SPOILER: FOR ADULTS EYES ONLY!!!!
Every Christmas morning, I would hear a door slam (we did not have a fire place) and jingle bells ring. My mom would yell, “Kids get up….Santa Claus just left.” We three Kennedy kids would roll out of bed and see our gifts spread out in front of us. There would be piles of toys and clothes. As we got older, there would be electronics, and yes my mom still slammed the door and rang the jingle bells every year until I was about 25.
This week, I saw a pretty disturbing video online. It was a man who claimed he was a Christian evangelist, and he videoed himself at an Amarillo mall going up to kids that were standing in line waiting to meet Santa Claus. His stated purpose was to tell children that Santa was not real. Parents were appalled, kids were crying, and I was frustrated when I saw it. So, I decided to write a blog today to give you my take as a pastor on Santa and how we deal with it in our household.
I am not quite sure when I realized that Santa was not real. It was probably when I was six or seven. Honestly, it never phased me. My mom’s rule was if you don’t believe, then he will not come. She says this now. The experience I had as a kid and the memories of those mornings will last me a life time. But, my most important memory of Christmas happened on Christmas Eve every year.
Every Christmas Eve, my mom and dad would load us up and take us to a local church. The sanctuary would be dark and solemn. Ushers would provide communion for us and a pastor was available to pray, but mom and dad never had the pastor pray for us. Instead, we would take communion on one of those wooden pews, and mom and dad would pour their heart out to God about their kids. They would name us by name each time. I can still see, hear and experience those moments vividly when I close my eyes. As a matter of fact, I remember those moments more clearly than the memories of opening presents and being visited by “Santa” each Christmas morning. The Kennedy household that lived on 2601 Cumberland Drive in Mesquite, Texas made sure that the priorities were properly ordered. So when I became a Christian pastor, I never really had a problem with families celebrating and kids being visited by Santa. So with this in mind, let me give you my two cents on Kris Kringle.
1: First things first, we (Jason and Rachel) allow our kids to believe in Santa.
I know this may be really controversial for some, but let me state my reasoning. The legend of Santa Claus is just that, a legend. Legends have been used historically to inspire. The same is true of Santa Claus.
Right now, I am reading the Chronicles of Narnia to my girls. It is a fascinating tale that is tied back to the message of the Bible. C.S. Lewis uses mythical creatures to retell a story about the nature of good and evil. As a matter of fact, last night we read about Aslan (a mythical lion in the world of Narnia) and how he created his world. After I read the chapter, my oldest said, “Ohhhh, I get it. Aslan is like God and Lewis is showing us a picture of Genesis.” Her statement made this theologian’s heart proud. Throughout the book, I have been able to talk to the girls about the nature of sin, the nature of God, and I will get to talk to them about the nature of forgiveness as we move further into the series. This was Lewis’ whole purpose of this series. He is using legend or myth to convey a deeper meaning.
This is the same thing we do with Santa Claus because legends and myth can help us communicate truth in simple fashion.
Secondly, the legend is based off of Saint Nicholas (read Kevin DeYoung’s blog on St. Nicholas here). He was a real person, so we do tell our kids a little bit about the real person who was pretty fascinating and had a deep love for God.
2: We make sure the main thing is the main thing.
Both mine and Rachel’s parents prioritized Christ every Christmas. For example before we open gifts at the Fritz (Rachel’s parents) household, Pete (my father-in-law) reads the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke. Our kids know that the meaning of Christmas has to do with Jesus. While Santa, the reindeer and the Elf on the Shelf are fun, our focus on Christmas has to do with Christ.
3: We try to never use Santa as a form of manipulation.
We try not to tell our girls that they will get gifts if their good and coal if they are bad. We try to draw the line here. We may not always be perfect here, but we certainly try. Discipline comes from us. We do not pass it on to some jolly old fellow from the north. Right is right and wrong is wrong. On a side note, we do not correct our kids because they did not meet the expectations as a “pastor’s kid.” In other words, there is not a higher standard for them as “pastor’s kids.” We correct them because something is right and something is wrong and not based off of what daddy does for a living. So, Santa brings gifts for our kid’s stockings regardless of how they have done throughout the year.
4: We do not lie to our kids.
Rachel and I decided that when the kid’s ask us about the truth, we tell them the truth. The same is true with Santa. My oldest asked a couple of years ago, and we told her the truth. We also asked her to not ruin it for her friends or for her sister and so far so good. If we are asked directly, we answer it directly. The reason we do this is because one day they will have questions about God, Jesus, Heaven and Hell, and I want to make sure they know they can always trust us with truth.
5: Christmas does not stop, but we re-frame the conversation.
I know some parents who stop the wonder of Christmas once their kids know the truth. We do not. Now, I know that I said that we keep Jesus as the priority and that is true. However, the concept of grace and forgiveness is difficult for children to understand. So when they are old enough to know the truth about Santa, we shift Christmas into the Gospel message. This actually builds off of number three. We tell our girls that we give freely because Christ has freely given to us. We re-frame their focus. Now, this is not an exact science. We are still in this process. It is sometimes slow as your kids are processing it over a couple of years. Kids will go back from belief in Santa to non-belief. My oldest has at times done this simply because of the wonder of Christmas. It is quite normal.
Now, I understand that many may not agree with my take and that is OK. I do not believe that parents who allow their kids to believe in Santa are evil, and I do not think that those who do not allow Santa are depriving their children. I also believe that you are not going to hell if you see Santa in a shopping mall. We use Santa kind of like we would use nature to talk about God’s creation.
I love seeing my girls at Christmas time. We have so much fun so, I just wanted to simply jot down a few things that we do. In our household, we are not afraid to use Santa because I believe it helps us have spiritual conversations and that is not a bad thing.