Why My Kids Believe In God, Not Santa
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
My wife and I made the decision early on that we wouldn’t talk to our kids about Santa Claus as though he were real. To our children, Santa has only ever been a Christmas character, like Rudolf and Frosty. Santa’s in the songs and in the stories, sure, but he’s not in the real world.
There have been a few times when I wished that we hadn’t been so direct and honest with our kids on the Santa Claus question, and every one of those times involved my children stating, confidently and proudly, that Santa Claus isn’t real to other children who hadn’t yet been let in on the secret. Then those newly disillusioned children get upset, and their parents sometimes stare daggers at me, as if to say, “Thanks for ruining Christmas.” In those moments, I feel kind of bad that my kids undermined the choice of other parents to play along with the belief in Santa Claus.
But while I’ve sometimes felt bad for other kids whose game of pretend was ruined by my own children, I’ve never felt bad for my own kids. I’ve never felt like their childhood would have been somehow better if we had acted like Santa Claus was real. In fact, I’ve got a few issues with Santa Claus that I’d like to rant about for a while.
The first problem I have with Mr. Kringle is that belief in him requires dishonesty from parents, and my wife and I made the decision that we would always be honest with our kids – even if it made us uncomfortable, or if we had a hard time answering their questions. We wanted to be honest with them because we wanted them to know that they could trust us. We wanted to be honest with them because we wanted them to be honest with us.
The second – and this is a big one – is that Santa Claus can often make kids in poverty feel bad. The problem with giving gifts in the name of Santa Claus is that kids from wealthy families can look forward to a new Xbox or a racing drone from Santa Claus, while kids from poorer families often get a couple of small toys and a winter coat from the same Santa Claus. That’s why I’ve been telling people for years that, if you do give gifts in the name of Santa Claus, make them small gifts. Have the big, expensive gifts be from Mom and Dad. That way, when kids come back to school after Christmas and start comparing what each one got from Santa Claus, there won’t be some who got $300 gifts and others who got $30 gifts. That disparity is especially problematic when Santa’s gifts are supposed to reflect a judgment of who has been naughty and who has been nice.
Which brings me to my biggest beef with Saint Nick. The gifts of Santa Claus are, at least in theory, supposed to be based on Santa’s judgment. Who has been good? Who has been bad? Those who’ve been good get good gifts, while those who’ve been bad get lumps of coal. Although you might appreciate Santa Claus or the Elf on a Shelf helping you blackmail your children into better behavior, the story that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished is totally at odds with the story of Christmas.
The story of Christmas is that God looked at a world filled with greed, deceit, violence, and apathy, and rather than saying, “I will punish them!” God said, “I will go to them, to live as one of them, in order to save them.” If Christ is the great gift that we receive on Christmas day, then it’s important to remember that the most important gift was given to both the righteous and the unrighteous – to both the naughty and the nice. In fact, Christ himself said that he came specifically for the sake of those who were lost.
I get that Santa Claus is fun. I’m not telling anyone how to raise their kids. What I am saying is this – if you’re only going to teach your children to believe in one mystical being around Christmas time, don’t have it be the fat man who breaks into people’s homes to judge who has been good and who has been bad. Teach your children to believe in the God who breaks into our world in order to bring us hope, peace, joy, and love.