My kids are young; 7, 5 and 3. They know that Santa Claus is not real, and they know this on purpose, but for some reasons you may not expect. This week, a neighbor asked my children (who were out raking an elderly neighbors’ leaves) if they were only doing this so Santa would see and bring them what they wanted. I also heard a parent recently talk about taking advantage of their children’s striving to ‘be good enough’ to get presents. They love December because they can get their kids to do things for them.
Now, while I believe that a reward system might be useful in some situations to encourage and train kids in right behavior, I want my kids’ experience at Christmas to be very different than that. To be purposeful. To show them the grace and goodness of God. So, I tell them the truth about Santa Claus. The purpose is not to hinder their sense of wonder and it’s not to squash their merriment. The purpose is not simply to be countercultural or anti-materialistic. There are three very specific Gospel reasons.
First, I want them to be thinking of how their behavior affects others instead of focusing only on how their behavior can benefit themselves alone. My kids know that Santa Claus is a fun story that we tell at Christmas time. Who wouldn’t like a story about a wonderful grandfather who gives you great gifts?! The catch comes when you realize that those gifts are contingent on how you act or on the works you do and inbedded in that is the desire to see what can ‘come to me’ instead of what I can give. I want my kids to enjoy giving gifts to each other, not because they are particularly happy with each other, but because they belong to each other. Not only in our earthly family, but in the family of God.
Second, I believe in telling the truth to our children even if it’s hard. There is way too much confusing stuff in this world and I would rather not perpetuate any confusion if it can be helped. How disappointing to find out one day that a dream you thought was real was not only untrue, but was perpetuated by the ones you love most just to satisfy your questions. I want our kids to know how all things relate in God’s world. Santa Claus is a fun story, to be enjoyed! But, God’s truth takes precedence.
Third, and the number one reason I tell our kids the truth about Santa Claus is because I do not want them to think that they have to earn my love. I want them to know that I give them gifts because I love them. Not because I happen to be pleased with their behavior or because they haven’t done anything rotten in the month of December. I give them gifts because they are mine. I treasure them. There is no merit system for earning my love. Just as Christ loves us, not for our own merit, works or fame. But, because He has made us His.
I give them gifts out of love, as a symbol of my affection. Not because of how they behaved yesterday, but simply because they are my own. In the same way, the Father lavishes grace upon grace to us because we are His.
Now, we aren’t anti-Claus in our house. My kids know the story of Saint Nicholas and they know the stories of Santa Claus. We still leave out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve in fun. We still joke with the kids that their presents might magically turn into coal if they don’t go to bed (for goodness sake!). We still label their full stockings on Christmas morning from ‘Santa’. Rather than “Father Christmas,” what we want for our kids is for Christmas to be a reminder of our heavenly Father’s unmerited, unearned, unlooked for, and unmatched gifts of grace through the birth, life, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. We tell the truth about Santa Claus to our kids because the Truth is much more unimaginably wonderful.