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Santa stops here

The dangers of teaching children about a mythical omniscient gift-giver

Santa stops here

Santa Claus and the three wise men Christmas decorations(Nick Sinclair/Alamy)

Planted on the grassy strip in front of a house two doors down is a sign announcing “Santa Stops Here. Date: December 19. Raindate: December 20.” The many little tykes on my street must be counting the days.

I remember when Santa Claus came to Walnut Hill Plaza in Woonsocket in 1960, and ahead of his visit my mother was at the stove making dinner and I stood at her elbow and looked up at her face and made her solemnly tell me the truth: “Is he really coming in a flying sleigh?” And she solemnly assured me he was.

Which now reminds me of a Bible verse: “And as for the two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail” (Daniel 11:27).

It wasn’t a lie, of course; it was a fairy tale, and one that every parent told her child. And when we finally learned it wasn’t true, we each nursed disillusionment in private, the matter being never spoken of again.

We did our processing alone—how Mom and Dad, who love us more than life itself, could lie to us for years about a Santa Claus.

He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good. This is ersatz God.

No big deal. Except that when they also told us about God and how He’s coming back from heaven bearing gifts for boys and girls who go to church and do as they are told, perhaps we found the story slightly less believable, considering the source.

I remember also in third grade, the day that Principal Soeur St. Edouard de la Croix stopped by. It was the late 1950s, height of the Cold War and hiding under desks. She shared this story to convince us of the evils of Khrushchev and Communism: The teachers in the Soviet Union have the students close their eyes, and they tell them that God is going to put a treat on their desks while their eyes are shut. Invariably one smart-alecky kid will pry an eye open while the distribution is being made and will protest that they’d been lied to about God, and that in actuality it is the teacher who put candy on the desks! The point would then be aptly made that God does not exist and that all good things come from men and from the Party.

I started worrying about Krusty and Patty. They are my hand-stitched alter egos who make appearances each Sunday at church for a puppet show in the 4’s class and do age-appropriate versions of Noah, Lot, King David, and any other figure in the Bible that Mr. Ralph commands. The kids totally believe in this rough-around-the-edges cowboy and his more precocious female friend, even as they somehow know when I step out from behind the curtained puppet stand after the performance that I have something to do with it.

“How is what I do different from the Santa Claus purveyors?” I asked my husband. “I’ve got the kids believing that Krusty and his friend are real.” It’s not the same, he reassured me. Santa Claus is a replacement for the true God. Look at the similarities: He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good. He spreads his gifts through all the world and can be everywhere in space at the same time. This is ersatz God.

Let children and adults alike be warned about pretenders to the role of God masquerading as angels of light—from beauty, fame, and riches to benevolent largesse of government whose end is to control our lives and make us say in adoration as men will in the last days, “Who is like the beast?” (Revelation 13:4). To God alone belongs such acclamation: “The Lord is high above the nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalm 113:4-6).

The One who gives good gifts, whose coach is not a flying sleigh but a swift cloud (Isaiah 19:1) will never give His glory to another. And He won’t need a rain date either.

Comments

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 12/13/2017 01:54 pm

    Context is everything, in this case.  My parents never used Santa Claus as a manipulative tool.  We never conflated him with God.  We enjoyed stories about Santa, but we also learned that there actually was a Saint Nicholas whose generosity is worth commemorating as part of the Christmas story.  But Mrs. Seu Peterson is right to be concerned about the false angels of light that can so easily infiltrate into our lives.

