[This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer.]
One of my favorite Christmas movies is Fred Claus, with Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, and Kevin Spade. Needless to say, the Laxtons have watched this movie many times over the last couple of years.
There is a point at the conclusion of this movie that I want to highlight. Santa’s brother, Fred (played by Vaughn), expresses that there are no naughty kids and urges his brother to begin the practice of giving every child a gift at Christmas. I have to admit that it is a very emotionally moving statement and concept. Who wouldn’t want every child throughout the world to get a present for Christmas.
What Santa’s brother is lobbying for is the dismissal that kids aren’t bad, aren’t naughty. Sure, they may do naughty things from time to time, but that doesn’t mean they deserve a lump of coal. And it is this kind of messaging that has infested our culture.
Both the traditional view of Santa, delivering presents to “good” little girls and boys—which is a works-based reward system; and this more modern view of Santa, delivering presents to “all” little girls and boys because no one is bad—which is an entitlement reward system—are both contradictory to what Scripture teaches.
The Scripture teaches there is no one good, not even one (Ps 14:3; Rom 3:12). Scripture also teaches that man is born inherently sinful (Rom 5:12,18,19). Based upon Scripture everyone is not good—our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Thus, humanity deserves God’s punishment and wrath.
Such contradictions make it difficult for Christian parents to celebrate the contemporary beliefs about Santa. Many Christian parents struggle to find the balance between Santa, Elf-on-the-shelf, and Christ.
In the Laxton house, Santa is part of our Christmas rhythm. In fact, this year we added “Rex,” who is our Elf-on-the-shelf guest for the Christmas season. I know some Christians won’t approve and will see the practice of Santa and Rex as shallow and unchristian. Nevertheless, I believe that Christian families can walk and chew gum at the same time—they can keep Christ as the center of the season while at the same time including Santa in their holiday cheer.
Let me share three ways to keep Jesus as the center (as well as the Bible’s teachings) while including Santa in your Christmas festivities.
- Teach your children that Jesus is the hero of Christmas, and Santa is the helper.
I think what happens many times is parents go overboard with Santa. Santa becomes the central focus of the Christmas season because of what he does—brings presents that the kids want. Over time this script is flipped where Santa takes centered stage and Jesus becomes a supporting actor.
Parents must groom their children to understand that Jesus is the hero of life, and Christmas is the time we celebrate his coming to earth to rescue sinners. And this rescue mission brings the greatest gift any human being could ever receive—forgiveness of sin and thus reconciliation with God. Therefore, there would be no Christmas if there was no Christ.
Here’s the reality, grooming our children to understand this is not only a December discipline, this is a discipline that should be practiced year-round.
In cultivating this awareness and understanding in our children year-round, we also teach them how Santa is ultimately Jesus’ helper. Teach them the origin of Santa, a.k.a. Saint Nick.
St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop who, after his parents’ death, leveraged his inheritance to help the poor and sick. The legend of his generosity grew, and his sainthood became associated with gift-giving. Thus, we can teach our children that the spirit of Santa emerged from an understanding of Jesus. Without Jesus, Saint Nick and the spirit of Santa would have never come into being.
2. Teach our children that they are not good, Jesus is.
This one may be a little difficult for parents. I’m also sure some traditions of Christianity may differ slightly or even disagree slightly in how I articulate this theological point.
My wife and I have tried to groom our kids from a young age that they can’t do good (or be good) on their own. In other words, we have not tried to encourage a self-help mantra, that if they just try a little harder and dig a little deeper, they can behave better. For instance, when our children didn’t want to share, or when our eldest child was acting mean towards the youngest, we don’t groom them to “be better.” We groom them to run to Jesus and ask him to help them be generous and be kind.
Early in our parenthood, we wanted them to believe sound theology that they needed a Savior because they weren’t good. What do we do to children if we spend their whole childhood telling them how good and how wonderful they are, only to flip the switch on them later in life and tell them that they need a Savior? Why on earth would they believe they need a Savior when during their most formative years were told they were so good? This is why we teach our kids their need, our need, for a Savior.
Jesus’ goodness, Jesus’ righteousness have been given (imputed) to us. Therefore, we have taught our children that what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection, and applied on our behalf through faith, determines our goodness. It is in Jesus we are declared good.
As a result, in the Laxton house, “being good” has nothing to do with why Santa brings our kids presents. Being good should be a behavior that flows from the goodness of Christ in us, not to get toys or rewards, but to please God.
The telos is not rewards or toys, but God’s pleasure and glory. We must teach our children, from the beginning, about the glory, pleasure, and praise of our great God—and that everything we do should revolve around him. Therefore, from God, we behave properly because of who God is and what he has done. Good behavior is thus rooted in who God is, not what we want.
3. Teach our kids that every good and perfect gift comes from God, even gifts from Santa.
Every evening when I pray for our kids, without fail I thank the Lord for every good thing in our life. I don’t have time every evening to state all the specifics, but over the course of days I mention our health, house, cars, friends, air, bed, toys, family, siblings, birthday parties, presents, etc.
Our desire as parents, is to massage into the hearts and minds of our kids that everything that we enjoy in life, everything that is good in life, has flowed from the hands of our benevolent Father. Thus, even Santa and the presents he brings are gifts from the Father. Once again, Santa plays a role, but the attention always lands on God.
In closing, I understand many have a problem with Santa and have chosen not to make him part of their house. I also understand there are many who want Santa to play a role in their family’s Christmas but struggle with how to do that faithfully as a Christian.
My personal conviction is that I don’t see an issue with Santa playing a role in a family’s household as long as he is positioned correctly—under Jesus.
The reality is Santa is who you make him out to be. If you make him out to be an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being who delivers presents to girls and boys on the basis of whether they’ve been good, then that is who Santa will be. If Santa is a benevolent, generous, and sacrificial spirit of a being that delivers gifts to children’ one time a year to be a blessing like Jesus, then that is who Santa will be.
At some point our children will grow out of belief in Santa. When they do, you don’t want it to be a huge deal, and you don’t want it to be something you had been fabricating for years. At the end, as believers we want something that will be intellectually honest, imaginatively curious, while at the same time theologically true.