Hung Up on Santa

December 20, 2010

Today I read Jon Acuff’s usual great mix of humor and wisdom in his post on the Santa Dilemma that usually affects Christians at Christmas. It got me thinking about our often misguided thinking on Christmas.

I as fortunate enough to grow up in a Christian home that didn’t get all freaked out by Santa and the Easter Bunny. My parents were practical. They figured that Santa was harmless and that there was no lasting faith damage to having their kids love an adorable fat read bearded guy. Just like Mickey Mouse, the Hardy Boys, and other “pretend” was okay.

But, growing up in Churchworld, we did know people who got hysterical at Christmas. To the point where wrapping gifts in Santa paper brought a 1-hour lecture on how the culture was stealing Christmas from us. I thought it was weird that people of faith thought a few smart guys at Macy’s could knock God off of His plan of redemption, ruin the Incarnation, and render life hopeless.

But genuinely concerned parents do agonize over Santa Claus sometimes. I think it is born out of concern, but it is slightly misguided, in my view. Because even the “real” Christmas story as we tell it in church and in our storybooks and dramas is not all the way true. For instance, we don’t really know there were three wise men. We don’t even know for sure that there was an innkeeper and a wife and a daughter peaking from behind the door. We just assume that in our imagination of the story. Now granted, those are lesser leaps than Santa. But in each case, we’ve taken the grand story of Christmas and added in our own imagination.

And I think that’s really okay. God isn’t not against creativity and imagination. I’m thinking that, if in our own way we find new ways to tell the wonderful mystery of the incarnation, God becoming man, God is pleased.

And like Jon Acuff has beautifully written, we don’t apply the “I-can’t-lie-to-my-kids” rule to other things. We allow them to pretend about Mickey and the Tooth Fairy and Cinderella. My five-year-old daughter, Grace, lives in a virtual world of princesses all the time. And yet she has no problem accepting Jesus, the Bible, and the real story of Christmas as real. And she’s five.

I just think we tend over think things spiritually.

The bottom line is this: Is Santa the real story of Christmas? No. But is it a bad story, an evil one, one that we have to shield our kids from? No. In fact, there are redeeming elements of the Santa story we can use to teach them about the importance of giving.

And, I always say this to skiddish parents. If all your kids ever knew about Christmas was Santa, that would be tragic. But if you’re sharing the story of Jesus with your kids every Christmas. If they are hearing it year-round and you’re doing your best to model it and disciple it, a fat man in a red suit won’t damage their faith.

Actually, when I talk to churched kids who have run away from God, Santa never comes up. What often comes up is crippling legalism, lack of inauthentic faith in the people they looked up to, and deep sin struggles they needed help with.

So on Christmas, let’s not be Scrooges and anti-Santa zealots. Let’s enjoy the warmth and wonder of this season, a time when even the secular world stops to gaze at a a baby in a manger, the God-man.