Does teaching belief in Santa lead to a feeling of betrayal once a child learns the “truth” about him? How should Christian parents teach about Santa in a way that fosters trust and encourages mystery?
There are certainly a wide variety of opinions out there. Mine is this: Christian parents would do well to teach faith in Jesus and belief in Santa in nearly the same way. Jesus and Santa are both real, true, and rooted in myth. If we are willing to offer children more nuance when talking about Santa and Jesus, we might be able to set them up for a mature faith at a very young age.
If saying Jesus is rooted in myth makes it sound like Jesus is a fairy tale, or if saying Santa is real sounds divorced from reality, keep reading, you might change your mind.
The Myth of Santa and the Myth of Jesus
When we think about myth we often turn to the definition of a false narrative. Oh, she still believes the myth that a going outside with wet hair will give you a cold, or it’s a myth that if you have heartburn during pregnancy your baby will be hairy. The other definition of myth is a shared story that explains a deeper truth.
When it comes to Santa, we get stuck in a mental trap of believing that because Santa isn’t real, he isn’t true, and so we ignore the theological messages we are sending children when we talk about him. The Santa myth is 100% true. Who puts the presents under the tree every year in my house? Santa does. Santa may not be a physical being in a red suit with a sleigh, but he’s a real presence I learned from my parents who learned about Santa from their parents. My hope is that when my children learn that it’s not possible for one person to fly around the world giving presents to everyone they won’t feel “duped.” Instead, I want them to be drawn into a deeper faith in Santa, one that doesn’t rely on Santa needing a physical body.
In the same way, when we talk about our faith in Christ with children, we don’t have to get caught up in explaining all of the mysteries of our faith, particularly resurrection. How is it possible for a person to be resurrected from the dead and come back to life? It’s not scientifically possible at all, but that’s not the point. I’m not saying one way or the other whether or not Jesus’s body was literally and scientifically raised from the dead. I absolutely believe it’s possible, because for God, all things are possible. That said, it’s a mystery, and one that has very little impact on my faith. If the bones of Jesus were discovered somewhere, and there was 100% proof that Jesus’ body did not rise from the dead, I would still have faith. My faith in the resurrection is not tied to a scientific truth about his bones and body, just like my belief in Santa is not tied to one physical being who breaks into strangers houses in the middle of the night, via the chimney.
Some Practical Tips for Talking about Santa in Ways that Encourage a Mature Faith
- Stop talking about Santa in ways that is connected to behavior. No more talk about Santa bringing gifts when you are good and coal when you are naughty. No more talk about Santa watching you and punishing you if you’re bad. No more “Santa is watching” talk at all. I’ve written about this before. I believe connecting Santa to behavior can be damaging to faith development.
- Do not lie to children about Santa when they ask, but let it be an opportunity to engage some of these deeper discussions. I really like some of the wording in THESE letters that explain the concept of Santa.
- Use words like mystery, shared story, and faith when talking about Santa.
- Do not shy away from making a connection between Jesus and Santa, rather than trying to separate them. I love the idea of teaching about the historical St. Nicholas and connecting him to Jesus.