Well, it's that time of the year. Time for certain Christians to rise up and start freaking out about every little thing. From Halloween through Easter, we have to deal with all sorts of garbage; from "if you take your children trick or treating you're worshiping Satan" to "Easter and Christmas are pagan and therefore should not be celebrated". I promise you... this is not that. I've just seen some posts on social media and articles that have caused me to think. One of the things I've noticed is my generation of parents (I'm 35) tend to question and think through a different lens. It can be a difficult lens to understand and if someone hears "we don't do the Santa thing," it is easy to jump to the conclusion that they are just killjoys. Well, we don't do Santa in our house and since it's that time of year for all the Christian Crusaders to come out, I thought I would contribute a sensible and non-agressive explanation for why we made the decision to NOT do the Santa thing. 'Tis the season. So here are the main 2 reasons we don't do Santa in our house.
1. I just can't get on board with lying to my kids. As well intentioned as it may be, it's still lying. It's not like we are reading a mythical or fictional book or telling a made up story to our kids. We are telling them someone who isn't real is real. We are telling them something that doesn't happen does happen. It's lying. Now, aside from the fact that it's lying and that's wrong, here is why I have an issue with it. We are parenting in a new age. The world our kids are growing up in is not the world I grew up in, and I'm only 35. Let me give an example.
Most kids and young adults have a tremendous distrust for authority today. Why is that? I think at least in part, it's because we have been lied to so much. In this age of almost unlimited access to information, we see the lies we have been told and discover the truth for ourselves. Remember WMDs in Iraq? Why would I give a reason for my kids to ever NOT trust me? Even over something as seemingly trivial as Santa?
Trust is a currency. You spend that currency and you either make good investments or bad investments. When we make bad investments (lying) and break trust, it never returns quickly. Compromising integrity always has negative results. Breaking trust, especially with those we love, hurts them. It causes pain. It causes them to question other truthful things we've said. That's why we don't lie to our kids. The dog isn't sleeping, she died. We had to have that conversation recently and while we approached it with sensitivity, we didn't sugar coat it. Why? Because that opens up opportunities to teach and teaches her that no matter what, even when it's hard, we will be honest with her. She can trust us. Trust is foundational to parenting. We want our children to obey because they trust us. We want our kids to come to us because they trust us. We want to teach them how to trust God by teaching them to trust us as their parents.
Moreover, I want them to trust the gospel. If I willingly and knowingly lie to them, especially for an extended period of time, why should they not question other things I say? In a world that compares God to Santa, why would I feed into that? What benefit comes from it and what might it potentially cost? I want my kids to know that I would never willingly or knowingly deceive them. They still get presents. They still have fun. But it is done with an aim of preserving their trust in us. Trust is precious and fragile. We want to be good stewards of the trust of our children. God is a God of truth. We want to reflect that. Love rejoices in the truth (1 Cor 13:6) and we want to love our children by being truthful. We want to model for them Christian integrity of letting our yes be yes and our no be no (Matt 5:37) because we want to reflect God's trustworthiness.
2. Santa is teaches moralism. Not morality, but moralism. Performance based acceptance. Santa's gifts are based on merit... and self-deceived merit at that. If the kids perform (if they are good), then they get gifts (reward). If they don't perform they get punished (coal or a switch). This presents a lot of problems for me. Here are two of them.
First, what is the standard of good? All this does is teach our kids a subjective standard or behavioral good (comparing themselves to others to justify their goodness) at best. It completely ignores the motives and heart and bypasses it only focusing on actions. After all, Susie shared her toys for fear of not getting what she wanted all the while hating her brother in her heart. That's what we are after right? This might seem like an exaggeration, but I don't think it is because I remember having that very attitude. "Have you been a good little boy" Santa asks? "Yes! I have"... which is not true. Santa has the proverbial scale and is measuring out the good behavior vs. the bad behavior and dolling out rewards.
Second, and most importantly, this undermines the gospel. The gospel is not about mere outward performance. The gospel is about the heart. The gospel is about the fact that we need someone to be good for us. That we are always going to receive coal, but Christ took all of that and gave us his treasure when we trusted in him. That God now sees us through Christ and we are secure with the promise of eternal inheritance in spite of our sin because it has been dealt with. There is enough moralistic teaching in the church today. I simply won't add to it through teaching my kids moralism through Santa. Our kids get presents on Christmas, not because they were good enough to deserve it (thus making it a wage and something they earned), but simply because they are our children and we love them (thus making it about grace and relationship). We want them to obey from love, not fear or greed. We want their hearts, not just their behavior.
"He's making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty and nice" is not teaching our kids the gospel. It's teaching them a false gospel that they can make it, be good enough, and thus earn their reward through their behavior.
"You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout... he knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake" is not teaching our children to run to us with their hurts and fears but to hide them to look good on the outside. It's teaching them that their acceptance is built on their external performance.
Give Them The Gospel. Christmas is about the gospel. It's about God's trustworthiness. It's about God keeping his promises and vindicating himself as truthful and worthy of our faith. It's about God fulfilling all he has been saying he would do throughout the whole Old Testament. Christmas is about Jesus rescuing us from our badness. It's about Jesus standing in our place to take the punishment we deserve and giving us all of the treasures of heaven, chief among them himself, when we don't deserve it. It's about our hearts being transformed by a free and undeserved gift of grace sovereignly given by him. It's about the worst of sinners being redeemed while they were in their sin, not after they cleaned themselves up. Christmas is an opportunity to foster trust and sow the gospel into the hearts of our children.
So for these reasons, we don't do Santa in our house. We still do Christmas. We still do presents. There are cookies and trees. There is laughter and food and celebration and joy. But we try to do it in a way that says something about God's faithfulness, trustworthiness and grace. For us, that means not doing Santa.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh and Ainsley, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast