Every year at this time, I read lots of posts and hear lots of people discussing whether or not they are going to play up the Santa myth with their kids. Thoughtful young parents, especially evangelical Christian ones, tend to lean on each other to find their path in matters such as this. We do a good job in our subculture of making every decision a bigger deal than it probably is and laying guilt on ourselves to be the perfect parents whenever possible. We live in fear that we will commit the unpardonable parental sin that leads our kids into apostasy, atheism, or the wearing of skinny jeans.
The logic usually goes like this: If I tell my kids Santa is real, I am lying to them. When they find out I lied to them, they will no longer trust me. Therefore, when I talk about Jesus, they won't trust me on that either. Furthermore, Santa also steals the real meaning of Christmas away from Jesus, and I want my kids to love Jesus more than they love Santa. Therefore, I will not allow any Santa in my house, thus fulfilling Commandments 1, 2 and 9.
I'm overstating it a bit to make the point, but the whole issue does cause me to wonder if perhaps we all need a spoonful of lighten up. So, I've decided to defend my position. I am defending Santa.
First, I must confess that I'm a bit biased. As a child, I believed in Santa. I loved the mystery and the anticipation of him. My parents would send me to bed at midnight on Christmas Eve. I would be so excited for Christmas morning that my skinny body would be charged with electricity and the footy pajamas I was wearing would be nearly busting at the seams. I knew that Santa would not come if I was awake, but I would always have trouble falling asleep. So I would attempt to lie there perfectly still, my eyes half closed, trying to trick Santa into thinking I was asleep while I listened for his approach on the roof. I wanted to hear the proof of the hoof, see the shadow of the reindeer against the moon. I never made it past 12:30.
In the morning I'd find a package "from Santa," and it brought me nothing but joy.
I love those memories.
Karen and I played up Santa with our kids to a lesser degree. Jon was always too smart for us. He figured things out early on and relayed the message to his brothers. Nevertheless, we dutifully stuffed their stockings with packages marked "from SC" in silly handwriting to throw them off. (Santa apparently shopped at the Walmart checkout line a lot). A couple times before they were entirely sure, the boys tried to "catch" him by tying a thread across the fireplace that he would have to break upon entry.
So I have a special place in my heart for the big fella. Which is why I am writing this blog in his defense. So, with all due respect for those who disagree, this is why I think we should all get our chimney cleaned before Christmas.
Here are a few facts I am certain of.
First, we should not fear messing up our kids with every decision we make.
We aren't going to derail their faith in us and send them into decades of therapy because we put a present from Santa under the tree. We aren't going to send them on a path to hell because we allowed them to read Harry Potter or go trick or treating. We aren't going to ruin their worldview because we forced them to watch old Star Trek episodes on Netflix (although some of the sillier episodes may leave a scar).
I believe we pose a much greater risk to our kids' well-being and faith when we fret about everything, fill our homes with lots of worry, and make the Christian life more work than play. Joylessness is the killer of faith.
Second, telling our kids that Santa is coming doesn't make us liars in the biblical sense.
Is God angry with us when we wake our kids up at 6:00am on April First and tell them there's a camel in the yard? Does he judge us for telling them mom and dad were in the bedroom, um, "talking?" Are we in danger of eternal fire when we tell our three-year-old that, "Why yes, of course I knew that was a picture of me you just drew"?
Telling a five-year-old that Santa is coming will not turn you (or him) into a liar. I know my dad ate that cookie on the hearth, just as my boys know that it was mom who got those stupid drinking straw eye glasses at Kohls. I never once thought of my parents as liars, and I'm sure my kids don't think of us in this way either.
Third, one of the best things we can do for our children is feed their sense of imagination, wonder and awe.
This is a mission we have to pursue relentlessly, in every way imaginable. If we do this well, it's like giving vitamins to our children's faith in Christ. Eventually, they'll discern the difference between the fable of Santa and the reality of Jesus. In the meantime, we cannot overfeed the imagination. The Santa story is really about wonder and possibility, and I think it helped feed my appreciation of the wonder and possibility inherent in the Gospel. How could God become incarnate in a baby, and how could a man walk on water? If we worry Jesus somehow won't be able to overcome "reality competition" from Santa, it seems we don't truly believe in either of them.
Lastly, having fun with Santa can help create the kind of winsome family atmosphere kids need to flourish,
It's not the only thing -- not a necessity -- but it worked for us. We kept the Santa story alive as long we could, but it was just one piece in the game box. We also told lots of ridiculous stories at bedtime (I made them all up--liar!), read lots of good books (the Chronicles of Narnia top the list), and played lots of games of whiffleball in the backyard. Our kids grew up in a family that likes to laugh. They grew up aware that the world is filled with wonder and mystery. (For years, I had them convinced there was a secret compartment in my car that they could never find.) As pastor's kids--sometimes privy to the strain that church life can bring--they grew up knowing that home was a fun place to be and their parents were normal people. Most importantly, they grew up knowing that the Lord Jesus--who was at the center of our lives in a thousand ways--was the giver of joy, not the killer of it.
Santa faded, but the warmth and winsomeness of our family system endures to this day.
So here's to you, Santa, you big red figment of my imagination. Thanks for the memories. Haters gonna hate, but don't be late! I can only stay awake so long.