As a former children’s pastor, I had many interesting conversations with parents about the difficult conversations they’ve had with their children. A lot of parents seem to have huge concerns and issues with Disney and Harry Potter. They worry about certain television shows and video games. But what really surprises me is the number of Christian parents who freak out over Santa Claus. Yes, the jolly man in the red suit who brings presents to kids at Christmas is as big a deal for some parents as the Ten Commandments. Other parents look at the story of Sant and enjoy it for its history and charm.
Parents who like Santa say, “He’s a harmless childhood memory!” The parents who don’t find him that say things like, “You’re lying to children if you tell them to believe in Santa!”
I’ve heard, “He’s just something fun to help kids get into the spirit of giving!” And, “He keeps kids from believing in Jesus, the true reason for the season!”
When I look at Santa Claus, I think this:
“I really don’t care how you feel about him.”
That may be controversial. After all, I was a children’s pastor and in ministry for 20 years. My whole job was to help families connect with God, and more importantly, to His Son, Jesus—and to help them develop a personal relationship with Him and grow in their faith. As an author of a book on Christmas, I realized this year that part of my job continues to be to help people focus on what matters most this time of year: the incredible wonder of the Incarnation.
But still, the social media posts, opinions and even casual conversations reveal that people consider this as important as their families political views or whether they eat turkey or ham at Thanksgiving. There is a major “anti-Santa” faction in the church and there’s a group of “pro-Santa” people, and they are arguing over which take is correct. Here’s the thing, everyone: it doesn’t really matter if your family is “pro-Santa” or “anti-Santa.” (And it doesn’t matter whether you love Disney or hate it, whether you think Harry Potter is a cute book or you think it’s a doorway to going Wiccan.)
Parents: what matters is what you are focusing on with your kids.
Someone I really respect in kids and family ministry, Reggie Joiner, says this in his book Think Orange:
“I recall a number of times during my life as a leader in the church in which I would look around…and realize we had drifted. What are we doing fighting with these people? Why am I so anxious about things that don’t really worry God? I have a hard time imagining Him getting worked up about too many of those things. I sincerely doubt God is in heaven saying frantically, ‘Oh no! J. K. Rowling is writing another one of those books!’ or ‘Calling all angels: Disney is letting those people into their park. I need you to rally some Christians to boycott.’”
I would venture to say God feels the same way about Santa Claus.
Joiner concludes with this: “I can imagine God saying to us, ‘What are you doing? Why are you focused on that other stuff? Bring the light back over here where it belongs. Show them who I AM.”
A lot of parents don’t want to think about how to help their kids develop hearts of service. They don’t try to figure out how to help their kids have a quiet time, or how to take what they learn on Sunday and apply it to the every day, messy world they live in. And at Christmastime, it’s amazing to me how many parents don’t take time to pause and think about just how incredible that night in Bethlehem was and what it means for them and their families.
No, a lot of Christian parents want to share an opinion and take a position about something our Christian life shoul never be about: what books to read or not to read, what movies to see or not to see, where to go or not go on vacation, what games to play or not play—whether we should or should not encourage kids to believe in Santa.
Because you see, if you really want to get down to it, none of what we do at Christmas really matters.
The Christmas tree.
Candlelight Christmas Eve services.
Mistletoe, holly, egg nog lattes, and red cups at Starbucks.
Chestnuts roasting, winter wonderlands, little drummer boys.
Saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
You see, all of it, like the tradition of Santa Claus, has the danger of distracting us from what we are actually supposed to be doing: shining light into a lost world that so desperately needs the hope only Emmanuel, the God who is with us, can offer.
Anything else is just opinion and personal preference, like whether your family opens presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It’s not wrong to believe in Santa. And it’s not right to not believe. What is wrong is when you look at the trappings of the season—whatever they may look like for your family—and think that it really matters.
Because it doesn’t.
What do we think about at Christmas?
“That sales clerk said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me.”
“Those parents lie to their kids about Santa.”
“That church isn’t having services on Christmas Day!”
“Those parents told their kids there isn’t a Santa Claus!”
What should we be thinking about at Christmas?
The fact that the tiny Baby, the Incarnate God, knew you before you were born. He walked with Moses. He gave David courage. He conversed with Abraham. He wrestled with Jacob. He spoke the words and the planets sprang into existence. He waved His hands and mountains and oceans and rivers came to be. And yet, He gave ALL of that up to clothe Himself in humanity–wrapping Himself in our fragile, frail form. To be with us.
He did it because His love for you was so great that He could do nothing less.
This is what matters to God.
So, truth is, it really doesn’t matter how you feel about Santa. Or Harry Potter. Or even Disney, for that matter.
What matters is whether or not your kids—and your family—are sharing what what matters most to a world that so desperately needs the hope and peace only He can offer. To the family member who drives you crazy. To the single mother who wonders where dinner is coming from. To the clerk at the store who has been instructed to say that thing that offends you.
They may not say it out loud, but all of them are crying out, like Charlie Brown, “Can’t somebody show me what Christmas is really all about?” Our job is to be Linus, who walks onto the dark stage and says what we should all be saying this Christmas. “Lights, please.”