The Santa Claus question: What do I tell my children?
Supporting Member Question: Rick, what are your thoughts on Santa, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy as far as what you tell your kids? Do you say these characters are real or not? Is this harmless fun or is there a problem with deception going on here?
I suppose most parents who have young kids wrestle with the “Santa question” during this time of the year. It is an important issue, which you can’t avoid since our imaginary and ubiquitous friend never goes away. And since you are asking, I would reframe your issue with another set of questions:
- How much of the culture’s worldview and practices should influence your parenting?
- Is it appropriate to engage in the fun things of our world from a Christo-centric perspective?
- Is it lying to pretend Santa and other fictional characters are real?
One Santa, three perspectives
I suppose you could answer the “Santa question” from different points of view. I am going to use three of the more common categories within Christendom to think about our topic. For simplicity sake, I will use the labels of right, left, and middle, and call them as follows:
- Right = Separatist
- Left = Liberal
- Middle = Biblicist
The Separatist — This Christian collective embraces a separation mindset. Their perspective is to separate from the culture, a practice that is not tenable since separation from the culture is impossible. It would be more accurate to say they practice selective or convenience separation.
A real separatist creates a parallel and self-sustaining universe, which is not possible, which is why the so-called separatist picks and chooses how he wants to disassociate himself from the culture.
Typically the separatist will have a “list” of do’s and don’ts regarding cultural engagement. They gravitate toward those who are like them and create a sub-culture within the larger culture. It’s the micro within the macro.
Usually, their standards (or rules) draw more attention to their anti-cultural worldview rather than the Christ they love. Instead of modeling the Christ-life by blending into the culture, they choose to live counter to the prevailing culture.
I understand what they want to do and why they want to do it but their lives become a contradiction, which can create an unnecessary asymmetry with the world. For example:
- They eat in restaurants operated by the culture.
- They wear clothes made by the culture.
- They watch the culture’s movies.
- They drive the culture’s cars.
- They work for the culture and take the culture’s money.
- They spend the culture’s money so they can purchase more things from the culture.
- They enjoy watching, cheering, and laughing at the culture’s TV shows.
- They love to root for the culture’s sports teams.
…and so forth and so on.
Nobody is a real separatist. Even the Amish have caved to the difficulties and challenges of separating from the world. They live in the world, imbibe from the world, and enjoy many of the benefits of the world. Just like the rest of us, participating in God’s world while enjoying God’s world, does not have to be wrong.
The Liberal — This second group on the left typically reacts to the separatists. Often these people are children of separatists, who felt suppressed by the extra-biblical rules of their parents. Their separated parent’s lifestyle did not export to them. The children chose another path. I’m calling it a liberal way in this article.
Many people in this group are either angry with or act superior to the separatists. Their term of choice is grace over legalism, which too often is an over-reaction to legalism. The worst case scenarios are those who tout their freedom as an attitude and lifestyle that is outside biblical parameters.
Rather than the Bible informing their theology, their past experiences are the filter through which they see life: (1) what happened to them, (2) how it did not work, and (3) the wrongness of the separatists. Ironically, they are not free from their past. You know this when you talk to them; their past is their identity, not the Gospel.
It’s hard to appeal to them about obedience, discretion, and sin because they disdain critique. They see your analysis as judgment, harshness, rule-based, and bondage.
They talk more about grace and less about sin. Typically, they have weak sin categories because they don’t understand how the doctrine of grace and the doctrine of sin coexist and interact.
The Biblicist — This third group works hard for biblical integrity and theological precision. They use the Bible as their guide and filter, hoping to live practically in their culture while engaging it.
They are not anti-culture or culture-centric. The Biblicist is Biblio-centric. They are not afraid to make practical life decisions and live by them. They evolve, or what the Bible calls progressive sanctification. They effectively live in the culture, but they guard against crossing biblical guidelines.
Their worldview is how to think about their culture while engaging their culture without being adversely affected by their culture. The biblicist perspective sees no choice but to engage the culture while living in the culture.
It is like a fish forced to live in water. The fish cannot alienate himself from the water, though he must refrain from being bloated by the water. To live biblically in your culture requires courage, discernment, compassion, and discretion. It sounds like this:
We are in the culture. Therefore, we must discern how to engage our culture for God’s glory. Rather than trying to separate from them or blindly imbibe their ways, we look to our Savior, hoping to emulate how He lived in, enjoyed, and engaged His culture.
- The Separatists rarely change.
- The Liberals radically change.
- The Biblicists progressively change.
