Unfortunately the belief in and celebration of Santa has been a somewhat divisive issue over the years in the church. While I totally respect people’s right to make their own choice on this for their family, it should, in my opinion, never be something we argue about. And certainly not contradict other people’s choices; like the Christian grandparents who told their grandchildren that Santa wasn’t real, infuriating the children’s parents (who were not Christians) and driving them further away from Jesus. It seems the “bah humbug” spirit is still alive and well amongst spiritual scrooges!
Christie and I made a decision many years ago that Santa would be part of our Christmas celebrations. We made this decision for two reasons:
Firstly, Santa IS a real person – or at least WAS. Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas, born in 270AD to a very wealthy family. He was a committed Christian who eventually became Bishop of Myra – part of modern-day Turkey. Due to the many miracles attributed to his ministry he was also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker! He had a reputation for secret gift giving; in fact he eventually gave most of his family fortune away to those in need and thus became the model of generosity for the modern-day Santa Claus.
Over the centuries fact and fiction have woven together (as often happens with historical figures) to create the picture of Santa Claus we have today. While it’s likely that, as a Second Century Middle Eastern Christian Bishop, Saint Nicholas would have had a beard and worn a red cassock, today’s Santa has morphed from a poem written by Clement Clark Moore in 1822 called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which we still love today:
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …”
In the poem Moore describes St. Nicholas as arriving on housetops in a miniature sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. The sleigh is full of toys that St. Nick brings down the chimney in a bundle on his back. He goes on to describe the Santa we know and love – dressed in fur, sporting a beard as white as the snow, a broad face and a little round belly, “That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf …” Once his work of filling stockings with gifts was completed he rose up the chimney and went on his merry way with the exclamation of “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.”
Since this delightful poem was published, various illustrators have drawn St. Nicholas according to Moore’s description. The most famous of these was used in a 1931 Coca-Cola commercial to encourage Americans to drink it in the winter months (when it was less popular). The advertising campaign was a great success, but Coca Cola did not invent the modern-day Santa.
The second reason we include Santa in our Christmas celebrations is because children LOVE fantasy! Ever watched a child’s eyes light up as you tell them a wonderful story, or read a stunning poem like the one I’ve mentioned above? Fantasy and role-play are vital to a child’s healthy development. It allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, intellectual and emotional strength. It is vital to healthy brain development as well as helping them engage and interact in the world around them. It allows children to create and explore a world they can master and conquer their fears.
The Christian faith has been the catalyst for so much creativity over the centuries including great inventions and discoveries, music, painting and writing. Incredible creativity that has come out the God-given imaginations of men and women created in the image of God.
Fantasy has been used over the years as a powerful tool to communicate Christian truth. Authors like JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis expressed their Christian faith through fantasy and have given us works like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia that millions around the world are still enjoying and learning from today.
The Bible itself uses lots of imagery in an attempt to communicate spiritual truth to human beings. Since the beginning of time, God has chosen to speak to people in dreams and visions, pictures, poems, songs, stories and imagery. Jesus taught in parables. God could have given us a two-page document: things to do and things not do but rather, He chose to weave truth into creative writing so that our imaginations would be stirred.
For these two reasons we have embraced Santa into our Christmas celebrations. While our two older children are now well aware of the mythical nature of the modern Santa, our eight-year-old is so excited by this tradition. She leaves Santa and the reindeer snacks and drinks on Christmas Eve. Santa leaves her a note and gifts – and makes a terrible mess in the process! She loves it – it’s a wonderful part of Christmas. Of course our children also understand that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. They love the Lord and are growing in their faith. Jesus is central to Christmas but that doesn’t mean that Santa has to be excluded.