Caution: This post contains information about the existence of Santa Claus.
“You better watch out. You better not lie.” Wait. What?!
If you’re a Christian parent, perhaps you too question whether you should conform to the holiday tradition of Santa Claus celebrated across the world. Logically speaking, your concerns are warranted. If we lie to our kids about Santa, then perhaps we lied to them about Jesus as well.
Then again, some of my greatest childhood memories were baking cookies and putting out milk for Santa. It wasn’t until I was in second grade that one of my best friends, a Jehovah’s witness, broke the news. Sitting across the lunch table, I remember the exact spot we were in like it was yesterday. I defended Santa as fiercely as a seven year-old could.
Were my parents wrong for lying to me?
Two psychologists, in this month’s journal Lancet Psychiatry, suggest so–that lying to our children about Santa Claus could expose our children to “abject disappointment.”
As Kathy McKay, co-author of the study, said: “The Santa myth is such an involved lie, such a long-lasting one, between parents and children, that if a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw. If parents can lie so convincingly and over such a long time, what else can they lie about?”
If you go along with the Santa tradition like 97%–I made this number up–of other families, take heart. I’m grateful my parents went along with Santa. But I also think we should listen to the research, and take some caution.
6 Considerations About Santa Claus as Christians
- Don’t use Santa Claus to manipulate your children to behave. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t used Santa Claus to exorcise a sugar-possessed child from Christmas candy. At the risk of sounding like a scrooge, Santa’s not making a list and checking it twice. God, on the other hand, really does know our child’s heart. The values and discipline we instill in our children throughout the year ought not to be based on a fictional character, but on the God who knows even the number of hairs on our child’s head. Teaching our kids to love and behave well because they’re already loved by God is better parenting–and theology–than telling them to behave because it will earn them presents. Relying on Santa to get our children to behave throughout December says more about our parenting than it does our children’s behavior.
- Build relational trust with your kids. Notice what McKay says in the study, “…that if a relationship is vulnerable, [the myth of Santa] may be the final straw.” Emphasis is mine. Some of my greatest childhood memories with my parents involved Santa Claus and Christmas. Not only did my parents also place high value on the birth of Jesus, I already trusted them. When Dad said he would be at my wrestling match or baseball game, he was there. When Mom said she was going to play with me, she did. I never questioned my parent’s love for me. I was emotionally safe. Again, Santa Claus isn’t the issue here, it’s the overall quality of our relationship with our kids.
- Teach your kids about the real St. Nicholas. The term Santa Claus is derived from the name St. Nicholas, who was a real and revered 4th century Christian saint who became known for secretly giving gifts to others. Note: He gave presents to people not based on their behavior, but to secretly bless them.
- Focus on Jesus’ birth. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. In our culture, however, it’s easy to get caught up in the glamor of Santa, elves, and reindeer. In our house, we read the Christmas story a few times a week leading up to Christmas. Through advent, we teach our kids about the 25 characters of the Christmas story. We try to be super intentional about spending more time telling our kids about Jesus. If he comes to their school or we see him in a Christmas movie, we talk about Santa. We also put out milk and cookies the night before Christmas. But it pales in comparison to the birthday party we have for Jesus.
- Focus on imagination! What my mother-in-law did with my wife, Christi, and her siblings growing up is exactly what we’ll do in our house. They played Santa. And when it came time for the kids to ask if Santa was real, her answer was simply, “Santa is pretend. And we pretend in our house.”
- But what about the elf on the shelf, you ask? It’s too much work. Santa has enough to do this Christmas.
What do you tell your kids about Santa?