Santa, Father Christmas, jolly old Saint Nick. Whatever you want to call him. The man in red has been a widely acclaimed part of the Christmas tradition since he was first painted by cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1881 as part of a poem illustration.
But has the Santa tradition made us forget to recognize what Christmas is really about? And should we as Christians, be partaking in the acknowledgment of Santa?
The idea of Santa is based on the real life historical figure saint Nicholas. This man was a bishop who lived in the early third century and had a reputation for helping the poor and dropping gifts secretly down the chimney in the middle of the night.
But the Santa that society knows today, has only been around since the late 1800s thanks to a painting by Thomas Nast and then Coca cola advertisements in the 1930s. If Santa originated from a bishop and is about giving and kindness and other virtues that we as Christians cherish, then what's wrong with recognizing him?
Presents instead of presence
The majority of young children in the world today, know who Santa is and what he represents. Because society's focus is on Santa bringing presents to good children and being a magical being who watches you, it seems that the birth of Jesus and the story of the nativity have faded into the background.
We are focused less on the miracle of our saviour’s birth and more on getting gifts. “Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah the Lord.” (Luke chapter, 11 verse 2). So if Santa is taking the focus away from Jesus's birth, then surely we as Christians should avoid giving recognition to such a shallow tradition.
The reason for the season
We as Christians know that the reason why we celebrate Christmas is because of the birth of Jesus. Events such as the nativity play, and Christmas songs such as “away in the manger” remind us of the true purpose of Christmas and what it is that we should really be celebrating.
“She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew chapter 1, verse 21). But if Christmas is about the gift of the birth of our saviour, then why do we even need to acknowledge the guy in the red suit?
This makes me think about my own experiences with Santa in my life. I wasn't raised a Christian so I experienced the Santa tradition. I have also worked with young children for a number of years in secular schools and have had to “play along” with the Santa story for many years as an adult.
Santa never worried me until I became a Christian and saw how much the Santa tradition took away from the real reason for Christmas. Many children I worked with had no idea about the story of the nativity and saw Christmas as a time to get presents and become demanding of their parents or caregivers.
It was then that I realized that if you took Santa out of the equation, then Christmas could simply be stripped back to the basics. Then getting presents and being greedy would take a much smaller focus on the purpose of the holiday.
“Then he said. Beware! Guard yourself against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (Luke chapter 12, verse 15).
“You shall not give a false testimony against your neighbour.”(Exodus chapter 20, verse 16). The 9th commandment clearly states that it is a sin to lie and that God has instructed us to always live in the truth. But if lying is a sin, then why is it acceptable to lie to children about Santa's existence?
Most people consider it a bit of harmless fun for a few years and that its just a little white lie that we tell kids and that they'll get over eventually. But is it reflecting our Christian beliefs and values if we partake in this ritual, simply for “a bit of harmless fun.”
If we as Christians lie quite happily to children about Santa, then how will this affect their belief in God? Will they start questioning the existence of God because they've already been lied to about Santa who they believed so firmly in? “The Lord detests lying lips but delights in the truth.” (Proverbs chapter 12, verse 22).
I leave you with this thought. When Christmas time comes, who and what do you want your family to be focusing on? The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ who came to save us from our sins, or some made up guy in a red suit who is supposed to bring you presents?
I would choose Jesus every time and simply hope that other Christians are doing the same.