  • Rick Witmer
    Posted: Sun, 12/17/2017 02:39 am

    I, like Brendan, was never manipulated by my parents, nor did I ever confuse the legend with the one true God. In our home, Santa bowed before Jesus, which is as it should be, considering the staunch trinitarian defender that was the true Nicholas at Nicea. Now, with my four children, we take the opportunity of Santa decorations to talk about Church History, the supremacy of Christ, and how loving Jesus creates an outflow of generosity in His Name. I appreciated Doug Wilson's God Rest Ye Merry and Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas for pointing out that this is the reason why Santa is a part of Christmas as we celebrate it in the West. I am grateful for the ways in which this, too, ultimately points to Christ.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 12/17/2017 04:42 am

    It is hard to argue with this post. In fact I don't. The concerns here are real and the warnings to be heeded. And yet, as father of 4 now all adults, home educated mostly by their mother my wife. As a father who read out loud every night to them, even the older ones who still loved to listen after they could read for themseleves (Chronicles of Narnia, over and over, The Hobbit and Trilogy at least twice, and many other good books...) I'm always wondering about the role of fantasy and stories to children. Do they see these the same way we do as adults and inject our elderly insights and understanding and ideas back into them? I'm not convinced of the damage that we might be causing. Though we also did not subject them to the Santa Claus fable as truth. I guess this is a cautionary comment to be careful how we handle fables and fantasy for little minds. I think we teach more by the lives we model. And by the truths we teach with our lives and when we sit down and stand up. And by the scriptural truths that we build into them. 

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Sun, 12/17/2017 09:01 am

    When my kids were little my oldest, upon seeing a Santa, said "Look, there's a clown."  So we started refering to Santa as the Christmas clown.  We had a relative that insisted on writing 'from Santa' on her gifts to the kids.  We told them that people wrote that when they didn't want them to know who gave the gifts.  The anticipation of gifts on Christmas was still there and we didn't have to lie to them.  When they were older we did tell them about Saint Nicholas.

  • Amanda
    Posted: Sun, 12/17/2017 07:49 pm

    And raise your kids to be the little Christian know-it-alls who tell all the 5 year olds in their classes that Santa isn't real, and risk having your kids grow up and resent you for being so legalistic that you couldn't have a little fun.  This is not my story, but the story of someone I know.  She isn't the only one who feels this way and who has gone on to reject God because the God their parents taught them about was a stoic rule-loving kill-joy.  Then you have the Satan's Claws types...oh boy.  The truth is that parents can allow their kids to enjoy the mystery of Santa and not let them believe that he is God or god-like, but that he was completely human.  You simply always answer with "What do you think?" when the questions come.  Do not look them in the eyes and lie.  If they press and press, it is time to let them in on how Santa works.  You cannot save your children's souls.  This is only the work of the Holy Spirit.  You will not ever do everything perfectly, try as you might.  Your kids will love God because He has called them to Himself.  If they reject God, it is NOT because you read them stories about Santa.  They might reject God because you told them to dress modestly or avoid alcohol or court instead of date or eat only organic food or spend time in God's Word or...or...or...or...  Please, just pray for wisdom and do your best and hope that Jesus saves their souls sooner rather than later.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 08:16 am

    Bit of a false dichotomy maybe? Santa doesn't need to be part of the celebration for kids to have a joyous Christmas. And yes, I know that from experience too. :)

  • Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 10:22 am

    " ... or eat only organic food ..."  LOL.  Great perspective, Amanda.  My son as an adult has thus far rejected our Lord Whom he so sweetly believed in as a child.  I still pray for God to open His eyes, and oh how I wish Santa were the reason for his disbelief.  THAT I could deal with.

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 11:00 am

    Amanda, I'm sorry those people you know were brought up that way.  My guess their rejection of God has little to do with Santa.  It probably was their parents controling brought out by the legalism.  But we don't have to reject good practices just because legalists handle them poorly.  All Christians should encourage their children to dress modestly, avoid alcohol (at least the abuse thereof), and spending time in God's Word.  And courting is probably a better practice than dating.  (I omitted your eating organic food because organic food in not mentioned in the Bible, statistically organic food is the same as conventionally grown food, and there are pros and cons of growing organically.)

    We still had a lot of fun with the kids and they had the anticipation and mystery of Christmas.  And I don't remember hearing of any instances of them being the ones to tell 5 year olds that Santa was a lie.  The kids are going to hear about Santa not being real from older kids anyway. 