The Santa question
Lucia and I have spent considerable time thinking about how to live like Christ in our personal lives, marriage, family, and culture. We do not believe and would not suggest we have arrived. How arrogant. If anything, we are a work in progress. We believe and practice progressive sanctification in a community.
As for the Santa question, we filter this dilemma through a Biblicist’s filter. Honestly, the Santa question is not an issue in our home. It is a tertiary matter at best. It does not warrant the scrutiny and time we devote to the most important thing in our home, which is the Gospel.
However, it is precisely because of the Gospel that we want to interact with this tertiary question. We cannot keep from thinking about Santa because we are representatives of the Gospel. There are no areas in our lives that are outside Gospel’s applications.
For us, the Santa question is primarily about integrity. Can we tell our children something is true when it is not true? Does this mean we should separate from Santa and completely shut our kids off from one of the culture’s biggest icons?
In 2010 we went to DisneyWorld. Our children interacted with Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Snow White, and 20 plus other characters they know through movies and television.
Lucia and I do not have a conscience issue with our children interacting with Disney’s characters, which also included Daniel Boone and Johnny Tremain. We want them to imagine and explore by interacting with these fictional and non-fictional characters.
As our children were learning more about our culture when younger, they regularly asked if “this or that” was real. They live in a world and generation that sometimes makes it hard to discern truth from fiction. They don’t struggle with fiction, but they regularly asked our help in knowing the difference between genuine and fake.
“Daddy is that [insert person, idea, or thing] real” used to be a common question from children. Questions about mysteries is a privilege for a parent to answer.
Younger children are especially dependent on the parents to guide them in truth. Lucia and I believe it is our responsibility to teach our children how to discern between right and wrong, true and false. If we do not do this, our culture will eagerly give them their worldview.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. — John 17:17 (ESV)
With these things in mind, we regularly do three specific things with our children:
- We teach them to think imaginatively, especially when it comes to God, heaven, and other divinely given things.
- We teach them to discern between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and good and evil.
- We reinforce that we will never, by the grace of God, lie to them on any matter, even Santa Claus.
From our perspective, truth (faith) is the biggest issue and obstacle in the Bible. Truth, trust, hope, belief, confidence, and faith are synonyms, and Christians are called to live by these things (Romans 1:17). Without faith, we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). There is no topic in the Bible more important than truth.
Remember the first lie? Satan introduced the tension between truth and falsehood to Adam and Eve. God’s truth is the foundation that everything else in the world sits. If truth falls, we fall.
The biggest parental point-of-focus in our home centers on truth, trust, and truth-telling. As a father, I am called to model God the Father to my children (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9). What they see and experience in me gives them their earliest and the most powerful interpretive grid of God the Father.
The truth about fiction
My children know Santa is not real (I am a separatist), but we enjoy the fictional idea of Santa (I am a liberal). A few years ago we watched Herbie the Love Bug (circa 1970) and laughed hard as we were cuddled in our bed, while enjoying each other, eating popcorn, and watching the movie.
My children (and yours) are smart enough to enjoy fiction. God gave them the capacity to think outside the box. Fiction does not have to trip them up, and it will not trip them up if you tell them the truth about fiction.
They can thoroughly enjoy the idea of our cultural Santa Claus without being told he is real. If my Heavenly Father said something was true, only years later I find out it was a lie, I would have a difficult time believing anything else He says to me.
I want our children to embrace truth without doubt or reservation. Teaching them to trust is part of the process of pointing them to Jesus, the One I want them to believe ultimately. I do not want Santa lies to unnecessarily trip them up as I teach them about the Savior.
Call to action
Please be free to enjoy Santa, if you choose to. Only do so with discernment. If my children can enjoy Mickey Mouse and play with Woody (from Toy Story), I think they can do the same with Santa.
I do not want them to have an anti-Santa perspective that puts them in an awkward place to explain their separatist’s perspective to their confused non-Christian friends. If the world is going to be confused by or stumble over our view on something, let Christ confound them. Let Jesus be the stumbling block rather than Santa (1 Corinthians 1:23).
I recommend you tell your children the truth. If you have already lied, let them find out from you how and why you lied rather than them finding out from their friends. Be honest. They will believe you. This is what you want, right?
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. — John 17:17 (ESV)
Reinforce the importance of truth in your home and your life. Let them know Jesus is the Truth, and you want to teach them to follow you as you follow Him in His truth (John 14:6; 1Corinthians 11:1). Thoroughly enjoy your world with discernment, wisdom, and discretion. For freedom, Christ has set you free (Galatians 5:1).
Originally published at Rick Thomas.