I have some serious issues with Santa Claus, and they’re not the issues you might think. Yes, there’s the whole lying to my kids thing, which bothers me. But we pretend a lot at our house, and I could play up Santa while truthfully telling my kids he’s make-believe. Of course, there’s also the whole Santa and the elves issue: does he pay them? Does he give them pills to keep them small? Are the elves indentured servants of some kind? And, no, St. Nick hasn’t yet received the message that cookies are a “sometimes food,” but I certainly can’t pass judgment on that one! Also, Santa watching my children when they’re sleeping and knowing when they’re awake? Sounds more like a creepy stalker than a benevolent gifter. But, I think Mr. Claus has bigger issues than being a fictional, slave-keeping, obese, creepy, character… the biggest problems are for the kids who see past all these potential problems and think Santa’s a good and generous man. Allow me to unwrap (sorry, I couldn’t resist) my reasoning:
- The first issue I have with Santa is that he’s terribly mean to poor children. This was brought home to me when I taught in a very poor community, with students who didn’t receive much, if anything, for Christmas. From a kid’s perspective, the rich kids get gifts all year round: they have plenty of food and new clothes and school supplies. Wouldn’t it make sense for Santa to give poor kids a little more on Christmas to compensate? Apparently not. Kind, jolly old St. Nick gives poor kids the shaft on Christmas, reinforcing the societal message that children without means are less valuable than those who have plenty. Even Santa recognizes that the poor kids are worth less. For kids who aren’t poor, the disparity can still feel personal. I remember being jealous of my closest friend in elementary school, who always got the BEST (and most) Christmas presents. I knew they were from her parents, and I knew it wasn’t because they loved her any more than my parents loved me. I just had plain old jealousy to contend with, and yet I can still taste it. I can’t imagine how this would’ve affected my psyche if I had tried hard to be extra good and was still deemed “naughtier” than my best friend.
- This leads to my second point… Santa’s method of determining who’s naughty and who’s nice involves assigning monetary worth to children based on how good or bad they are. Nevermind that presents are not actually doled out according to Santa’s fictitious lists; the message prevails: if you do more good things than bad things, you win. Even if your heart was naughty and you were only doing good things to get on the Nice List, you still win. And if you tipped the scale the other way, well, your worth, my friend, is equivalent to a lump of coal. This is particularly problematic for Christian children, who are presumably being taught that their worth is in Christ, and that it doesn’t matter how many bad things they’ve done. Jesus has already taken the lump of coal as His and given them all the presents HE got for being perfect. Those gifts belong to our children, no matter which list they fall on this year. Christian parents should be reiterating that no matter how many good things their children do, they will be loved by God no more and no less than they already are!
- Noel Piper writes here about how the association between God and Santa can be problematic for kids who are already struggling to understand the abstract idea of God. Wait. Did I say kids? I think this association runs deep in the fabric of our society and can trip up even us adults, who also struggle to understand God. This article is a great read, if you have time, and really spring-boarded a lot of my thinking. Basically, Piper says that Santa and God share too many attributes for us not to make the connection, however subconsciously (each watches us and knows what we’re doing and has the ability to grant “wishes”/answer prayers, etc).
- Finally, I come back to the main reason my parents gave for not “doing Santa” with us growing up (besides not seeing how they could do it without lying): gratitude. My parents wanted us to see the people giving us gifts, recognize that they had sacrificed to provide us with such nice things, and thank them kindly and respectfully. Basically, they wanted credit to go to those who’d so thoughtfully chosen gifts for us. Has any child who’s ever written a Dear Santa Wish List ever followed up by sending a Dear Santa Thank You to the North Pole? Also, my parents wanted to nurture the parent-child relationship, and they knew that a fun Christmas morning put a lot of emotional cash in the bank (which had to be withdrawn on the mornings when we got yelled at for missing the bus or fighting over the bathroom). Though they showed us all year that they loved us, the mountain of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning was physical proof that our normally frugal parents loved us with a crazy, wild-abandon love. They were tangibly demonstrating how God loves us and gives excessively and lavishly to us.
- So #4 was my last issue I have with Santa. But I have to include #5 to cover the opportunity cost of such celebrations: Celebrating Santa and his magical gift-giving is time that could be spent talking about God’s miraculous, eternal gift-giving. Listening to this sermon on the theology behind gift-giving was an amazing, eye-opening experience for me. God gave his Son, and will give us all things out of his glorious riches. When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ by giving gifts. But if it’s Jesus’ birthday, shouldn’t we be giving Jesus the presents? Yes. But the Bible teaches that if we give to our neighbors, we give to Jesus. So we should lavishly be gifting our neighbors, including our closest ones, our spouses and children. If Santa’s giving the gifts, how does Jesus get the glory?
So while I don’t think Santa is an anagram for Satan (okay, well technically it is, but I don’t think it matters a flying flip), I do think that we should all consider how central a role we’re going to give Santa this Christmas. At the same time, I hope we’ll all be gracious to others who see things differently… that way we can all stay on the Nice List!