There’s a common question surfacing among families this time of year. No matter how you answer, you may feel awkward when asked:
Does your family do the whole “Santa” thing?
Behind this question are many others. Are we a bad family if we do Santa? Are we the oddball family if we don’t? Are we too influenced by our culture? Are we legalistic? Whatever conclusions we reach, it’s easy to form strong opinions. My answer can make me fast friends with those who can relate or brand me a fast freak with those who don’t.
Growing Up with Santa
Both my husband and I grew up doing “the Santa thing.” We left out cookies and milk and waited in anticipation for the hoofbeats of reindeer and the bounty of goodies enveloping the tree on Christmas morning. So when it came time to decide how we’d handle Christmas with our own children, I was surprised to discover how much we had to consider.
I’ll admit, I entered parenthood assuming we’d keep all our traditions. I wanted my kids to repeat all my magical childhood memories. But my husband was hesitant. His instinct was to can Santa altogether. So there we were, two Jesus-loving parents on separate pages, hashing our way through countless questions.
Can Santa and Jesus co-exist peacefully in our home? Do Santa’s requirements of behavior modification send a message contrary to Jesus’s offer of unmerited grace? When our children realize Santa is make-believe, will they wonder the same thing about Jesus? Does removing Santa from our celebration sentence our children to public ridicule and rob them of a quintessential childhood experience? What if our kids become “those kids” who ruined “the Santa thing” for all those Santa-loving families?
This isn’t an article meant to convince you why you should or shouldn’t partake in all that is Santa, elves, and reindeer. Instead, my goal is to encourage you to put thought and prayer into what you do in your home. As believers, we are called to live counterculturally, rejecting conformity to the patterns of this world (Rom. 12:2). If we never pause to examine our hearts on this matter, our celebrations may become shaped, slowly and subtly, by the pulsing cultural current.
This is my plea: Don’t go on autopilot and repeat traditions for the sake of tradition. Instead, craft how your family celebrates the birth of Jesus so that your traditions will plant, water, and strengthen your children’s faith and magnify their worship of God for years to come.
When specifically considering whether or not include Santa in your family, here are three questions to consider:
1. Do you or your spouse have any hesitations or moral objections to including Santa?
Maybe you view Santa as a symbol of hope and generosity. Or maybe you side with Saturday Night Live’s church lady and think “Santa” and “Satan” are a bit too close for comfort. Or maybe you feel “the Santa thing” feeds the commercialization of Christmas.
Are you bothered by how Santa’s narrative stirs greed in your children? Does perpetuating the Santa story feel like lying to them? Or are you confident in your family’s ability to navigate the season and don’t see Santa as a barrier? Romans 14:5 says we should each be convinced in our own mind when considering disputable matters.
2. Does including Santa diminish the focus on Jesus?
Let’s say you’ve passed the hesitations/moral objection test. It’s also important to consider who gets more stage time in your home: Santa or Jesus? While the Scriptures are silent on Santa, they spend an incredible amount of time anticipating the Messiah and rejoicing over his coming.
In my family, time and resources are always limited. I only have so much bandwidth to craft special moments. So I’ve learned the value of asking not simply what to include, but also what to emphasize.
In what ways are you emphasizing the miraculous story of the incarnation in your home? It’s also worth asking whether your children are able to hear, process, distinguish, and reflect on the stories of both Santa and Jesus. Might what you champion during the Advent season be sending mixed messages?
Whether or not you incorporate Santa into your Christmas celebrations, resolve to major on the story of the Bible and the most significant aspect of the season.
3. Do you make Jesus central in your family all year long?
I recently spoke with a mom who loves Jesus and has done “the Santa thing” with her kids for years. She confessed that in the early days of parenting she didn’t put much thought into her choice to include Santa. But this friend and her husband deliberately disciple their children in a relationship with Jesus all 12 months of the year. When December rolls around and they read The Night Before Christmas as a pajama-clad family, the person and work of Christ has already received far more coverage throughout the year than Santa has in a few days.
The problem comes when Jesus is largely ignored all year, and then his birth narrative is sprinkled in once or twice alongside a larger-than-life Santa story.
My husband and I talked and prayed through all these questions. In the end, we opted out of including Santa. Twelve years in, I can testify that it hasn’t meant skimping on traditions or anticipation or excitement or fun. It certainly looks different to onlookers and has led to some uncomfortable conversations, but that’s all right. We’re content with the choice we made.
Ultimately, creating holiday traditions is a matter of conscience (Rom. 14). There’s freedom to disagree. But we can all agree on this—the story of God becoming man, of taking on weakness to redeem his broken creation, is the most glorious story ever told. It deserves our captive attention, every day of every year.
So whether or not you decide to do “the Santa thing,” be intentional about elevating the elements of Christmas that matter eternally.