in the puffy suit with a fluffy white beard? (And now his little sisters who are right there along with him?)
The moment has passed, and we’ve had some heart-warming discussions – of Jesus and truth and of fun dressed-up people. I’ll ask him what Christmas is really about. He jumps up and exclaims, “It’s about Jesus being born to save us!” Usually no mention of Santa Claus crosses his lips, but every once in a while, with a quiet little smile, he’ll tell how he’s been thinking- that the kind man in the parade just maybe, just might be, the “real” Santa Claus.
How amazing to watch his little mind working. For here, as he wonders and ponders, he reminds me we all have a choice as to what to believe! I do not need to worry – for this is my boy that declares Iron Man his hero, finds the words “stinky diaper” hilarious, uses a ruler as a sword, sheds loud, big tears when his fire-fighter hat gets broken, wonders at Santa, and would easily join the rest of us on the “naughty list,” yet knows and can tell the true story of Christmas, as he makes his little toy knights and heroes and every little figurine bow before Jesus! I do believe there is hope for him yet!!! :)
Oh, how I know this is another tough subject! Where people who stand on both sides waste their time judging the other. Yet, I’ve been asked quite a bit about our family’s view on Santa. Although knowing that many will not agree, while others are shouting, “Amen!” I wanted to share just a glimpse into some of where God has led us – hopefully to shed a light without ANY judgment on the topic to those of you who do not agree or are just now trying to make a decision – and to encourage those of you that have chosen to tell the truth about Santa Claus too – that your Christmas can be just as special and whimsical (if not much more so) without him!
Yes, our children get asked by neighbors and friends, loving grandparents, friendly nurses, and strangers at the store what they would like Santa to bring them for Christmas… they either look puzzled as if to say, “Who’s Santa? I thought Christmas was about Jesus.” -or- they smile and wink and list off some things that they are hoping to get that morning. For while Santa Claus is mostly a myth in their eyes, we’ve tried to be respectful that others believe differently. Maybe it’s their age, and maybe it is the fact that they are homeschooled, or maybe something different, but so far we haven’t had any issues letting friends in on the secret. For although we feel quite strongly that Jesus should be the focus, we also want to be careful not to crush others’ dreams and traditions.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, as tip-toeing around this subject can be tricky, and I’d love to help my kids be prepared if one of their friends DOES ask them what they believe about Santa.
I’d love to hear where God has led your family and what you have chosen!
Hearts on Christ this Christmas!
Love to you all!