    Maybe the people you are talking about were acting out the legalism of their parents and became kil-joys and reacted to the negativism that resulted.  Then later they threw out the baby (Jesus) with the dirty bath water (legalism.)  So sad, but this is a common reaction to legalism.

     

  • Bob C
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 11:32 am

    As a middle child of six kids my older sisters told me the truth about Santa in the middle of summer. As I recall I was 6 or 7. Based on the rumors at school, it was no surprise to me. The big deal was to have joined the club knowing the truth and then keeping up the vision of Santa for my three young siblings.  There was never any confusion concerning Santa and Jesus.  My parents explained that Santa was a tool for celebrating the real reason for the season Jesus.     

  • Mark EP
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 11:33 am

    Many years ago, my then seven-year-old first-born indignantly stomped into the kitchen and said, "Kids on the bus said Santa isn't real. But I told them my daddy said it's true, and my daddy doesn't lie." The Santa Claus fairy tale had been fun until that moment. I felt like a complete heel, and my daughter learned that her peers might be a better source of truth than her father.
    In the following years I made sure my other three kids knew the truth about Santa Claus, and have discovered that the jolly old elf contributes nothing vital to joyful, uproarious Christmas celebration.
    Maybe Santa was fun for you as a child (as it was for me), and you "turned out okay" (eventually, in my case), but the culture is truly upside-down these days. Actively teach your children truth in all things.
    No, Virginia, there isn't a Santa Claus, but there is something much, much better.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 06:52 pm

    This. This is exactly why this is such an important issue. If the kids know it's all a big game of pretend, then go for it. The main concern then would be whether it's all too much of a distraction from Christmas. But I don't know why so much of our culture thinks it's okay for parents to lie to their children about Santa. What else are they going to be second-guessing when the find that one out?

  • Daniel40
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 12:57 pm

    Respectfully, any adult that tries to say that their disbelief in God derives from their parents’ “lying” to them about Santa Claus is making a ridiculously lame excuse.  Any rational adult giving it a moment’s thought can easily recognize the difference between a childhood fantasy about a gift-giving magic man and the power that has intricately made our world, bodies, and minds, which clearly show forth his invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature.  

    Indeed, God’s being and power has been so clearly perceived that Paul rightly said we are without excuse - Santa Claus myth included.

    Further, the idea that children (or adults) could err in conflating or confusing the two I think borders on the absurd.  Santa Claus as a counterfeit God?  Even his supposed omniscience and omnipresence notwithstanding, no one would confuse Santa Claus for the self-existent omnipotent one who created heaven and earth by the power of his voice, and worship him as such.

  • HMS
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 01:10 pm

    Jesus is "coming back from heaven bearing gifts for boys and girls who go to church and do as they are told"???  I thought it was for those redeemed by His blood!  If this is truly the message we're sending our kids - we have bigger problems than Santa.  :-/

  • Isaac Barr
    Posted: Fri, 12/22/2017 01:26 am

    I was a little thrown off by that sentence as well! Clarification anyone? Was this a joke? 

  • Jeff's picture
    Jeff
    Posted: Mon, 12/18/2017 05:53 pm

    I find it quite sad that people get so incensed by the Santa myth. Should the preacher proclaim him to be a lie his church would empty in a week. Now he could soft-sell sin and people would hardly raise an eyebrow and he'd be lauded as loving, tolerant, wise and kind.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Sat, 12/23/2017 06:14 am

    When I was a child my parents never told me there was a Santa.  I think I must have heard about the myth at school.  Since I had no proper training as to how to address Santa I would yell up the chimney.  My parents were amused but didn't try to correct my misunderstanding.  They did teach me the proper way to talk to God.  My Santa training was completely negelected.  I saw pictures of him I don't remember ever really believing in him.  My dad was fond of saying "Santa Claus is a myth perpetuated by the young to keep the old folks happy"  As you can probably tell Santa created very little tension at my house.