When our son was born, my wife and I had all the typical conversations had by most new parents. What method of discipline would we use? What was our policy on things like television, sugar, and toy-guns? How much allowance would we give him? Of course, added to this list of practical considerations were questions regarding the mythical characters that often surround childhood experiences. Would he receive money from a ‘tooth fairy’? Are Easter Eggs dropped by some invisible but magical bunny? Of course, on top of the list was Santa himself. My wife and I had a long conversation as to how we would deal with the ever constant ‘Santafying’ of Christmas. As Christian parents, would how would we explain the difference between Santa and Jesus? More so, what would be the fallout, after years of promoting a belief-system of Santa, of finally telling him that Santa did not actually exist? Would he come to the conclusion that if we had lied about Santa, then perhaps we had lied about Jesus?
This may seem overly-dramatic, but this was a very real concern for us. The end result of all our conversation was this: Santa doesn’t visit our house. Christmas in the Norman house is a generally a Santa-free zone. Santa does not appear on any of our decorations nor do any of us receive presents from Santa. We have been open and honest with our son about the fact that Santa is a made up character and not acutally a real person.
It’s amazing the responses we get when we tell people this. We have been told that we are ‘robbing’ our son of his childhood; that we are possibly damaging his sense of wonder or imagination; or –my personal favorite – that we are denying part of what makes Christmas special (as if Jesus isn’t what makes Christmas special). What I find amazing about all these comments is that most often they come from people within the church. So before we hit yet another run of people asking our son what he hopes Santa will bring him, here are three reasons why Santa doesn’t visit our house.
Firstly, we don’t like Santa’s association with a system of merit: Yes, Santa is a giver of gifts, but he is a giver of gifts to those who are on the ‘nice’ list. Personally, I have overheard many parents say things like ‘if you misbehave Santa won’t bring you . .’ How is this beneficial to the joy and wonder of Christmas? The child often bursts into tears in fear that they have not earned enough Santa-points to merit the better gifts. As much as we like to see Santa as jolly and merry, the mythology around him is one of reward and or punishment. If the child doesn’t get what he or she really wanted, it is not because the toy was too expensive, or the stores were out of stock, it is because they were not good enough.
Yet the gift of Jesus is anything but merit based. The babe in the manger is a gift of grace, available to all. Giving gifts at Christmas is reflective of the grand gift that we have in the Christ Child. That ultimate present, wrapped in cloth and placed in a barn announces God’s undying love for us all, good or bad, clean or dirty. My wife and I decided that our celebration of Christmas should reflect the grace which is at its core. Why would we turn a celebration of grace into a system of merit or deserve? Why would we want to confuse the message of ‘good news of great joy for all people’ with a fear that our son might be on the ‘naughty’ list?
Secondly, argue as you will for the historicity of St. Nick, the fact remains that our version of Santa was created by Coca Cola. Santa as the red suited, white bearded individual was created by Haddon Sundblom in December 1931. Our images of Santa were originally created to sell a soft-drink, plain and simple. In fact, the Coca Cola’s Corporation’s own website declares that ‘Coca-cola helped shape the image of Santa’. (http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coke-lore-santa-claus).
The fact is, Christmas is commercial enterprise with Santa it’s chief sales-man. As much as the publicists use the language of ‘the spirit of Christmas’, the modern day Santa does not bring joy and wonder to girls and boys; he brings products. What is more, the subtle message in all Christmas commercial and Santa tales is that the bigger gifts equals better gifts. Love is seen in how much you spend, not how much you give. For my wife and I, given the commercialization of a celebration so central to our faith, we simply wanted to make a concerned effort to keep our son’s focus where it should be.
Lastly, Jesus is more important. I don’t think there is any way to state it more bluntly than that. Frankly, we would rather spend our time and effort telling our son about his Lord and Savior than some mythical fat dude who will only let him down in the end. Why talk of one who doesn’t exist rather than the one who does?
Now obviously, we understand that not all families follow our line. We have taught our son to be respectful of people’s celebration of Christmas, and to be polite when they talk about Santa, elves and reindeer. Like I said, this is something that we do in our family in order to make sure that our focus is where it should be over the Christmas season. That, after all, is the ultimate question isn’t it? What do you do to remain focused on Christmas as a celebration of God’s gift to us? How do you cut through the noise made by jingles and cash-registers, so as to approach that manger with wonder, awe, and praise?