Some people will argue that playing Santa has many negative effects. I would like to respond to some of these objections:
1. Playing Santa takes away from the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ.
Kylee, my 13-year-old daughter, when she was 10 years-old asked me, “Daddy, what is your favorite holiday.” I looked at her with the look that says, “Do you even need to ask?” Of course it is Christmas! The Christmas season, I believe, is an act of common grace upon our society that carries with it a mood that blesses both believers and non-believers. Having said that, the beauty for us Christians is that it is a celebration of what we believe to be the most important birth in human history. If Christians lose this focus, I do think that we have compromised. But this compromise is not so much a compromise of truth (as Christians do believe in the birth of Christ whether they focus on it or not), but of joy. Christians can fail to take part in the common grace of the mood Christmas evokes.
Having said that, I don’t think that playing Santa need to take away from the true spirit of Christmas anymore than family gatherings, football, gloriously wrapped presents, and good food. Christmas is ultimately not about families getting together, great food, giving gifts to others (including the poor), taking a break from work, building snow men, putting up Christmas trees, decorating with lights on houses, or any other ancillary aspect that no one complains about. If you take Santa away, then take away all these other traditions.
Sadly, I am sure that there will be some who advocate just this. They are left with only Christ in a manger. “Good,” someone says. “That is how it should be!” The problems with this type of attitude are many. Let me give you two: 1) We are never commanded to celebrate Christ’s birth on any particular day. Our entire lives, every day, are to be one of devotion and celebration of the incarnation. It becomes legalistic when someone says that we must celebrate Christ’s birth this way at this time to be more godly. 2) It takes away from the ancillary common grace of Christmas. To take away family, food, Christmas lights, gifts, Christmas trees, Santa, and the like does nothing but quiet the celebration. These things provide the ambianic grace of God in Christmas.
In the end, there is no reason why playing Santa must take away from the focus on Christ’s birth anymore than going to grandmas for a Christmas feast does.
2. Playing Santa is a lie
This is probably the objection I sympathize with most. I, personally, have never told my children that Santa exists, even though I was told that as a child. It is simply hard for me to tell someone something that I know is not true. It does feel like somewhat of a deception to me. I know of many people who are like this and I empathize with them and don’t attempt to change their mind.
I don’t really, however, have problems with others saying that he exists and I don’t think it necessarily violates a godly conscience. My wife has told all our kids that Santa is real. She has no problems with it. My in-laws were very angry with me when they first heard that I would not say Santa is real. I just told them that I had their back, but in a more indirect way. When my kids have asked me whether he is real or not, I just tell them, “Ask your mom.” But I don’t think my wife is necessarily lying any more than I think a person who plans a surprise party for someone is lying by telling them that they are not having a party when they know they are. Santa is a temporary and situationally accommodated story that has no intention of permanently solidifying someones view of reality. That is the best way I can put it. In this case, the only way I would say that it is a definite lie is if your hope is that your children will forever believe that Santa is really real. Is that your intention? No? Good. Then you don’t have to stress about it too much.
3. If you play Santa your kids may think you are “playing” God too
The idea here is that once a child finds out that they were deceived about Santa, there is a chance that they may think that you are deceiving them about God as well.
In my opinion, this is probably the weakest of all the arguments about Santa. It is a tragedy that Christian communities could believe in such a way that a comparison between the two is even possible. This objection really only makes sense for those who believe that belief in God is a blind faith.
Think about it. Have you ever met an adult who seriously still believes that Santa is real? My son figured it out on his own when he was five. Why? Because he used his head. Even with the best arguments to the contrary from my crushed wife, he would have none of it. Santa did not have a chance against the rational capability of this five-year-old. Santa was over. It is not too difficult to put two and two together here. The reason why no one believes in Santa when they are old is because it simply cannot sustain itself under the slightest bit of critical scrutiny. There is absolutely no evidence for Santa. However, there are a great deal of adults that believe in God. In fact, about 90% of the world’s population believes in God. The reason for this is not because parents were really good at keeping a secret in this case, but because belief in God is rational and necessary. Belief in an ultimate creator does not even necessarily need to be taught since it is a logical necessity of existence.
However, if we really believe in God like we did Santa — if we can seriously make such a comparison — I am not convinced that we really believe in God. I am not trying to be harsh here, but am trying to bring up a very important error in our understanding of what it means to believe. Belief in God is not a blind leap into the dark; belief in Santa is. Kids should not believe in God, Christ, and spiritual things simply because parents told them, but because there is reason for them to believe.
There are no valid arguments that can rationally be made for Santa (or the tooth fairy for that matter). That is why people do not continue to believe in Santa. There are valid arguments that can be made for God. That is why people continue to believe in God. If we really believe that our children are going to make a comparison between Santa and Christ, the weight is on our shoulders, not to stop surprise parties or to cease to play Santa or the tooth fairy, but to teach our children how to think critically.
There really is no comparison that should be able to be made between the type of belief that you are encouraging with regard to Santa and that which you are encouraging with regard to God.
In the end, celebrate Christmas. It is about Christ and we dare not compromise the joy this brings. But God, in his common grace, has given us an ambiance of many things, including Santa, elves, trees, food, family, and gifts. Whatever you do — even playing Santa — do to the glory of God.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]