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January 16, 2022 | Doug Sauder
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Addressing the Reindeer in the Room: Is Santa Real?
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was about nine years old when I discovered all the Christmas gifts in my parents’ closet. “Wait,” I thought. “Why is all the stuff from my Christmas list in here? Why isn’t it at the North Pole with Santa?” And that’s when it dawned on me. Santa was not real. He was a fairy tale, a make believe character, just like the Power Rangers I had asked for that year—and knew I was getting because I could see them sitting in a bag in that closet. It was a strange and surreal day for me. So many mixed emotions . . . Why did my parents lie? Did they keep up the Santa ruse for this long so they could threaten lumps of coal if I didn’t behave—by the way, who came up with that whopper of a trauma inducer?
I never told my parents about my discovery. In fact, I then admittedly kept the deception going by pretending to still believe. I think I did that for a few more years. In my mind, had they known I knew the truth, it may have affected my gift haul on Christmas day. I can’t help but wonder why my parents—as well as pretty much everyone else’s parents—didn’t just tell me the truth. Were they afraid Christmas would lose its magic? Were they afraid I’d tell other kids and then their parents would get mad at us? Did they just do it because seemingly everyone else was?
I think back in the 80s and early 90s when I was growing up, parents—even parents in the Church—were more inclined to let their kids believe Santa was real. Today, though, the world is different. With the Internet at their fingertips, and kids as young as two using their parent’s phones, it’s almost impossible to keep up the deception for too long.
And so today, I find myself in the same shoes my parents once were . . . trying to decide how to talk to my kids about Santa Claus. It’s what I will call for the purpose of this festive article, the reindeer in the room!
Now, as believers, we know that the true reason for Christmas isn’t Santa or the gifts; it’s the coming of the promised Messiah. Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, “God with us.” He is THE gift, the salvation, the redemption, the forgiveness, the restoration, and the hope for all mankind. And we know that Christ needs to be the emphasis of Christmas . . . but how do we address the Santa issue? Do we tackle it head on? Do we sit our kids down and have “the talk” with them? Do we just not make a big deal out of it? Do we not talk about it and let them figure it all out on their own? What do we do?
So, I decided to ask some of our pastors. And here are their responses!
Family Pastor Doug Rasku said:
Personally, we didn’t make a big deal about Santa when our kids were younger, but we didn’t demonize him either. We always emphasized the real meaning of Christmas as the gift of Jesus and explained that the reason we give is because God gives. To this day, we read the Christmas story together as a family before opening presents.
The kids loved the different Christmas movies that have Santa in them, and they enjoyed seeing him in the mall. But we just treated him similarly to a Disney character . . . fun, but not the focus. I can’t remember when they found out he wasn’t real. We just let them figure it out.
Overall, Jesus has always been the reason for the season in our house, and Santa was a fun character that was just part of the Christmas spirit.
Online Community Pastor Dan Hickling said:
As a father of two children (now 12 and 15 years old), I approached the Santa issue the same way my own parents did when I was young. My father and mother didn’t really talk about Santa during Christmas time, but talked an awful lot about Jesus.
From my earliest memories, I never knew a time when I didn’t know the true meaning of Christmas. It was about God loving the world so much that He sent His own Son to be born, love, and ultimately die for our sins. I’ve always associated that message with Christmas.
Do you know what? I never felt cheated or slighted in the least when it came to the tradition of Santa Claus. The gospel is the greatest gift the world ever has or will know, and all the traditions regarding Santa can’t compare to its wonder. And I’m grateful to my parents for setting me on this foundation from my earliest days.
Let me make it clear, they were never anti-Santa. They didn’t demean those friends and their families who were all in with Santa Claus. They were just so pro-Jesus that it was a nonissue for me as a kid.
When the time came to raise my own kids, I couldn’t think of a better example than the one I grew up under. So in the Hickling household, Jesus has always been the center of everything during Christmas, and hopefully during the rest of the year, too. Again, we never saw it as a matter of being anti-Santa, but pro-Jesus. The eternal gospel has a way of naturally displacing the things that are temporal, and that’s what I have found to be true in my own life when it comes to this issue.
Community Life Pastor Greg Anderson said:
In a sincere effort to keep Christ in the center of our Christmas, Joannie and I taught our kids from early on that this wonderful holiday is all about Jesus and His miraculous birth. Our explanation of Santa Claus was simply that he was a “character” who personifies the rare act of generous giving. He was and is real, only in the sense that he is a real character.
His role is somewhat of a benevolent superhero who represents grace, generosity, and reward. He’s fictional, yet there’s much we can learn from him as he’s wanting and willing to give so much—and it’s all for nothing other than the blessing of others.
If you come to our house at Christmas, you may see some Santa sightings, but more importantly, there’s an unmistakably clear message decoratively posted right at the front door. A simple sign that says, “Jesus is the Gift.” In our home, we chose to elevate the importance of Jesus and the fact that He is not a fictional character, but that He is real and alive, and we celebrate the presence of “God with us,” Immanuel.
Fort Lauderdale campus Middle School Pastor Darren Bennett said:
As a father and youth leader, I try to embrace the festivities that come with the season and the enchantment of it as well. In a nutshell, the Christmas season is magical, it’s super fun, and it’s such a magnetic pull that draws families together while exciting our children.
While I indeed embrace the enchantment and the magical festivities of the season, I also make sure to delineate between the reality and true significance of the season. You see, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by and focus on Santa Claus as the face of the Christmas season. True enough, he is a major part of the magical aspect of the season. But I, as a Christian father, have to be certain that my children understand that it is simply that . . . an enchantment and fantasy.
As parents raising up Christian children, we have to be sure that Jesus Christ reigns in His rightful position as THE center; the face of Christmas. A very practical way for our kids to see Christ as front and center when it comes to the overarching concept of “gift giving” during Christmas is to express to our children that, while Santa is believed to deliver gifts and place them under a tree, Jesus Christ gave us the gift of salvation, the greatest gift, by hanging on a tree!
Then you lovingly break the news to them that Santa, while many believe is based on a real person of long ago, is a fun, magical myth, a character like King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes. But Christ is very real and what He did on the cross was very real. Jesus Christ is the true reason for the Christmas season!
Truthfully, there is no one “right” way to address the reindeer in the room. There is no magic technique or specific, non-negotiable way to address the issue. The fact is you know your kids better than anyone, and you know what methods will resonate best with them to bring about the most gospel clarity for them. As long as you’re seeking to glorify the Lord and disciple your kids well, the specific step-by-step methods can vary.
Personally, the way we do it in our household is very similar to what you’ve read here. We don’t shun or outlaw Santa. We watch movies and cute Christmas specials with Santa in them. We have a stocking with Santa’s face on it and even a fun little light-up Santa gnome with a twirly ‘stache and a cool scarf, but we also don’t emphasize Santa. And we’ll never tell our kids that if they don’t behave, they’ll get a lump of coal from Santa, nor will we tell them that the gifts come from Santa.
As they get older, we’ll explain the myth that came about from ancient Greece about jolly Saint Nicholas. And most importantly, we’ll continue to emphasize that we celebrate Christmas to intentionally reflect on the gift of God through Jesus Christ, our Savior, King, and Lord, to Whom we owe it all.
So if you’re contemplating how to speak to your kids about Santa this year, I suggest you pray about it, talk with other trusted Christian friends, family, or leaders, and then let the Spirit guide you as you talk to your kids.
If you’d like to discuss this further, or have a question you need answered, please send me an e-mail at DanielS@CalvaryFTL.org.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.