By Matt Dawson
There is probably no larger tradition at Christmas time with families than around the person of Santa Claus.
So what’s the deal with Santa Claus aka Father Christmas aka St. Nicholas? WHY do some struggle with this tradition in many churches?
St. Nicholas was a bishop who lived in the 4th century A.D. in the region we now call Turkey. He was rumored to be a very generous man who often gave secret gifts to people in need and helping the poor. Many of the rumors we are not sure if they are true or not – so they all just meld together to represent this very real person in history.
Around the 16th Century, rumors about St. Nicholas had lost their popularity, and so in the UK, he became “Father Christmas” – a character from an old children’s story that brought joy and presents in the cold winter months. In Scotland, he was known as Santa, in France, Pierre Noel, and in the USA his name was Kris Kringle. Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas and put them together with Kris Kringle… boom – Santa Claus!
I know many Christians that struggle with the materialistic nature of Christmas and see the perpetuation of “Santa Claus” stories and folklore as a detraction from the real meaning of Christmas and choose NOT to engage in these traditions with their family. Many families worry about the day their children will wake up and realize that the stories are NOT TRUE and they feel the weight of lying to their children for many years – so they refuse to do it.
That’s okay… there is no law saying you have to raise your kids around the story of St. Nick jumping down your chimney and giving your kids gifts.
HOWEVER, there is a VERY EASY way to engage in the story of Santa Claus as a Christian and NOT allow it to take away from the real meaning of Christmas. This is great advice I received from my family when my kids were born and we wondered about the same things.
Christmas is the REMEMBRANCE and CELEBRATION of Jesus Christ being born and the Hope that He brought when He came in flesh to dwell among us (Emmanuel). This is the TRUE meaning and reason for Christmas. It’s all about Him!
We practice this in our house by watching the movie “The Nativity” for a couple of nights as we lead up to Christmas Eve. It helps focus our attention on what we feel matters and what we want our kids to remember: the PERSON, the CHILD that was born to save us.
We also engage in the CHARACTER of Santa Claus (especially when they were little), but even to this day. It’s important to note that we do not address Santa as a PERSON. Santa is just one of the many CHARACTERS we enjoy at Christmas (along with Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, and Will Ferrel’s Elf).
To engage in the story with Santa as a CHARACTER allows us to make a very important distinction when our children get older so that we don’t have to deal with the child drama of “YOU LIED TO ME!!!”, and heartbreak of children who have lost trust in their parents. This way, even now when my 2 older ones know that he’s not a real PERSON, we still are able to have fun with the CHARACTER and enjoy some of the benefits that this wonderful children’s story brings to this season.
I want my kids to enjoy this TRADITION around Christmas without losing the importance of the PERSON of Jesus and WHY CHRISTMAS is so important to us.